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Matt Adams still unlikely to be traded

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An injury in Colorado has raised new proposals, but don’t buy into the hype.

Atlanta Braves v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Hot Stove is long gone, but discussion on the roster continues. The Jose Martinez vs. Tommy Pham vs. Matt Adams battle for the last two roster spots rages on. Jose Martinez has had a strong spring, but he’s probably not worth an opening day roster spot. He would be fine injury depth at Memphis though.

That battle could come to an end from a trade. Earlier in the week, Ian Desmond suffered a fractured finger. Desmond was signed to a $70M/5 year deal this off-season to play first base for the Rockies. The first base bit was the odd part, as Desmond has had his struggles at short in the past but hardly needs to constrained to the lowest part of the N.L. position spectrum. The injury and the fact that Desmond plays first base now has lead to a new round of discussion on the topic of trading Matt Adams.

The first and probably the most important reason a deal won’t happen is that the Rockies believe Desmond will be back in April. With the Rockies looking at less than a month of absence, they’re unlikely to have a sense of urgency regarding the situation.

Theoretically, Desmond offers the ability to be a super-sub at many positions when healthy if needed. If the Rockies traded for Adams now, they’d fill their first base hole at present, and provide a path for Desmond to move to a different spot on the diamond that suffers an injury later. N.L. teams need a D.H. every now and then anyway. Additionally, the Rockies could use some depth. Here’s a graph I’ve shown before, showing each of the 30 teams and how their 9th through 13th best projected position players ranked (a proxy I used for a team’s bench):

To be clear, this model considers Desmond a starter, so at the moment it’s even worse than that. The Rockies have an interesting top eight position players, a set that at least gives them a shot a Wild Card if things break just right. There margin for error is extremely thin, though as evidenced by having the worst depth in the majors. Trading for a competent first baseman that allows Ian Desmond to move around the field as needed would be a great way to get around that complete dearth of talent on the bench.

However, the fact that the Rockies could use depth is also just a signal of the way the team operates. Not every team values depth like the Cards do, and even some very good teams - such as the Nationals - just don’t value depth all that much. If the Rockies wanted a first baseman to be a super utility guy by proxy of Ian Desmond, they could have picked one of the first base types on the latest free agent market. That presumably brings us to another reason that Adams may not be dealt: a perception that players like him (first basemen who project as average-ish hitters, and thus are below average players overall) weren’t valued all that highly this winter. Let’s look at eight deals for similar players, plus Matt Adams:

Adams has two years of control left before free agency, but the Cardinals are only committed to one of the those years at the moment. I gave him 450 plate appearances. Knowing his issues against lefties as well as his injury history, I’d say that’s fair. If you’re higher than that on him, you can mentally bump him up a few tenths of a win.

Here’s how those seven similar players did on the market:

Here, I accounted for 5% future inflation for the two multi-year deals, and used an average aging curve to arrive at total projected present value WAR under contract. These seven total up to cost $6.6M per win. That would seem to be evidence that these players were under-valued, but if you remove Eric Thames - who fundamentally comes with much more uncertainty than anyone else listed here - you come to $8.6M/WAR, insignificantly less than the $9M/WAR rate I found as a whole in the latest off-season.

So maybe sluggers aren’t under-valued, they were just over-valued before, and now getting paid more in line with their skill. Using the average $/WAR for that group without Thames, and giving Adams the average raise for an arb 3 player for 2018, he only comes out to a little less than $4M surplus value. Now, maybe the public projections don’t represent the market’s valuation of Adams well. We can’t know. He’s played at a 1.2 WAR/450 PA rate throughout his career, though in the last two years it’s been 0.7, matching his projection. Those two years he also only totaled 513 plate appearances.

Even if the Rockies did value depth that Adams would provide, they’d be right not to give up much at all for him. A proper return might be a fringe prospect, someone that would rank on The Red Baron’s just missed list. In terms of the Jaime Garcia trade, we’re talking closer to the Chris Ellis/Luke Dykstra side of the spectrum than John Gant.

That’s better than nothing, but Adams does have a role in St. Louis. He provides a left-handed bat with pop off the bench with a strong record of hitting right-handed pitching well. Matt Carpenter isn’t completely healthy, and Adams would certainly be an option at first if he went down again. In a season that could come down to the last game, every contribution counts. I’d like to keep Adams’ contribution.