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Eye of the Beholder

Muideen Ogunmola

MLB Trade Value, Part 2

With the hot stove smoking and the winter meetings looming, we conclude our annual ranking of baseball’s 50 most valuable assets

Yesterday, we revealed Part 1 of our annual MLB Trade Value ranking. Today, we’re rounding out the list by dissecting baseball’s 35 most valuable chips. If you need a refresher on the rules that define this thought experiment, head back to yesterday’s piece; if you’re all caught up, proceed accordingly. And remember, last year’s rankings appear in parentheses.

Note: All contract figures are via Cot’s.

Group 7: Young, Cheap, Really Good Pitchers

yordano-ventura-triEd Zurga/Getty Images

35. Yordano Ventura (NR), SP, Kansas City Royals
34. Sonny Gray (HM), SP, Oakland A’s
33. Gerrit Cole (26), SP, Pittsburgh Pirates

The past season reminded us that young pitchers can be a giant land mine, and in turn reinforced that the productive ones who make it through their early big league years unscathed are immensely valuable. Ventura, Gray, and Cole are three prime examples.

The 23-year-old Ventura, the youngest and wispiest of the bunch, evokes images of young Pedro Martinez, parlaying his (barely) 6-foot, 180-pound frame into a flamethrowing machine that heaved more 100 mph fastballs last season than any other starting pitcher. Pushing the Pedro comparison any further would be patently unfair, of course, and the Royals have to be thrilled with a guy who gave them 30 regular-season starts as a rookie, produced a park-adjusted ERA 25 percent better than league average, shook off some minor concerns over a late-season shoulder issue, and still had enough in the tank to fire seven shutout innings in Game 6 of the World Series.

Meanwhile, Cole and Gray, who are just 24 and 25 years old, respectively, both delivered consolidation years: Cole allowed more runs than in 2013, but ramped up his strikeout rate to an even one per inning; Gray posted slightly inferior peripheral stats than in his 64-inning debut season, but established one of the best curveball-slider combinations in the game and tossed 219 effective innings.

These three are young, cheap, highly effective, and healthy. Further improvement could push them even higher up this list next year, and team-friendly contract extensions could make them nearly untouchable.

Group 8: I Say AND-Rel-Ton, You Say And-REL-Ton, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

andrelton-simmons-bravesScott Cunningham/Getty Images

32. Andrelton Simmons (39), SS, Atlanta Braves

Here’s what two MLB talent evaluators had to say about the Braves’ 25-year-old shortstop after I showed them a preliminary version of the top 50:

1. “Simmons is an awesome defender. AWESOME. Hard for me to bite down that a guy with a .290 on-base is the 35th-most valuable asset in baseball.”

2. “He needs to be higher for me — in the 10-20 range. It’s a crazy-good contract, and he’s a better hitter than what he has shown. Plus the defense is so good at the most important position.”

I compromised, because both gentlemen made fair points. But, man, this one’s tough.

Though he entered the league just two-plus years ago, Simmons has already drawn comparisons to Ozzie Smith thanks to his defensive brilliance, which is saying something considering that the Wizard might’ve been the most valuable defender in baseball history.

Evoking a name like Ozzie’s is a huge deal, but quantifying how much value Simmons (or any player) brings defensively remains difficult. According to Baseball-Reference, Simmons generated 5.4 WAR in 2013 and 3.9 in 2014 with his glove alone; Nelson Cruz, who led baseball with 40 homers last year, generated 4.2 WAR with his bat. If we believe those numbers, we accept that the Braves have a player who, before even picking up a bat, generates as much or more value than the sport’s top power hitter. Paired with his youth and favorable contract (six more years for a total of just $56 million), that defensive impact would seem to make Simmons ludicrously valuable.

Simmons’s total WAR (3.5) was lower than his dWAR last year, however, which brings us to the rub: There are still major questions about his bat. His line plunged to .244/.286/.331 in his second full season, with his homer total dropping from 17 in 2013 to seven last year. In total, Simmons clocked in as the sixth-worst everyday hitter in the majors last year on a park-adjusted basis. One baseball insider I spoke to said Simmons looked uncomfortable and off-balance at the plate last season, making it incredibly tough for him to square up pitches and drive them, despite his overall athletic ability.

It’s also worth noting that, as spectacular as Simmons is at short, advanced defensive metrics like Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating might overstate his value a bit. Until a new measure like StatCast gives us detailed, play-by-play-driven numbers for every player in baseball, the defensive stats we have are basically estimates, which we can’t fully trust in small samples.

It’s a given that any team would want Simmons in its infield or highlight reel. It’s less clear where he currently ranks among the game’s greats.

Group 9: The Place Where Grounders Go to Die

nolan-arenado-troy-tulowitzki-rockiesHyoung Chang/The Denver Post/Getty Images

31. Troy Tulowitzki (18), SS, Colorado Rockies
30. Nolan Arenado (NR), 3B, Colorado Rockies

The Braves have a human vacuum cleaner patrolling the left side of their infield, but the Rockies have two in Tulowitzki and Arenado. Tulo’s a well-known two-way star by now, but those outside Colorado might not be as familiar with the 23-year-old Arenado, whose two Gold Glove Awards in his first two seasons are justified by the numbers. Though he’s not in Tulowitzki’s class as a hitter, Arenado’s combination of excellent contact skills and burgeoning power (even after adjusting for Coors Field) makes him a potential star. Tulo and Carlos Gonzalez may be the faces of the franchise right now, but the development of young players like Arenado and Corey Dickerson — both Rockies property for at least the next five years — could play a bigger role in the team’s attempted return to relevance.


That’s partly due to questions surrounding Tulowitzki’s long-term status. He looked like Ted Williams at the beginning of 2014, hitting well over .400 while roping line drives all over the park and launching titanic home runs, but he’s also 30 years old and has been crushed by injuries, averaging just 88 games per year over the past three seasons. Granted, he was so dominant in 2014 that he posted a 5.5 WAR despite logging just 91 games. And yes, the dearth of talent at shortstop would create molten-hot demand in certain corners if new GM Jeff Bridich ever made Tulo available.

Still, given his age, his injury history, and the six years and $114 million (plus a seventh, $15 million club option year) remaining on his contract, only a select group of bidders would actually emerge. It’s not hard to envision the Dodgers handing over half their prospects to get Tulo, even with farm system devotees Andrew Friedman and Stan Kasten at the helm; conversely, it’s nearly impossible to imagine Friedman’s former team in Tampa Bay even picking up the phone.

Group 10: Cardinal Rules

yadier-molina-adam-wainwright-cardinalsHarry E. Walker/MCT/Getty Images

29. Yadier Molina (12), C, St. Louis Cardinals
28. Adam Wainwright (21), SP, St. Louis Cardinals

From 2011 through 2013, Molina batted .313/.361/.481, making him the NL’s 16th-best hitter in that span. When he hits like that, he’s arguably the best player on the senior circuit, an offensive threat and a defensive magician by any metric. But his numbers fell off sharply last season (.282/.333/.386), with injuries limiting Molina to his lowest games-played total (110) since his rookie year in 2004. If that drop-off continues, he’ll be another Simmons, an all-world defender with iffy offensive value — only he’ll be 32 years old and owed $43 million over the final three years of his contract (plus a $2 million buyout or $15 million salary for his 2018 mutual option year). This ranking is banking on some positive regression in 2015 and beyond; if that doesn’t happen, he won’t be in this rarefied air much longer.

Wainwright is actually a year older than his batterymate, and his contract is even more expensive, at $78 million over the next four years. The right-hander’s strikeout rate fell below 20 percent last season for the first time since 2008, though, and his 90 mph fastball leaves him in the middle of the pack for missing bats. He owed some of his 2014 success to an unusually high 78 percent strand rate and career-low .267 batting average on balls in play despite ranking in the middle in ESPN’s hard-hit average stat. Still, it’s foolish to go overboard poking holes in Wainwright’s game. He posted a 2.88 FIP last season and remains a walking advertisement for Dave Duncan’s approach to limiting hard contact, befuddling hitters with a knee-buckling curveball down in the zone.


Bottom line: He’s an ace, he’s essential to the Cardinals’ success, and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Group 11: Building Blocks

julio-teheran-freddie-freeman-bravesScott Cunningham/Getty Images

27. Julio Teheran (HM), SP, Atlanta Braves
26. Freddie Freeman (38), 1B, Atlanta Braves

Teheran is 23 years old, wields three excellent out pitches, just completed a season in which he fired 221 innings with a 2.89 ERA, and is owed just $29.6 million over the next five years (or $41.6 million if the Braves pick up his 2020 option). Freeman is 25, he’s been the NL’s seventh-best hitter on a park-adjusted basis over the past two years, and he’s delivered the kind of early power numbers that often portend a bigger breakout; one talent evaluator I consulted predicted an Adrian Gonzalez–in–San Diego type of surge in the near future. Atlanta signed Freeman to an eight-year, $135 million extension last offseason, giving the team the benefit of his prime years without any commitment past his age-31 season.

The Braves have been scouting and player-development masters for the past quarter-century, and Teheran and Freeman are the latest — and potentially two of the greatest — links in that chain.

Group 12: The No-Name

yan-gomes-indiansJason Miller/Getty Images

25. Yan Gomes (NR), C, Cleveland Indians

Aside from the minor leaguers, Gomes is probably the player on this list who has the least name-recognition among casual fans. That won’t be the case for long. Toronto drafted Gomes in the 10th round in 2009 and dealt him in 2012 for Esmil Rogers, a trade the Jays surely regret, and one that contributed to their decision to spend $82 million on Russell Martin this offseason. Gomes has quietly grown into one of the AL’s best all-around players, bashing 21 homers and posting a .278/.313/.472 line in 2014 while displaying strong pitch-framing skills and playing generally excellent defense. He’s 27 years old, he’s owed a paltry $20.95 million over the next five years, and the Tribe would need to spend only another $20 million to lock him up through 2021.

If the Indians were as good at signing free agents as they are trading for unheralded prospects, they’d be a damn dynasty by now.

Group 13: Fish Tales

jose-fernandez-marlinsKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

24. Jose Fernandez (6), SP, Miami Marlins
23. Christian Yelich (HM), OF, Miami Marlins

CBS Sports’s Jon Heyman recently reported that the Marlins have made or plan to make long-term contract offers to four young players: Marcell Ozuna, Adeiny Hechavarria, Fernandez, and Yelich. That makes a ton of sense, and after years of spending big only to shed bigger, it could help rebuild some goodwill locally, which would be a welcome development with $2.4 billion in taxes going toward the team’s new stadium.

It’s a particularly sound strategy when it comes to Yelich and Fernandez. Yelich is basically a Nick Markakis starter kit, an athletic, high-on-base guy with the potential to smash an unholy number of doubles. FanGraphs credited him with 4.3 WAR last season, and he turns 23 tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Fernandez has earned my undying love thanks to his filthy repertoire, incredible combination of swagger and joie de vivre, and inspiring journey to America. Offering him a reported six-year, $40 million deal with multiple club options while he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery at age 22 is a clever attempt to take advantage of an uncertain time.

While all four players might be more receptive to sticking around now that Giancarlo Stanton has signed on the dotted line, going from offer to ink won’t be easy. Yelich and Ozuna have enough offensive potential to demand serious money even five years before free agency. Fernandez, who’s four years away from cashing in, is represented by Scott Boras, who’s notoriously reluctant to let star clients give up valuable free-agent years.

Regardless, Yelich and Fernandez are rising stars, and immensely valuable assets whether or not they sign extensions.

Group 14: Really Good Third Basemen

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22. Josh Donaldson (36), 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
21. Evan Longoria (4), 3B, Tampa Bay Rays

By WAR, Donaldson has been the game’s most valuable third baseman over the past two years, and Longoria the fifth. Donaldson, of course, actually was traded, and just a week ago. Whether you buy that Billy Beane dealt his star due in part to a verbal confrontation or simply chalk up the move to Oakland’s typical sell-high strategy, it was jarring to see the A’s trade a star who’s still four years away from free agency, even if Donaldson is a few days away from turning 29. Consider this ranking a reflection of his hypothetical value should the Blue Jays turn around and trade him again and not a verdict on what the A’s actually got for him, which most industry insiders agree wasn’t much.

Meanwhile, the Rays need to hope that Longoria can halt a disturbing trend in his offensive numbers, as his wRC+ has dipped from 146 to 133 to 107 the last three years. Hopefully that’s the product of nagging injuries and a random down year and not a true regression, because the guy who was the sport’s most valuable trade commodity when he was putting up big numbers and making peanuts becomes much less desirable as a 29-year-old owed $116.5 million over the next eight seasons (with a $13 million club option and $5 million buyout for a ninth year).

Group 15: Apples to Kumquats

yu-darvish-rangersNick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

20. Felix Hernandez (20), SP, Seattle Mariners
19. Salvador Perez (35), C, Kansas City Royals
18. Kris Bryant (NR), 3B, Chicago Cubs
17. Yu Darvish (11), SP, Texas Rangers

A prospect at no. 18! This is where things get really interesting, and really relative: The Yankees, who are always willing to spend big and have to try to sell $1,000 tickets, would have a hard time passing on King Felix, even though he’s owed $128 million over the next five years and will be in his age-33 season when that deal ends; the Pirates, who always pinch pennies and fetishize young talent, would surely covet a blue-chipper like Bryant, who could conceivably belt 200 homers in the six years for which they’d control him.

I’ve lauded King Felix more times than I can count, and there’s not much new to say about the perennial Cy Young contender. Bryant, however, is fresh Trade Value fodder. Admittedly, this is an aggressive ranking for a player who’s never seen a pitch in the big leagues, but several factors work in his favor. For one thing, Bryant isn’t a pitcher, so his risk of major injury or sudden skill erosion is comparatively low. For another, he’s a damn beast. No amount of park adjusting or number manipulating can douse the .325/.438/.661 beating he laid on Double-A and Triple-A pitchers last season, when he launched 43 homers in 138 games. He’s an all-world talent, he doesn’t turn 23 until January, and he’s one of the biggest reasons to start fearing the Cubs.

He’s not the only crazy value in this group, though. Darvish has lived up to the hype and then some, plowing through the league in each of his first three seasons. Though injuries curtailed his 2014 campaign a bit, he still enjoyed his best season by fielding-independent metrics on a per-inning basis anyway. Assuming he’s healthy come Opening Day, the most prolific strikeout artist on the planet will be mowing down batters for a measly $31 million over the next three years.

Finally, while the Great Salvador Perez Debate used to be a big talking point at Grantland, there’s no longer much to argue about. Perez has become a defensive star for K.C., and he’s a better offensive player than he showed in 2014; his lukewarm year-end stats stem from Ned Yost running Perez into the ground with excessive playing time, not from any major flaw in the catcher’s game. If the Royals find a half-decent backup for 2015 and give Perez a few more days off, the 24-year-old emerging star will be an undeniable value at $18.5 million over the next five years (including three option years).

Group 16: It’s the Tribe, Y’all!

corey-kluber-indiansDavid Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

16. Michael Brantley (NR), OF, Cleveland Indians
15. Corey Kluber (NR), SP, Cleveland Indians

I mentioned the Indians’ impressive prospect-thievery skills earlier, and here’s further proof: They got Brantley as a throw-in for CC Sabathia and got Kluber as an afterthought in a random Jake Westbrook–Ryan Ludwick three-way exchange. Not too shabby!

In 2014, Brantley blossomed from a decent all-around player to a .327/.385/.506 one-man wrecking crew who might be even better than his 7.0 WAR indicated. Brantley’s batting average on balls in play spiked to a career-high .333 in 2014, but there’s reason to believe that might not be a fluke: According to ESPN Stats & Info, he ranked eighth in the majors in hard-hit average, trailing only David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Andrew McCutchen, Adrian Beltre, Edwin Encarnacion, and Lucas Duda. At $19 million over the next three years (with an $11 million club option for 2018),1 the 27-year-old has emerged as a cornerstone.

As impressive as Brantley was, though, he took second billing to fellow breakout sensation Kluber, who tossed 235.2 innings, punched out 269 batters, posted a 2.44 ERA, and won the damn Cy Young. Kluber is 28, Indians property for four more seasons, and isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet. Brantley and Kluber earned two of the top four spots on my fake AL MVP ballot for 2014, and should continue earning that kind of recognition for years to come.

Group 17: NL East Franchise Players

matt-harvey-metsJim McIsaac/Getty Images

14. Giancarlo Stanton (16), OF, Miami Marlins
13. Matt Harvey (17), SP, New York Mets

Stanton just signed the richest contract in American pro team sports history, yet moved up two spots from last year. The “Hey, Keri, enjoying those Colorado weed laws?” tweets are inevitable.

I moved him up because I think he’s going to opt out of his new deal, and if that’s the case, the $107 million he’s set to earn over the next six years doesn’t look so scary. Most baseball players are better in their twenties than their thirties, so as good as Stanton is, paying him more than $200 million on the back end of his extension would likely be more of a curse than a privilege. (Just ask the people who signed Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, or Mark Teixeira. Or, probably a few years down the road, Miguel Cabrera.) Of course, there’s always the possibility that Stanton could get hurt tomorrow, ruin his rocket ride toward 500 homers and superstardom, and pass on opting out, which would make him a burden instead of a value. There are no guarantees, but I’m choosing to believe that the physical specimen who just tuned 25, blasted 37 homers, and was the NL’s second-best offensive player last year will keep the good times rolling for seasons to come, and maybe even get better as his plate discipline continues to improve.

Harvey also moved up from last year, though that’s easier to figure out: If he was a top-20 guy heading into a season that he was guaranteed to miss while recovering from Tommy John, he’s got to move up now that he’s expected to be healthy and back to his old, lights-out self. Harvey’s pre-injury 2013 numbers (178.1 innings pitched, 191 strikeouts, 30 unintentional walks, seven home runs allowed) established him as a top-five-caliber pitcher and short-list Cy Young contender. He’s still only 25 years old, he can dominate with four different pitches,2 he’s a year away from arbitration, and he’s under team control for four more years. Even if the Mets limit his innings in 2015, Harvey will be a stud.

Group 18: Catching Fire

jonathan-lucroy-brewers-triRob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

12. Jonathan Lucroy (44), C, Milwaukee Brewers
11. Buster Posey (5), C, San Francisco Giants

Six catchers cracked this year’s top 50, which speaks to teams’ growing recognition of a top backstop’s value and their understanding that a good, two-way receiver who pops 10 to 15 homers can be as valuable as a slugging first baseman who cranks 35 to 40 … and considerably cheaper. The Royals saw that kind of potential in Perez, the Indians saw it in Gomes, and the Brewers saw it in Lucroy, which is why the 28-year-old who just posted a 6.7-WAR season will make the criminally low sum of $12.25 million over the next three seasons (the third a club option that Milwaukee will surely pick up).

If we take pitch-framing numbers at face value, we can assume Lucroy was actually closer to an eight- or nine-win player in 2014, which would have made him the most valuable player in baseball.3 Regardless of how much stock you put in pitch-framing, though, you have to appreciate a defensively gifted catcher who played 153 games and hit .301/.373/.465 during a lousy year for offense leaguewide. For the money he’s making, that’s insane value.

Posey isn’t nearly as cheap after signing a megadeal that still has seven years and $143.5 million left (plus a $22 million club option), but he’s got a longer track record of stardom, with a rookie of the year nod, an MVP award, and three World Series rings already in hand. Despite that hefty résumé, he’ll be just 28 come Opening Day. Posey will likely lose some value if he moves to first base in the coming years,4 but we shouldn’t quibble too much about a perennial MVP candidate in his prime and locked up for nearly a decade.

Group 19: Fearsome Fivesome

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10. Yasiel Puig (14), OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
9. Anthony Rendon (NR), 3B/2B, Washington Nationals
8. Jose Abreu (NR), 1B, Chicago White Sox
7. Anthony Rizzo (NR), 1B, Chicago Cubs
6. Bryce Harper (3), OF, Washington Nationals 

One tricky element to evaluating a player’s long-term value is deciding how much credit a team should get for owning an exclusive negotiating window to re-sign him. Last year, I ranked Clayton Kershaw 29th despite him being only a year away from free agency because (1) he’s Clayton f’ing Kershaw, and (2) the Dodgers had a chance to negotiate with him a year before anyone else.

Rendon and Harper aren’t close to free agency yet, but it’s still worth thinking about their futures in these terms. Rendon, who’ll play his age-25 season next year, is bound to his employer through 2019. Harper, who just turned 22, offers control through 2018. Rendon hit .287/.351/.473 in his first full season, with 21 homers, 17 steals, plus baserunning, and strong defense at second and third. Though he’d long been a top prospect, that kind of breakthrough was a little surprising, especially given his injury history. Speaking of injuries: Harper suffered through a second straight injury-shortened season, and his numbers faded after a big 2013 campaign. He’s still widely considered the most athletically gifted player in the NL, though, and he was 25 percent better than league average offensively (per wRC+) through his age-21 season; by comparison, Miguel Cabrera was plus-21 percent through that same age, but Harper offers more speed, athleticism, and defensive skill than Cabrera ever did.

Both of these guys are really good, really young, and currently really cheap. However, they’re also Boras clients, negating the likelihood they’ll sign extensions. That’s particularly noteworthy with Harper, who’s set to become a free agent before his peak baseball-playing age, and who’s in a dispute with the Nats over entering arbitration a year early. If Washington had better odds of locking up these youngsters, both Rendon and Harper would rate even higher on this list. Given the Boras wrinkle, though, this is as far as I’m willing to go.

The two star first basemen playing in Chicago bring no such dilemmas, because they’ve both signed recent deals. The White Sox get to employ Abreu — the reigning rookie of the year and MVP candidate — for the next five years for just $51 million. The Cubs have an even better deal with Rizzo, whom they’ve got for five years at $35 million, plus a pair of $14.5 million club options in 2020 and 2021 that look supremely reasonable for a 25-year-old slugger who just batted .286/.386/.527 (the NL’s third-best park-adjusted line) while flashing a solid glove. Right now, there’s nothing to dislike about either player.

And then there’s Puig.


I can absolutely adore the Wild Horse for his reckless baserunning, give-zero-F’s throws, and high-flourish bat flips and still acknowledge that some people who matter (including some teammates and occasionally his manager) justifiably consider Puig a bit of a pain in the ass. Still, we’re talking about a career .305/.386/.502 hitter who turns 24 this weekend and is one of the best reasons to flip on a ballgame or make a pilgrimage to Dodger Stadium. Though he’s owed a paltry $24 million over the next four years, he can opt into arbitration after his third year of MLB service. Regardless of the dollar figure affixed to his name, he’ll be really good and really fun to watch. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny him that.

Group 20: Lefty Aces

San Francisco Giants v Detroit TigersMark Cunningham/MLB Photos/Getty Images

5. Madison Bumgarner (13), SP, San Francisco Giants
4. Chris Sale (10), SP, Chicago White Sox

It’s true that pitchers always carry some risk, but these two are too good to ignore. Figuring out where to put them in the top 50 was a fun exercise, but it’s actually more interesting to debate their value relative to each other.

The case for Bumgarner: He’s 25 years old, seventh in ERA (2.88) over the past two years, has never been on the DL, has three World Series rings, and has a Bob Gibson–esque reputation for World Series dominance. He’s a whale of a value at $52 million over the next five seasons, including two no-brainer option years.

The case for Sale: He’s 25 years old; fourth in ERA (2.67), fourth in strikeout rate, and fourth in strikeout-to-walk rate over the past two years; has one career DL stint; and pitches in the tougher league. And as with Bumgarner, he’s a steal over the next five seasons (including two option years), at just north of $53 million.

Some might argue that Bumgarner should get the edge based on durability, given how physically imposing he is compared to the 6-foot-6, 180-pound Sale, and given how thoroughly he dominated this postseason, up to and including his incredible Series-clinching Game 7 relief appearance that brought his season-long innings-pitched total to an amazing 270 (not counting spring training). Heck, those who put stock in postseason mystique and a pitcher’s ability to rise to the occasion when the lights shine brightest might argue for Bumgarner as the most valuable commodity in baseball right now.

In the end, though, Sale gets the slightest edge because of his superior regular-season performance and one looming but alarming question: Does Bumgarner’s unforgettable October elevate his status, or merely elevate his innings total to a point that could jeopardize his future?

Group 21: Worthy Runners-up

paul-goldschmidt-diamondbacksScott Cunningham/Getty Images

3. Paul Goldschmidt (8), 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
2. Andrew McCutchen (2), OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

What’s more enticing: four years (including an option) and $51.5 million for the now-28-year-old 2013 MVP, or five years (including an option) and $43 million for the now-27-year-old 2013 MVP runner-up? We’re giving this one to Cutch, because it’s incredibly hard to find a player with a .300-plus batting average, .400-plus on-base percentage, and .500-plus slugging average three years in a row. In fact, McCutchen is the only player sitting on such a streak. To manage that while manning center field — as opposed to the comparably easy task of playing first base — is a damn miracle.

That doesn’t minimize how lucky the D-Backs are to have Goldy, though. The former eighth-round draft pick was never a top-100 prospect and had his .317/.407/.620 minor league line waved off as the product of hitter-friendly leagues and ballparks, yet 462 games into his major league career he’s a .292/.381/.523 hitter who could maintain that production for years to come. He also brings a rare power and speed combo for a big first baseman, with 83 dingers and 46 steals to date. Baseball is so weird.

Group 22: You Know You’re Good When Your Worst Season Wins an MVP

1. Mike Trout (1), OF, Los Angeles Angels

mike-trout-angelsBrace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Though 2012 and 2013 awards voters might disagree, Trout has been the best player in baseball for three years running, and he finally bagged his first MVP trophy in 2014 despite his numbers dropping from “Are you f’ing kidding me?!” to “DAAAAAAMMMMNNN!!!!” Think about that three-year sample, then consider that Trout is only five months older than Bryant, the next big thing who’s still waiting for a crack at the Show.

Since checking in at no. 1 last year, Trout has signed a six-year, $144.5 million extension that goes into effect in 2015. As with Stanton, Trout’s new deal means he’s no longer cheap — but it also means the Angels get three years of control they didn’t have before. And in today’s market, the $33.25 million a year Trout is guaranteed in each of those three seasons is actually a big bargain, valuing him as something like a five-win player when he’s been nearly twice that good to date.

And again, he’s 23 years old! This entire exercise is built on the premise that young, cheap, awesome players are the ideal commodity, but Trout will probably still be special enough to remain a Trade Value staple when some team is giving him $400 million in his thirties. No matter what, he’s a catch. 

Filed Under: Baseball, Bryce Harper, Felix Hernandez, Jonah Keri, MLB, Yu Darvish, MLB Trades, MLB Contracts, Money Matters, MLB Free Agents, Freddie Freeman, Yasiel Puig, Buster Posey, Catchers, Adam Wainwright, Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Matt Harvey, Yordano Ventura, Christian Yelich, Kris Bryant, Salvador Perez, Jonathan Lucroy, Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Sale, MLB Stats, Jose Abreu, Julio Teheran, Pitchers, Troy Tulowitzki, Sonny Gray, Josh Donaldson, Michael Brantley, Yadier Molina, Madison Bumgarner, Corey Kluber, Jose Fernadez, Gerrit Cole, MLB Free Agency, Trade Value, MLB Trade Value, Yan Gomes


Jonah Keri is a staff writer for Grantland. His book The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First is a New York Times best seller. The paperback edition of his new book, Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available.

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