Gary Morgan- I’d like to just take a moment to introduce Justin Verno and Joe Boyd. These are two guys who really love the intricacies of projecting player values and trade proposals. They’ve both agreed to take a crack at explaining the science behind it as well as provide you real world examples of what those formulas could lead to. Remember, it’s not about how much you do or don’t want a player dealt, it’s about what the Pirates could get and why. Have fun with this, and welcome both gentlemen to the site on Twitter @JV_PITT and @Joe_Boyd11. They both welcome conversation on this stuff.
Justin Verno- We are a little over two months away from July 30th-a day that should be considered a national holiday-the MLB trade deadline! There was a time when teams would wait until the deadline to make deals, but today’s MLB is driven by metrics such as WAR and wins above replacement teams are much more willing to make an early move and “buy” some wins. With that in mind, it’s time to examine trade values for our Pittsburgh Pirates.
Joe Boyd- Over the next several weeks, leading up to the trade deadline, we will have a new, 2-take, segment on values for potential trade candidates, and potential returns for those players. Both Justin and I will, independently, try to examine what goes into assessing value and what we can realistically expect Ben Cherington to get in return and then compare at the end. Having a finance background, the easiest way for me to evaluate a player is through dollars and cents. And the quickest way to visualize this, in my opinion, is through Surplus Value. This value is simply a player’s on-field performance (WAR) * the cost of 1 win minus the player’s salary. Fangraphs did an amazing study in 2018 that calculated the values of each level of prospect, so Surplus Value on one side of the scale can be balanced with Prospect Value on the other side. Here is how Fangraphs breaks out Prospect Value (in 2018):
|Prospect Type||2018 $ Value*|
|Prospect Type||2018 $ Value*|
Once we get to our first player, I’ll walk through an example of Surplus Value, as well. This is how I like to build my trade packages for Pirates players.
JV- As we build these values and suggest packages, it’s important for us to highlight a few things:
- Every team has their own value systems, so predicting trades is never easy and is rarely correct.
- Teams rarely take packages based on system needs, instead usually opting for the best deal on the table.
- Lastly, this is for fun and starting the discussion. Have fun with it!
Player 1: Adam Frazier
JB: This will be the most lengthy/math-intensive submission. After Frazier, we can just plug in a few numbers to show how we get to a player’s value, but I think it’s important to show the work.
Frazier has been trade fodder for years now, and he has continually been thrown around in Pirate discussions especially since he has been hitting so well this season. Frazier is currently slashing .321/.387/.457 and he’s basically carrying the entire Bucco offense through the first 41 games. He currently sits at 1.2 Wins Above Replacement, which is very impressive this early in the season. To get a value for Frazier, we need to take into account his hot start, but also some regression, and project how the remainder of the year will go. If Frazier continues on this pace, we’re looking at a 4.5 WAR player which would be absolutely astounding. Those are Francisco Lindor or Ozzie Albies levels, right there. But that doesn’t pass the eye test. Frazier’s best season was in 2019 where he accounted for 2.2 WAR. Since he’s hitting so well this year, I would imagine it’s likely he eclipses that season, but for a range, we’ll go with 2.5-3.5 Wins Above Replacement has Adam’s on the field performance for 2021.
To add to the projection, Frazier is under control for next year, so we’ll need to account for that, as well. I think it’s best to leave this projection up to the professionals, so let’s go back to Fangraphs one more time for the ZiPS projection here. The 2022 ZiPS projection for Frazier is 1.5 WAR (this was made after his 2020 season, so they may make an upward change at some point, but I’ll leave it at 1.5 for now).
The final piece of the puzzle is the salary. Frazier is making $4.3 M for the 2021 season and he’ll enter his final year of arbitration in 2022. For arbitration estimates, I go back to The Point of Pittsburgh’s study that shows that arbitration simply depresses the salary of higher valued players. Based on Adam’s track record, we could easily see a salary of $8-10M for his final season. For simplicity, I’m going to use a number that gets me a round total salary, so $8.7M for his estimated 2022 salary, for a total salary of $13M.
JV- Fangraphs are the go to here on the values for prospects, and Adam is on pace for his best WAR over a season in his career. This is a big factor in moving now as opposed to waiting for the off season. Strike while the iron is hot. A “wins” value changes from year to year, as low as 8 and high as 10 million per win so using 9 here is the safe bet. I have Frazier closer to 3.2 WAR. With 2 WAR of the remainder of the season and adding the 1.5 ZIPS projections next year. (ZIPs is likely to make an adjustment to next years projections soon enough, but lets forgo that for this exercise) giving us 3.5 WAR using 9 million for a win-
3.5×9=31.5 million 31.5-13=18.5 surplus
Note, I’ve made an adjustment to Fraziers salary being a third of the way into this season. If you use 8 and 10 million for the win value it gives us a range of 15-22 million for Frazier. I have Frazier at 18 million surplus. Now let’s have fun!
JV- Looking at the prospects values, the high end is a 50 FV player ($21 million). For those that have read up on the Pirates system, Liover Peguero is a 50 FV prospect as is Nick Gonazales. I find this a tough ask for Frazier. Is it possible they get a 50 FV player? Sure, and at this point I won’t put much past Ben Cherington, but I feel a 45+ or a 45 prospect they love will likely head the package with a solid 40+ or even another 45 as the potatoes. And I’ll use the familiar Pirates system again. The Bucs have one 45+ in Brennan Malone. I think most fans would be happy with another Brennan Malone in the system. Hudson Head is a 45, and most fans know that name. A lot of value can be had with a 45+ or a 45. Turning my attention to a 40+ FV, I see Roansy Contreras and Mason Martin. I think most fans would be happy with a package of a Malone and say a Mason Martin because they recognize those names.
I typically wait until I see a certain team connected to a player before building a package, but since we haven’t heard any yet I’ll use the Yankees since their fans have been buzzing about getting Frazier.
JV-Trade Partner: New York Yankees
Yankees get-Adam Frazier 2B($18 million surplus)
Pirates get- Antonio Gomez–C– ETA:2024 FV 45+($8M) A 19 year-old that will stick behind the plate, smooth hands and excellent arm. His body and bat have taken leaps and he could grow into his power.
Fidel Montero –RF– ETA: 2025 45FV ($6M) Montero is young and a late bloomer. His swing needs to be cleaned up, but there’s a lot to like here if he can shorten that up. He’s got a lot of raw power.
The Bucs could likely add one more piece here, but the meat and potatoes here gives them $14 million of good upside and at positions of need, something that we always don’t get back in a trade. That’d be a solid return for Fraizer.
JB-Trade Partner: Los Angeles Dodgers
So now that we’ve determined a value for Frazier, it’s time to take a look for a potential suitor and maybe build a prospect package that could come back for Adam. I wanted to look through the landscape of contenders and see if any had a hole at 2nd, specifically, or any that could potentially utilize a strong left-handed bat Utility player. Of the contenders, I settled on four as strong possibilities: Cleveland, Boston, San Francisco, and LA Dodgers.
I really felt that San Francisco would be a nice fit as they are a bit of a surprise team punching above their weight in a division with LA and San Diego. I also think they are building their team properly, so I highly doubt they’d move any major pieces for Frazier. I was dreaming on the potential of Hunter Bishop patrolling Left Field in PNC Park, while blasting homers into the Allegheny. But he’s a Bay Area kid and he just oozes athleticism, so I think that’s too big of a price tag for the Giants. So maybe we look at the perennial buyer to the South.
The Dodgers currently sit in 3rd in the division and in the 2nd Wild Card position. Right Handed Utility, Chris Taylor, has performed very well this season, but uber-prospect Gavin Lux has been fine, to below average. A pennant race is no time to run a guy out for at-bats. The versatility that Frazier could provide that lineup would be extremely valuable. Adding to that, Corey Seager’s injury may force Taylor to short, and the Dodgers would much prefer a proven veteran handling 2nd. And again, that versatility to platoon in the outfield or play any position on the infield would be extremely advantageous.
So what could a package for Frazier look like? Neal Huntington often looked for quantity over quality and preferred that quality be close to the majors. I always considered these players to have a high floor/low ceiling. In contrast, it appears that Cherington is taking the “windows” approach. By that, I mean that he is targeting a “window” of contention further away. If you look at the Marte or Taillon or Musgrove trades, the headliner talent acquired is further away from the majors. This strategy is two-fold. First, if you acquire a ton of talent that is expected to develop and arrive at the same time you have a higher likelihood that your roster will burst with talent at the same time, we’re assuming that not all of these prospects hit, and that’s okay! When trading for prospects further from the majors, it is okay to target shortstops or centerfielders when you already have some in the pipeline. If you go after the most athletic and skilled players, sometimes prospects will not pan out and then you have a backup plan. Or they all hit, and you can move them to positions that don’t require the athleticism (but they have it anyway!) or you can flip those players for positions of need. The second part of the strategy is that teams would be more willing to move those players. If your trade partner has developed a player all the way through the minors, they are not going to part with them right before the pay off. So this is where you can get a Liover Peguero-type player because the variance in a player that far from the majors is huge! He could absolutely flame out and the trade could look brutal, or he could bud into a major piece of your farm. Luckily for Pittsburgh, Peguero seems to be doing the latter.
So when looking for teams that match-up for return, I really like the Dodgers farm. They are a world brand, so they are able to attract International signings and two of those players come to Pittsburgh in this trade.
Wilman Diaz — SS — ETA: 2025 — 45 FV ($6M)
Diaz’s best tool is his hit tool. He was just signed in the 2021 International period, and he’s only 17! There is plenty of opportunity for Diaz to develop while climbing the system. He has above average speed and he’s graded by fangraphs as an average fielder and he has average power. But the ability to hit the ball is imperative for a prospect, and if he’s hitting at such a young age, it could bode well with him joining the team during their window of contention.
Diego Cartaya — C — ETA: 2023 — 45 FV ($6M)
Another International signing, Cartaya brings the power in this trade. He is not going to be a pitch framing star (although that can be taught), but he has a “prodigious field general” presence behind the plate according to Fangraphs. I’ll take that. He’s also described as an explosive hitter, and if he stays behind the plate, that’s an extremely valuable asset. MLB Pipeline compares Cartaya to Salvador Perez due to his size and leadership ability. As a teenage catcher, the track record is not there for Cartaya, but adding a strong prospect behind the plate to push (and be pushed by) Endy Rodriguez will be a major benefit to the team and to the farm.
You may note the Prospect Value != the Surplus value here. But this is an excellent example of how Cherington has handled deals so far for the Pirates. In this deal, he’s getting a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old with room to grow/develop from a natural and prospect standpoint. If over time either player bumps up in value to a 50-grade, then it’s a major win for Cherington. He moves Frazier, a solid contributor on a tanking team, for two players that play premium positions and have rare traits that could develop just in time to be a part of a future contender.
JV- I love that we seem to have taken the same approach–four prospects that are young with a lot of upside, but the floor is low. I think in the end this is the kind of package we could ultimately see. Both looking at a C as a big piece of the trade puzzle, but the chances they get a catcher at all in this deal is likely 50/50? Despite both of us targeting a catcher I would suggest fans being patient, as the best package on the table should win out regardless of positions in the deal. That’s all I have for now. When we hear a specific team connected to Frazier we’ll revisit. Joe, who’s the next player we’ll take a look at?
JB – Really nothing to disagree with here. I do find it funny that both packages had a catcher. Not the intent, and did not seek out one, but nice if it worked out this way! As for the next player, I think that Rich Rod makes perfect sense. A controllable, dominant closer will be extremely intriguing to contenders at the deadline.