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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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