The deadline just keeps getting closer. The Cardinals are nearing the time where they have to make a decision on what to do with this season. Going into yesterday, Fangraphs’ projections gave the Cardinals 18.1% chance to make it to the NLDS, a little better than a 4 1/2 to 1 shot. That’s not counting the fact that yesterday the Cards, Diamondbacks, and Brewers lost, and the Cubs and Rockies won. That’s probably a net loss for the Cards.
Generally, I’ve supported selling over buying. Last Monday, I made the case that the Cardinals should zig while the Brewers and Cubs zag. The Cubs have already made one big move, and they’re reportedly not finished. The Brewers have one of the best farms in the game, and thus the ability to make pretty much any upgrade they want. It’s not clear how hard they’ll attempt to upgrade - they are reportedly interested in Sonny Gray - but they’re not just going to sit on their hands with a lead in the division and a talented club behind them. Building a brighter future is probably better than betting on catching up on these clubs.
At the same, the Cards could do a lot to boost the farm. Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Lance Lynn, and Seung Hwan Oh are the most obvious trade chips. The prospects they pick up from those moves could help contribute in the long-term, or they could be used as ammo to make some moves in the upcoming offseason. I’ve went so far as to suggest a full tear-down, but I know that’s extremely unlikely to happen.
The Cards still seem likely to be buyers though. So rather than make every post about selling, we’ll also look at the potential upgrades the team could make now.
You’ve likely heard that the Marlins are up for sale. The latest news is that the team is unlikely to be sold before the deadline, and there’s a chance the team won’t make any major moves with the situation as open as it is.
I’m not going to pretend to know what the Marlins eventually do. A lot has been written about what they will do, but everything is up in the air. One thing they could want to do, is shed themselves of Giancarlo Stanton and his enormous contract. Stanton and the Marlins agreed to a record-setting $325M/13 year deal that began in 2015, complete with a no-trade clause and an opt-out after 2020.
Word is, teams around the league are not willing to take on all of Stantons’ contract as well as part with prospects. That’s not surprising, the deal is a behemoth. At this moment, he’s still owed nearly $300M and under contract possibly until 2027. Utilizing his current Fangraphs depth chart projection, plus an averaged aging curve, a doubled cost of wins in-season, 5% inflation, and an 8% discount to future production, let’s take a quantified approach to the slugger’s trade value:
Giancarlo Stanton trade value calculation
|Price of WAR||$18.0||$9.5||$9.9||$10.4||$10.9||$11.5||$12.1||$12.7||$13.3||$14.0||$14.7||$10.9|
|Projected Surplus Value||$20.7||$9.0||$7.5||$4.9||-$4.0||-$7.7||-$16.9||-$21.9||-$24.3||-$34.3||-$54.0||-$121.0|
|Projected NP Surplus Value||$20.7||$8.3||$6.4||$3.9||-$2.9||-$5.2||-$10.7||-$12.8||-$13.1||-$17.2||-$25.0||-$47.5|
Stanton has a $25M team option or a $10M buyout in 2028. Since he doesn’t project to be worth the $15M difference, I added the $10M buy-out to his 2027 salary
Woof. This isn’t the only take on Stantons’ value. Craig Edwards found Stanton to be a slightly positive value. He arrived at that value using a much more mild aging curve. According to my own home-made average aging curve based on all players from 2006 on (when drug testing started), on average Stanton will become a below-replacement player by 2026. If you assume the team employing Stanton’s services simply stops playing him at that point, rather than letting him accrue negative value, the deficit drops to $36.1M.
However, it illustrates a point: 4-win players are great, but it’s not a big enough plateau to survive eleven years of aging, especially when most the years come in his 30’s. Stopping playing him when he reaches negative-replacement level provides a floor for how much of a negative asset he’ll be, but it also shows that he’s going to have to beat the aging process much better than most just to remain playable by the end.
But that’s just the start. Stanton’s contract contains an opt-out. After the 2020, he will have to decide whether to take the remaining $218M over the next seven years (his age 31-37 seasons) or test the open market. Stanton does project to be a surplus over his pre-opt out years, to the tune of $39.4M.
He’ll have to be much better than that in order to opt-out though. The first year after his decision (2021) is his first where he’s projected to not be worth his salary, and it only gets worse after that. That’s just the average outcome though, few players actually age similarly to average. He’d need to be considered a 4-WAR player heading in the 2020-2021 offseason to justify passing on his current deal. In other words, he’d have to stay about the same player he is now. On average, players decline 1.8 wins from their age 28 season to their age 31 season. The common wisdom is that players don’t decline until their early 30’s, but that’s just not the case.
And because of the opt-out, the upside to the Cardinals is limited. In the event that he ages well-enough to opt-out, that essentially means the Cards are losing out on future surplus value. I wrote back in the 2015-2016 offseason that the Cards shouldn’t fear the opt-out, provided they acquire the player for cheaper than they usually would. It’s a bet the team makes, and if they win that bet, they end up with a short-term, surplus-laden deal for an elite talent. That’s not a good bet in this case though.
So Stanton is a negative asset, at least in my book. The Marlins would need to do something extra. Maybe they eat money, maybe they take back a similarly bad but smaller contract. Maybe they pair him with a player on a good contract to cancel it out. That good contract could be Christian Yelich. Using the same assumptions we did with Stanton, let’s look at Yelich’s value according to the math:
Christian Yelich trade value calculation
|Price of WAR||$18.0||$9.5||$9.9||$10.4||$10.9||$11.5||$10.9|
|Projected Surplus Value||$20.1||$25.3||$21.0||$15.5||$12.7||$7.8||$102.4|
|Projected NP Surplus Value||$20.1||$23.5||$18.0||$12.3||$9.3||$5.3||$88.5|
Yelich’s deal is about twice as good as Stanton’s is bad. He’s not rated as highly, but he’s a couple of years younger and owed 1/5th as much, even including the option year in 2022, which he’s projected to be worth at the moment. You might be wondering what’s up with Yelich though. From 2013 to 2015, he was a remarkably similar hitter, recording a 118 wRC+ each of those years. He always hit the ball hard, but it was too often on the ground. He cut down on the grounders a bit in 2016, increasing his power and leading to a 130 wRC+ in what looked like a break-out year.
In 2017 he’s mostly retained the drop in grounders, but the power hasn’t shown up. As a whole, Yelich is hitting for a 104 wRC+ right now, or just 4% above average. For a closer look, let’s look at his contact quality using the statcast data hosted at BaseballSavant.com. We’ll start with his radial chart:
The protractor-shaped image above is used to represent any batted ball in terms of Launch Angle (the vertical angle at which the ball leaves the bat) and Exit Velocity (the speed at which the ball leaves the bat). Each dot represents one of Yelich’s batted balls in 2017.
The six colored regions represent the six qualities of contact: Barrels (the best batted ball, mostly homers and near-homers), Solid Contact (the second best contact, they form a border surrounding barrels that are half as productive as them on average), Flares and Burners (hard hit grounders and bloopers, these have really high chances of being a hit, and on average are almost as productive as solid contact), Under (getting under the ball for weak fly ball or pop-up), Topped (a weak grounder), or weak contact (any batted ball under 60 MPH).
This is fun image, but it requires context. How does this compare to league average? How does it compare to his 2016 season? Let’s find out:
Christian Yelich contact quality breakdown
|Player||Barrels%||Solid Contact%||Flares and Burners%||Topped%||Under%||Weak%|
|Player||Barrels%||Solid Contact%||Flares and Burners%||Topped%||Under%||Weak%|
In 2015, Yelich was below average at generating Barrels and Solid Contact, but made up for it by hitting an above-average amount of Flares and Burners, and a well-below average amount of weak and under contact. Topped contact is below average, but it’s better than those two. That’s one of the advantages of hitting the ball on the ground more often.
In 2016 though, we see the benefits of getting the ball in the air. He somehow increased his Barrels and Solid Contact to above-average rates, while retaining his ability to avoid getting under the ball.
2017 saw regression, with his Barrels and Solid Contact returning to 2015 levels. His Flares and Burners ticked up, but not as much as his under and weak contact, which are both currently at career highs in the Statcast era (2015 and on).
Baseball Savant has another stat, xwOBA. This replaces the on-contact portion of a player’s wOBA with what Yelich’s specific assortment of batted balls perform on average. Craig found that xwOBA is more predictive of future wOBA then wOBA itself.
Christian’s wOBA is ten points lower than his xwOBA, so he’s been a bit unlucky. A little more so when considering he’s a well-above average runner according to Statcast’s sprint speed metric, meaning he should be able to leg out infield singles and hustle doubles better than average.
The projections agree with Statcast, seeing a .347 wOBA the rest of the year, an exact match for his xwOBA on the year. That translates to a 113 wRC+, 13% above-average and nearly a full win better than the average hitter over a full year.
Taking Yelich’s value and deducting Stanton’s deficit from that gives us a total of $45-50M. Assuming these two are available (they easily could not be), Stanton’s incredible salaries means acquiring these two as a package deal is fairly doable in terms of prospects. Of course, the trade off is a whole lot of money. Here’s the Cardinals’ current salary obligations, along with the hypothetical additions of Stanton and Yelich:
Proposed new Cardinals salary obligations
Stanton would become a significant line item on the Cardinals’ budget for a long, long time. The next longest controlled players are Carlos Martinez and Stephen Piscotty, and Yelich would be right around those two. This is a huge short-term and long term move. Looking at the projections, those two offer huge improvements over the current outfield:
Six outfielders by the projections
This is each player’s rest of season projection, followed by those projections stretched out over a full season. Yelich is a one-win upgrade over all other options, and Stanton’s a two-win upgrade. Both together make for a huge improvement for the Cards over the next few years.
This highlights another obstacle to this trade: it would create an uncomfortable situation in the outfield. Ideally, the Marlins would take an outfielder back. Fowler doesn’t make sense, and I’m not even going to try to put a number on how teams value Tommy Pham. Hopefully they’d be willing to take back Stephen Piscotty. He’s owed $28M less than Yelich, and is controlled for about the same amount of time. He’s not as good of course, and the end result is a lower value. I previously calculated his value at a little less than $20M. That includes the in-season premium though, and the Marlins aren’t in a position where they care about in-season upgrades. Throw in the fact that he’s currently injured, and he’s probably not valued that highly. Maybe you can deal Piscotty elsewhere (probably selling-low), maybe you have to stick him in the minors for a little bit.
It would also create a sticky situation as to who starts in center: the guy the Cards just guaranteed more than $80M, or the guy that’s been the best hitter on the team the whole year? I would like them to play Tommy Pham for now. He’s incredibly injury-prone anyway, as he’s only averaged 300 plate appearances a year since entering Full-season ball in 2008. He’s also about the only outfielder who hasn’t missed time from injury yet this year. This is only really an issue when everyone is healthy, which won’t actually be that often.
Let’s turn our attention to who the Cardinals would part with to remake their outfield. We’ll start with looking at every Cardinals prospect mentioned on one of six top prospect lists before the season:
Cardinals top prospects and rankings
|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|
These are the results of my aggregate prospect list. The method is explained in-depth in the link, but the dollar values calculated are averages based on public valuations of different types of prospects. These values are not supposed to be taken too seriously, this is just an attempt to quantify prospect value based on the public outlets, so we can compare the value of major leaguers and prospects in an apples to apples manner. Each team has their own valuations of players, and all that matters is the opinions of the teams involved. Think of this as a rough over/under.
Prospect rankings are a snapshot in time, and this moment of time was before the season. Alex Reyes didn’t have Tommy John Surgery before most these lists came out, his value is down. Carson Kelly is probably up with an above-average hitting line on the year. Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty have both impressed in the high minors, their value is probably up. I have my concerns about Magneuris Sierra (found here) and Paul DeJong (here), but their value has probably increased since the season started as well. With that said, we can use these values to see what kind of package makes sense for acquiring Yelich and Stanton.
I’d start by offering Miami any three of these four: Piscotty, Bader, Sierra, and Alcantara. They’d probably want a better headliner though. I’d be willing to use three different headliners: Weaver, Kelly, or Delvin Perez. I’ll probably get some flack for this, but it’s an intriguing idea to involve Perez. He’s a great natural talent, one that the Cardinals never usually are able to get in the draft. Maybe he’s our own Francisco Lindor. Still, maybe he’s a bust. That’s at least just as likely.
More importantly, we’re talking about committing big towards winning over the next few years. I’m no prospect expert by any means, but the 18 year old Perez is unlikely to contribute to the big league team before 2021. The Marlins passed on taking him in the first round, so maybe they’re not interested. But he should be on the table.
I’m higher on Weaver than most, as I think he’s probably an average starting pitcher right now, and is the best bet to fill-in if someone in the rotation gets hurt. If that doesn’t happen, he’d be an upgrade in the pen. He’s also the leading candidate for Lynn’s spot in 2018. If they want Weaver, they can also have one of the three outfielders offered in the first deal, as well as a minor prospect. Same goes for Perez. If they prefer Kelly, they can have him and two of three outfielders from the original deal. I mean they have to at least take one outfielder off the Cardinals’ hands, there’s no way around it.
This whole thing might be for nothing; the Marlins may be too cautious to make any big moves with the team up for sale. Stanton’s contract looks like a lot of dead weight, but he’s also a star in Miami, and a reason for people to go to a Marlins game even if the team is otherwise horrible. It’s not clear that the team is more or less profitable with him and his enormous contract. It’s also not clear that Stanton would waive his no-trade clause without there being something in it for him (which is his right).
Still, this is a team in need of high-end controllable talent, and this is a way to acquire exactly that. Stanton’s contract may actually contribute to handicapping the Cards’ payroll at some point, but they’d still have some money to spend in the short-term, and taking that huge contract allows the team to save in terms of prospect cost. If the Cardinals decide not to sell, this is the type of move they need to look into.