Assessing the Rays Trade Assets
Coming into this 2016 season the consensus was that the American League would be one of parity with just about every team duking it out for one of the wild cards, if not the division. There was always going to be some separation with cream rising and shit sinking, but as we enter the second half of the season each of those parties now have names. The Tampa Bay Rays are currently mired in a 3-18 stretch that has removed all doubt about where they lie within the strata. They’re not at the bottom, but they’re damn near it, which brings us to the next phase of this season.
Once you realize that there is little point in attempting to get better this season focus can be firmly placed on how the heck to get better for next season. Or the one after that. The drop in the standings has helped the Rays build confidence that their next draft pick will be able to help, but that production will not surface until the one after that after that if you know what I’m saying. Draft picks are great and the higher the pick the better the chance of getting a meaningful player, but it takes time. The 2017 draft pick isn’t going to help next year’s team. Or the one after that. If the Rays hope to prop their contention window open a little bit longer it will have to come via the trade.
General Manager Matt Silverman hasn’t been shy to take advantage of some chummed up waters. Since assuming the helm at the end of the 2014 season he has traded Matt Joyce, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jeremy Hellickson, Kevin Jepsen, Kirby Yates, Jake McGee and Nate Karns. Virtually every single one of these deals was made with an eye on still being competitive today, but also adding a little something for the future. I would not expect him to quit now while the iron is scalding hot. A thing to keep in mind here is that every single one of those deals, with the exception Jepsen, was made during the offseason. While the team may have been reluctant to part with prime talent mid-season in the past the team has also rarely been in the position of being an also-ran this early in the season.
It doesn’t take a fool to point out that the Rays stand little chance of winning this year, but still have a strong nucleus of talent going forward with nearly every player under control for many years. There are a couple of exceptions, but the Rays are not in a position like with David Price where they had to move a guy before losing him with little return. They do not have to make a move. They can wait, but if we have reached the place where it’s time to think about moving some present talent for future considerations then it becomes a question of who to move and for how much. What is a reasonable approximation of our current portfolio of assets?
Those of you that have read me over the years should have a quick grasp on the above table, but for the millions that haven’t had the chance allow me to break this down. Future value (FV) refers to the amount of money a player should expect to make while under his years of team control. For many, these amounts have already been stipulated via guaranteed contracts, but for others there has to be some estimation for future arbitration bonuses. These are estimates, but I think they’re solid.
Now, everyone knows that a dollar today isn’t worth a dollar tomorrow so we should adjust these future concerns to discount those anticipated savings. This is where present value (PV) comes into play. Prior research has shown that the cost of a win increases by roughly 5.3% year-over-year so we can use that figure as our interest/discount rate and also for how much we expect the cost of a win to be in the future.
Much like a dollar today being worth more than one tomorrow you can say the same about a win above replacement (WAR). If we’re going to devalue future dollars we should also be discounting future wins because a win in 2020 is not nearly as good as a win in 2017. The folks at Point of Pittsburgh released a study a couple of years ago that delves into this very topic as a smaller part of their larger look at the value of a prospect. This study is incredible for many reasons, which will be touched on later, but for now let’s focus on that win devaluation:
Being able to compare future dollars with future production gives us all we need to calculate the expected surplus value of a player. One sticky wicket is that we have no idea how a player will perform in the future. Well, we have some idea. We can use past years to get an idea of future years, but we’ve all seen bright lights flame out and others come alive when the wick is nearly spent. In order to account for potential injuries or lack of performance I have mostly taken a pessimistic view on grading our players. The rest of 2016 uses an average of Steamer and Zips WAR projections, where available, and then 2017 is based on a weighted average of the prior years with emphasis on more recent production. For years beyond 2017 I am knocking half a win off per year, which is probably aggressive when dealing with young talent, but gives us a systemic way to view this stuff.
The last two columns show discounted value, which is the discounted WAR multiplied by the cost of a win for the league for each year and then I subtract the present value of each of the players from this figure to get the Surplus. While a team would love to get a mythical eight-WAR player they would rather pay that guy league minimum than some exorbitant free agent price. It’s important to account for both sides of the equation and this tool allows us to do that. Let’s crunch some numbers:
At the top of the list is Kevin Kiermaier, who is both a very good player, but also very cheap with oodles of control. I’ve got him at worth over 12 WAR over the next four and a half seasons, which is solid, but he’s also only estimated to make just shy of $19,000,000, which is a best of both worlds scenario. Every team wishes they had a Kiermaier that was going to produce tons of value for very little money. I hope we have passed your sniff test to this point. Next is Longoria who is probably an even better player, but he is also expected to make a lot more money. This gives Kiermaier an overwhelming edge in surplus value, but they’re both tremendous pieces. Archer comes next as kind of a middleman. He has a friendly deal that is packed with declinable options, but also looks like everything you could want from a mid-rotation or better pitcher.
While I would love nothing more than to go down this list item by item there’s a reason I have grouped these guys the way that I have and it refers back to the PoP study linked above. That first group of guys should basically bring back whatever you want from a system. They have so much value, both presently, and in the future, that any team should be eager to offer the best assets that they can put together. Here’s what they look like broken down:
Whatever You Want
Using the PoP study we find that trading a guy like Archer should bring back at least a top 1 – 10 hitter and for Longoria and Kiermaier an acquiring team should have to throw in a second guy that is either a 26 – 50 hitter or all but the very best pitchers. It would certainly hurt to part with any of these guys that form the core of this team, but the hurt would fade if the team is able to get what they are worth. It is unlikely that any of these guys would be moved, but the Rays don’t use the word untouchable for a reason. If a team like the Dodgers were to offer Corey Seager for Arch the team should do it. Likewise, if they were additionally willing to part with a guy like Jose De Leon then it might make some sense to move a stalwart like Kiermaier or Longoria.
The next group is a full rung down from the monsters at the top, but still present unquestioned value to a team that wants to win right now. Forsythe or Andriese should expect to bring back something like a 26 – 50 hitter and a fringe prospect or something like an 11 – 25 pitcher. Odorizzi stands even taller and would require something like an 11 – 25 hitter or any pitcher in the land. You may not consider these guys the core, but they’re each very good players with multiple years of control, and should yield a very nice return. If not, then you don’t deal and take the great value for yourself.
Top 50 – 100
This third group is where we start to see lesser value due to either lower ceilings for the players or fewer years of control. Cobb is the headliner of this group, but Souza is right there with him and the gaps are relatively small as we go down the list. Each of these guys should be traded if you can get a back half pitcher or hitter with some small quibbles on how to balance the deal either way. Cobb is one of my favorite pitchers of all time, but if the team can get something like Willson Contreras or Jon Gray for these guys then they should absolutely go do that deal.
This list gets us down to the guys that don’t have very much trade value, but could be the types of guys you’re most likely to spin off because of their lack of value going forward. While I wouldn’t expect much of a return for any of these guys there may be some value in opening up a spot on the roster with their departure. Additionally, these are the guys that I would be looking to add into a deal for a more marketable talent to help offset overages. If a team wants to give you not quite what they would for a Jake Odorizzi maybe throwing in a guy like Steve Pearce, who will be a free agent after this year, gets them to give that one extra little piece that you were really hoping for. Think of these guys ss the oil that adds liquidity and reduces friction when it comes to the art of making a deal.
Then we get to the guys that have essentially no value. Much like Pearce, Logan Morrison will not be with the team next year, so it makes a lot of sense to move him for whatever you can get. Guys like Farquhar or Arcia might have some untapped upside, but they have enough known holes that nobody is going to give anything to find out.
The Tampa Bay Rays stand at a crossroads that could very well dictate how the team performs over the next several years. They have an ample amount of worthwhile assets that would be emotionally tough to move, and then some other guys with lesser value that would be a bit easier. Unlike the Rays, whoever they potentially deal with is placing more of an emphasis on winning today, this week, this month, this year, which could make them open to paying the ransom necessary to get their guy. I wouldn’t expect the Rays to make a huge deal, because they prefer to do so during the offseason when they have more information and a full table of buyers, but I would not be surprised if they capitalize on this opportunity to go get the players that they think can be a part of the next American League East division winner.