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Imagining the 2017 Cardinals as sellers, Part 2

The article I hoped I wouldn’t have to write

St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

I don’t need to tell you that things haven’t been pretty this year. I’m writing this before Friday night’s game, but they enter that game riding a seven game losing streak. The Cardinals enter that game 8.5 back of the second Wild Card, held by the Dodgers thanks to the Rockies’ hot start, with the Diamondbacks holding the first Wild Card. They’re 4 12 back of the Brewers in the Central (seriously, what is going on this year?), which is much smaller, though it’ll also be tough to gain 3 12 games on a clearly superior Cubs team.

Using the season to date as well as the current projections, Fangraphs estimates all types of different odds for teams to reach certain goals, including making the playoffs as a Wild Card or winning the division. They also project the chances that a team makes the LDS, by virtue of either winning a Wild Card spot as well as the Wild Card game, or simply winning the division. Since the teams are all on even footing at that point, it seems like a good baseline. Here’s a graph showing the Cardinals’ chances at getting to the NLDS throughout the season:

That is a sharp downturn. Things aren’t quite as bad as back on April 16th, after the team started out 3-9. At that point they had a 16% chance of reaching the NLDS, either by winning the division or the Wild Card game. There current spot is about a 30% decline from where they started the season (28.4%).

If the Cardinals stay around this level of chance at the postseason, the logical decision is to sell at the deadline. I know, they can still get back in it, I don’t want the team to sell now. I’m not saying this team is done or anything. I also know the Cardinals haven’t sold in a long time. We’ve been spoiled. Every team has rough patches. I for one can attest that we as fans have had our fair share of good fortune. The Cards should be smart about it though, and act to make this downturn as short as possible.

I wrote about the Cardinals’ chances of selling this year in the offseason. There I identified a number of players it could make sense to trade. Those whose contracts are up at the end of the year are the most likely. After Jonathan Broxton and Jhonny Peralta were DFA’d, that leaves Seung Hwan Oh and Lance Lynn.

For those two, we’ll estimate their trade value using some common assumptions. We’ll use their projected WAR at the deadline, and we’ll double the price of WAR when in-season based on Dave Cameron’s research. Oh is a reliever though, so he’s valued a little differently. While I found the average cost of a win in the last off-season was $9M, for relievers it was right at $20M per WAR. In-season that now becomes $40M per WAR. That may sound ridiculous, but it helps explain what looked like ridiculous overpays for some relievers at last year’s deadline.

Anyway, with that in mind, here’s how Lynn and Oh rate as trade chips:

Rental Trade Values.txt

Player WAR at deadline Value Salary Surplus
Player WAR at deadline Value Salary Surplus
Lance Lynn 0.7 $12.0 $2.5 $9.5
Seung Hwan Oh 0.4 $17.8 $2.0 $15.8

For some context, my aggregate Top 219 prospects list has Lourdes Gurriel Jr. of the Blue Jays as the 99th ranked prospect at $15.7M. The 167th ranked Luis Castillo of the Marlins sits at $9.5M. Neither of those teams are much of a match, but it gives you an idea of what the two could bring in, prospect package wise. If you could bundle them together, maybe you get a similar value to the 58th ranked prospect, Jeff Hoffman of the Rockies ($25.2M).

While I think this system of evaluation works well, this might overrate their value a little bit just because neither of these two have performed well in 2017. In both cases, the projection systems see improvement going forward. It does seem like players doing well are overvalued at the deadline though, and weak ones are undervalued. So maybe you want to downgrade that a little. But that’s a study for another day.

Besides rentals, who else could possibly be dealt? While it seems like Trevor Rosenthal is the only reliever doing well in 2017, now might be the last chance the Cards have to cash in on him. He’ll command close to a 8-figure salary in 2018, and it’ll be his last before he hits the free market. Here’s a look at how his trade value shakes out, assuming a trade at the deadline:

Trevor Rosenthal Trade Value Calculation.txt

Trevor Rosenthal 2017 2018 Total
Trevor Rosenthal 2017 2018 Total
Price of WAR $40.0 $21.0 $26.4
Projected WAR 0.5 1.3 1.8
Projected Value $20.0 $26.5 $46.5
Salary $2.1 $9.9 $12.0
Projected Surplus $17.9 $16.6 $34.5
Projected NP Surplus $17.9 $15.3 $33.2

If Lynn and Oh continue to be mediocre it could hurt their value more than the projections imply. However, if Rosie continues to be lights-out, this could undervalue his trade value at the deadline. Still, Rosie looks very valuable without any extra considerations. Tyler O’Neill of the Mariners is ranked 33rd on my aggregate list at 33.4M, so Rosie has the ability to fetch a prospect that would only be topped by Alex Reyes in the Cardinals system. Chances are it would be a package of prospects though. Maybe they could get something like a top 70 prospect ($20.8M) as well as a top 130 prospect ($14M).

Those are the three most obvious trade candidates. The Cardinals should be open to offers though, and teams always need pitching at the deadline. Michael Wacha is controlled through 2019, and the team isn’t going to embark on a massive rebuild. There’s no need to move him. However, if he can remain healthy and pitching well at the deadline, teams may overlook the past D.L. stints in their quest for postseason glory. At the same time, the Cardinals are overflowing with pitching prospects, and would probably only be more so after selling at the deadline.

Let’s take a look at how Wacha’s trade value stacks up:

Michael Wacha Trade Value Calculation.txt

Michael Wacha 2017 2018 2019 Total
Michael Wacha 2017 2018 2019 Total
Price of WAR $18.0 $9.5 $9.9 $11.4
Projected WAR 0.7 1.5 1.2 3.3
Projected Value $12.6 $13.7 $11.8 $38.1
Salary $2.8 $4.5 $6.9 $14.2
Projected Surpus $9.8 $9.2 $4.8 $23.9
Projected NP Surplus $9.8 $8.6 $4.1 $22.5

Thanks to his injury issues, Wacha was only projected for 130 innings for 2017 before the season began, and I used that for 2018 and 2019 as well. That really saps his value. If you could project Wacha for 200 innings over those two seasons, his value shoots up to $37M. In terms of prospect value, that’s going from 62nd to 31st. With a more prudent playing time projection, Wacha still looks like a decent asset, and if the Cardinals could extract this type of value I’d like to see them cash in while he’s healthy.

Of course, this does create a hole in the rotation. The team was already set to lose Lance Lynn, but it was easy enough to mentally slot Luke Weaver in his place. With Alex Reyes probably not ready to go until mid-season, there’s no obvious choice to replace Wacha. Adam Wainwright’s contract is up after 2018 as well, creating another hole to fill. The Cardinals have a lot pitching prospects, but it’s best not to rely on that sort of thing.

The 2017-2018 free agent market is heavy on pitching though, as is the 2018-2019 off-season. The Cardinals have a tidal wave of pitching prospects on the way, and two markets in which to call on if those guys fail. Maybe what’s best is a short-term solution that keeps future spots open for the kids. You always need pitching though, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see another long-term investment this next off-season.

Next up, let’s look at Jedd Gyorko. Gyorko is controlled for a long time, with the Cardinals holding an option on the 2021 season. There’s no sense of urgency to moving him. However, it might be a decent sell-high move if there are teams interested. Gyorko has been worth 3.7 WAR in 631 PA as a Cardinal, a 3.5 WAR/600 pace. His current projections peg him as a 2.6 WAR/600 PA player. He’s posted a 117 wRC+ over that timeframe, but he’s only projected for a 105 wRC+ going forward. Even utilizing that projection though, Gyorko tops the trade value of everyone we’ve seen so far:

Jedd Gyorko Trade Value Calculation.txt

Jedd Gyorko 2017 2018 2019 2020 Total
Jedd Gyorko 2017 2018 2019 2020 Total
Price of WAR $18.0 $9.5 $9.9 $10.4 $10.9
Projected WAR 0.9 2.5 2.1 1.4 6.9
Projected Value $16.2 $23.9 $20.7 $14.2 $75.0
Salary $1.3 $6.5 $10.0 $13.0 $30.8
Projected Surplus $14.9 $17.4 $10.7 $1.2 $44.2
Projected NP Surplus $14.9 $16.1 $9.2 $0.9 $41.1

This doesn’t include his 2021 option, as he doesn’t project to be worth the option minus the buy-out at that point. What I’d like the Cardinals to do is make Gyorko available, and see what type of offers they get. If a playoff team out there sees him as a 3-win player going forward, that’s a $55-60M net present surplus value. This is the only move mentioned here that creates a position player hole, but if the Cardinals can sell high on Jedd then I think it’s worth it.

Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart are a couple of free agents available that could replace Jedd on the infield, or the team could pursue a more short-term option for the 2018 season while hoping to sign either Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson the following off-season. As a last resort, a Greg Garcia-Paul DeJong platoon wouldn’t be horrible, though we’ve still yet to see Matheny adhere strongly to a straight-up righty/lefty platoon.

Looking at all these trade chips added up, here’s where it gets us:

Total trade value.txt

Trade Chip NP Surplus Value
Trade Chip NP Surplus Value
Lance Lynn $9.5
Seung Hwan Oh $15.8
Trevor Rosenthal $33.2
Michael Wacha $22.5
Jedd Gorkyo $41.1
Total $122.1

Even if the Cardinals get only the projected worth of Gyorko, that’s quite the haul in terms of prospects. For context, on average teams have a top prospect value of $155M. If the Cards’ system was completely barren, these moves would suddenly make them 80% of the way to average. As is, it would take them from solidly above-average to one of the best farm systems in the game. When I made my aggregate list, here’s how things shook out team by team:

The Braves, Yankees, and White Sox clearly had the best farms in the game going into the season. The Braves can thank a long rebuilding effort that hasn’t yet seen them return to competitiveness. The Yankees were on the selling side of the two biggest deals of last year’s deadline, and the White Sox were on the selling side of the two biggest off-season deals. The Brewers come next, who are in the middle of their own rebuild. Twelve teams then make up a crowded next tier of teams with above-average farms. Then things start dropping off pretty hard.

Even if the Cardinals kept Gyorko, the $80M boost that trading Oh, Lynn, Wacha, and Rosenthal would supply would put them around par with where the White Sox ranked before the season began. The top prospects get promoted and stop being prospects anymore, and some of these teams could also be sellers and boost their farm values. Those prospects who are still prospects and stay on the same team can also raise or lower their stock. In short, everything in the universe is always changing, farm rankings included, so we don’t know exactly where the Cards would rank if they sold at the deadline. But it’s pretty clear that they would have an upper-tier farm system if they dealt the four above pitchers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m hoping the Cardinals are right at the beginning of a long winning streak. It wouldn’t be completely out of the ordinary for them to get hot and get back in the race, especially since the teams they’re chasing (the Rockies and Diamondbacks) have strong records but are still only projected to play about .500 baseball the rest of the season. It’s not quite as inevitable as catching the Brewers was in 2014, but there’s still a decent chance.

However, there’s a pretty good chance the Cards are still several games back at the deadline, so it’s time for John Mozeliak and company to consider selling a serious option. It’s a really strange place for the Cardinals to be in, but it’s not all bad. The Cardinals have had an incredible run of success that is the envy of the large majority of the league. That’s been amazing, to be honest, but maybe it was going to come to an end eventually. This deadline could give the farm the shot in the arm it needs for the Cardinals to start a new series of 90+ win seasons, without the epic rebuilds like those in Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, and Milwaukee. This deadline could be big for the Cardinals.