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What it would take to land a Josh Donaldson

what the math says about a trade for an MVP candidate.

Cincinnati Reds v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

It may feel like the season is still early, but a month from now will officially be trade deadline season. As that draws closer, expect VEB to cover all the possible avenues the Cards could go down. The Red Baron tried his hand at putting together a proposal for Donaldson this Sunday. He used the Scott Rolen deal as a comparison, and came to the conclusion that it would take something in the neighborhood of Kolten Wong, Seung Hwan Oh, and Marco Gonzales to acquire the former MVP.

However, like most trade proposals based on looking at prior trades, it’s hard to find a perfect comparison. Rolen was just a rental, whereas Donaldson will have one year remaining at the end of the year, and unless things go disastrously wrong for Donaldson, a team will recoup a draft pick for letting him walk after 2018.

Instead, today we’ll look at the math involved in a Donaldson trade. We’ll start by looking at his trade value. First, we have to set some boundaries. We’ll use Donaldson’s Fangraphs’ depth chart projection, which is an average from the two best public projection systems, Steamer and Zips. To estimate Donaldson’s 2018 salary, his fourth trip through the arbitration process as a Super 2, we’ll use The Point of Pittsburgh’s arbitration estimates to find the average raise someone with his service time gets.

For years after this year, we’ll use an average aging curve to find their expected production. The price of WAR last offseason was $9M, and for years after we’ll apply a 5% inflation rate. For the current year though, we’ll double the price of WAR when mid-season, based on Dave Cameron’s research. Finally, we’ll apply a 8% discount rate to future production, concurrent with The Point of Pittsburgh’s research.

We’ll also assume this happens at the trade deadline, rather than right now. The Blue Jays aren’t raising the white flag just yet, and they could easily be in the race and forgo any rebuild. At the same time, if things keep going the way they’re going for the Cardinals, they might not even be in a position to buy at the deadline. It’s important to remember that this exercise could all be for nothing; even if the Jays are out of it and the Cards are contending, Donaldson may not be available for anything more than a severe overpay.

With all that in mind, here’s a valuation of Donaldson’s remaining control:

Josh Donaldson Trade Value Calculation.txt

Josh Donaldson 2017 2018 Total
Josh Donaldson 2017 2018 Total
Price of WAR $18.0 $9.5 $11.7
Projected WAR 2.0 5.5 7.5
Projected Value $36.0 $52.0 $88.0
Salary $5.7 $23.5 $29.1
Projected Surplus Value $30.3 $28.5 $58.8
Projected NP Surplus $30.3 $26.4 $56.7

This doesn’t count the fact that as long as Donaldson plays on the same team for the entirety of the 2018 season, the team that loses him will gain a draft pick in the neighborhood of a $10M-$15M value. So he’s more like a little shy of a $70M asset. According to my aggregate prospect list, Only the top 7 prospects in baseball are worth that.

In The Baron’s proposal, Wong was the main piece going back. That makes sense on the Cardinals’ end. The Blue Jays have Devon Travis at second-base. He has three years of control remaining at this season, and has only played at second at the major league level. Maybe he played third in the minors or his profile makes a transition likely, I don’t know. The Blue Jays aren’t a team I follow closely. But I’m not sure they’d be into Wong that much.

That’s OK though, that just changes the details a bit. The team could trade Wong to a contender that needed a second-baseman for a prospect package. Such a team would value in-season help more than the Blue Jays anyway, at least in the scenario where they’re trading Josh Donaldson because the team is out of it at the deadline. The team could then send that prospect package, plus some other stuff to the Blue Jays. For simplicity though, we’ll just refer to this as trading Wong to the Jays.

So how does this calculation value Kolten Wong? Let’s take a look:

Kolten Wong Trade Value Calculation.txt

Kolten Wong 2017 2018 2019 2020 Total
Kolten Wong 2017 2018 2019 2020 Total
Price of WAR $18.0 $9.5 $9.9 $10.4 $11.0
Projected WAR 0.8 1.9 1.5 1.3 5.4
Projected Value $13.5 $18.1 $15.0 $13.3 $59.9
Salary $0.8 $4.0 $6.5 $11.2 $22.5
Projected Surplus $12.7 $14.1 $8.5 $2.1 $37.4
Projected NP Surplus $12.7 $13.0 $7.3 $1.6 $34.7

The Red Baron’s calculation put Wong’s value at something like twice Donaldson’s. I think this calculation is more rigorous though, and it puts Wong around $35M short of Donaldson when including the qualifying offer as part of Donaldson’s value. Donaldson would be a one win improvement in the final two months of the season, as well as a nice improvement over Wong in any playoff games the team takes part in. In 2018, he offers a phenomenal 3 12 win improvement. The Cardinals would however miss out on a projected $10.6M surplus value in 2019 and 2020. Wong projects to not be worth the option price minus the $1M buyout in 2021, so I added the $1M buyout to his 2020 salary and didn’t count a 2021 season.

Unless the team was willing to deal further MLB talent, they’ll have to reach from the minors to make the deal happen. Using the Top aggregate list I mentioned earlier, which uses five Top 100 lists and ‘s Top 200 list, as well as public valuations of different types of prospects, here’s the Cardinals’ top prospects and their implied valuations entering the year:

Cardinals Top Prospects.txt

rank Prospects Pos. Surplus Value MiLB FG BA BP 361 MLB
rank Prospects Pos. Surplus Value MiLB FG BA BP 361 MLB
16 Alex Reyes RHP $55.70 Grade B+ 65 4 1 2 12
63 Carson Kelly C $23.10 Grade B/B+ 50 65 81 x 36
66 Delvin Perez SS $22.80 Grade B 55 86 79 59 87
67 Luke Weaver RHP $22.00 Grade B+ x 50 x 81 65
115 Sandy Alcantara RHP $15.30 Grade B/B- 55 x 40 x x
121 Harrison Bader OF $14.40 Grade B x x x x x
124 Magneuris Sierra OF $14.40 Grade B x x x x x
143 Jack Flaherty RHP $12.30 Grade B x x x x x
144 Dakota Hudson RHP $12.30 Grade B x x x x x
209 Paul DeJong 3B-SS $6.50 Grade B- x x x x x

Most of these lists were released before news that Alex Reyes would miss his first year and a half of service time recovering from Tommy John Surgery, but he’s still probably worth at least $35M. According to this, he’s the only single prospect that could be paired with Wong to acquire Donaldson.

However, the lists this one was based on were released at the start of the year. Players have raised and lowered their stocks since then, and that will be reflected in the coming midseason lists. One player that is sure to have raised his stock is Carson Kelly. There’s always been concerns that Kelly wouldn’t ever make strong enough contact, posting weak BABIPs and ISO at most stops throughout the minors. Last year he posted a strong BABIP, and he’s continued that this year along with a .216 ISO. His less than average strikeout rate has continued, and he’s currently walking at a double-digit clip. Maybe this is just a hot streak. Scouts in the past have made claims that there was raw power in Kelly’s profile waiting to be unlocked though, and perhaps now it’s happening. I’ll defer to the scouts on this one.

32 prospects on my aggregate list received a valuation of $35M or more. If Kelly is to now be considered that good, he and Wong could be paired to bring in a Donaldson. I’m not a scout by any means, but I he probably doesn’t jump quite that high. If he’s not quite that elite, the Cards would need to add something else along with Wong and Kelly.

Austin Gomber, John Gant, Junior Fernandez, Edmundo Sosa, Connor Jones, Dylan Carlson, and Jake Woodford all didn’t make any of the top prospect lists, but did receive a “B-” grade from John Sickels, which was the grade he ended off on in his top 200 list. That’s an implied valuation of $6.5M. One of those might have to be added on to get a deal done with Wong and Kelly. Zac Gallen was only ranked a “C+” before the season by Sickels, but might have vaulted himself into that group as he’s dominated High-A to the tune of a 2.13 FIP over 56 innings in 2017.

Otherwise, maybe the Cardinals could make it happen by instead adding on Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty. After dazzling with a 2.31 FIP over 63 innings at Double-A, Jack Flaherty has probably raised his valuation to something better than the $12.3M listed here. Maybe they could get away with Wong, Weaver and Dakota Hudson instead.

So what does the math say? We’re seeing Wong and Reyes for Donaldson as one possibility. We’re also looking at Wong, Kelly, and Fernandez. Or, the team could offer something like Wong, Weaver, and Flaherty. These all seem fair, in the sense that they pass the hurt test for me (it hurts at least a little to think about losing those players, even for someone like Donaldson).

None of these are franchise crippling deals. Donaldson would be a huge upgrade over Wong over the next two years, and while Wong has two additional years of control, they’re not huge discounts, and perhaps someone like Paul DeJong or Greg Garcia show that they can handle a starting second or third baseman job in 2019, at least until Delvin Perez becomes our own Franscisco Lindor and moves Aledmys Diaz over to second or third. OK, maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

Carson Kelly could be great, but the Cardinals still have Yadier Molina under contract for another three and a half years. Of course, Kelly would be a nice insurance against Molina’s production falling off a cliff, and he’d also be nice depth in case of an injury. There’s certainly value to that. But the Cards might find that the best way to get value out of Kelly is in a trade like this one which acquires a top-end talent. As for the pitchers, the Cardinals are a pitching-rich organization right now, so they can take the hit. They could also participate in a pitching-heavy 2017-2018 free agent market.

Maybe that’s too much for you, and I understand that. I’ve generally felt that right now isn’t the time to be heavily investing in the present, but at the least I wouldn’t criticize the Cardinals for making either of the above deals, which seem fair without sacrificing all that much future value.

Maybe you think the price might be higher than that. That could easily be the case. These valuations are based on the best public estimates and aggregations, but all that really matters is the opinions of the organizations involved. This is intended to be a good over/under.

Maybe you think the Cardinals should go over and above that price to finally get a superstar. If the Cardinals happen to be in a position at the deadline where they could realistically win the division, I’d probably agree. If it means mostly just increasing their chances of gaining entry to the Wild Card game, it’s a little less worthwhile in my opinion. Either way, I think the math here gets us pretty close to the potential price of acquiring Josh Donaldson. At this point, let’s just hope the Cards have a good enough record to buy at the deadline.