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Trade Value: Cardinals Edition

Who brings the biggest return?

Can Yadi win the MVP in 2013?
Can Yadi win the MVP in 2013?

This past week, Fangraphs ran their annual trade value list. Let's start with the fact that this is an exercise in futility. Any list of this nature assumes uniformity among a set of variables that simply doesn't exist.

  • Each team does not have the same needs - Yadier Molina would not be as valuable to the Giants, with Buster Posey, as he is to other teams.
  • Each team is at a different point on the win curve - Teams that are on the playoff bubble derive higher marginal value from an extra win and should be willing to pay more for those wins.
  • Each team has different scouting takes on players - Evaluations are subjective and a big part of why trade packages can vary so much from the common wisdom.
  • Some GMs are idiots - Who knows what Dayton Moore's trade list would look like but I'd bet money that it would be atypical. That wouldn't be important except that he's one of 30 guys who can actually make a trade.

So, acknowledging that this all has as much important as any other typical rosterbation, that doesn't make the exercise any less fun. The Cardinals made out reasonably well on the list with Yadier Molina (#11), Adam Wainwright (#23), Shelby Miller (#32), Allen Craig (#40) & Matt Carpenter (Honorable Mention).

That's a solid list of player's right there. Personally, I think leaving Matt Carpenter off the list in favor of guys like Austin Jackson or Edwin Encarnacion is off base. This speaks more towards the lack of understanding of who Carpenter is as a player and what his track record shows more than anything. Consider that Carpenter is 27, has 4 years of team control after this one and is top 10 in WAR this season. The gap between Matt Carpenter and Dustin Pedroia (2 years older, 2 years fewer control) is too large on the list.

Similarly, the gap between Oscar Taveras (not listed) and Byron Buxton (#28) is too high. Consider that Buxton is putting up numbers in the Midwest League that are worse than what Taveras did at the same age. Now Taveras is much closer to the majors and has continued to produce but doesn't make the list at all. This is a case of someone being distracted by a shiny new toy/prospect and it happens every year with the newer draftees and prospects. Taveras is not without his warts -- notably a questionable attitude -- but the relative rankings here seem off.

Personally, Yadier Molina's placement to me is the most interesting point on this list. It's not so much that Yadier isn't a highly valuable trade chit (not that he'll ever be traded) but it's a testament again to the remarkable career arc that we've witnessed. For 5 of the first 6 years that Yadier was an everyday catcher, he was a below average hitter. If we're being generous he was average in two years and then quite terrible in the other four. Suddenly, in 2011, Molina becomes not just a good hitter but an elite one. All the while he's performing as a top tier defensive catcher with an incredible workload.

The Cardinals signed Molina to an extension prior to the 2012 season and many people, myself included, felt the deal was a bit heavy on dollars though not necessarily a terrible deal. What's surprising about the contract has been that Molina has not only been worth it but he's been worth it in such an obvious way. In the past, Molina was lauded for his defense or handling of pitchers but suddenly he's clobbering the ball in a way that leaves no doubt the contract is more than paying for itself. It's just a remarkable turn of events.

It would be easy to further dissect the Fangraphs list (Wainwright should be lower than player X, Miller should be higher than player Y) but any list of that nature can be endlessly quibbled with. Instead, I'll present you my list of the Cardinals top trade chips and take the brunt of the comments for my idiocy -- perceived or real.

  1. Yadier Molina - There's just no disagreeing with this slot. His value over the next few years, even if it declines, is just so high and he's at a fixed rate before things should get really ugly performance wise.
  2. Adam Wainwright - I'd be tempted to change things up here and go with Shelby Miller if Wainwright hadn't found Cliff Lee levels of command this year. In 146 innings, he's walked 15 batters. He has a 2.6% walk rate on the season. That's utterly ridiculous. His Tommy John surgery is "out of the way" and he's none the worse for it.
  3. Shelby Miller - I really like Miller as a pitcher and this season should offer a good reminder of why we shouldn't get too worked up when an elite prospect hits a bit of a road bump in the minors. Memphis last year was not the best of Miller but he's in the conversation for NL Rookie of the Year now. Considering that he's performing this well at age 22, there's little reason to believe that he won't be a top of the rotation pitcher for the near future.
  4. Matt Carpenter - The first time I deviate from the Fangraphs list. I've long been an advocate of Carpenter back to the minors. He's a unique player. The biggest point in his favor this year has been his transition to second base where he now seems to be an average defender. That's a tremendous boon to his value. The offense -- and his plate discipline -- aren't going anywhere.
  5. Allen Craig - If Craig was a better defender, he'd be higher up the list. The bat plays but Craig is really restricted as a first baseman.
  6. Matt Adams - He seems to be an afterthought in this process because of his part-time role on the club this season but Matt Adams has shown he can hit. His defense is terrible -- and it probably always will be -- but there's a lot of value in that bat. For AL teams looking to fill the DH slot, he would be an especially attractive option.
  7. Oscar Taveras - There are reasons to be cautious with Taveras. He's been hampered by a bad ankle sprain this season limiting his plate appearances in AAA. The questions about his maturity level still haven't entirely dissipated though at age 20, there's more than enough reason to give the kid some slack. When Taveras is healthy he's still a middle-of-the-lineup bat and a defender who can play a slightly below average centerfield for the next several years.
  8. Lance Lynn - While his recent performance has been less than impressive, this is still a pitcher with a 3.18 FIP on the season who is striking out close to a batter an inning. He's also yet to hit arbitration.
  9. Trevor Rosenthal - Rosenthal has the best FIP on the Cardinals pitching staff. He's striking out 13.4 batters per 9 innings. What is crazy to consider is that there might still be an upside play with Rosenthal if he converts back to starting pitching. As a reliever, he's one of the best in the majors.
  10. Carlos Martinez - The reason that Martinez would make a list like this is simply that he's a top prospect. He throws hard, has had success as a starting pitcher but could also be a shutdown reliever. He's got a full six years of team control left.

One notable exception to the list above, now having written it, is Matt Holliday. The combination of injuries, decreased performance, age and contract mean that Holliday probably doesn't have much value as a single entity right now. The other player I gave consideration to -- before delving into the prospect pool again -- was David Freese. He's having a bit of a down year and won't be a cheap player for much longer. Despite his World Series heroics, he doesn't strike me as having much trade value.

Let me know where I went wrong!