February 17, 2010 at 10:14 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
I suppose I’ll have to write this article at some point, so I might as well go ahead and do it now.
Unless something goes horribly wrong in Kansas City and Billy Butler is made available, or the same happens in Cincinnati and Joey Votto is made available, or some similar situation occurs with another team, Adrian Gonzalez is extremely likely to be not only the best first baseman or position player, but generally the best player and the most favorable contract available on the trade market this season. If Adrian Gonzalez gets moved it will probably be the biggest trade of the year and immediately goes into the conversation for the top trades of the still very young decade. Given the Braves position on the win curve, the way their current roster is constructed, and the fact that there’s a good chance first base help will be the club’s top priority if they’re looking to upgrade mid-season, Adrian Gonzalez is the logical starting point–no matter how much we like it or not.
First, let me talk briefly about each of the previous parameters I mentioned. Their position on the win curve makes adding a few wins immensely valuable. Making the playoffs is worth, on average, about $40 million to a franchise, and the Braves are at the point on the win curve in which adding a few more wins makes them disproportionately more likely to make the post season. The difference between a 69 win team and a 71 win team is nothing, the difference between an 86 win team and an 88 win team is often the difference between making the post season tournament and not. Most everyone reading this is familiar with this concept, though don’t feel bad if you aren’t. I talked about the way they’ve set up their roster here and I have nothing more to add.
The third one there’s not much of a theoretical or mathematical basis for, it’s just common sense based on the way the roster is set up. The Braves have an elite player at SS, 3B, and C. If one of those guys goes down long term, it’s probably stupid to try to chase a playoff berth. They have steady above-average regulars at 2B and, by mid season, probably all three outfield positions, assuming Schafer and Heyward are with the club or aren’t too far away from making it. The only non-negligible injury risk of the group is Chipper Jones, and there’s inherent depth at that position. If Chipper goes down long term, I think the team is better off with Troy Glaus at 3B than 1B, given it’s a lot more likely he’ll hit as much or more than the average 3B than the average 1B and he’s good enough defensively there.
I’ve already brought up Glaus and sort of alluded to my point. Point number one, there’s a non-zero chance Glaus injures himself or turns into Richie Sexson, who hit .211/.306/.392 in 818 PA’s during his age 32 and 33 seasons (Troy Glaus is 33 years old next season). If that happens, the organization is left with Eric Hinske as their every day 1B, which is very bad. Point number two, there’s a non-zero, and perhaps much greater, chance that Glause turns into David Ortiz, who hit .238/.332/.462 in 627 PA’s (wow, Francona might be an idiot) last season. That’s not particularly useful at 1B, but in 2009 the average NL third baseman hit .261/.333/.419/, so Glaus is still more than useful if he turns into David Ortiz, as perhaps a platoon option at 1B, the reserve third baseman, a pinch hitter, and the ever valuable Chipper insurance. Even if he hits a ton, something like .270/.360/.490, and Chipper gets injured, I think it’s still a lot more logical to play Glaus at 3B and do something about 1B.
So, basically, unless Chipper and Glaus both stay completely healthy and plenty productive, the organization stands to gain quite a bit by upgrading 1B. I can’t envision a scenario in which the outfield is a higher priority, nor can I envision one in which 2B, SS, C, or 3B is a higher priority and the Braves are still remotely close to in the race. That’s not to say one won’t arise, but when considering the probability of it all, every time I look at this thing I get to first base or nothing.
The pitching staff figures to be rock solid, and I figure if a starter or two goes down, the organization probably stands to gain more by bringing John Smoltz or Pedro Martinez on than trading prospects for a starter. Relievers are fungible and there’s plenty of organizational depth there, mostly comprised of legit prospects rather than AAA veterans.
So, if the team wants to get better at the deadline and first base is the most logical position to upgrade and the best player presumably available at the trade deadline happens to be a first baseman, well, if I’m Frank Wren, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t at least look into it. Even if it’s just due diligence, said diligence is due. And, since this website is dedicated mostly to discussing everything that goes on upstairs at 755 Hank Aaron Drive, it makes sense for me to go ahead and write this article. To my knowledge, this topic hasn’t been examined from a Braves point of view. I intend to completely exhaust the subject.
Here are my thoughts.
Sounds like another Teixeira trade.
How similar these two players are, in terms of value, heading into their last two pre-FA seasons, is rather frightening. It doesn’t just sound like another Teixeira trade, it is another Teixeira trade. First of all, the similarities between the two.
- They’re elite first basemen with two years of club control left.
- They’re both relatively young (the year Teixeira was dealt he was 27 years old, Adrian Gonzalez will be 28 years old in May).
- They both have at least solid defensive reputations.
- They both have elite plate discipline.
- They both have tremendous power.
They don’t match up especially well on B-R’s comps (based on similarity scores by Bill James), but in terms of value, they’re extremely close. Here’s a chart of their +/-, wOBA, and pWAR (WAR based on +/- rather than UZR), I apologize for the lack of readability here:
You can play around with the numbers, but every time we get basically the same result–too close to call. So, it’s only natural to think of this in terms of the Teixeira trade. Given Beau Jones is basically worthless and Ron Mahay provided very little value, I’m going to refer to the trade and evaluate it as Mark Teixeira for Neftali Feliz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz Elvis Andrus.
If you don’t study the past, you’ll make the same mistakes again, so let’s take a look back to July of 2007. The Braves acquired two months of Mark Teixeira in 2007 at the price of $3 million, plus six months of Mark Teixeira in 2008 at a salary to be determined later via salary arbitration rules (Teixeira and the Braves eventually agreed to a $12.5 million salary). Over those two months in 2007, Teixeira produced 2.1 wins. Over his 6 months with the Braves and Angels in 2008, he produced 6.8 wins. I’ve got a thing for that, but first we need to tweak the parameters a little bit.
First of all, this trade took place in 2007, not 2010, when teams still paid closer to $4.5 million per win and economists penciled in a twelve per cent rate of return automatically. Now, ignoring what happened after the trade (the next trade, etc.) and thinking of this only as a swap of Mark Teixeira’s surplus value over the life of his contract for the four prospects, here’s the quantification of the resources swapped:
It’s easy to say the Braves over paid here, but it’s hardly out of character for teams to over pay for premium talent on the trade market, given the demand is so incredibly high and the supply is so low. The Teixeira trade was a blunder because it was made while the Braves could have done a lot more by adding a starting pitcher rather than a first baseman, not because the Braves over paid. Which they did, don’t get me wrong, but not by as much as some would have you think.
Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez do have their differences, Gonzalez is owed only $10.25 million over the next two years, whereas Teixeira was paid a combined $21.5 million in 2007 and 2008. Teixeira was a year younger and arguably had more upside. There are many other factors, but like I said, they’re basically the same in terms of value. Here’s basically what Adrian Gonzalez’s trade value would be if he was on the market at the same time as Teixeira was when he was dealt to the Braves and had accomplished everything he has as of Feb 17, 2010:
I bring this up only to again highlight the similarities between the players. In this light, I think the formula we basically have to go by is that of the Teixeira trade. A 26-50 prospect, a 51-75 prospect, a 76-100 prospect, and a lottery ticket. I have a feeling that the Padres will demand something they can use right now, something close to or on the 40-man roster, presumably in the form of one of the three 26-100 prospects.
Scanning the 40-man roster and prospects in the upper minors, the group of good, young players that are also useful close to now is comprised of Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Yunel Escobar, Jordan Schafer, Craig Kimbrel, and Jair Jurrjens. Lee Hyde, Michael Dunn, and Jose Ortegano are also considered useful close to now, though certainly don’t possess the value of a top 26-100 prospect. Obviously the Braves aren’t going to trade Tommy Hanson, Yunel Escobar, or Jair Jurrjens. I’d hope they think the same about Jordan Schafer. Though I’d rather trade Craig Kimbrel than Kris Medlen, given Medlen’s higher floor and potential use as a starter, I figure the Padres would require Medlen, rather than Kimbrel, in a hypothetical Adrian Gonzalez trade. Medlen seems more like a Hoyer-ish player, anyway. So, it’s appropriate to look at Kris Medlen’s trade value to the Padres and Braves (if he’s traded mid-season, we’re using mid-season as our reference point, by the way). To the Padres:
And to the Braves:
He’s basically the equivalent of Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the Teixeira trade. He’d be close to that valuable under the $4.5 M/W paradigm.
Next, add a pair of top-100 prospects and a lottery ticket. A table with the Braves prospects and their value (based on Victor Wang’s work, summarized here, adjusted for the current economic conditions):
They’re obviously not trading Jason Heyward or Freddie Freeman. One of Arodys Vizcaino and Julio Teheran has to go. It’s not particularly important which one, personally I’d rather keep Teheran than Vizcaino, but they’re equally valuable. The only player that matches Matt Harrison in the 76-100 prospect department is Randall Delgado, but I think the Braves could get around including him by including a fairly good lottery ticket, an B pitcher, and something else useful close to now–presumably one of the relievers. Again, it doesn’t much matter which lottery ticket they include, either Tyler Stovall, Andy Otero, Cole Rohrbough, Robinson Lopez, or Brett DeVall, from the Braves perspective. Lopez, Stovall, and Otero provide more upside, and Lopez is probably the best of the trio, and considering the lottery ticket portion of the package is one of the places I’m most flexible, I’d be willing to include Robinson Lopez. Between Zeke Spruill, Christian Bethancourt, Mike Minor, and Craig Kimbrel, Spruill seems like the best fit for this package. I wouldn’t give Bethancourt away just yet, and I believe the Padres would pick Spruill over Kimbrel or Minor–who isn’t eligible to be traded until some point in August and I don’t believe the Braves would trade, anyway.
Finally, for the last piece of the package, Scott Diamond, Jose Ortegano, Michael Dunn, Lee Hyde, and Brandon Hicks all make at least some sense. I’m putting Lee Hyde down, but, again, it’s not particularly important. The type of player and the value they bring to the franchise is.
And, so, this is what the package looks like:
That’s basically what the organization is going to have to give up to get Adrian Gonzalez. It’s no small price, five legitimate pitching prospects (well, four, but Medlen is close enough to being a prospect). Such a move would knock the Braves’ farm system’s value ranking from 3rd overall to 13th overall, between that of the Royals and the Mets, in addition to stripping away a young, cheap, solid-above-average starter off the active roster. That’s the price teams pay for premium talent, though, and this is an illustration of the value of that elite player:
I did not write this article with the intent of coming to a conclusion, it’s simply an exploratory exercise to determine how much it would cost. It’s impossible to tell right now whether or not it will be a good decision four or five months from now, but if the Braves are in the playoff hunt at that point and their 1B or 3B production leaves something to desired, they’ll all but have to at least consider making a play Adrian Gonzalez. So, knowing about how much it’s going to take to get him is going to be useful information, at some point.