What is Jose Bautista Worth?
The Blue Jays are in a rather awkward situation. In 2013 they went all-in for short term success by selling the farm and upping the payroll, but they crapped out hard. Now Alex Anthopoulos has more or less forced himself to try and compete in the next couple of years despite having a team that clearly (if 2012 was any indication) needs some significant improvements, a payroll situation likely near its allotted ceiling, and a minor league system that is fairly barren at the upper levels. How can the Blue Jays make the necessary roster improvements when they don’t have a lot of money left to spend and they don’t have many sexy prospects left to peddle?
One way that the SS Anthopoulos could try to navigate this tricky situation would be to trade Jose Bautista. The theory here would be to take advantage of a scarce commodity in your possession – an impact, all-star type of slugger – and milk some extra value out of said player by trading him to a team that thinks they are specifically *that* far away from winning, or making the playoffs, or whatever.
Indeed, the hive-mind that is the baseball rumour mill also seems to think that this could be a somewhat viable strategy for Toronto. A week or so ago, an amusing rumour that Toronto and the Phillies were discussing a Bautista for Domonic Brown+ trade seeped out of the Philadelphia sports twitterverse, and yesterday Nick Cafardo said this in his Boston Globe column:
If you think that the idea of trading Bautista is nothing but stupid, as lots of fans probably do, we can look at last year’s Red Sox as a sort of tangential proof of concept. Prior to 2013, Boston traded three expensive big name major league veterans for little more than a couple of young and interesting pitchers (Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa). This freed up some payroll for Boston to invest in value free agents that helped them win in 2013, and it greatly improved their organization’s long term outlook. It’s not an identical situation to what Toronto would be doing in a hypothetical Bautista trade, since Bautista on his current contract is a significant asset and nothing that Boston traded really was, but there are some important similarities. The Red Sox traded three big name stars to help turn a 69 win team with a 175 million dollar payroll into a 97 win World Series champion that spent $20 million less on players. Perhaps Toronto could accomplish something similar by spinning off one of its marquee players?
Rumours like the ones swirling passively around Bautista rarely mean anything when it comes to the Blue Jays. Alex Anthopoulos, famous for his energy, will probably discuss almost anything with a rival GM, so he kicks up a lot of rumour dust. He also seems to have built Toronto’s current window of attempted competitiveness at least somewhat around their control of Jose. It’s extremely unlikely that they would ever trade Bautista, but it’s still interesting to think about how much he would be worth on a rational trade market.
We’ll build our player values based on a $/WAR paradigm of $5/WAR, because that’s what my go-to prospect value resource used back in 2012, and I’ll be using that source to drop dollar values on some prospects and young players. We’ll also discount projected WAR by 8% for each year in the future, because 1 win this year is worth a bit more than 1 win in the future, and that piratesprospects.com research did the same thing for their prospect value research.
Bautista is under control for 3 more years, two years of $14 million guaranteed and a team option at the same amount. Because he projects to be an asset in that third year, we’ll include the option being picked up in our evaluation. Jose produced 4.2 fWAR in 118 games last year, and Steamer projects him to put up 4.6 next year in 130 games. This sounds reasonable enough. If he declines in a normal fashion, he’ll be a 4.1 win player in 2015 and a 3.6 win player in 2016. If we discount those two values by 8% per year, as mentioned earlier, then we can project Jose to produce 11.42 fWAR through the remainder of his team control (4.6 + (4.1*0.92) + (3.6*0.92^2). So in the $5/WAR paradigm, our rough estimate for Jose Bautista’s worth over the next 3 seasons would be 57.1 million dollars. That’s about 15 million dollars in projected surplus value above his contract.
Wait, that’s it??? 15 million dollars over three years is less money than several mediocre relievers signed for last offseason (League, Affeldt, Broxton). Truth be told, Bautista at 33 years old isn’t really a massive asset. The Blue Jays aren’t flipping him for Jurickson Profar or Oscar Taveras, not unless Jon Daniels or John Mozeliak accidently click ‘accept’ and league commish Bud Selig is too much of a sadist to veto it. Top 10 hitting prospects are worth something like 42 million dollars across their 6 years of team control. Pitchers are less secure commodities, but even top 10 pitching prospects are worth more than what’s left of Jose Bautista – our piratesprospects.com source says they’re worth just under $27 million. That means a guy like Shelby Miller is certainly a pipe dream, since he’s now “MLB proven” and likely worth even more than he was a year ago, when he was Baseball America’s #6 prospect.
Since we’re assuming that this trade would only happen if Anthopoulos could milk some added value out of Jose Bautista’s superstar / impact player profile, let’s give him an extra three to five million dollars in value for the beard. Here are some examples of what Jose Bautista’s 18-20 million dollars of projected surplus value + beard value could buy on a rational trade market (note – the trade market is probably not rational):
St. Louis Cardinals
The Rationale: St. Louis has an embarrassment of hard throwing pitching riches, and two first basemen on their depth chart (Craig and Adams). Carlos Beltran is a free agent and Oscar Taveras is coming off of a serious 2013 ankle injury. St. Louis could stack the OF corners with Holliday and Bautista in 2014, and have Taveras waiting in the wings for the nearly inevitable injury to happen.
The Return: Alex Anthopoulos loves toolsy, hard throwing pitchers. Carlos Martinez is the quintessence of almost everything that the Blue Jays adore in a pitcher. He’s expendable in St. Louis, and as a top 26-50 prospect (pre-2013), he’s worth about $14.7 million according to our source material.
Matt Adams is stuck behind True Cardinal Allen Craig on the St. Louis depth chart. Adams has a really bad body, which has kept him off of a lot of top prospect lists. As far as I could Google in a couple of minutes, he hasn’t made a big prospector’s top 100 list since a Kevin Goldstein era Baseball Prospectus list where he ranked 69th. He displayed big power as a 2013 fill in, hitting 17 dingers in 108 games, but his peripherals weren’t impressive enough to convince Steamer that he can play like an average 1B next year, as the machine projects him to play at a ~1.5 WAR pace in a full season. Nonetheless, let’s attach some helium to his name for a good 2013 and consider him to be a hitting prospect in the 76-100 range. That’s worth ~10 million dollars.
Kolten Wong is a low ceiling / high floor 2B prospect that the Cardinals can afford to trade since Matt Carpenter is suddenly a thing. He fills a gaping hole for Toronto, and the prospecting gurus put him in a range that makes him worth about the same as Matt Adams, ~10 million dollars.
Lance Lynn is a good pitcher: 2.7 WAR in 2012, 3.3 in 2013, and a Steamer projection for 2.2 in 2014, in what will be his age 27 season. He throws hard, misses bats, and he has 4 years of control left. If we assume that he puts up 8.5 wins above replacement in the next 4 years, then he could be worth something similar to Jose, at least on paper. Arbitration salaries of 5, 7, and 9 million dollars would mean than an 8.5 win Lance would give a team something like 21 million dollars in surplus value over the next 4 years.
So in a rational trade market, Lance Lynn straight up is roughly worth one Jose Bautista, and Adams and Wong are roughly worth one Jose, while a package of Carlos Martinez and one of Adams/Wong would be a plausible slight overpay for Jose.
Please note that MLB trade markets are not always rational (*cough* d’Arnaud and Syndergaard for Dickey), and if a single Lance Lynn doesn’t seem like enough to get for your former 50 home run hero, consider that Toronto could hypothetically turn around and appropriate the now freed up 14 million dollars in 2014 payroll on a guy like Carlos Beltran.
The Rationale: Texas has three solid middle infielders, with differing career stages and costs. Profar is a baby faced shortstop with a limitless ceiling, Andrus is a young but expensive above average shortstop, and Kinsler is an older and apparently declining second baseman who is owed a not insignificant amount of money through 2017. Nelson Cruz is an overrated free agent looking for a big payday, likely elsewhere. David Murphy is a free agent. The Rangers could have some free payroll space, with names like Cruz, Nathan, Berkman, Garza, and Pierzynski potentially coming off the books. Texas could conceivably have World Series blue balls after their recent near misses, and feel like they are one big piece away from another crack at the hardware.
The Return: Ian Kinsler has produced just 3.0 and 2.5 fWAR in the last two seasons, but Steamer projects him to put up 3.3 next year, since his fantastic 30/30 2011 season still holds predictive value. We can project him to be “worth” 3.3 + (2.7*.92) + (2.2*.92^2) + (1.7*.92^3) = 8.97 WAR over the next 4 years. He’s owed 62 million dollars over that span, so in our $5/WAR paradigm he’s actually a non-asset… a negative asset, to be precise, to the tune of about 17 million dollars. It would apparently behoove the Rangers to shed Kinsler and his contract, even if we don’t consider that they currently have one too many infielders.
Elvis Andrus is owed a crazy amount of money through 2024. Depending how you want to include his final year vesting option, the Rangers are on the hook for something like ~132 million dollars over the next ten years. That’s a heck of a lot of money for someone that Steamer projects to be worth just 3.2 wins in 2014 – at the start of his likely physical prime. I think a yearly WAR breakdown for evaluating a ten year contract would be a bit silly, there’s little to be gained by extrapolating generalities so far along a specific future situation, so I’m just going to consider Andrus’ contract situation to be a zero-sum game. I think he’s worth basically nothing, in a nutshell, on that decade long contract.
Rougned Odor is still a year or two from being major league ready, but there probably won’t be room for him on the Texas infield. He’s toolsy with some good peripherals and a solid age vs. level. I saw him at #66 on John Sickels’ midseason top 75 prospect list, so let’s consider him a back-end top 100 hitting prospect worth about 10 million dollars.
Neftali Feliz: The flamethrowing starter turned closer turned starter turned reliever turned DL case only has two years of control left. They should be cheap years, but he hasn’t been a particularly effective or valuable pitcher since 2010. A machine would certainly spit out some very underwhelming mean projections for Feliz, but he probably still holds some value simply due to the upside that his type of easy cheese is characteristic of. The Blue Jays like hard throwers and they need some SP depth, so let’s say that Feliz would be worth something in the realm of 5-10 million dollars to them.
Alexi Ogando is similar to Feliz. A starting pitcher / relief pitcher with three years of arbitration control left, he’s a safer commodity than Feliz but he might have less upside. If he gets $16 million total in his three arbitration years, then he might be worth five million dollars or so in surplus value – more if he can stick in a rotation for those three years, but that’s pretty hard to predict.
The Rangers don’t have a very deep SP picture right now, so they can’t readily fill Toronto’s biggest need, but they do have spare middle infield parts that can produce major league wins and a couple of redundant hard throwing swing men. Toronto wouldn’t be crazy to ask for Kinsler, Odor, Feliz/Ogando, and some prospect change. Texas has quite a few high upside lottery ticket prospects that they could throw into a trade like this, who probably aren’t worth a whole lot on their own in objective current reality, like Nick Williams or Luke Jackson. A tertiary advantage of trading a corner OF like Bautista for a middle infielder like Kinsler or Andrus is that a corner outfield spot, in theory, is an easier hole to fill through free agency than the middle infield.
The Rationale: Seattle has been guilty of some obvious compartmentalized thinking and short sightedness in recent years. They traded for one year of Mike Morse because they thought their lineup could really use some right handed power. It doesn’t get much more right handed power-y than Jose Bautista. Seattle could use a corner outfielder and a big bat, and they might have a SP and a 2B to spare. Oh, and Jack Zduriencik is probably pretty desperate to keep his job right about now.
The Return: Dustin Ackley could be done on the infield in Seattle. He struggled mightily in 2013 before being demoted and returning as an outfielder, ceding infield duties largely to Brad Miller and Nick Franklin. His 2.9 fWAR and 10.6% walk rate in ninety 2011 games demonstrate the upside of his skillset, but Seattle might be ready to cut ties with him after two very disappointing seasons in a row. He has 4 years of cheap control remaining but he doesn’t project to be even an average position player according to Steamer, so he shouldn’t be worth a whole lot on the hypothetical trade paper. Arbitrage says that he’s worth something to a team that just started Maicer Izturis for half the year, but worth almost nothing to a squad with even a mediocre option at 2B. If Seattle wants to keep Ackley then they could move Nick Franklin, who was a bottom half-ish top 100 prospect that would be worth almost 10 million dollars according to our source. I want to say that Ackley is worth the same as Franklin.
James Paxton is a back half top 100 pitching prospect that should be worth about 7.5 million dollars in our world. There’s some history between Toronto and Paxton that might make Anthopoulos shy away from acquiring him, but none of that matters because this is all never going to happen.
Most would consider Taijuan Walker to be a top 10 pitching prospect, which makes him worth about 26.7 million dollars. That’s more than Jose is worth in our hazy bubble.
On paper, in a rational trade market, I think a package of Paxton and Ackley/Franklin is worth about the same as Bautista. But given some of the recent packages dealt for star players in Major League Baseball, that admittedly seems a bit underwhelming. If Anthopoulos could rekindle the silver tongued and value conscious persona that he exuded prior to 2013, maybe he could talk Seattle into a Jack Zduriencik special where Toronto lands Walker and Ackley. I think a trade like that seems both improbable and vaguely plausible.
It’s extremely unlikely that Toronto will trade Bautista, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a viable way forward. In theory, Toronto could fill multiple positions and potentially free up some not insignificant payroll space by trading Jose.Footnote: Lots of people think that the $/WAR paradigm has shifted up a few notches. Some would say that 1 WAR actually costs closer to 10 million MLB dollars in free agency right now. Mark Shapiro said as much about a year ago, in a rather interesting interview. A different $/WAR paradigm would change most of the evaluations in this article.