The Atlanta Braves Trade Assets

The Braves haven’t made it a secret that they’re rebuilding. All of their offseason moves, save the Markakis signing, where with an eye on the future. They’re only 5.5 games back in the wild card though. That might make it hard to convince fans that selling is the right move (realistically that shouldn’t matter, but it does). Their playoff odds (baseball prospectus) are 2.1%. They shouldn’t fall into the trap of buying into their own early season success. It also doesn’t seem like they should sell off their most valuable pieces though. Most of them are signed for several years and coming into their primes. For instance, there’s no reason to deal Freddie Freeman. Shelby Miller is the same. Julio Teheran’s value is probably never going to be lower than right now, so there’s no reason to sell him. I suppose if they could sell Nick Markakis they probably should, but they can’t. That leaves most of the people they should deal as spare parts who won’t garner much in return.

Cameron Maybin: Acquired from San Diego this past offseason, Maybin’s actually been somewhat valuable. He’s signed for another two years, for $8 million in 2016 and with a $9 million dollar team option or a $1 million dollar buyout.

Juan Uribe: Uribe doesn’t suck. He’s also not good. A slightly below average third baseman at the end of his career. Someone might be interested. His lack of positional flexibility (he might be able play second base sparingly, but he’s going to have to get the bulk of his time at third) doesn’t make him an ideal bench option, and he doesn’t have a large platoon split in his career, making him unlikely to find time against lefties in a platoon. His deal this year is for 6.5 million and then he’s a free agent, so chop off roughly half of that and it’s not an unfair cost for a player like Uribe, if a team has a need. But there are certainly more attractive options, and Uribe will probably find himself plan B or C.

A.J. Pierzynski: Does your team have anyone else who can catch? Anyone? If they have anyone else, go with that guy. Pierzynski shouldn’t be anywhere near a playoff roster.

Jason Grilli: What can you even say about Jason Grilli at this point that his book didn’t cover? His messiah complex notwithstanding, he’s a decent if old late inning reliever who doesn’t suck but shouldn’t be anyone’s first choice as a closer. He’s always been a fly ball pitcher, but this season he’s taking it to a new level. A 24.1% Ground Ball rate. More than 75% of the balls hit off Grilli find the air. That sounds like a disaster waiting to happen to me. Some of those balls will start reaching the seats eventually. Grilli can’t continue to compensate by striking out 11.53/9 and walking 3/9. Eventually this is going to tip the wrong way (unless he starts getting more ground balls).

Jim Johnson: The former closer, at this point, is a middle reliever, and not a great one. He’s cheap though, for any team that thinks they can help him return to his former glory. I wouldn’t bet on anyone thinking they can do that, though.

Chicago White Sox Trade Assets

The White Sox are 10.5 games back in their division and 7.5 games back in the Wild Card. 7.5 might not seem impossible, and i suppose it isn’t, but they’d have to pass up every other team in the American League to get in. It’s probably going to be a good idea for the White Sox to sell this year. They actually have a number of interesting trade candidates for a team so far out of it. It’s incredibly unlikely, but it would be fun to see what kind of a return they could if they went for the hard reset button and dealt everyone valuable, including the marvelous Chris Sale. It seems more likely that they’ll deal Jeff Samardzija and maybe Emilio Bonifacio and retool for next season.

Jeff Samardzija: Samardzija’s had a disappointing year on the surface, but really he’s been good. He could use an increase in his ground ball rate and a slight decrease in his BABIP, but other than that it seems like the only reason for his struggles seem to be luck related. The projection systems back that up, expecting Samardzija to be worth between 1.5-2 wins over the rest of the season. He’s a free agent at the end of the season, and has already been linked to several teams. He’s probably the best bet of White Sox players to be traded by the deadline.

Chris Sale: There’s no reason to think that the White Sox will be shopping Sale. There’s no reason to think anyone could match Sale’s value, because they’d be getting 4 years from an ace at below market rate prices. So there’s almost no chance Sale is dealt, unless the White Sox decide they want to cash in on their biggest piece (and find a buyer willing to part with the necessary pieces, i.e. an entire farm system) and start a wholesale rebuild. That seems an unlikely scenario though.

Jose Quintana: It seems fair to me to say that as far as starting pitchers go, Jose Quintana is underrated. After back to back 200 inning seasons with ERA’s of 3.51 and 3.32, and peripherals that support those totals, he’s performing similarly this season (3.91 ERA and better peripherals, 3.58 FIP, 3.86 xFIP). Quintana is a solid middle of the rotation starting pitcher, and he’s signed for relatively cheaply until 2019. Quintana strikes me as the type of pitcher who would command a fairly big return, but the White Sox will probably choose to hold onto him and keep for their next retooling toward relevance.

Emilio Bonifacio: One of a few super utility players available this deadline, Bonifacio has played pretty terribly in a short amount of time with the White Sox. 74 at bats isn’t enough time to judge any player, and yet a -13 wRC+ sure is bad. Bonifacio is cheap ($3 million total this year, and a $4 million option for next year with a $1 million buyout), he’s versatile, and he’s a better hitter than this. That’s not to say that he’s a good hitter. He isn’t a good hitter. But there are worse players to have on your bench. Limiting his at bats to left handed pitchers would probably help too.

Alexei Ramirez: Any time a player has an OBP and a SLG in the .200’s, they’re going to struggle to be valuable. Ramirez is hitting .216/.240/.286 right now. Some of his struggles are BABIP related. He’s pulling less balls, which could explain some of the decrease in power, but there are no simple answers to why Ramirez has sucked as badly as he has. It’s unfortunate timing for him too, heading into free agency after the season. It’s possible a team will take a chance on him if they don’t have anyone capable of playing shortstop, but at this point Ramirez is probably going to be a White Sox until the season ends.

The Miami Marlins trade assets

With Giancarlo Stanton out and their already minimal playoff hopes continuing to dwindle, the Marlins should look to sell at the deadline. I don’t think their front office will have any issue convincing ownership to shed salary. Their trade assets aren’t particularly attractive, but the biggest thing for the Marlins will be to pay as little as possible over the rest of the season. To that end, I would expect them to deal as many of their players as they can in what will mostly be minor moves. But realistically, I have no idea what the Marlins are thinking.

Steve Cishek: Pretty much everything on the baseball field that could go wrong for Cishek has gone wrong. He’s striking out less batters, walking more, allowing more home runs, and is getting torched to the tune of a 5.76 ERA. All of that would indicate that no team should want to acquire him. But his peripherals (a 3.82 FIP and 4.17 xFIP) indicate that maybe doesn’t suck right now. I mean, he probably does, but in 25 innings there’s some degree of luck involved (note: it’s a lot). He’s experiencing a slight velocity dip (about a mile an hour) so that doesn’t exactly explain things. At $6.6 million this year, there’s a chance someone will take a flier on Cishek over the rest of the season. Certainly the asking price can’t be too high, and if you acquire him and fix him you get him for the next two seasons as well (albeit at a fairly expensive price). More than likely, no team acquires Cishek at the deadline and he passes through waivers unclaimed as well, only to be nontendered by the Marlins at the end of the season, beginning the story of Steve Cishek: Journeyman former closer.

Brad Hand: If you need a swingman who doesn’t cost anything and probably shouldn’t be in the Majors, Brand Hand is your guy. Sure his peripherals are significantly better than his ERA for the first time in his career (not hard, considering his 5.95 ERA), but the real question with Brad Hand is how many innings can he pitch with a 5+ ERA and sub 47% ground ball rate and not allow a home run? We’re up to 39.1 right now. Seriously how has Brad Hand not given up a home run yet?

Christian Yelich: “Why is Yelich on this list?” you might be wondering. Didn’t the Marlins just sign him to a 7 year/49.6 million dollar contract? They did, and Yelich hasn’t performed anywhere near the player he’s been so far throughout his professional career. His BABIP has taken a dip toward league average, hurting his average and OBP, and his power took a nosedive. His strikeout rate is up and his walk rate is down. He’s been below replacement level (fangraphs) so far this year. On any other team, it would be easy to chalk this up to/hope it’s a down half of a year (and Yelich has hit better since he returned from the disabled list), and expect improvement over the second half. That’s probably what will happen. But the Marlins aren’t any other team, and if they think there’s a chance this is Yelich going forward, it would not shock me to see them attempt to sell Yelich before (as they think, in this scenario) his value absolutely tanks.

Ichiro Suzuki: There’s no logical reason a team would want Ichiro Suzuki. He just isn’t a good enough hitter or fielder anymore to justify having on a major league roster. But the guy was an icon for a decade. Sometimes that’s enough to get the Marlins to sign you and let you put up -0.5 WAR over half a season, and there are news stories about the team debating extending your contract to next year. Ichiro’s awesome. He’s a lock for the hall of fame. But he isn’t even passable on an MLB roster at this point, and no team should acquire him to give him any kind of playing time.

Dan Haren: Constantly threatening retirement, Haren probably can’t wait to get back to the West Coast. He’s not been bad this year, although his 3.38 ERA hides the highest left on base rate of his career: 80.4%. He’s also striking out less batters and allowing more fly balls, all with a pretty unsustainable .234 BABIP. All of this is a good indication that Haren will regress over the rest of the year. It’s possible though, that the Marlins could shop Haren as a cheaper alternative to the other starters available on the market, and entice someone with the strong ERA in the first half. But expecting him to keep up those numbers is foolish. A move to another ballpark that helps fly ball pitchers could help keep Haren valuable.

Mat Latos: Things have not gone Mat Latos’ way this year, but he can still turn it around. There are a whole host of reasons for his 5.49 ERA, including: BABIP, LOB%, BB/9, GB%, and probably more things. But his FIP and xFIP are right around league average, and the projection systems (ZIPS, Steamer, etc.) all seem to agree on an improved performance over the rest of the season, worth about a win. Latos could be a good buy low candidate to slot into the back of any rotation and hope for improved performance, sort of like Brandon McCarthy last year. He’s a free agent after this season too, so the acquiring team probably won’t be expected to part with valuable prospects or have a long financial commitment.

Martin Prado: He’s on the DL right now with a sprained right shoulder, so before any trade could happen he would have to demonstrate health. Prado’s calling card is positional flexibility. He can play virtually anywhere. Not particularly well in some spots, but he’ll go out and hold a glove and get the balls hit in his general area. The Marlins have used him at second base exclusively, and that’s probably his best home, because it takes some of the expectation off his bat, which is a tick below league average (worse this season so far). Prado could be a valuable super-utility player on a contending team, spelling players at every position as needed. The only issue is an acquiring team would be on the hook for his 2016 season at 11 million dollars. That’s not insane for a player like Prado, but it would probably rule out some of the smaller market teams.

The Colorado Rockies Trade Assets

Despite the Rockies continued poor performance, there’s no real evidence that this new front office will be selling. Part of that is a carry-over from the old front office, whose outlandish asking prices (allegedly) stopped most deals before negotiations had even started. So it’s hard to predict what the Rockies will do at the deadline. But what the Rockies should do is sell certain pieces and try to get as many prospects as they can, because this team isn’t going to win anything as currently composed, and they’re wasting Troy Tulowitzki’s prime, which is a damn shame. Maybe the Rockies think their solutions will be internal, supplementing what they see as an already strong core of talent. I would disagree with that assessment. Outside of Nolan Arenado (who is tremendous), Tulowitzki, and a few other players, this team just isn’t very good. It’s tough to pitch in Coors; everyone knows that. But signing fly ball pitchers like Kyle Kendrick is just poor decision making if you think your team is going to compete. It’s poor decision making if you think your team won’t compete too, because how can you flip Kendrick for prospects if he’s giving up a little more than 2 home runs per 9 innings and only striking out a little more than 4. Sure a lot of that is Coors, and yes the Rockies needed someone to fill out their rotation, but this was a disaster waiting to happen. And it’s been a disaster.

Trade Assets

Troy Tulowitzki – Might as well start out with the best player who could be traded but probably won’t be. Tulowitzki is the best shortstop in baseball when he’s healthy. He’s signed until 2021, making 20 million dollars a season until 2020, when he’ll make 14 million, and then the team has a 4 million dollar option on him. Once he’s traded though, he gets full no-trade protection, which just means any team that tries to trade him a second time will have to incentivize the move for Tulowitzki a little. Age 30 right now, it’s fair to expect him to start to decline over the life of the contract. A number of teams would be interested in Tulowitzki, who, while still performing very well, hasn’t exactly been himself this year yet. He’s still valuable obviously, but all the complexities about this make a deal for Tulowitzki seem unlikely.

Nick Hundley: Coors has been good to Hundley. His .364 BABIP is helping too. His batting average/on base%/slugging% have all seen gigantic increases over his career norms. But it won’t last. Any team looking to acquire Hundley shouldn’t expect it to. Hundley is also a poor framer, rated third worst in baseball so far this season by BaseballProspectus. He’s signed for 3.1 million this season and 3.2 million next season, so he’s fairly cheap. But outside of Coors he profiles best as a backup, and not even a very good one with his defensive liabilities.

Justin Morneau: Morneau has a scary history with concussions, and he has one right now. That’s a pretty gigantic warning sign. There are a number of other warning signs with Morneau too. Mostly poor performance. All the projection systems expect him to rebound into a slightly above average hitter, but unless the Rockies agree to pay his buyout for next year and some what’s remaining on his 6.8 million dollar salary this year I don’t think Morneau is worth it.

Carlos Gonzalez: How would you like to pay 17 million next year and 20 million the year after that for a player who has a 79 wRC+? Can players suddenly lose the ability to hit for a high BABIP? Gonzalez is in his second year of a sub .300 BABIP after years of maintaining a BABIP of well over .300 (career .338). ZIPS and Steamer still expect him to rebound from his replacement level performance so far this season and be worth roughly a win, but that level of performance for his salary means he’s unlikely to be moved. Especially when teams are wary of offensive production coming out of Coors field.

Jorge de la Rosa: de la Rosa’s 5.15 ERA might look bad, and it is, but his FIP and xFIP indicate he’s pitching better than that. About a run better. Which is pretty amazing considering he’s walking 4.84/9. Any team that acquires the 34 year old would get what’s left on his 12.5 million dollar salary this year and his 12.5 million dollar salary next year. That probably means he doesn’t get dealt, because teams interested in middle to back of the rotation arms will have other, better options available.

John Axford: Who would have thought it would take Coors field to return Axford to levels of respectable relief pitching? Axford’s biggest asset as a trade candidate is his relatively low cost in terms of salary (he’s making 2.6 million this year) and his veteran presence. People love veteran presence. But they shouldn’t expect much from Axford on the field, he’s a run of the mill reliever.

The Milwaukee Brewers trade assets

Underperformance and injuries have sapped some of the value from Brewers trade chips, but there are still a number of interesting pieces on this team. If they chose to sell everyone, the pieces they could get back for their bigger name players would be really interesting. Lucroy especially.

Jonathan Lucroy: He’s the best catcher who could be traded, and probably the best in the league. He’s 29 years old and under contract for another two years after this season. Yes, Lucroy’s struggled this season, but there are a myriad of reasons to think he’ll rebound offensively (even as simple as pointing to his .255 BABIP). He’s incredibly valuable if they choose to deal him.

Adam Lind: The St. Louis Cardinals have been rumored to be interested in Lind since Matt Adams went down. He’s a lefty in a first base platoon at this point, but as long as he’s facing almost all righties he’s a valuable enough player. His contract isn’t a deal-breaker, but having two extra years (at 7.5 million in 2016 and team option for 8 million in 2017 with a .25 million dollar buyout). That’s his age 32 and age 33 seasons. Maybe I’m just not a big fan of Lind, especially going forward, but the commitment for 2016 would scare me out of making a deal for him, not just for the money, but for the possibility that Lind craters.

Aramis Ramirez: It hasn’t been an easy finale for Ramirez, who is slashing .217/.252/.399 at this point in the season, a 72 wRC+. It isn’t hard to imagine he’ll perform better over the rest of the season though, and it seems likely that someone (the Mets. It’s going to be the Mets.) will bet that Ramirez will rebound offensively in the second half of the season. For the record ZIPS has him at about half a win above replacement over the rest of the season, with an even 100 wRC+. He’s a decent buy low candidate for a team willing to pick up some of what’s left of his 14 million dollar salary this season.

Jean Segura: Despite how he burst onto the scene in 2013 as a 3.5 win player, it seems more and more like Segura is a light hitting shortstop who can handle the position. Which is fine. He’s probably not going to make the all star team many years and he might not even be a league average shortstop, but in his next three years of arbitration he’ll be cost controlled. He’s also only 25 right now too so there’s a potential (however unlikely) he could rebound into something closer to what he was for one season. The Brewers probably won’t deal Segura. They’ll probably hold onto him in case he does rebound, and because they likely envision being competitive within the next three years, with Segura as a part of that.

Gerardo Parra: At his best when his time against lefties is limited, Parra is good enough to play in a corner outfield spot most days, but he probably profiles best as a (slightly expensive) fourth outfielder who can fill in anywhere and provide enough offensive and defensive value to justify whatever is left on his 6.24 million dollar contract this year. Any team that acquires him will have the ability to take him to arbitration one last time after this season, too.

Carlos Gomez: Gomez won’t be a free agent until after next season. Any team picking him up will get the rest of his 8 million dollar salary for this year and 9 million dollars of salary for next year. That’s a steal for a player like Gomez. Because it’s such a steal, any team interested in Gomez will have to pay a high price in prospects. But he stands a fair chance of being dealt.

Ryan Braun: 5 years and 95 million left on this contract. It seems like the Brewers would have to eat some of this contract to interest another team in Braun, and even then, the PR problem would still keep teams away.

Francisco Rodriguez: The Blue Jays are rumored to be interested in Rodriguez, but I have a feeling they’ll be linked to every available reliever until they actually acquire one. Rodriguez is signed for another year and there’s a team option for a third year. The money isn’t ridiculous either, and the Brewers probably want to get Rodriguez off the books. What good is a closer on a team that isn’t competitive?

Jonathon Broxton: What good is an overpaid, bad setup man on any team?

Kyle Lohse: Seems unlikely that a team will be interested in Lohse unless the Brewers eat money. If you buy into xFIP, Lohse hasn’t been as bad as his 6.3 ERA makes it seem, but he’s still a back of the rotation starter at best. The biggest mark in favor of Lohse being dealt is his impending free agency keeping the acquiring team from having to pay him in the future (although his deferred payments might complicate that.

Matt Garza: There’s too many years, too much money, and too much poor performance this year to expect a team to be interested in Garza. Sure he’s been a good pitcher for a long time. The projection systems each have him valued at about a win over the rest of this year. Maybe a team like the Yankees or Dodgers would be willing to pick up Garza as a back of the rotation starter over the rest of this year. Maybe. But what do I know?

The Trade Deadline: Countdown… to a deadline – The Philadelphia Phillies

Part one of my thirty part series, which I may or may not finish by the trade deadline, on the Philadelphia Phillies, the worst team in baseball.

There’s no doubt the Phillies will be selling this year. They’ve been selling for a while now. The hole they’ve dug for themselves is huge, so they’re trying to dump salary any way they can. The problem is their trade candidates aren’t (for the most part) particularly attractive. They almost all have bloated salaries and options that mitigate whatever value they might have. If you like complicated options and having to sit in front of baseballreference saying “well he finished this many games in 2014 and he’s finished this many games in 2015 so far so if he keeps up this pace it looks like he’ll meet this vesting option”, congratulations! You just put more thought into Jonathan Papelbon’s contract than Ruben Amaro jr. did! (That’s untrue, I’m sure Ruben Amaro jr. thought very hard before that contract. I’m not sure why he did it after he thought long and hard about it, but he’s a GM overseeing what could loosely be described as a baseball team and I’m not and never will be, so advantage Amaro I guess.)

Trade Candidates:

Ryan Howard: Howard barely qualifies here. He’s constantly rumored to be on the move, but it’s hard to take any of those rumors very seriously when Howard is making the money he’s making (whatever’s left of his $25 million this year, $25 million next year, and a $10 million buyout on 2017) and playing as poorly as he’s playing. Zips has his projected slash line for the rest of 2015 at .233/.300/.426, a .313 wOBA and a 97 wRC+ with negative defense. It’s hard to justify that bat at first base, and the trend toward using the designated hitter as a spot to rest players should rule out even more teams as candidates for Howard. It seems unlikely that Howard would be moved, even if Philadelphia kicked in a massive amount of money, which they would absolutely have to do.

Ben Revere: Revere isn’t a prototypical corner outfielder. He’s fast, and that’s allowed him to steal bases and maintain a high BABIP and batting average, but he doesn’t do anything else particularly well. He doesn’t walk enough to get on base at an above average rate, and his struggles to hit for any kind of power keep his bat from being league average. Any team acquiring him would have his rights through the 2017 season, so he’s not a rental. The problem is, Revere probably profiles best as a fourth outfielder (especially if he isn’t playing full time in center) and with his salary increasing through arbitration, it doesn’t seem like he would be that valuable to a team looking for corner outfield help, especially when compared to some of the other options potentially available at the deadline.

Carlos Ruiz: The best example of how being a bad pitch framer can hurt value. Ruiz is by far the worst pitch framer in baseball. Baseball Prospectus has him as -6.3 runs Framing Runs Added By Count, and the next lowest among people with at least 2,000 chances is James McCann at -3.9. And it’s not like Ruiz’s bat has been making up the difference. He’s currently hitting .231/.302/.269 with a .038 Isolated power. 6 doubles all season is the extent of Ruiz’s power. But Zips thinks he’ll rebound to hit .256/.329/.350 over the rest of the season, which is only an 89 wRC+, but if a team has a black hole at catcher and needs help, they might think of Ruiz. That is, if they’re also willing to take on his 8.5 million dollar age 37 season next year and pay him an additional 500k to buyout the team option on the season after that. The biggest concern I would have if I was thinking about acquiring Ruiz is this. He might rebound like ZIPS projects and become a serviceable MLB catcher. Presumably you can get the Phillies to pay down his salary for next season and probably get them to pay for the option buyout. But this is a player who is 36 years old, and while ZIPS thinks his BABIP will bounce back from .271, where it currently is, it’s declined in each of the past 3 seasons by 10 points or more. Ruiz seems like he’s reached the point where he’s likely done as a valuable starting catcher.

Chase Utley: Utley has fallen off a cliff in terms of value. He’s currently hitting .184/.263/.286, with a .240 wOBA and 48 wRC+. That’s terrible. ZIPS again, is projecting some rebound, up to a 90 wRC+ over the rest of the year, but Utley’s 36 and sometimes this is how careers end. He’s an interesting buy low trade candidate though, because his struggles have allowed the Phillies to bench him enough that he could potentially fail to reach the 550 plate appearances he needs to make his $15 million option for next season vest. So it’s possible a team could take a flier on Utley and either start him at second or use him as a bench player and hope to get some value out of him, all while making sure he doesn’t come close to vesting that option. His lack of positional flexibility would hurt off the bench, but a team looking to acquire “veteran presence” could be interested.

Cole Hamels: There’s already been a lot written about Hamels so I won’t waste the time or space here. He’s a front end starting pitcher right now, and even though the number of years, dollars, and prospects that a team would have to commit to acquire him is clearly a risk, the Phillies would do well to take the best offer they get for him this deadline (assuming it’s a good offer) and put those dollars and prospects they acquire toward rebuilding.

Aaron Harang: Does your team need a back of the rotation starter? Aaron Harang is available, probably wouldn’t cost many prospects, and only costs whatever’s left on his 5 million dollar contract when you acquire him? No complicated options here, just a good old fashioned #5 starter. Don’t buy his 3.24 ERA, it’s going to go up, maybe even as a member of your team. if you expect Aaron Harang to keep being good, you should probably re-evaluate how you evaluate, because it’s as easy as pointing to his .244 BABIP and saying “This is Aaron Harang” for most people to nod and see how this ends.

Jonathan Papelbon: Papelbon’s still a valuable relief pitcher. He’d be relatively easy to deal if it wasn’t for his 13 million dollar vesting option for next season, a vesting option he has a fair chance of meeting. So any team acquiring Papelbon to be their closer has to factor in the possibility of having him around for an extra season. The Phillies have a ton of complicated options that make these deals tricky.

Flipping Neil Walker at the trade deadline

Last year at the trade deadline, in order to acquire a half a season of Jon Lester and Johnny Gomes from Boston the A’s traded Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes (age 28 when traded) was signed out of Cuba before the 2012 season for 4 years and 36 million dollars. In the final two years of his deal (when he was traded) he was making 10.5 million dollars for each season. Ever since he arrived in the U.S. Cespedes has been a consistently above average corner outfielder, posting WAR of 2.9, 2.4, and 3.3 in the seasons before he was traded. At the time the Oakland A’s dealt him, he had a year and a half remaining on his contract before he would become a free agent.

What I want to do here is outline the similarities between Neil Walker and Yoenis Cespedes. Let me just start by saying I’m sure this will be unpopular, because Neil Walker is from here and a fan favorite. I’d guess to a lot of people, he’d have roughly the same trade value as Andrew McCutchen. That’s stupid and incorrect, but casual fans believe what they want and nothing can change their minds until something does. Anyway, I like Neil Walker. He seems like a good guy. I would guess a lot of the blowback from this idea will be that Walker seems like a good teammate, and that’s fine. It’s just not something I care that much about. Now for the similarities between Walker and Cespedes. Cespedes was 28 when he was traded. Walker will be 29 at the deadline this year. Walker, like Cespedes, has a year and a half before he becomes a free agent. His salary is comparable; he’s making 8 million dollars this year and has one year of arbitration left. As for defense, Walker is probably less valuable than Cespedes, even factoring in the boost Walker gets from the positional adjustment of corner outfield to second base. The biggest thing linking the two players is offensive production. Cespedes has a career wRC+ of 115. Walker has a career wRC+ of 114. There’s basically no difference there. Walker gets to that number with less power and more on base skills, but these players are very similar in terms of the offense they create. Where Cespedes has been basically a 2.5-3.5 win player during his time in the majors, Walker has been roughly the same. They are very similar players, even factoring in the difference of position.

So now that it’s been established that Walker is similar to a player who was traded at the deadline last year, the next question should be why would the Pirates look to move Walker? It’s no secret that Walker’s time in Pittsburgh is likely nearing it’s end. The Jung-Ho Kang signing seemed to be a first step toward dealing Walker next offseason. With positive early returns on Kang, that timetable could potentially move up. Walker has one more year of arbitration left, and his salary will top 10 million dollars. With the costs of several other players also increasing, Walker seems like the perfect candidate to cash in on his value before he leaves in free agency. It should be noted that if Walker played out his career in Pittsburgh before he hits free agency, he would be a candidate to receive a qualifying offer (which incidentally is another reason to look for the Pirates to trade him before his final season. If he’s traded mid season in 2016, the acquiring team can’t offer him a qualifying offer and won’t receive draft pick compensation). Should the Pirates move Walker, Kang would take over at third base full time, Jordy Mercer would get more playing time at shortstop and Josh Harrison would slide to second. Harrison’s defense at third has been suspect this year, but it’s still only been a third of a season and he’s seemed able to handle second in the past. There’s also Alen Hanson performing well in AAA, and although I don’t want to scout his stat line, he seems nearly ready to help the MLB team in some way. The Pirates have players who can fill in for Walker should they deal him, but not only that, they’d be dealing from an area of relative depth.

So why would the Pirates make a move for a pitcher (as the A’s did last year)? It’s no secret that the Pirates pitching depth is tenuous. After Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, but of whom have had injury problems in the recent past, the Pirates have the surprisingly effective A.J. Burnett who, in his age 38 season, might lose effectiveness as the year goes on. They have Charlie Morton, who has never made it through an entire season without at least one trip to the disabled list (he’s already had one to begin the season), and the mostly ineffective Jeff Locke. Vance Worley is currently in the bullpen but is likely the first in line should a pitcher get hurt. The Pirates minor league depth is Clayton Richard, Adrian Sampson, Casey Sadler, and eventually Jameson Taillon. None of these pitchers profile as anything more than back of the rotation arms (except Taillon, but coming back from injury who knows how the Pirates will handle him). The Pirates could use another starting pitcher (but the same is true of nearly every other team in baseball).

The last part of this scenario I’ve laid out is potential trades. I think, for the most part, it’s useless to try and completely outline hypothetical deals, but I’ll try and outline potential trade candidates that could fit in Pittsburgh. The problem is, by the value for Cespedes the A’s and Red Sox agreed on last season, not only was Cespedes worth Jon Lester, and ace starting pitcher, he was also worth Johnny Gomes, a platoon outfielder. So any deal would have to factor that in in some way. Both players were free agents at the end of the season, so any proposed deal should probably focus on similar players. It isn’t every year that pitchers who are roughly comparable to Lester last season are traded and are on teams that aren’t contending or could be looking to upgrade at second base, so the list of of potential trade candidates is fairly short. It’s something like the following list though: Johnny Cueto (who is unlikely because the Reds have Brandon Phillips at second and Todd Frazier at third), Jordan Zimmerman (the Nationals have Danny Espinosa doing surprisingly well at second base right now, and their rotation looks less secure than it did at the beginning of the season but there’s maybe a small chance this deal would interest them. Probably not though), and Jeff Samardzija, who actually stands a chance of being dealt. The White Sox attempted rebuild hasn’t gone as planned and they look likely to finish last in the AL Central. Dealing Samardzija for Walker could allow them to save face and cash in on a free agent to be and retool for next season. They have some second base prospects who have actually debuted this year (Carlos Sanchez and Micah Johnson) that might make this less appealing to them, but neither of those players is as good as Walker. As for Samardzija, he’s worse than Lester but he’s making 4 million dollars less this season. That alone is probably not enough to balance out the Johnny Gomes aspect of the deal, so the White Sox would probably have to add something else. That deal looks the most like an actual possibility though. There exists a potential for a more creative deal, but I don’t think it’s worthwhile to speculate on things like three team trades.

The Pirates are probably going to trade Neil Walker before he becomes a free agent. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong time to trade him, there is just the potential to improve the ball club by acquiring new talent. It isn’t like Neal Huntington to want to part with significant minor league prospects to acquire talent at the trade deadline. The best prospect the Pirates have given up in recent years has probably been Dilson Herrera to the Mets for Marlon Byrd. This scenario is also probably something Huntington would want to avoid. Billy Beane in Oakland is willing to overhaul his team at the drop of a hat, and Huntington seems less likely to do that. But that doesn’t mean trading Neil Walker isn’t an idea worth exploring.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.