When talking about the outfield depth that the Pittsburgh Pirates have, a lot of assumptions are made. In the minors we assume that Starling Marte and Robbie Grossman will both arrive in the next year or two, while meeting their expectations. Or, more conservatively, we expect just one of them to pan out. In the majors we expect an outfield of Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley to hold down the fort with good production until Marte or Grossman arrive. Then we ask the question: what happens when Marte and/or Grossman arrive?
That question is pre-mature, as it ignores a lot of other questions that will come first. Will Robbie Grossman continue his success in the jump to AA? Will Starling Marte see any sort of drop off at the AAA level? Can both prospects make the successful jump to the majors? Can Jose Tabata improve on his numbers from 2010-2011? Is Alex Presley really a .300 hitter with an .800 OPS, or are we just looking at a small sample size?
If the Pirates wanted to gamble, they could trade one of their outfielders in the majors and hope that Marte or Grossman arrived sooner, rather than later. That is a gamble, because it ignores all of the questions above, and hopes for the best case scenario with Marte, Grossman, and whatever outfielders remain.
The two popular names that have been brought up in trade talk this off-season have been Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata. McCutchen gets brought up in the “the Pirates could load up by trading McCutchen now”. That’s possible, although it’s way too premature. McCutchen is the best player on the team. He’s the only impact position player on the roster. I’d rather see him extended, rather than traded, because as I’ve pointed out before, it would be hard to get the proper value in return for McCutchen.
Next is Tabata, who signed an extension this year that puts him under team control through the 2019 season. The team friendly contract that Tabata signed makes him an attractive option for any team. That doesn’t mean the Pirates should trade him. In fact, they can’t trade him, as the main reason he signed such a team friendly deal was because he wanted to stay in Pittsburgh. Trading Tabata would kill the Pirates’ chances of ever getting another team friendly deal again.
This leaves Alex Presley, who I would trade over Tabata, even without the contract. The odds of Tabata improving his performance are pretty strong, considering his production came at ages 21 and 22. Meanwhile, Presley turns 27 next year, so the odds of him improving on his 2011 numbers going forward are slim. So what could the Pirates get for Presley? Let’s look at his trade value.
NOTE: The purpose is to see the values of these players, using projected values (calculated as [(WAR*$5 M) – Salary]) and Victor Wang’s research on prospect values.
Explanation: Presley was a 1.2 WAR player in 2011 over half a season. It’s hard to say where he will go from here. If he maintains his 2011 numbers over a full season, he will be worth more than a win per year, possibly two wins a year. However, he will be 32 by the end of the 2017 season, so he should see a decline at that point, even if he progresses in the next few years. I’d say that a 1.2 WAR is a conservative number, as I don’t think his 2011 numbers were a fluke, based on what he’s done in AAA. For his salary, he’s a league minimum player through 2014, and I used the 40/60/80 scale for his arbitration years.
What He’s Worth: Coincidentally, his $23.9 M value is the exact same amount as Gavin Floyd from our look at Floyd’s value last week. A $23.9 M value is worth a top 26-50 hitting prospect, although I doubt such a trade would be made. Presley’s value is driven by the fact that he has played in the majors and has had some success in his limited playing time. Prospect values are lower due to the uncertainty with prospects. If I had a top 50 hitting prospect, I’d probably go with the uncertainty, as it also comes with the chances that you could land more than Presley. On the pitching side, a top 50 pitching prospect is worth $15.9 M. So Presley would easily cover that, although again it’s up to the other team. I can’t see someone dealing a Julio Teheran for Presley.
You also have to consider Presley’s value in his final years. If a team doesn’t keep him for his final two arbitration years, that drops his value in their eyes. In my preview above, it would drop his value down to $20.7 M. If he was non-tendered before his first arbitration year, his value would drop to $17.3 M, although I can’t see that happening if he puts up a 1.2 WAR.
Overall it’s better to view Presley as a prospect, rather than viewing any potential deal as Presley for prospects. Presley isn’t established enough that another team would deal prospects for him. At the same time, his limited major league success drives his value up over what it would have been if he would have been a prospect with no major league experience.
Analysis: The Pirates could take two approaches with Presley. They could deal him this off-season as a primary piece for an upgrade elsewhere on the team. His value would ultimately depend on how other teams valued him, and how legit they thought his 2010/2011 seasons were, including his major league numbers. That might leave a hole in the outfield for the short term, although for the long term the Pirates have guys in the upper levels like Starling Marte and Robbie Grossman who are both ready to take over.
The other approach the Pirates could take is to wait and see what they have with Presley. What if his numbers are legit? What if he puts up a 2-2.5 WAR over a full season just by hitting for a .300 average with an .800 OPS? If Presley does that in 2012 over a full season, then suddenly his value goes up. He jumps in to the $40-50 M value range, and becomes less of an unknown, and more of a guy that you can deal for top prospects. The Pirates would definitely get a top prospect back if Presley put up a .300 average and an .800 OPS in 2012, with five years of control remaining beyond the 2012 season.
There’s risks either way. They could trade Presley and he could go up in value. They could keep Presley and he might go down in value. Any team looking to trade for Presley would be assuming the same risks. For that reason, it’s hard to get a read on his value, as it really depends on how other teams view his 2011 season. Teams have to determine whether they see him progressing from those numbers, and combine that with how long they expect him to go until he starts his regression from his peak years.
From the Pirates’ perspective, it goes back to those unanswered questions. Are they selling high on Presley, or was his 2011 season legit? If they trade Presley, will Marte and Grossman arrive soon to replace him? How do they fill the outfield in the short term? The Pirates would definitely be taking a gamble by trading Presley, especially in the short term. That said, if he can bring back an established player at another position of need, that’s something the Pirates can consider. Worst case they use a guy like Gorkys Hernandez in the short term, who has strong defense, and who is capable of a .350 OBP from the top of the lineup.