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Cardinals Trade Value Series...the top 6

I didn't initially believe that Jack Flaherty would be a top-5 guy, but the more I thought about it, the more he forced my hand.

Today we’re going to finish our 2 part Cardinals Trade Value series by going through the top 6 Cardinals in terms of their trade value. Just to review, this is an idea I got from Fangraphs, who does this for the entire major leagues every year. It seemed unusually appropriate to do one this year for the Cardinals because the team is in the position of potentially being a seller at the trade deadline. Even if it decides not to sell, there are enough whispers around about a roster that doesn’t fit that the team may decide to sort of buy and sell at the same time, trying to reshape the roster rather than building it. Whatever the team decides to do, I thought it made sense to discuss which Cardinals would bring the greatest return if it decided to make some of those roster changes.

So, once again, here are numbers 12 through 7 in terms of trade value:

(I think that reasonable arguments can be made for switching players or moving a player up or down a slot or 2. The value that the #9 guy would return isn’t going to be that much greater than the value the #10 guy would return so if you think Bader is above Gyorko or Ozuna is above Mikolas, that’s a perfectly reasonable position to take.)

Now, without further ado, the top 6.

6. Tommy Pham – rWAR: 0.6; fWAR: 1.3

First, the good. Tommy was a 6-win player last season and isn’t even 1st time arbitration eligible until after next season which means he has 3 years of team control beyond this year. On the other hand, he’s already in his age-30 season and has had some struggles so far this season. Had we done this exercise in the offseason, Pham certainly would have finished higher on the list but his up-and-down first half has illuminated the concerns teams surely have about him. Tommy is one tough cookie and will doubtless get everything he can out of his major league career but there’s no doubt that his age, his injury history, and his persistent eye problems reduce the trade value he has to the franchise. Right now this is fine because I’m betting that Pham turns it around and has a very good second half of the season.

5. Jack Flaherty – rWAR: 1.3; fWAR: 1.2

Flaherty was, by far, the most difficult player to place on this list. On the one hand, he was a top-100 prospect but never a top 15 or 20 guy throughout MLB and has just 96 innings of major league experience. He has less of a track record than Luke Weaver and Weaver is 5 spots behind him. On the other hand…are you kidding? He’s got a 28% K rate and a BB rate less than 8% and is just 21 years old. He’s receiving the major league minimum and will have 5 years of team control beyond this one. His ERA is 22% better than average and his FIP is 7% better than average, yet he is barely able to buy a beer legally. At first I had him #7 and then, after talking to a couple of people, I moved him above Martinez and then above Pham. I almost moved him up to #4 but at the last minute I decided that was too aggressive. If the Cardinals starting offering him around, I’d bet that every team in baseball would be interested. Still, most would acknowledge that he’s probably a year or so away from really helping them in the playoffs and that track record just isn’t quite long enough to really give him elite trade value. Next year at this time, it wouldn’t shock me if he was #1 on this list.

4. Matt Carpenter – rWAR: 3.5; fWAR: 3.3

It’s hard to believe we are where we are with Carpenter based on how his season began. Despite having terrible results over the first 6 or so weeks of the season, he has become a top-20 hitter in the game at the All-Star break. Carpenter is presently as good as he’s ever been at the plate and while he’s probably overachieved over the last 6 weeks or so, the underlying peripherals (.429 xwOBA, 6th in baseball) look really good. He’s a guy who can play both corner infield positions, could obviously DH for an AL team, and could play a little 2B in a pinch. He’s a .373 OBP guy so he could bat leadoff for a team that acquires him or they could put him in the middle of the order. And he holds his own against lefties, to boot. He has been the Cardinals’ best player over the 1st half of the season and his trade value will probably never be higher than it is right now.

On the other hand, he is 32 years old and is signed only through next season, with an $18.5 million team option for 2020. So, technically, he’s under team control for the next 2 ½ seasons at a relatively affordable salary for the team that acquires him. I would guess that he could be an impact player down the stretch and in the playoffs for a team that acquires him now and probably has in the neighborhood of $40 million in surplus value to the Cardinals. He wouldn’t return a bank vault’s worth of prospects but the Cardinals could probably ask for and receive more than they gave up to get Ozuna this past offseason.

3. Paul DeJong – rWAR: 1.7; fWAR: 1.5

DeJong has just returned from the DL stint that resulted from a broken hand that was fractured when hit by a pitch. If that injury had never occurred – one that could affect literally any player and shouldn’t be seen as one that is likely to repeat itself – he would likely be sitting at around 2.5 WAR at the All-Star break. It’s reasonable to think that he’d be an All-Star. DeJong signed a long-term deal with the Cardinals this offseason that will keep the 24 year old under team control potentially through 2025. He’ll receive $1 million this year, $1.5 million each of the next 2 years, and then $4 million, $6 million, and $9 million in the 3 years thereafter. In other words, in the next 5 years after this season DeJong will receive $22 million. Then the team has 2 team options worth $12.5 million and $15 million. He is an incredible value.

After his rookie season, it was reasonable to wonder whether or not he could repeat the success he enjoyed as a rookie. In fact, our very own Zach Gifford wrote a great article telling Cards’ fans to expect a little regression from DeJong. The warning signs revolved around his extremely low walk rate and extremely high strikeout rate and presented reasonable concerns about his future at the plate. And DeJong’s power is down somewhat this year as his ISO has fallen from .247 to .181. On the other hand, his walk rate has nearly doubled to 8.8%. His K rate is still high and that’s a problem but middle infielders who slug in the .440 - .450 range and have ~9% walk rates have a lot of value. Add to that the fact that DeJong has shown that he is a legitimate shortstop as his defensive metrics so far this season show improvement from last season.

The point is that DeJong’s first half of 2018 has helped to show that 2017 was not a fluke. He was a 3+ WAR player last season and he’s shown that there’s a pretty good chance – even with the strikeouts – that he can be at least that going forward. And if he can play shortstop, a position he rarely played in the minors, he can almost certainly play 3B or 2B if needed. He’ll probably never be a star but a 3-ish WAR guy who’s under team control for a relative pittance for the next 5 – 7 years would have a lot of trade value if the Cardinals decided to make him available. There’s really no reason to believe they will.

2. Jordan Hicks – rWAR: 0.2; fWAR: 0.4

Who’d-a-thunk this going in to the season? It’s not Hicks’ WAR that would intrigue other teams. It’s the 100+ mph fastball and the wicked slider that would have teams lining up to acquire him if the Cards were willing to listen to offers on him. As I wrote about a couple weeks ago, his K rate was low to begin the season but he’s been much better over the last 5 or 6 weeks. He’s obviously a rookie with 5 more years of team control and, if acquired, could be thrown immediately into the pennant race for that team. Every contending team needs relievers at this time of year and it’s pretty easy to envision the Indians, Astros, Phillies, or Red Sox putting him on the bump in the 8th inning of a tie game in October and expecting him to keep it tied. The only thing holding his trade value down at this point is his short track record – made even shorter by the fact that his K/BB ratio was so bad to begin the season. If he develops a 3rd pitch and shows that he can ultimately be used in the rotation, his value will skyrocket. Chances are, however, that he’ll always be a reliever.

1. Carlos Martinez – rWAR: 1.4; fWAR: 1.5

Though a lot of Cardinals’ fans don’t recognize it, Martinez is an ace. If the team really wanted to jump-start the roster overhaul, it could start taking offers for Martinez. He spent some time on the DL in the first half which has held his value down but Martinez has had 3 straight 3+ WAR seasons (rWAR of 5.3 in 2016), isn’t yet 27 years old, and there’s still a sense that he hasn’t hit his ceiling. Even if this is his ceiling, it’s reasonable to think he’s got a few more 3+ WAR seasons in him. He’s set to earn less than $12 million through 2021 and the team has team options on him during the 2022 and 2023 seasons at $17 and $18 million, respectively. He is a huge bargain, with probably $100 million or so surplus value. He, like Carpenter, could make an instant impact if traded this July and in the postseason as well. If put on the market, it’s probable that every team in baseball would be interested. He would almost certainly return the biggest haul of any player traded during the season. Still, because the Cardinals envision themselves as contenders at least in 2019 if not in 2018, I would be stunned if the team seriously entertained trading him.

I would anticipate that the team will make at least a couple of trades this July but doubt seriously that any real roster overhaul will begin in the next couple of weeks. If so, however, the team has a few guys who could bring back quite a large return and, in fact, there are reasonable arguments that can be made for trading the team’s top players.

Thanks as always to @cardinalsgifs for the great Jack Flaherty pic and for the platform.

Thanks to my usual reference sources for the valuable information – baseball-reference, fangraphs, and baseball savant and thanks to all of you for reading.


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