Last night, Craig Kimbrel was traded to the Boston Red Sox in a deal that brought a huge return to the San Diego Padres. That huge return could give us a glimpse of what to expect on the reliever trade market this off-season, and if this is the start of a trend, the Pirates would be very wise to deal their closer, Mark Melancon. But what exactly could they expect in return?
Using the return for Kimbrel, I determined what the trade value could be for relievers this off-season, and then used that to get an idea of what to expect for Melancon. The results are below. If you want to skip the process and just see the results, jump ahead to the section on Melancon.
We’re at the point of the year where we’re too far removed from last season’s top 100 prospect list on Baseball America, but where it’s also too early for next year’s list. What I worked off of was the Baseball America mid-season top 50, and the MLB.com top 100 list.
Kimbrel landed the Padres OF Manuel Margot, SS Javier Guerra, IF Carlos Asuaje, and LHP Logan Allen.
Margot is the big piece of this trade. He was the number 24 prospect in BA’s mid-season update, and number 25 on MLB.com. That puts him in the 11-25 position player range, with a value of $33.36 M.
Guerra wasn’t in the BA top 50, but was ranked 76 by MLB.com. As a 51-100 pitching prospect, he would come with a value of $10.43 M.
Asuaje wasn’t ranked in either top 100 list, and neither was Allen. I gave them both Grade C ratings, since they were far down on the MLB.com top 30 for the Red Sox. That gives about $3 M extra in trade value combined.
The total value here is a massive $46.79 M.
This is where things get interesting. I hardly ever do trade values for relievers, because teams value relievers in a much different way than the normal $6 M per WAR standard of every other position. In Kimbrel’s case, he’s making $11 M next year, and $13 M the final two seasons, with the last one being an option year. He averages about 2.0 WAR the last three seasons, although I bumped him up a bit and gave him 2.2 WAR, which ignores the 2015 season and gives him the total he had from 2013 and 2014.
At $6 M per win, and 2.2 WAR per season, Kimbrel would have a $3.2 M trade value. That’s a massive difference from the value of the prospects combined. And that shows why the $/WAR might not work. Kimbrel is making almost an average of $12 M per year, and his WAR at $6 M per win makes his value maxed out. Clearly, the Red Sox were paying much more than $6 M per win for his services, and that tends to be true in all other reliever cases as well.
I decided to reverse the formula for the trade value, using the $46.79 M figure above to try and find what the Red Sox paid per WAR for Kimbrel. The result was that a $12.5 M/WAR figure gave Kimbrel a $46.1 M trade value, which was almost right on with the prospects.
By the standard trade value approach, Kimbrel would have landed almost 13 times his value. The adjusted trade value shows he was worth $12.5 M per WAR.
Going with the same approach as Kimbrel, I gave Melancon a $12.5 M/WAR value. I put his WAR at 2.0, since that was his average over the last three seasons. In total, Melancon was worth about $15.2 M in trade value.
That figure could mean one of two things. It would be the value of a top 26-50 pitching prospect if the Pirates went with just one player. If they added a few players, they could get a 51-100 pitching prospect and a Grade B hitter. Or, if they went with the super quantity approach, they could get a Grade B pitcher, a Grade B hitter, and a Grade C pitcher.
There are more options here, but the point is that the Pirates should get a good return from Melancon if the Kimbrel trade tells us anything about the value of closers on the trade market. They could get anywhere from a single top 50 pitching prospect to a group of talented prospects who could rank in the top half of their very strong top 30.
The other potential takeaway here is the Royals impact, which I pointed out Thursday night. The Red Sox already had a strong reliever at the back of their bullpen in Koji Uehara, but that didn’t stop them from spending big on a closer. If this is going to be the trend, with teams trying to get multiple elite relievers to mimic what the Royals have done, then the market for Melancon and other relievers could be very strong, as teams with closers already in place could be involved. That only helps to strengthen a market that already seems strong after the first trade.