First Pitch: Looking at the Seller’s Market Trade Values For David Price and Jon Lester

The Pittsburgh Pirates had two scouts at the Red Sox/Rays game tonight, watching David Price and Jon Lester go against each other. Both guys could be possibilities for the trade block this year, although if the Rays keep winning, they might hold on to Price.

This is shaping up to be a seller’s market. There are so many teams in the mix for the playoffs, and very few teams that are committed to selling. You just have to look at the Rays as an example of this. They’re one of the hottest teams in baseball right now, and they’re only 4.5 games out of the Wild Card. However, they’re 50-53 and need to jump past five teams to make the post-season. And if they’re not committed to selling, then it’s likely that there’s a lot of teams in similar situations who also aren’t selling.

We’ve already seen one big trade for pitching. The Oakland Athletics acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, sending back Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, and Dan Straily. That might set the market, or it could just be an outlier. But with this seller’s market, it seems more likely that we’re going to see more big deals if top pitchers are moved.

Normally we do trade values on this site, looking at what a player is worth, and what it would cost to acquire that player in prospects. These values consider a neutral market, and don’t adjust for a buyer’s or seller’s market. I want to take a look at Lester and Price, to see what they would cost in prospects. However, a quick look at their values shows that the expectations are way too low.

Price/Lester Trade Values

NOTE: The purpose here isn’t to suggest the Pirates are offering this amount for these players.  The purpose is to see the value of these players, using projected values (calculated as [(WAR*$5 M) - Salary]) and prospect trade values. We use our updated values for top 100 prospects, and Victor Wang’s research on prospect values for non-top 100 prospects.

David Price

He’s under contract this year for $14 M, and I put him at $18 M through arbitration in his final season next year. I set his WAR value at 4.5 wins per year, and the trade date on July 31st. Price projects to get at least a draft pick as compensation, so I added $2.5 M in value. That gave him a trade value of $10 M, which is a top 51-100 hitting prospect. The high cost is a big factor to drive his value down. Even with that, there’s no way Price will cost just a 51-100 prospect.

Jon Lester

He’s under contract through the end of the season, making $13 M this year. I set his value at a 5.5 WAR, although he already has a 4.5 this year. He’s been inconsistent, and his best years were in the 5-6.2 range. Lester is valuable, but you’re only getting him for two months, and paying a little over $4 M for those months. That’s why he’s only worth $4.8 M in value, which would be a Grade B hitting prospect, or two Grade C pitchers. Again, there’s no way his value is this low on the market.

Finding the Increase on a Seller’s Market

So how do we find out the true price on this seller’s market? One way would be using the Samardzija deal as a guide. We can figure out what Samardzija and Hammel were worth at the time of the deal. We can also put a value on the prospects they received. From there, we can use the difference to figure out how much Samardzija and Hammel need to be increased to match the prospect prices. Then, we can use the same values for Price and Lester to see their true values on this market.

The Prospects

The easiest place to start would be the prospects. Russell was a top 10 hitting prospect, which is worth $42.2 M. McKinney was rated a Grade B hitter, which is worth $5.5 M. It’s hard to say where Straily ranks, since he’s not really a prospect, but you could probably put him as a Grade C pitcher, at $2.1 M. The total value would be $49.8 M.

Samardzija/Hammel

I had Samardzija’s value at $18 M, and Hammel at $3.1 M. Samardzija was worth much more due to the second year of control, which also is projected to come at a cheap price. The total is $21.1 M, which is less than the prospect value.

By increasing the WAR value from $5 M per win to $9.5 M per win, I got $41.2 M for Samardzija, and $8.4 M for Hammel. That’s $49.6 M, which is close enough to the value of the prospects in the deal.

If the Samardzija deal set the market, then this means teams will be expected to pay $9.5 M per win on the trade market this year, which is an extremely high price. Most of the free agent deals have been no bigger than $6 M per win.

Looking at Price and Lester on a Seller’s Market

Let’s go back to Price and Lester, and adjust their values for the $9.5 M value.

David Price

Using all of the above, but giving Price $9.5 M per win boosts his trade value to $36.9 M. That would be a top 11-25 hitting prospect, plus a Grade C pitcher or two. Or it would be a 26-50 hitting prospect, an 11-25 pitching prospect, or two from one of those groups.

To give an example from the Pirates system, that would be Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell. And that depends on the value of Price. If the Rays consider him closer to a 5 win pitcher, the value goes up about $7 M, which adds another 51-100 pitching prospect, or a Grade B hitter and a Grade C pitcher. Either way, Price would cost two of the top 50 prospects in the game.

Jon Lester

The same approach with Lester gives a $12.9 M value. That would be a 51-100 hitting prospect and a Grade C pitcher, or a 51-100 pitching prospect and a Grade B hitter.

An example from the Pirates for the former would be Alen Hanson and a lower level pitching prospect outside of the top 10. An example of the latter would be Nick Kingham and Harold Ramirez. All of this would be for two months of Lester, with no opportunity to get compensation at the end of the deal.

The Pirates Approach to Dealing Prospects

I think the adjusted values for Price and Lester are much closer to the values we can expect, rather than the values on a neutral market. I also would be surprised if the Pirates make these types of deals. I don’t know if Price will even be available. Lester seems more likely to be available. He’d be better than Nick Kingham for the rest of the year, but the Pirates might be better for the long-run with Kingham or Hanson, plus the second pieces in those deals. If the Pirates could work out an extension, then it would be a different story. But that might also be a moot point, as Lester will command a huge deal this off-season, and will probably want to test the market.

I think it would be more likely that the Pirates go for a smaller name, rather than trying to pay up for one of the big guys like Lester or Price.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Willy Garcia Homers, Casey Sadler Continues Recent Slump

**Pirates Have Two High Level Scouts Watching David Price and Jon Lester

**Success in Upcoming Road Trip Could Have Pirates Projected For the Playoffs

**The Approach That Has Tenth Round Pick Alex McRae Off to a Good Start

**Prospect Highlights: Alex McRae, and a Few 2014 Draft Picks With Great Plate Patience

**Minor League Schedule: John Kuchno is Getting Better as the Season Moves Along

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • S Brooks

    Yes, it’s a seller’s market, but it’s also I think reflective of the premium placed on acquiring wins mid-season. By July the range of outcomes is much narrower, and teams have a much better idea of where they are on the win curve. Not all wins are equally valuable. Nate Silver modeled several years ago that the revenue generated by a marginal win jumps significantly between 85-95 wins – the 90th win returns 6x more cash than the 70th does.

    Teams know this and conceivably would value those wins appropriately. So if you’re a team like the Pirates, sitting at a projection of 85-86 wins, you know that the 87th is worth 1.85x as much as the 86th, and the 88th is worth 2.25x as much (give or take). Which means, in theory, you would be willing to spend up to that premium to move up further up the win (and revenue) curve. Call it a “leverage index.”

    So if the going rate for wins during the offseason (when the slates are wiped clean and all wins ARE created equal) is $5M, then the value to the Pirates or Cardinals on July 26 may be closer to $9.25M, or $11.25M, thanks to the leverage index. They’ll make it up in gate receipts and parking.

    I re-ran the trade values at $6M/WAR and applying the leverage index to Price’s projected ROS wins, and came up with roughly $25M in trade value, which is Glasnow and a Grade B + Grade C hitter. It feels a little light, especially since the Rays always seem to go for volume in their trades.

    • bucsws2014

      In theory, Silver is correct. But if you haven’t noticed, the house has been packed, good seats for upcoming games are in short supply and there’s not a ton of gate upside for rest of season as long as Bucs stay close to leaders.

  • jaygray007

    I think that they should be a little more willing to stretch with prospects this year. There is a big difference between fighting for a wildcard berth vs not making the playoffs vs an outside shot at the division (last year) and fighting for the division vs not making playoffs vs an outside shot at the wildcard (this year).

    Division winners double their chances at a world series! They’re on the critical part of the win curve.

    If they don’t get kennedy, Lester might be the way to go. I’d like to keep hanson until they’re sure that they have 2b covered long term in the majors. But that value isn’t terrible IMO. Not much different from the Byrd deal. Lester > Byrd, Hanson > Herrera at the time.

    “We were willing to do something stupid. We just didn’t want to do something insane.”

  • Scott Kliesen

    At this point, it appears the Rays would have to be blown away to trade Price. And the Pirates aren’t the team to do it. Thus Lester is the only one who is realistically available of these two. Does Lester make Pirates a legitimate title contender? I’m biased, but I believe they would stack up w any other NL team w him on the roster. So yes, I’d trade for him if the price is reasonable.

    With that being said, I believe Red Sox will be playing several organizations against each other to drive up the price and it’s much more likely Cards or Dodgers get him because Pirates won’t want to part with what it will end up taking to get him.

    • marcorincon

      Dodgers would have to send stud AAA cf Pederson in any serious trade – he’s the REAL DEAL.

  • Lee Young

    soo…..it is Glasnow/Bell for Price for 1 year and 2 months and Ramirez/Kingham for Lester for two months.

    (altho with the Rays winning again, Price may be off the market?)

    I love Kingham, but I’d do it for Lester.

    • B Thomas

      Why give up any assets for Lester when hes only here for two months? If your going to give up assets might as well go for the guy that you can a least control for another year and turn around and trade this off-season. Just my thoughts.

      • Scott Kliesen

        To win a World Series! That is the goal after all!

        • Dan

          Are the Bucs of this year a WS team, even with Jon Lester, though? Lester has been impressive all year long, but the cost seems to be too much to pay, especially if you include Kingham in any deal going that way. Kingham should be in the rotation by next year, and could be a middle of the rotation starter and big piece for many years to come. Lester would be great to have; but I’d take 6 years of Kingham over two months of Lester. When our young guys come up next year,and especially by 2016, our rotation will be a force to be reckoned with. I don’t trade a big piece of that for 2 months of a #2 on a team that probably isn’t WS bound, anyway.

          • Scott Kliesen

            You make a good case and I believe Pirates will not acquire Lester. However, I think Pirates have plenty of #3-5 SP’s. Even if they trade Kingham, they’ll still be set in the middle and back of rotation for foreseeable future. Having Lester in rotation for two months gives them a significantly better chance to win this season. That is not debatable.

  • leadoff

    The Price is not right, I don’t give up the upper level prospects, if these guys were the second coming of Sandy Kofax, I might consider it, I don’t think they are going to put the Pirates over the top, I think Pirate players playing to their capabilities is one of the answers for the the Pirates along with a couple of tweaks. IMO, Pedro hitting home runs and playing better defense makes a big difference, Polanco doing a better job against left handers, better bullpen, Marte coming back, Cole coming back would help or a little better managing. Look at where they are at without these factors and imagine what they would be like if they have just a couple of them clicking!

    • bucsws2014

      Earliest Bucs see Cole return is two weeks. Yesterday Searage noted his control is way off. That would imply two rehab starts. There’s zero guarantee he’ll be as effective as last year even with that. There is no reason to believe Pedro will improve either his power numbers or throwing. Marte has a problem staying on the field.

      At the moment, the only two players with significant upside for 2nd half are Liriano and Davis, if he does his usual August tear. I was hoping Frieri might be as well, but he looked awful again last night after somewhat turning things around. Cutch, Walker, Mercer, Harrison, Martin, the rest of the starting staff and the back of the bullpen are all already performing near or at their peak potential since mid-May. Even Snider and Stewart are contributing more than expected.

      There’s simply not much more that you’re going to get out of this team as presently constructed. As noted previously, the best bet right now for additional wins is to cut the # of blown saves down from 14 in 1st half.

      Or go out and get a stud that can add 2 wins.

  • B Thomas

    The package I would offer for Price would Stomly Pimentel, Josh Bell, Alen Hanson, Luis Heredia,and a low a pitcher like Buddy Borden. Who knows if the Rays would take that but kinda be dumb not too IMO. Two top hitting prospects and 3 young arms. Might not be the sexiest package the Rays were looking for but could be their best offer to acquire young talent.

    I wouldn’t offer more than Harold Ramirez and Luis Heredia for Lester. The guy is here for two months, Love Lester but wouldn’t be worth it IMO. At least with Price you can turn around and flip him in the off-season or before the deadline next year and get back some value for him.

    • cmat0829

      EXACTLY. Having the extra year of Price (or like the A’s got with Samardija) is BIG. I would not part with two quality prospects for Lester for 2 months. Not really sure his upside is even more than what AJ might be able to squeeze out…

  • Simon Weaver

    Love Jonny Lester. A good lefty is EXACTLY what we need but quite honestly I’ll roll out Cole, Taillon, Kingham next year and say how you like ‘dem apples

    • marcorincon

      Taillon won’t pitch until late in season in ’15 is my guess….

  • piratemike

    The Pirates are still building they need to keep their prospects. No one player is turning this team in a WS contender they have too many problem areas.
    I have a problem with people who are willing to blow the future just so they can roll the dice today.

    • Bucco_Joe

      Of course it doesn’t make sense to give up prospects for either guy, but only because this organization will never commit the dollars to sign them long term. You are looking at replacing Martin next year, and also the third and second basemen by 2017. This team will be in the forever building mode until they commit dollars to resign guys, and fill in gaps with a couple of key UFA acquisitions. You can’t do that and consistently be near the bottom of the league in payroll. Somebody should send Nutting a memo on that one.

      • piratemike

        There are a section of the fan base who think that the Pirates should be able to spend like a mid to top franchises.
        The Pirates whether some people like it or not are not in that category
        When they fill their park they get around 38,000 when the top teams do that they get at least 10,000 more plus other benefits like parking, etc.
        Do I have to mention TV?
        I grew up poor , I know what it means to be poor.
        The Pirates are a poor franchise in the baseball world.
        In this era people seem to think that maxing out a credit card is the way to go.
        You cannot run a franchise by going in the red , eventually it catches up to you.
        Look at the Phillies and the Yankees and Dodgers, they have spent like drunken sailors and they have problems.
        If you are a Pirate fan you have to make up your mind to follow a good competitive small market team and enjoy professional baseball in Pittsburgh or root for teams in large markets who can throw 200million contracts at players,

  • Thomas

    If the Pirates feel they need pitching then use Pedro Alvarez as the bait, not the real future. Glasnow, Kingman, Taillon, & Cole along with our young offense will match up with anyone from 2015-2020. Don’t break it up, they’re too young to win today but next year they will be ready. I’m being a realist.

  • Tintin

    Price, I step away from.
    I’d give Hansen and a Harold Ramirez for Lester, but that’s because I have no faith in Hansen.

  • st1300b

    If I trade prospects it’s got to be for a bat. Surf disagrees on Texiera but he’d be my target. After him I’d look for Tulo be cause it would be very expensive but worth it. Another bat worth pursuing is Alexei Ramirez, although less productive he’s solid. If a playoff arm is acquired Price is that arm. K’edro would be part of the package if I’m making the deal maybe with Kingham and Hanson. I’d rather play Harrison without the power and without the K’s.

    • Dan

      But, you have to think of the trade partner. The Rays will have just about as little interest in Pedro as any other small market team, because they realize the same thing: He’s gone after next year. If we were to trade for Price, it would be high-end prospects as the bulk of the deal.

  • pilbobuggins

    The best pitcher for the pirates price range is kennedy, hanson,heredia and pimentel to the padres for him. Couple mil this year and around nine next year and dos’nt bankrupt the farm or the payroll.