What's young pitching worth?

There's been quite a bit of talk about the possibility of trading Scott Rolen this offseason. Apparently, Mozeliak floated the idea at the GM meetings this past week to see what kind of interest there was. Rolen, of course, is coming off another shoulder surgery and a relatively ineffective season (by his standards) and is owed $12 million for each of the next 3 years. There's also the too-often reported spat between Rolen and LaRussa that likely won't be repaired any time soon. If a World Series title can't do it, not much can.

Here's where I have to add, lest I run the risk of divorce, that my wife, as a huge Scott Rolen fan, is adamantly opposed to trading him. Tony LaRussa be damned!

There's also the possibility of a lot of 3rd basemen being on the move this offseason, beginning with the free agency of the third basemen from MLB's 2 most important teams (sarcasm alert - settle down!). The Yankees will almost certainly need a new 3B and have the means to pay Rolen. He's still, after all, an excellent defensive 3B - one of baseball's best. The question, of course, is how effective he'll be at the plate returning from his annual trek to the surgeon's table.

The rumor that turned most heads this week was the one that had the Twins discussing Rolen w/ the Cards. This topic is dealt with in this diary and this one and stems from reports found at mlb trade rumors .

This rumor interests me for 2 main reasons. The first is that the Twins are a notoriously tight-fisted organization. Trading for a 33 year old player coming off his 3rd shoulder surgery who is set to earn $36 million yet isn't exactly par for the course in the land of 1000 lakes. The other reason it's interesting is that the Twins are awash with talented young pitchers. The prospect of receiving one in a trade for Rolen is very enticing. The obvious conclusion is that the Cards would be forced to pick up some of Rolen's contract - but how much? Essentially this means that the Cards would be buying a young pitcher. We need all of those we can get but we need to figure out what those prospects are worth?

The prospect of trading Rolen extends beyond the Twins and Yankees. There will be other losers in the race to sign A-Rod and Lowell. Even if those 2 teams turn out to be the only options, we have to determine how much, if any, of his contract it would be worth to pay in order to extricate the team from his contract and pick up something of value in return.

As mentioned above, the Twins have a lot of young pitchers who may be tradable commodities. There's been talk of trading Santana this offseason; clearly we're not talking about a Rolen for Santana deal and there's no way they'll trade Francisco Liriano either. Still, the Twins have several good, young pitchers. All of them have at least 5 years until free agency, good minor league numbers and major-league experience. They would fit into the Cards' rotation immediately. Four of them - Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, and Kevin Slowey - are right-handers and there's one lefty - Glen Perkins. Baker and Bonser have 5 years until being eligible for free agency while the other 3, if I've calculated correctly, will be under the team's control for 6 years.

Below you'll find the numbers they put up last year in the majors and in their minor-league career numbers. The first 5 columns are their major-league numbers for '07. The last 3 are their career minor-league numbers

ML FIP BB/9 K/9 HR/9 GB% BB/9 K/9 HR/9
Baker 3.94 1.82 6.39 0.94 36.6 1.81 7.62 0.60
Bonser 4.98 3.38 7.08 1.40 46.6 4.04 9.31 0.86
Garza 4.18 3.47 7.27 0.87 47.7 2.50 10.05 0.56
Perkins 4.36 3.77 6.28 0.63 40.7 3.33 9.50 0.67
Slowey 5.59 1.49 6.35 2.16 30.1 1.22 8.70 0.43

Entering 2007, both Baseball America and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had Garza listed as the Twins' number 1 prospect . There's a lot to like there - the high K rate, low walk rate, low HR rate, and high GB%. He wouldn't come cheaply. In fact, if I were the Twins, he'd be untouchable.

Both sources had Perkins #2 and Slowey was ranked #3 from BA and #4 from BP. Baker and Bonser already had enough major-league experience that they weren't considered prospects. However, when combined with all Twins' players 25 and younger, Bonser ranked just below Garza and above Perkins and Slowey.

The way I figure it, in 5 years, the Twins' pitchers stand to make a total of about $20 million. They'll make the minimum of about $400,000 each of the first 2 years, then about $4 M in year 3, $6 M in year 4, and $9 M in year 5. For Perkins, Garza, and Slowey, who are all 6 years from free agency, add another year at about $1 M. They'd earn the minimum but you'd have to add something for the overall salary inflation rate by adding another year.

PECOTA estimates that the players' value will be between $5 M and $10 M per year over the next 4 years. Add another year at around $8 M and another at $10 or so for the 3 players under the team's control for the 6th year. So, the 5 year players (Baker and Bonser) should be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $38 - $40 M but they'll only earn about $20 M, yielding a plus-$18 M for the team. The 6 year players (Garza, Slowey, and Perkins) will be worth around $48 - $50 M but they'll earn only about $21 M, yielding a plus-$27 M for the team. It's likely Garza may be worth a little more and Slowey a little less. These figures are just estimates, of course. If they're a little low b/c their performance is a little better, they'll also likely earn slightly more, keeping the value to the team at plus-$18M or plus-$27M. The difference is probably the same also if they're not quite as good as expected - their value will be lower but so will the salary.

Of course, trading Rolen for one of these pitchers also means that Rolen must be replaced. Spiezio is the obvious choice, of course. But he's probably not an everyday player and he would have to be platooned with. The Cards have Hoffpauir, Barden, and Ryan, all of whom have played some third at either the major or minor-league level. How would a Spiezio/Barden platoon look at third? Don't answer that, as I already know but it would allow the Cards to bide some time in what figures to be a rebuilding year anyway. In 2009, Hank Blalock, Joe Crede, Troy Glaus, and Morgan Ensberg are all free agents. In fact, the Cards could probably trade some fringe prospect to the Pads for Ensberg this offseason.

Rolen's probably worth 12-15 wins over the next 3 years. It's reasonable to believe that the pitcher the Cards would receive in return would provide at least league-average production while a member of the Cards rotation - that's worth about 5 wins per season, according to SNLVAR . That means 25-30 wins, depending on the pitcher, about 15 of which would occur while Rolen's under contract. So the Cards could pay Rolen $36 M for those wins or one of these pitchers about $5 M.

So what's it worth to get out from under Rolen's contract and add a good, young starting pitcher? Well, all the young pitchers are risky, as they've never produced for an entire major-league season (except for Baker). But Rolen's risky, too. He may never be any better than he was last year and that wasn't very good. He's not getting any younger and no one knows how much mileage is left in those shoulders. If we were to pay ½ of Rolen's contract -- $6 M per year - the young pitcher essentially costs the team $6.5 M each of the next 2 years and $10 M or so the 3rd. That's probably right about what the pitcher would be worth but it eliminates all of the value out of the contract. Is gambling on an unproven pitcher worth losing all of the value that the team would receive from having the young pitcher? Probably not, so clearly $6 M is too high. We may as well take the risk that Rolen recovers and hope Garcia, Boggs, Ottavino, et al emerge.

What about $3 M per year? That's probably a gamble worth taking. $3 M for the next 3 years of any of these pitchers is probably worth the gamble. Scott Baker's SNLVAR of 3.1 was worth about $8 M this year and he was just 25 and earned less than $400,000. So the Twins clearly have the pitching to spare and the Cards, obviously, have the need. If you think the Cards are a contender in '08, it probably makes no sense to trade Rolen even w/o sending money but if you're like me and believe that the Cards' best chance to contend is in 2009 and beyond, trading Rolen for a young pitcher makes sense and is worth sending the Twins a few bucks in order to get one of those pitchers.

So which pitcher should the Cards ask for? I'd assume that Garza would be a non-starter though it probably never hurts to ask. And how much should the Cards be willing to pony up? My favorites are Perkins (left-handed, 6 years under team control) and Bonser (good K rate and good GB%) if we can't get Garza. Bonser's BB rate scares me a little but it's a little misleading as it's decreased every year since 2002. Scouts like his stuff and his numbers are improving - both scouts and statheads should approve. I'd be willing to pay $3 - $4 M per season to get one of those. The Cards could find someone to play 3B and it would allow them to keep Duncan.

Here are the minor league numbers for each player.

Scott Baker

Boof Bonser

Matt Garza

Glen Perkins

Kevin Slowey

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