Monday, July 21, 2014

Dodgers' OF negative trade value makes Joc Pederson more valuable


There's a certain cognitive dissonance a lot of baseball fans feel between the value to the team of players' on-field contributions (almost always positive) as compared to the value minus the cost (not necessarily positive).

When considering possible trades, you're not trading for just the player -- you're also trading for the contract. In baseball, you can cut a guy, but the money's guaranteed. So, you have to think about the net value to the team of a contract (the on-field value minus the cost).

The on-field value is in terms of runs or wins, and the cost is in dollars, but you can convert wins to dollars by observing the free-agent market. Free agents last winter expected to produce "x" wins above replacement this year got contracts of around $5.5M * "x." You have to factor in their age, the length of the contract, etc., but it's somewhere in that neighborhood.

Of course in the middle of the season, the main way to get talent in is trade, but everyone's thinking about the next few years as well and the options that might be on the market for them in the winter. So with all that in mind, we can think through a framework that helps us understand why if we put any of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, or Carl Crawford on waivers (other team can just have them and their contract for nothing in return), quite possibly, none of them would be claimed. They have negative net value (even though each offers some positive on-field value, their salary commitments far exceed any such value) and the Dodgers either have to send a little money along just to get them off the team. It is something they should consider because there is an opportunity cost of them taking up the roster spot and playing time when an even better player could fill it instead) or a lot of money in order to achieve that and also effectively buy themselves some players in return. How much money makes each of these guys' contracts a net wash?

Ethier

He is 32 and aging fast. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt on a rebound at the plate, he might be something like a .330/.400 (OBP/SLG) guy going forward this year (and worse in 2015 and worse than that in 2016...). Meanwhile, he's got about 3 1/2 years left on his deal at $61 million. There is no chance of anyone exercising his 2018 option, so I counted the buyout in that figure. He is an acceptable outfielder at all three spots with average speed. Of course, his speed (and hence outfield defense) is also going to decline a little each year too.  It's tough to be in your mid-30s and play Major League Baseball if you can't boost your testosterone with illegal drugs. The value of a win is expected to go up each year, maybe 5 percent, so keep that in mind when considering the tables below. Also, all dollar numbers were rounded to the nearest million.



WAR
Value
Salary
Asset
(rest of) 2014
0.7
$4
$6
-$2
2015
1.5
$9
$18
-$9
2016
0.9
$5
$16
-$11
2017
0.1
$1
$18
-$17
2018


$3
 -$3
Total
3.2
$19
$61
$-42

The Dodgers would have to send out about $10 million per year to make it a break-even proposition.

Crawford

I feel a little more positive about Crawford, but he's still almost impossible to trade. He's also 32, but is a better bounce-back candidate, as he's been a little unlucky and is still fast. He can still put up a .320/.410 line this year with good speed and defense. I know he goes through stretches where he looks terrible (and performs terribly) but when you add it all up at the end of the year, he's still a good bet to have got the job done.



WAR
Value
Salary
Asset
(rest of) 2014
1.4
$8
$8
-$0
2015
2.6
$15
$21
$-5
2016
2.4
$14
$21
$-6
2017
1.6
$10
$21
$-11
Total
8.0
$48
$70
$-23

The perception is that he's harder to trade than Ethier because the salary is a little higher, but actually I think he's a substantially better player at this point (I don't think Ethier will even be an everyday guy wherever he goes) and the gap between salary and value is not that bad until he starts losing his foot speed. $5 million per year might make trade partners open to the idea.

Kemp

Kemp's only 29, but the injuries have really taken their toll. I don't know the prognosis for his ankle, but if he doesn't regain some explosiveness, he's looking like a designated hitter right now. He wants to play center field, but it's doubtful if his new team would let him play defense at all. He's a guy whose athleticism has always made up for a lot, so without it he's really exposed. He's been historically bad the last few years and just unacceptable -- even in left field. A very bad fielder in the major leagues costs his team about 15 runs a year relative to an average fielder at that position, and will probably lose his job. Kemp has been more than twice that bad in the last year. Let that sink in. He's literally the worst defender in the major leagues over the last year and a half. Michael Morse is better. Chris Carter is better. Evan Gattis is better. Adam Dunn is better. Raul Ibanez is better. Not to pile on or anything. Thirty runs below average is about three wins below average, so it's almost impossible for his bat to make that up. If he could hit for 60 runs above average, maybe you'd put up with it. (that'd take an OPS of around 1.050).

But with his shoulder also not entirely good as new, you might see him as "just" a .330/.450 hitter now. That's still a good hitter, but if he's not hitting like Manny Ramirez, he doesn't get to play defense like Ramirez. Or if he does, he's not worth Ramirez-money. He's also signed for two years longer than Ethier or Crawford. He's not even platoonable this year since he somehow lost his ability to hit lefties. If he doesn't get his health back, this is one of the worst contracts in the game. The Dodgers would have to kick in $15-20 million annually to make him an attractive trade option. I don't even want to show you the table. I'm a Matt Kemp fan. I have been for almost 10 years. So let's assume the acquiring team is more optimistic and counting on that upside. Let's just say he heals up a couple notches next year. Now at least we can look at the table without crying.



WAR
Value
Salary
Asset
(rest of) 2014
0.5
$3
$8
-$6
2015
3.0
$17
$21
-$4
2016
3.0
$18
$22
-$3
2017
1.9
$12
$22
-$9
2018
1.4
$9
$22
-$12
2019
1.2
$8
$22
-$13
Total
10.9
$68
$115
$-47

Now at least it's in the $5-10 million range.

Those are the cards the Dodgers are holding, which is why your best hope is to take on some other bad contract at a position that fits the roster better. If they can jettison one of these guys somehow, they can promote Joc Pederson, who offers better defense in center field and a good chance of performing better than any of the three on offense. The fear with him is his maturity level and his strikeouts. Well, the strikeouts are a bit alarming, as they've increased dramatically with each level of the minors. But strikeouts aren't bad if they're the price of walks and power, which, in Pederson's case, they are indeed. He's got a good case that he'll be an above average major-league center fielder for the next several years.


 Year
Level 
BB%
K%
ISO
2012
A+
10.2%
16.2%
.203
2013
AA
13.5%
22.0%
.219
2014
AAA
18.1%
27.8%
.260

Or, they could trade Pederson. The trading of prospects is awkward to evaluate financially. Because their pay is not set but determined by performance (and even in the best case performances, they get way underpaid), they always have a huge positive expected financial value -- even when you count in the high bust rate (almost zero value).  The risk with prospects is that you give them a job and they don't produce on the field, and now you saved money but your team is worse. Fans don't like that, and if your revenue falls, that's the real financial risk around playing a prospect.

The connection between winning and revenue is what drives the $/WAR free agent market in the first place. Of course, each team has different short- and long-term goals and values marginal wins differently. That's what makes prospect for veteran trades possible. 

If the Dodgers do trade Pederson, though, all these other guys just get older and slower, and we're right back here next year but worse. There are no free agent center fielders of note coming up this winter -- Denard Span is the closest thing to it. So, while the Dodgers could use some more pieces right now, trading Pederson creates more problems than it solves.

Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Dodgers Digest

1 comment:

  1. Should have traded him 1 1/2 years ago.

    ReplyDelete