We’re entering a very uncertain off-season for the Cardinals. They seem certain to cut payroll along with giant swaths of the rest of the league, but we don’t know how much they’ll cut and how they’ll supplement the roster. Nor do we know how the market will change with the potential influx of baseball’s middle class as free agents- think players like Kolten Wong. Even if they supplement with low-end free agents, the Cardinals are likely to trim payroll by trying to move several players via trade, as J.P. Hill mentioned yesterday. Now might be a good time to calibrate our expectations in these trades. What are various Cardinals worth on the trade market?
It’s quite a few years old now, but I see no reason not to use the D-Rays Bay trade value calculator. We’ll also have to calculate the cost of a win. My colleague Tyler Kinzy took a guess at it recently, speculating that the $/WAR for the off-season market will be in the $4-5M range. For perspective, it’s usually closer to $8-10M. I’m not going to be that aggressive, but I will start with $6M/WAR as our cost of a win figure in the D-Rays Bay calculator.
From there, we need a list of players. Since the goal is to save money, the obvious places to start are with Cardinals who are past the pre-arbitration and arbitration stage. That means Carlos Martinez, Dexter Fowler, Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, and Miles Mikolas. I’m going to exclude Andrew Miller since the team, well aware of the financial stakes ahead of them, already picked up his option. That implies to me that they don’t want to trade him. Even if they did, the fact that nobody picked up Brad Hand immediately should tell you that Miller’s trade value this off-season is underwater.
Paul DeJong is also signed through his arbitration years, so we’ll include him. I’m tempted to take a look at a few players still in arbitration who will have some trade market value- Harrison Bader and Jack Flaherty. However, trading either of them won’t serve any purpose for diminishing payroll given their arbitration salaries. Hell, trading Flaherty won’t serve any purpose at all. If it’s helpful, Baseball Trade Values places Harrison Bader at $16.7M of trade value and Flaherty at $81M.
For each player’s value, I’m going to use Dan Szymborski’s future year ZiPS, even though they (presumably) have not been updated with 2020 data. That will get us through at least 2022, and we can spitball from there.
Contract: $11.7M in 2021, $17M in 2022 (with a $500k buyout), $18M in 2023 (with a $500k buyout)
Surplus Value: -$8.05M
I didn’t use any fancy math for the option years. Rather, I assumed- given how much the market is cratering right now- that any acquiring team would simply pay the $500k buyout at the end of 2021. It would take a monstrous bounceback by Martinez for us to assume an acquiring team, in a likely frozen market again 12 months from now, would pick up that option. I should note that this projection includes a 0.7 fWAR for him in 2021, which- after how rough he looked this season- is going to drop when ZIPS is updated. In other words, even in the most generous projection we can find, Martinez’s trade value is $8M underwater.
If you thought you were going to get prospects for him, you’re incorrect. At least none of any value. Probably none at all since, even on Baseball Trade Values, the lowest level prospects still are in the positive. If the Cardinals are going to trade Martinez, they’ll have to include prospects or a lot of money to get anything at all in return.
Contract: $16.5M in 2021, then free agency
Surplus Value: -$17.1M
ZIPS has Fowler down for a -0.1 fWAR projection in 2021. I’d say that’s a little grim, but he was 0.0 this season and will be 35 on Opening Day next year. Even if we’re a little generous and project him for 0.3 fWAR, his trade value is still $14M in the hole. I assure you potential trade partners will not be using the generous projections. Like Martinez, if the Cardinals are going to trade Fowler, they’ll have to include cash or some very good prospects to get anything at all in return. When I say prospects would have to be included, we’re talking about someone like Zack Thompson (but not quite Matthew Liberatore or Nolan Gorman) just to cancel out the negative value.
Contract: $26M per season from 2021-2024
Surplus Value: -$24.9M
I cheated a little on Goldschmidt’s behalf. His 2021 ZIPS projection was 2.0, but that was predicated on the 2.9 fWAR he had in 2019, projected out two years. On a 162 game pace, his 2020 season would have landed him at 5.8 fWAR. I met in the middle of “He’s over 30, subtract .5 wins from 5.8” and “ZIPS has him at 2.0”, and assigned him 3.8 fWAR for 2021, followed by 3.3, 2.8, and 2.3. Again, this is somewhat generous but it should give you a general idea. Even being generous, Goldschmidt’s contract has no value on the trade market.
Contract: $18.5M in 2021, followed by a $2M buyout (or $12M team option) in 2022
Surplus Value: -$15.7M
He was projected for 1.7 fWAR in 2021 before 2020, but 2020 did not go well at all for Carpenter. More realistically, his 2021 projection will end up much lower than 1.7 fWAR. If we extrapolate this year’s 0.3 fWAR out to a 162 game schedule, it lands at 0.8. I’ve given him a 0.8 projection for 2021 as well, and counted his salary as including the buyout, so $20.5M for 0.8 fWAR. If you want to trade Carpenter, see my description of the Fowler and Martinez contracts.
Contract: $16.75M each year from 2021-2023, then free agency
Surplus Value: -$18.0M
Before he lost 2020 to injury, Mikolas’ ZIPS projections for future years were 2.0 (2021) and 1.8 (2022). I’m in a giving mood today- we’ll pretend he didn’t just miss an entire season and that he’s still going to be a 2.0 and 1.8 fWAR pitcher over the next two years. From there, we’ll subtract 0.5 for a 1.3 fWAR in 2023.
Aaaaand yet again, we have a negative trade value.
Contract: $4.167M in 2021, $6.167M in 2022, $9.167M in 2023, $12M or a $2M buyout in 2024, $15M or a $1M buyout in 2025
Surplus Value: $35.7M
Finally, a player with positive trade value! This is predicated on a few things. For the calculation, I’ve used DeJong’s 3.2 fWAR projection for 2021, and 3.0 for 2022, then kept with the ZIPS theme and assigned him 2.8 for 2023. I also tacked the $2M buyout for 2024 onto his 2023 salary. I realize that’s sloppy, but it should- theoretically- get us in the right ballpark.
Where it gets complicated is that DeJong’s 162-game projection this season was around 1.7 fWAR, meaning his 3.2 for 2021 may be ambitious. Given that he still played at a 1.7 fWAR/162 game pace with a Covid stint leads me to believe in the 3.2, and that’s why I stuck with it. For what it’s worth, Baseball Trade Values has him much lower, around $5M surplus value. To get there, I’d have to assign him projections of 2.0 fWAR in 2021, 1.5 in 2022, and 1.0 in 2023.
The Cardinals are in a dreadful position. If they must cut payroll, it’s possible. However, they’ll have to trade minor league talent along with the bigger salaries to get anything worthwhile in return. Paul DeJong represents a unique chance to trade in that he does have positive trade value. It’s hard to see how trading him helps the 2021 Cardinals win games. Beyond that, any of these contracts traded will be negative value, with no trade value to other teams absent some serious sweeteners.