2018 MLB Trade Value Rankings: Nos. 25-1
2018 MLB Trade Value Rankings: Nos. 25-1
If every player affiliated with an MLB organization suddenly became available for trade, who would fetch the most in return?

Time for the final installment in this year’s MLB Trade Value series. Let’s count down our top 25.

Read Part I Here
Read Part II Here

No. 25: Chris Archer, P, Rays (Last Year: 25)

We used to wave away inflated batting averages on balls in play as the product of random chance. Now, we can look at Archer’s .325 mark (league average was .291, his career number is .295), scrutinize all the batted-ball data available to us, and wonder if hitters have started figuring him out a bit. Opponents’ hard-hit average soared to a career-high 39.4 per cent against Archer last year, with his line-drive rate allowed also nearing career-worst levels.

Still, missing bats is usually a great predictor of success, and only three American League starters topped Archer’s gaudy 29.2 per cent strikeout rate last year. Archer cracks our top 25 because because of his massive strikeout ability and his criminally underpriced contract, with the Rays owing him just under $34 million combined or the next four years, peanuts by today’s standards.

It comes down to this: If Archer can prevent batters from teeing off on his fastball (opponents slugged .527 and .506 against that pitch in the past two seasons), he becomes an instant Cy Young contender. If he can’t, Archer will have to settle for being a really good but not elite pitcher, with an unhittable slider that he’ll try to throw as often as humanly possible so that hitters don’t get to see the heater.

No. 24: Ronald Acuna, OF, Braves (Last Year: Not Ranked)

The top prospect in all of baseball has more tools than a hardware store. He’s a plus defender with blazing speed and tantalizing power, and is one of the most precocious prospects to hit the scene in years. To wit: Acuna hit a terrific .344/.393/.548 in 54 triple-A games last year…as a 19-year-old.

It’s impossible not to close your eyes, consider Acuna’s immense talent and impressive accomplishments at a ludicrously young age and not think of another great Braves outfielder, Andruw Jones. If the Braves could contend this season, it’d be equally impossible to envision Atlanta brass resisting the urge to get their potential franchise player to the big leagues as quickly as possible, on the off chance he could do something like this:

Even if World Series heroics aren’t in the cards, Acuna should at least get a cup of coffee in the Show at some point this season. Start getting excited, right now.

No. 23: Jacob deGrom, P, Mets (Last Year: 26)

Considering the plague of injuries that overwhelmed the Mets rotation last year, it’s a minor miracle that deGrom got away setback-free. After all, the right-hander ended his 2016 season by undergoing ulnar nerve surgery. The aftermath of that surgery? deGrom not only stayed healthy — he racked up career highs in strikeout rate, whiff rate, and even innings pitched.

A late bloomer, deGrom offers three years of controllable service time before free agency, yet he also turns 30 in June. Then again, deGrom threw harder than ever last season, and his lack of gigantic workloads in his rear-view mirror could help him age better than most.

No. 22: Buster Posey, C, Giants (Last Year: 27)

Let’s take a moment to assume bad things about Posey. Suppose his three-year trend of sliding power numbers continues. Suppose that entering his age-31 season, we start to see small, subtle signs of skills erosion. Hell, suppose that MLB as a sport starts to see some slippage in its revenue explosion, making the nearly $106 million he’s owed over the next five seasons (counting the Giants’ $22 million club option in 2022) look a bit less enticing.

Here’s what you’re left with: A line drive-smacking machine who’s a career .308 hitter with a .376 OBP; a superelite defensive catcher who excels at everything from game-calling to pitch-framing to throwing out runners (he gunned down 38 per cent of would-be basestealers last season, compared to the league average of 27 per cent); one of the most durable players in all of baseball at any position; and if you’re into such intangible things, a proven winner with bushels of postseason experience, dating all the way back to him winning a World Series as an untested rookie. Yes, please.

No. 21: Noah Syndergaard, P, Mets (Last Year: 7)

Syndergaard’s biggest asset could also prove to be his downfall. Sports medicine experts tell us that the arm can only withstand so much stress, and firing 100 m.p.h. fastballs for six or seven innings a night, 30+ times a season, is a great way to jeopardize the long-term health of that arm. Thor’s injuries varied from a torn lat muscle and biceps tendinitis to a split fingernail and related blister, so it’s not fair to pin everything on arm strain caused by repeated, high-stress usage.

Still, add up all those maladies with a bone spur problem that Syndergaard opted not to surgically address after the 2016 season, and there’s reason to worry. All of which is a damn shame, because the healthy version of Syndergaard we saw in 2016 was one of the three best pitchers on the planet, and arguably the most entertaining to watch.

A blazing spring training, with Syndergaard again reaching triple-digit speeds on his fastball and striking out everyone except the peanut guy, offers hope…but also reinforces some of the same fears we had before.

No. 20: Willson Contreras, C, Cubs (Last Year: 42)

He’s 25-years old, making the league-minimum salary, under team control for five more years, and coming off a .276/.356/.499 season that topped the likes of Francisco Lindor, Jay Bruce, and Yasiel Puig on a park-adjusted basis.

Then there’s this: Contreras has vowed to smash MLB’s new rules limiting the number of mound visits per game when necessary, because the Cubs deploy an intricate scouting system for their pitchers that requires frequent communication between batters mates. Commitment to your craft in the form of over-the-top stubbornness is the new sixth baseball tool.

No. 19: George Springer, OF, Astros (Last Year: 36)

Go on a World Series power rampage for the ages, thus fulfilling a shoot-the-moon prophecy with your face as its poster child, and you instantly become one of baseball’s hottest commodities.

Even without the Fall Classic heroics, Springer would be a hero in these rankings. After striking out more than one-quarter of the time in his first two and a half big league seasons, he dramatically improved his batting eye, swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone, swinging and missing far less often, and slashing his strikeout rate to just 17.6 per cent.

He’s a borderline 40-homer guy if he can combine his 34 round-trippers last season with his supreme durability in 2016 (he played all 162 games). Given his annual trend of improving certain facets of his game, Springer could be set for full-blown stardom, with a team commitment through the rest of the decade to boot.

No. 18: Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies (Last Year: 9)

Let’s address the mile-high elephant in the room: Arenado does indeed owe Colorado’s altitude for a good chunk of his offensive production. Dig these splits:

Home: .336/.392/.644
Road: .272/.341/.503

Home: .314/.363/.595
Road: .266/.317/.473

The counterpoint: By park-adjusted offence, Wins Above Replacement, and many other metrics, Arenado has improved every season of his career. He’s a Gold Glove third baseman as well as a beast at bat, and if all he does is replicate those 2017 home and road numbers while bringing that sparkling defence and playing every day (no third baseman has missed fewer games in the past three years than Arenado has), he’ll be a top-10 MVP finisher for the fourth straight year, and a top-five guy for the third straight year. Entering his age-27 season, this might even be the year we get a top-one finish.

No. 17: Carlos Martinez, P, Cardinals (Last Year: 49)

Speaking of players who’ve been really good and could jump to top-of-the-league level at any moment, there’s the Cardinals’ tantalizing ace. Martinez has at various times flashed Cy Young potential. Combine his 56.4 per cent groundball rate of 2016 with his 205 innings pitched and 25.3 per cent strikeout rate from last year, and you’d have a pitcher reaching a level that no other pitcher has ever managed in the history of baseball.

Just 26-years old and controllable for the next six years at just $81 million, Martinez is a drool-worthy commodity even if he never puts all of those pieces together in the same season.

No. 16: Alex Bregman, 3B, Astros (Last Year: 22)

It’s impossible to look at this guy and not think about Derek Jeter. The high pedigree (number-two overall pick in 2015), the immediate impact in the big leagues (24 extra-base hits in his 49-game 2016 debut season), the rapid and significant skills growth (improving plate discipline, a .352 OBP and a near-20-20 season in 2017), the precocious success (he turns 24 next week), the playoff heroics, even the No. 2 on his jersey.

The difference in Bregman’s case is that he doesn’t have to carry the franchise player mantle in Houston — the Astros have two other legitimate franchise players in their infield alone. Normal franchises build around players like Bregman. On the Astros, he’s just another preposterously talented player on a preposterously loaded roster.

No. 15: Chris Sale, P, Red Sox (Last Year: 15)

Godspeed, rest of the league.

No. 14: Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox (Last Year: 6)

Through the first 508 games of his major league career, Betts owns a .292/.351/.488 batting line that’s 22 per cent better than league average, two Gold Gloves, and more baserunning value than any other American League player over the past three years. He gets this lofty ranking for all of that skill, and for his potential for more. Betts’ batting eye took a huge leap forward in 2017, with nearly as many walks as strikeouts.

But a 54-point drop in his batting average on balls in play (read: bad luck), plus a slight dip in power numbers, dampened a potential numbers surge. At age 25, with a bit of skills consolidation, Betts could be on the verge of going nuclear.

No. 13: Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs (Last Year: 8)

2014: 32 HR, .386 OBP
2015: 31 HR, .387 OBP
2016: 32 HR, .385 OBP
2017: 32 HR, .392 OBP

Anthony Rizzo is a baseball metronome, in the best possible way. The Cubs get four more years of this, for just $47 million.

No. 12: Trea Turner, SS, Nationals (10)

Neither Turner nor anyone else can sustain his near-39 per cent rate of balls in play landing for hits in 2016. Ignore that natural regression and note the uptick in Turner’s walk rate, and a more patient approach that led to far fewer swings on pitches out of the strike zone. A wrist injury limited Turner to just 98 games played last season, but he actually hit better upon his return.

The tools are there for continued power and on-base improvements, plus better defence as the 24-year-old Turner settles in as a full-time shortstop after spending time at second and in centre at various points of his pro career. If Bryce Harper leaves after this season, the new face of the Nationals could be this guy.

No. 11: Luis Severino, P, Yankees (Last Year: Not Ranked)

Severino 2017 rankings among AL starting pitchers:

K rate: 3rd
K rate – BB rate: 3rd
Park-adjusted ERA: 3rd
Park-adjusted fielding-independent pitching: 3rd

Chris Sale and Corey Kluber are the pitching demigods of the American League. Severino catapulted from never throwing more than 71 innings in a major league season to reaching a level just below the league’s best of the best. He’s 24-years old and the Yankees can keep him in pinstripes through 2022.

No. 10: Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees (Last Year: 41)

For all the bellyaching over Sanchez’s defence, he’s been a baserunner-smashing machine in his first season and change in the majors, wiping out 39 per cent of would-be basestealers. He’s not a master pitch-framer, but at a shade below league average with just 177 big league games under his belt, there’s plenty of time for improvement. Letting 69 balls (53 wild pitches and a league-leading 16 passed balls) get by him last season is unacceptable, of course.

But just as we tend to overrate a catcher’s defence when he can’t hit, some baseball observers fixate on Sanchez’s flaws while ignoring his strengths. That includes Sanchez’s rocket arm…oh, and more homers in a single season by any catcher in the past two decades not named Mike Piazza, Pudge Rodriguez, or Javy Lopez.

No. 9: Cody Bellinger, 1B, Dodgers (Last Year: Not Ranked)

When trying to build a list like this, it’s imperative to give age some serious thought. Five players topped Bellinger’s total of 39 home runs last season. But Bellinger was nearly two years younger than the second-youngest player among that group of five (Joey Gallo) and more than three years younger than AL Rookie of the Year and instant phenomenon Aaron Judge.

Bellinger’s contact rate ranked among baseball’s worst, his swing-for-the-stars approach making him a great fit for today’s homer-obsessed game but also a bit of a batting average risk who could be vulnerable against the best pitch-sequencing arms in the game. Of course, this is all nitpicking. Bellinger’s just 22 years old, and won’t have to wait nearly a month to take his first big league swings like he did last year. It’s terrifying to think how good he might become with a little more experience.

No. 8: Jose Ramirez, 3B, Lindors (Last Year: Not Ranked)

Nine days before the start of the 2017 season, Cleveland signed Ramirez to a five-year, $26 million contract, one that can swell to seven years and $50 million with two club options. Ramirez was an excellent young player at the time he signed that deal, coming off a season in which he hit .312/.363/.462, showed off playable defence at multiple positions, and did more to help his team on the basepaths than any player other than Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. Then he nearly tripled his home-run total in his age-24 season, and suddenly Cleveland has committed grand larceny.

No. 7: Corey Kluber, P, Lindors (Last Year: 17)

In 2002, a bunch of smart people started tracking the value of every pitch thrown by every pitcher in Major League Baseball. The goal was to acquire more accurate and more granular data, so we could compare the best of the best – the best fastballs, the best sliders, the best change-ups, the best pitches, period. No pitcher in that span has ever thrown a deadlier curveball than Kluber did in 2017.

And Kluber throws a wicked cutter and a plus change-up to boot. Not bad for a guy Cleveland landed eight years ago for the tail end of Jake Westbrook’s career.

No. 6: Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees (Last Year: Not Ranked)

He’s coming off a season in which he set the all-time rookie record with 52 home runs and nearly pocketed both the AL’s Rookie of the Year and MVP trophies. He’s 25 years old and can’t test the open market for five more years. At 6-foot-7, 282 pounds, he’s the biggest position player in major-league history, Paul Bunyan in real life.

In an era when even the backup batboy seems capable of 30 homers, Judge’s astronomical power gives him something incredibly rare in this sport: star power luminescent enough to break through the baseball world into the larger public consciousness.

So why the hell isn’t he number one? Here’s what one baseball exec had to say:

“I love Judge, he has that it factor (makeup, fans, team guy, etc.), he’s making no money now or for the future, and he’s got insane power. That said, he plays on a corner and he has a lot of holes. Would I trade Judge straight up for [Carlos] Correa or [Mike] Trout or [Corey] Seager or [Francisco] Lindor? Yes, absolutely, I would – and my suspicion is the Yankees would, too, so long as it weren’t a total PR nightmare. A big part of this is building up the middle. Players who can play catcher, shortstop, second base and centre field are infinitely more valuable than corners.”

The Yankees themselves know all about this, having built baseball’s most recent dynasty around up-the-middle stars Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada. And several other baseball insiders I polled shared that view of up-the-middle dominance above all else. So Judge will just have to settle for being the guy the Yankees wouldn’t trade for anything.

(looks around furtively)
(picks up phone)
(asks if any of these next five guys could be had)
(just hypothetically, of course)

No. 5: Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs (Last Year: 2)

Given the carnage he inflicted on the league in his 2016 MVP season, Bryant’s 2017 campaign might’ve felt like a bit of a letdown.

Except he showed significant improvement in his walk rate (10.7 per cent to 14.3 per cent). And his strikeout rate (22 per cent to 19.2 per cent). And on-base percentage (.385 to .409). And swinging-strike rate (13 per cent to 10 per cent).

By park-adjusted, context-independent offence, Bryant was essentially the same hitter two years in a row, faring 48 per cent better than league average in 2016 and 46 per cent better in 2017 (by wRC+). He just had a randomly, flukishly bad season with runners in scoring position, hitting only .237 in those spots and watching his RBI total nosedive as a result.

He’s already a full-blown superstar, and hasn’t even played 500 games in the majors yet. We should all be so lucky to have a year like Bryant’s 2017 be considered anything close to a disappointment.

No. 4: Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (Last Year: 1)

At this altitude, even something as minor as a little, nagging elbow injury can knock you out of the top spot. Even with a minor dropoff in his overall numbers, Seager still showed more patience at the plate, plus a defensive jump that propelled him into the top five at his position (per Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved).

Then there’s that age thing again: Seager’s entering his fourth big-league season, yet he’s a full two years younger than last year’s AL Rookie of the Year. If Seager can avoid another extended stretch of playing through pain, another level of performance might be coming soon.

No. 3: Francisco Lindor, SS, Lindors (Last Year: 4)

This is the face of a player who came up as an all-world defensive prospect, then blossomed into a two-way threat who’ll beat you with a barrage of crush jobs into the bleachers.

This is the face of a player so good, so young, and so magnetic, the franchise that employs him would do well to ditch their nickname entirely, take a page out of its history book, and name itself after its star player.

This is the face of a player who oozes joy with every step he takes on the diamond.

This is the face of a player about to inflict maximum damage on a baseball.

This is the face of a player about to delight a new generation of fans who’ll grow up thinking that baseball is, above anything else, incredibly fun.

No. 2: Mike Trout, OF, Angels (Last Year: 3)

How do you end up near the top of a list of best bangs for the baseball buck when your salary suddenly balloons to $33.25 million a year for the next three years?

Simple, really. One quick-and-dirty way to calculate a player’s value is to consider his contributions via Wins Above Replacement. That stat has earned gobs of criticism every year, with objections ranging from hard-to-grasp calculations of defensive value to what constitutes a replacement level player in baseball. But let’s say that Wins Above Replacement at least gives us some framework. By that metric, it now costs close to $9 million to acquire one win on the open market. Assume that Trout’s thumb injury was a fluke last year, and that we can hitch his value to his full-season rate of production over the past three seasons, which lands a bit better than nine Wins Above Replacement a year.

Now let’s do some quick math.

You can argue that in this era of suddenly thrifty spending for players, straight calculations like these might be a bit off. But if we use our standard formula for value as compared to replacement value, Trout should theoretically be making something like eighty million dollars a year.

Close your eyes, imagine Trout suddenly landing on your favorite team, and tell me you wouldn’t go after your team’s owners with torches and pitchforks if they were to ever pass on a hypothetical opportunity to land modern baseball’s version of Willie Mays.

No. 1: Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (Last Year: 5)

A thumb injury blunted a huge growth season for Correa, one that saw him hit a terrific .315/.391/.550, nudging him closer to the inevitable Alex Rodriguez comparisons that keep coming up. With a little sleuthing, you can find even more causes for optimism. Those include upticks in flyball rate and hard-hit percentage (Correa ranked second among all shortstops in average exit velocity) and a passel of batting eye-related gains, including swinging-strike rate, chase rate, and contact rates.

The real test here would be finding something not to like. Correa’s a 6-foot-4, 215-pound behemoth who’ll get stronger with age, yet he’s also an agile defender who rated solidly above average at shortstop last season by advanced metrics. He’s even playoff tested, with a highlight reel full of big October moments and a ring already to his credit.

And he’s just 23-years old, offering all of us a chance to dream the biggest dreams on his ultimate potential.

Remember when doubters wondered how and why the Astros paid so much less than slot value (a $4.8 million signing bonus, vs. the league-recommended slot value of $7.2 million) to get Correa at the top of the draft six years ago? Wherever those skeptics were, they disappeared long before one of the leading faces of baseball draped himself in a Puerto Rican flag and celebrated like a Little Leaguer on the Dodger Stadium grass last fall.