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.

The Prospects

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.

Kimbrel’s Value

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.

Melancon’s Value

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.

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131 COMMENTS

  1. An outside the box trade idea based on what I just read. How about James loney and Matt moore for Pedro. Pedro could be dh for rays, loney was a target of ours last offseason before he had a bad year and moore is a reclamation project. Pedro could be like pena eho.the rats had during their run

  2. Melanceon’s value is whatever a general manager is willing to give up to get him for a year. The Kimbrel trade is only relevant to Melanceon in so far as now there is one fewer GM looking for a closer and one fewer closer on the market. I think Melanceon has been an excellent closer but I doubt that the Pirates will get as good a deal for Melanceon as the Padres got for Kimbrel.

  3. I hate dealing with all these metrics. If MM has a “2 WAR” does that mean an average reliever would save 49 of 53 chances? The Pirates are worse without MM and a few more prospects in the system. If he is traded and Watson takes over, who fills the holes in the bullpen ? Of course if both Pedro and NW are traded then the number of save opportunities will go way down. Sounds like 1993 returns.

  4. Melancon is nuts if he doesn’t try to parlay this into an early free agency negotiation wherein he locks in Kimbrel money and security for the next three years. He is as reliable as the US dollar and he doesn’t live off a 100 MPH fastball so his likelihood of continued success may be better than RChap, who is in the same boat. As SSGDJ mentions below, now is the time to decide if this is 1992 all over again. If we lose MM, Walker, Alvarez + next year for nothing Cutch becomes Dead Man Walking. I personally like being in the playoff hunt and it takes a steady stream of young players to make that happen.

  5. I’m not sure other teams value Mark Melancon the way the Pirates do or we do. Melancon’s numbers speak for themselves but I think most teams would choose Kimbrel over Melancon. Maybe the Pirates would be better off to try and sign him to a super team friendly deal. He likes it here. He’s not a fireballer. his stuff shouldn’t diminish

    • I agree with everything you said until that last line. Didn’t we just see how terrifyingly hittable he is with even a velocity loss of a mile per hour or two? I think that should scare the crap out of any reliever in their early 30s.

    • Clearly you are correct. Pirate fans can’t even agree if it would be crazy to trade him or crazy not to, and everything in between. Teams are funny about closers.

      I’d imagine a 9th inning guarantee is extremely desired by many managers, to the point where sabermetrics go out the window. Others probably can’t get past the low velocity or reliance on ground balls.

      It’s really hard to gauge his trade value until he’s actually traded (or not). But if you’re selling him, you are looking for the GM who is fed up with losing games late and sees a guy who has been as close to automatic as anyone for 2.5 years. I gotta think there are still a few of those left.

  6. I think the thing that also should be looked at is the likelihood that the team could sign Melancon to a longer deal. Idk what that deal would look like or what Melancon would demand, but if a team is going to part with multiple pieces/prospect, that team will for sure need to have the cash available to spend on Melancon.

  7. Can’t see trading a shut down closer who saved 51 games in a season. Almost automatic. If you think you can replace that with magic you are all smoking crack!

  8. I hate to say it, because it ridiculous, but I believe some of these teams are willing to pay more for a hard throwing “blow it past you guy”, than the plus cutter wielding MM. I mean, Melancon’s numbers speak volumes as to his value, but I think most of baseball is still in the Stone Age when it comes to player traits and roles.

  9. This suggests a couple of possibilities, either the Red Sox are really dumb, or WAR isn’t a relevant statistic to be considered when evaluating closers or relief pitchers in general since they pitch so few innings. Maybe rationalizing WAR to a per inning basis instead of a per season basis would make better sense for relief pitchers.

    • Dollar per WAR trade analysis like Tim does is always inherently flawed because no single team actually values a win the same. Keith Law, who is highly sabermetrically incline and has actually worked in a Major League front office rails on this all the time. Just not how it works.

      The Red Sox *did* give up a ton, but they gave up prospects who are years from contributing at positions they already have covered, and they do have the ability to pay much more for a win than all but a handful of teams in the game.

      It’s unrealistic to expect the rest of baseball to behave the same way, which is what makes having so many high quality relief pitchers on the market difficult. There are more Melancons than Red Sox(s).

      • I used to add a disclaimer saying this is the baseline, and that it could go up or down depending on the team or other markets. That was when I also included the chart, and the step by step process.

        Basically, this has always been a guide, and like you said, it can change depending on the team. I’ve noticed that, league-wide, the biggest difference comes with relievers. They never get traded based on their $/WAR.

        • Thanks for that, Tim. I enjoy when you do these exactly for the reason you gave. I think most of us that have been around here for a while know you don’t expect these exact numbers to be taken literally. Good guide.

        • Again I too appreciate the guideposts. It’s easy to read and criticize other people’s efforts. Much more difficult to actually put together a model and present it coherently — especially due to the people who just seem to enjoy taking jabs at other people’s work without doing any of their own.

      • And this is why the Red Sox have one of the best farm systems out there….they could give up Margot and Guerra and still have, what, 3 or other top 100 prospects and a huge amount of depth behind that even?

    • It would take a lot more than another prospect. Unless Washington values Walker a ton, I don’t think they would trade either 1 of those guys for Walker and Melancon, let alone both

    • oh god not this ridiculous proposal again. Walker and Melancon have 1 year of control left. even if they each had 3 more years it’s not a reasonable trade offer. First Turner is a top 15 prospect at a very key position that washington needs filled after losing Desmond and Strasburg is a potential TOR starter

      • Maybe so. Glad I can keep you entertained with my posts.

        When you start digging into it it’s not as far fetched as you make it out to be. You seem to think Strasburg is in a different league from Walker, but if you actually look at the numbers… 2015 WAR, career WAR, or last 3 years, or whatever you want, Strasburg and Walker are indistinguishable. They both have 1 year of control left. They are both about to make the same amount of money. They both will get a qualifying offer and get a draft pick back when they sign elsewhere. Trading one for the other is hardly ridiculous. It’s a question of need. If the nationals feel they can more easily find a SP on the FA market than a 2B, then they might prefer Walker.

        The Nationals have Rendon who they previously said they moving to 3B next season. So, they might prefer a 2B.

        They also seem to need relief pitching. They wanted it bad enough to trade for Papelbon last year. Opinions vary widely on Melancon’s trade value, but the general middle of the range is a prospect in the 51-75 range. A top 15 is obviously higher than that, but we’ve seen crazier things (like the two Kimbrel deals). The Pirates could balance the prospect side of the deal with another prospect.

        I don’t follow the Nats closely, but I know Desmond hasn’t signed anywhere yet. Maybe they are ready to give Turner the SS job and that’s that, or maybe not. Maybe they are counting on Strasburg and worried about losing Fister and Zimmerman, or maybe they are looking out there and seeing a lot of SP available and not many 2B.

  10. If the Pirates are going to try to trade Melancon now, and he is likely at his peak value right now, I would want them to get at least one of the following:
    – a top third base prospect (as they don’t have any at all in the system right now, just 2-3 guys with potential that are still a long way off)
    – a young power arm for the bullpen, with 4-5 years of control, who could be molded into being a dominant closer in the future.
    – a major league ready young shortstop prospect, who has plus range and glove and isn’t an embarrassment at the plate – but mostly has the potential to be a real difference maker defensively.

    • Couldn’t agree more, also kind of have to look at this at avoid 92. In 92 they had a chance to trade Doug D and or Bonds and restock the farm system. MM could bring a top level double A guy that’s a year away. I would take a SS, Cole Tucker is at best 3/4 years away and coming off of a serious injury.

    • I’m a little upset we couldn’t get Boston to take Melancon in a deal centered around Guerra….Guerra has so much upside. I bet he is a top 50 prospect when the rankings come out.

  11. I think teams are valuing relievers with something closer to WPA or REW than fWAR.

    The Royals were second in WPA and first in REW last year, but fifth in fWAR. Win Probability numbers aren’t that predictive, but it seems to better explain the trends in spending.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. It actually doesn’t change much. Kimbrel’s value went up $2.5 M. The $/WAR went up from $12.25 to $12.5. And Melancon went from $14.7 to $15.2. I was rounding up to 15 before for most of the values, so the same values still apply in Melancon’s case.

  12. What hasn’t been mentioned is the Dave Dombrowski effect. He continually trades too many prospects for too few players, often setting/pushing the market to the outlier stage. Sure, it’d be great to use Dombrowski’s cluelessness to Pirates benefit, but I’m unsure if people look at him as ‘setting the market’. More likely, as they did w/ Almaro w/ the Phillies, they simply dismiss said return.

    In any event, I’m of the opinion that the Pirates should be looking to trade Melancon, specifically targeting AA-AAA guys that are ready to make an impact in a year or two. I’m just not sure we should be relying on what the Padres got to determine what the Pirates are likely to get.

    • I was just going to say this. A lot of people are ripping this deal.

      NL West to AL East. Good luck with that Craig.

      • AL East wasn’t that great this year. You had the Blue Jays and Yankees and three weaker teams. Boston will probably be stronger in 2016 but I’m not sure about the Orioles or Rays.

    • Kimbrel is also more, or at least is seen as, a more dominant, valuable reliever compared to Melancon. Tim touched on how hard it is to nail down a $/WAR figure for relievers and I think at least part of that is because reliever value still isn’t exactly rational. He does do such a good job of showing just how crazy expensive these deals are in terms of prospects.

      I actually think Tim’s valuation of what the Sox gave up is a bit conservative. There wasn’t a shortstop prospect in all of baseball with more helium than Guerra by the end of the year. Good chance he’s a top five prospect at the position by this time next year.

      That’s an incredible haul, one that few teams would realistically be able to match. Factor that Chapman still has to be dealt, and will certainly be valued higher than Melancon, and I think you start running out of teams that have the means and will to dump stupid value on relievers.

      • You’ve made this point everytime the discussion is had about this crop of relievers…you put Melancon well below these other RPs…who out there is saying this? I’m not saying I agree or disagree but I saw the long thread you and Tim had debating this very topic. At the end of the day, I view Chapman 1st and I don’t think/see/hear there’s this mass separation between Melancon and others at 2.

        • Kimbrel is perceived as better because he’s been doing it for longer and he’s younger. But as far as stuff right now, it’s hard to argue against Melancon at least being at that same level. Chapman, from a stuff standpoint, is on another level I’d say.

        • You have to include the contract/ years of control, no?

          Melancon is basically a rental player who can’t miss the bats of the other two.

        • I’ve specifically read FanGraphs and Heyman lay out the pecking order this way (sorry no links).

          It simply comes down to the manner in which they succeed. Relief pitchers who rely on contact management more than pure, dominating strikeouts are never held in higher regard. Jim Johnson was never considered elite even as he was nothing 50 save seasons. Jonathan Papelbon decline had been greatly exaggerated since he stopped striking out so many batters.

          Guys like Melancon are always undervalued relative to their counterparts striking out more than a quarter of the batters they face.

          All I’m saying is don’t blame Huntington if and when the return for Melancon is less, by a good bit, than what Kimbrel and Chapman get this winter.

          • If we got 1/2 the value I would be OK with that, honestly. I think 1/2 of the Kimbrel deal is still a great haul. Also there arent many teams with the prospect depth that boston has to trade from.

      • What is funny and ironic to me is Preller attempting to cover his tracks from his off season disaster last Winter. I don’t care what he got back in this deal, he can basically only break even, and also wasted 2015 in the process.

      • If GMs think as you suggest they should move on to another line of work. Consider the following 2015 stats on MM, Kimbrell and Chapman:
        Save %
        MM: 50/53 = .943
        CK: 39/43 = .907
        AC: 33/36 = .917
        WHIP
        MM: 0.93
        CK: 1.04
        AC: 1.15
        K/IN
        MM: 62/76.2 = .808
        CK: 87/59.1 = 1.47
        AC: 116/66.1 = 1.75
        BB/IN
        MM: 14/76.2 = .183
        CK: 22/59.1 = .371
        AC: 33.66.1 = .498
        HR/IN
        MM: 4/76.2 = .052
        CK: 6/59.1 = .101
        AC: 3/66.1 = .045
        Yes, Kimbrel and Chapman have better swing and miss stuff than Melancon. But they also will beat themselves more often by walking batters than Melancon will, resulting in Melancon having a better WHIP leading to a better save percentage. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how impressive you look along the way to the last pitch. It only matters if you get the last out and save the game. Consider M. Rivera’s many years with the Yankees. His velocity wasn’t overpowering. He just had movement on his pitches and consistently hit the black with them, as does Melancon. Melancon was better than either Kimbrell or Chapman as a closer last year, and intelligent GMs who want to win will see him as such. The only advantage to Kimbrell or Chapman is the sheer entertainment value of posting the Ks.

        • Melancon most certainly was not better than Chapman last year. There isnt a general manager in the game who’d rather have Mark Melancon than Aroldis Chapman. That’s silly talk.

          • The statistics don’t lie. Chapman may have been more fearsome with his 100 MPH fastball, Melancon was more effective. I’ll take results over appearance, and any sensible GM would too. It’s the silly GM’s who prefer sizzle to steak.

            • That’s not to say Chapman isn’t a great relief pitcher, he is. But to say he is better than Melancon stretches the truth.

          • Those are two different arguments. You’re arguing past results, and who a GM would want in the future. Melancon was better than Chapman, but teams could still want the hard throwing Chapman more.

            • Wait, what?

              Chapman posted a lower ERA, FIP, xFIP and higher WPA and WAR. You guys have got to be kidding me. Did it in 2014, too. *Nobody* outside Pittsburgh would say Melancon is, was, or will be better than Chapman.

              This is just silly.

                  • Now who’s being silly? Save percentage is the most effective direct measure of what the closers job is: collect the save. WHIP represents the path to getting there: keep runners off base. You are just being stubborn because the facts don’t support your prejudice. You like Chapman more than Melancon. That’s fine.But Melancon was still a more successful closer than Chapman was in 2015.

                    • What year is it again, and why are we still using saves to judge relief pitcher quality? How many picther wins did each guy have? That’s clearly the ultimate stat, am i right?

                      This isn’t a conversation about who *I* prefer, it’s a conversation about who the game prefers, and there’s simply no doubt that Aroldis Chapman is seen as the better reliever. None. You’ve been hiding under a Pittsburgh Pirate covered rock for the past three years if you think otherwise.

                    • No. The very idea of an ultimate stat is flawed. Not every “innovation” is an improvement. Save percentage is the best stat to evaluate closers because it directly evaluates what a closer is supposed to do, while eliminating any bias related to SVO numbers.
                      IF AC were as universally acclaimed as a better reliever in 2015 than Melancon as you insist then he would have unanimously won the 2015 NL Reliever of the Year award right? Why did Melancon win if Chapman is so much better?

        • piraddict: All good points, but the best value of the 3 was Kimbrell not only because of his skills, but because of his age (27, same as AC), and the fact that he had 2 or 3 years remaining under a reasonable contract. No GM will look bad going after Kimbrell, and the same holds true for AC because he can be as dominant as anyone in the game, and he is a safe choice for any GM.

          MM has shown a mental toughness on his way to 51 Saves, but he may not be high enough on anyone’s wish list to get a return anywhere near that of Kimbrell. IMO, AC will go next because it is hard to save games when your team has difficulty playing .500 baseball. Cincy must continue to rebuild – Cueto brought a haul of young LHSP’s and AC will help to solidify positions as well as pitching. Other GM’s know the Reds are anxious.

          • Actually I will be happy if the Pirates keep Melancon for his final year. Whether to QO or not after 2016 will depend on how he does next season. I am not as sanguine about someone else stepping up who is a better closer than MM, and the Pirates, right now, don’t need prospects as much as a dominate closer for next year. I understand all the normal calculus about trading at peak value. But that is more important when you have no talent and are trying to acquire some. Now the Pirates have the larger part of a good team for 2016. They need better 3rd, 4th and 5th starters, who may come by mid season if Taillon etc. work out or if a trade or free agents can be acquired this winter. They need better performance at 1B, but I would be happy to start with Pedro/Morse until Bell is ready. I would like to have seen Walker traded, but until we know whether Kang can come back it’s too risky to do so. JHay will have to start at 3B until Kang returns when he would be available to move to 2B. Maybe Hanson is ready by June, maybe not.

            • Although Pedro and MM look like the most obvious trade options, I think that Neil Walker will be the first player to leave in a trade. He had an excellent year with 51 EBH, 71 RBI’s, .756 OPS, and has averaged 19 HR’s/year over the past 3 years. My preference, however, would be that Pedro takes the bus to Cleveland or other points North in the AL, and that Neil starts the season at 1B and moves back and forth between 1B and 2B after Josh Bell has completed finishing school in AAA..

          • Good points about the age and length of contract. As much as anything, the one year remaining on MM’s contract hurts his value in trade.

      • If Chapman would bring the same return as Kimbrel OR you could have Melancon for 1/2 of that value (for example, I would have taken just Guerra!)…who would you trade for NMR? I bet you trade for Melancon.

        • What team am I managing?

          If I have the financial resources and smart development people backing me, then I take the better player, Chapman, without blinking an eye.

          I take no pleasure in moral victories. If I have the resources, I do everything I can to out a winning team on the field.

    • Clueless really. How many of his traded prospects really work out. How many traded prospects in general work out. If they get prospects they should trad them for immediate help. The Pirates are far to shy about trading them. Now is the time. Remember those twenty years.

  13. Based on what you said, it seems to me that (although unlikely to happen) a Melancon for Jurickson Profar trade seems almost exactly even.

  14. Any chance they would do the type of deal that allows the other team a window to work out a contract for Melancon? Seems like he has about the same worth as Kimbrel, so maybe they could get a similar deal (4 players of similar value that the Padres got) if the other team was able to work out a 3/$37M contract. I believe that’s how the Red Sox got Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres several years ago.

  15. Looking at the D-backs who are rumored to be in the closer market and base on Tim’s calculation, RHP Aaron Blair and INF Jake Lamb seem like a good get.
    Tim,does the calculations take into account that Melanco only has a year before free agency?

  16. as much as I’d hate to sell Melancon- a prospect in that range whom ALSO fills a spot of need in the system would be a good fit. We really need an upper minors player either a power pitching relief arm or a 1st base/short stop option…… If we trade him for a top 100 outfielder and an A ball pitcher i’m going to be pissed.

  17. Should the Pirates be trading for prospects? MLB player or MLB ready player is what I think they should be targeting.

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