CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Action: We... (07/07)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Wh... (07/02)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Th... (07/14)
Next Article >>
Seidnotes: The K/BB Ra... (07/08)

July 8, 2010

Ahead in the Count

Trading The Prince

by Matt Swartz

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

At this point, it is clear that 2010 is not going to be the Brewers’ year. They finally reached the postseason in 2008 after a drought of 26 years, but they exited in the first round and did not return in 2009. The small-market franchise has done a good job of fielding a competitive team without being able to outspend their competition, though Mark Attanasio has proven to be more willing to open his wallet than most other owners receiving revenue-sharing money, but 2010 has seen the Brewers already slide about 10 games out of first place in the National League Central and in the NL wild card race. The young team that the Brewers spent years building through excellent drafts is getting older and the minor-league system is no longer well-stocked, leaving them in a position where they are not quite good enough to compete right now, and not likely to be especially competitive in a few years. This is why I think that the Brewers should make the difficult decision to part ways with Prince Fielder.

It is not going to be a popular move. Brewers fans love their powerful first baseman, and with good reason. Despite having a bit of an off-year, Fielder is still a force in the middle of the lineup who can launch his share of home runs. However, the Brewers are not competitive in 2010 and Fielder is only under team control through 2011. At that point, teams will bid for Fielder’s services via free agency, and it is unlikely that he will return to Milwaukee. 

Even if the Brewers do find a way to bring Fielder back, he will not be a bargain and they will have used up enough of their payroll after signing him that they would not be able to afford many other impact players. It costs about $5 million per win to sign a player, and a team of replacement-level players would produce about 40 wins. Thus, to field a team capable of winning 90 games with only a small amount of young cost-controlled talent, those who do not have the six years of major-league service time to make them eligible for free agency, would cost about $200 million. There is only one team in the league that can be competitive without that large supply of cost-controlled talent. Thus, for every non-Yankees team in the league, they need to reach a point where they have enough valuable players with less than six years of service time to be able to afford to fill in the gaps in the roster with free agents in order to field a competitive team. In the Brewers’ case, they simply do not have enough talent on the roster to cross that threshold. Even a few years from now, the mediocre farm system is unlikely to produce enough talent for a team in Milwaukee’s market to buoy itself into contention with a few good free-agent signings.

Prince Fielder is going to provide a lot of value in 2011, as he will probably earn only a couple million dollars more than his current $10.5 million salary in what will be his last year of arbitration eligibility. He will probably add about 4 ½ wins, which will be worth approximately $25 million on the open market. Fielder is still going to provide a lot of wins during the last couple months of 2010, but those wins are not going to provide as much value to a Brewers team playing out the string than they would to a contending team. 

As I explained in last year’s article on Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays, wins count the same in the standings at all points in the season, but the win value for a competitive team is very high in the middle of a pennant race. For example, consider how much the Twins and Tigers would have valued Fielder on October 6, 2009 during their one-game playoff to determine the American League Central champion. The extra wins would be worth far more than 1/163 of Fielder’s total season WARP because the game had so much leverage.

Last year, I adjusted some of the numbers Nate Silver used to approximate the fraction of a player’s value that came from increased odds of making the playoffs and the fraction that came simply from adding to the team’s win total. Competitive teams pay about $5 million per win. Thus, following the same methodology as last year, my current estimate is that $1.6 million is just the value of the win itself in drawing fans, while the rest comes from adding about 5-6 percent to the team’s chances of making the playoffs for each win added as teams receive a financial windfall from playing in the postseason. Of course, not every team is going to make the playoffs but the majority of free agent money is spent by teams who are planning on making a run at the postseason. The teams that are not making a run at the playoffs are likely to be outbid, because they have a lower value for the player.

However, with 99 games played (a good estimate of the number of games played in a season by the July 31 trade deadline), an extra win can increase a team’s chances of making the playoffs by about 10 percent, which means that even a 4 ½-win player is still worth $14 million even though his full year value is $22.5 million. However, the Brewers would already have paid about $6.4 million of his $10.5 million salary by July 31. Thus, Fielder would still have about 63 percent of his revenue value from the beginning of the season and actually about 83 percent of his overall net value. To the Brewers, however, Fielder is not worth anywhere near this much. For them simply playing out the string in August and September, Fielder is only worth a few million dollars worth of wins added.

In 2011, Fielder may be worth a lot to the Brewers if they can build around him to become competitive, but that seems doubtful. Thus, he would definitely be worth a lot to the teams that would be willing to trade for him now. The result is that Fielder is worth so much less to the Brewers than a contending team for the duration of his contract. Therefore, the Brewers can probably extract some of that excess value from contenders in a trade in the form of prospects that can help them later.

There are plenty of other teams that could use Fielder’s powerful bat at first base or designated hitter for the last couple months. The Yankees have been struggling with the DH spot, and could enhance their run-scoring ability by trading for Fielder. The Angels are a few games behind the Rangers in the American League West, and are playing backup catcher Mike Napoli playing first while Kendry Morales is out for the season with a broken leg. The Halos could move Fielder to the DH spot next year after Hideki Matsui’s contract expires at the end of the season. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has made statements lately implying that they can add salary, and they could certainly upgrade their DH spot by acquiring Fielder. Todd Helton has been struggling mightily for the Rockies and is now on the disabled list. Fielder is the type of player who could push the Rockies over the top in a pennant race. You have to think the resurgent White Sox are considering ways to upgrade over Mark Kotsay at DH. There are enough teams that could use Fielder that several bidders would likely drive up the prospect price someone would be willing to pay the Brewers.

It is hard to imagine Brewers fans rallying behind the premise. Fielder has been a big part of the franchise's ascension to relevancy, and trading him would be a pretty clear admission that they are likely to be irrelevant for the next couple of years. However, the Brewers are not a good team right now, and there isn't much help on the horizon. Thus, the smart thing for them and others in such a situation to do is admit that losing five more games a year for a couple of seasons is worth winning five more games a year in a couple of seasons after that. If the Brewers wait until this season is over or until the 2011 trade deadline, they likely won't get half of the return they would get for trading Fielder now as the acquiring team would have his services for 1 1/3 seasons. Trading Fielder is likely to keep the casual fans away from the ballpark in September, but it would give the Brewers a better chance of having them show up in droves for a playoff run in a few years.

Matt Swartz is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matt's other articles. You can contact Matt by clicking here

Related Content:  Prince Fielder,  The Who,  Brewers

21 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Edwincnelson

I guess you've never been to a Brewers game. Fielder is the face of the franchise and if the Brewers trade him and get back less than what the Jays got for Halladay, which seems very likely, they will lose more than just the casual fans. Remember, they are a top ten attendance team now but in 2006 they were 18th, and trading Fielder would be a sign of failure and attendance wouldn't just dip it would plummet. It will cost far more to lose him than keep him.

Jul 08, 2010 08:30 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Agreed that it's a big hit financially now. No debate that it would hurt. But I also watched the playoff chase and the 2008 NLDS and it seems like that fanbase is rabid for a winner, no? I suspect it would be a huge financial hit, but so would losing him to free agency. I just think a pennant could dwarf the lost revenue for the 2010-11. If they are going to retain him because he has such a unique value to them, that's one thing I don't have the hypotehtical data required to study, but I can't imagine a half decade of 80-win seasons is better than a couple of 75-win years before a couple playoff berths.

Jul 08, 2010 08:41 AM
 
andyfoy

Doesn't he also have a body type that is going to be difficult to maintain as he gets older?

I also remember Keith Law mentioning something about a "playoff hangover" where attendance remains high the year after a playoff appearance. I'm wondering if there is still a hangover even two years later.

Jul 08, 2010 08:53 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Definitely seems true about playoff hangovers, and I'm pretty sure they extend well beyond one year.

Fielder's body type certainly isn't one that suggests rapid decline, but I think that would probably be priced into his contract at this point. Most teams with money are somewhat afraid of this, at least most teams without huge 1Bs.

Jul 08, 2010 10:00 AM
 
Llarry

True. I think the Jays had an easier time with Halladay because he was far enough along in his career that the Toronto fans could sit back and say, "Ok Doc, you've toiled away for us, and now you have a chance to go off and take a shot at a ring in what time you have left." I don't believe that Brewers fans see Prince as being at that stage yet. If money weren't an object, he's definitely young enough to be a part of the next good Milwaukee team, even if it's a few years off. The problem for the organization is that the money to keep Prince affects the timing of that next good team.

Jul 08, 2010 15:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Edwincnelson

Wisconsin is a unique place for professional sports. If the fanbase feels there is a real effort on the part of the ownership to succeed then these are the most rabid, loyal fans in the world regardless of whether they win or not. How else do you explain the Green Bay Packers? On the other hand if they think they're just putting a team out there to lose then they will turn on you fast. The revenue is there to pay Fielder, the question is the ability of the organization to build around him and Braun, but trading him might equal financial suicide, which in turn may reduce their spending power, which in turn may reduce their ability to win in the future IMO.

Jul 08, 2010 09:00 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

So, what type of difference do you think the Brewers would have in attendance if they made the playoffs for a couple years in a row a couple years down the line. It seems like getting good sure spiked their attendance around 2007 and on, especially when they made the playoffs in 2008. Obviously this is going to mix in with the Fielder effect, but certainly the Brewers fanbase seems to respond to winning. Attendance is down this year even though payroll went up. I do agree that there probably is an effect of perceived effort by ownership, but a couple good prospects might make people think they are putting in the effort when they come to fruition even if it angers people now.

Jul 08, 2010 10:10 AM
 
Richie

Doug Melvin was quoted recently in the local paper as saying that the market for position players is typically much better in the off-season than in-season.

You posit otherwise, give reasons why it ought to be so, but then offer no empirical followup. What have in-season trades of Fielder-like players returned in the past?

Short of you showing me something, the Brewers ought to take a final shot with Fielder next year, then take the draft choices.

Jul 08, 2010 09:26 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

There is certainly more roster flexibility in the offseason, so that's why you might not see the in-season bump for position players like you do for starting pitchers (there is always a spot for an ace). At the same time, the Brewers do not need empirical tests here, because they can simply start taking offers and create some urgency. If bidders do not realize the extra value Fielder provides, that would obviously be different, but I suspect teams do. I would like to look at this empirically-- I've found market inefficiencies before, and without savvy investors being able to make their own teams to compete in the MLB easily, you really can see market inefficiencies last in baseball unlike other businesses where competitors can emerge more easily.

Jul 08, 2010 10:13 AM
 
misterjohnny
(925)

Given that a couple of prospective buyers cannot buy this year due to ownership issues, (Dodgers, Rangers), and some aren't big ticket buyers due to low revenue (Reds, Padres, Rays?), does that radically change the supply demand ratio and reduce return for the sellers?

Jul 08, 2010 10:25 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

It's a good question. In theory, I think it has to do with whether there is at least more seller than the number of buyers, at least one more buyer than the number of sellers, or an equal number. If there are 2 more buyers than sellers vs. if there are 3 more buyers than sellers, that should not change much in the bargaining (unless their replacement level is very different). The obvious comparable player potentially on the market is Adam Dunn. I would think three of the teams I mentioned might create the necessary scarcity to drive up the price. I like your question, though. I think the Rays might be buyers, though, at least according to reports.

Jul 08, 2010 10:39 AM
 
BrewersTT

It bums me out but I have to agree with this logic. Not that it would occur in Milwaukee either way, but Fielder's projections suggest he will hit 500 HRs and provide somewhere around 50 career WARP. The projections do not show the sudden dropoff that big sluggers sometimes experience. Even if that does happen, he's going to make some lucky team very happy in the meantime.

Jul 08, 2010 10:49 AM
rating: 0
 
tommybones

Yanks can afford Prince. They need a DH. They have a highly coveted top prospect in Jesus Montero, who also happens to be blocked in New York (assuming he ends up at 1B).

Makes the most sense.

Jul 08, 2010 11:09 AM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

"There is only one team in the league that can be competitive without that large supply of cost-controlled talent."

Um.. wouldn't the Red Sox be a second team?

On to other things, the Brewers have enough fixed parts that if they trade Fielder for prospects, they might as well trade off a good chunk of the team and rebuild for 2012/2013. I'm not sure the NL Central is strong enough (or that Fielder's production is replaceable enough) that trading him is wise, unless you break down the whole ship and trade off most of their offensive players. If not, they'll just have to go through the same thing next year and that would upset the fan base even more.

Jul 09, 2010 02:22 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

The Red Sox spend $170MM, which would buy about 32 WARP, which would only put them at 72-90. The Yankees spend $215MM, which could buy 41 WARP, putting them at 81-81, meaning a minimal level of cost-controlled talent could push them over the edge.

The Brewers probably should trade some other parts too, but players like Braun and Gallardo are locked down long enough that they are still assets in a couple years. Some other players would go, too, though.

Jul 09, 2010 04:14 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

The Red Sox seem to have done pretty decent with the cost controlled talent they have had. I can't remember a major player that they developed that they wanted to retain but couldn't afford.

Braun and Gallardo form a good core for a good team, which is why I think the Brewers should keep the team (and Fielder) together. They need to work on their run prevention, so perhaps dealing from depth, perhaps Mat Gamel, would be a good idea.

Now if it was the AL East instead of the NL Central, I definitely agree that trading Fielder is a better move... but I think that division is winnable next year with the core of what the Brewers have. If you trade Fielder though, you have to find some way to replace him and he is somewhat of a unique talent.

Jul 09, 2010 07:06 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

My point was that all teams need young talent to produce. The Red Sox have done fabulously with young talent-- read through my "No Turnover Standings" articles.

I'm curious why you think the Brewers are going to be competitive. Look at the Brewers' roster, contracts, and minor league prospects they have now. Sticking with Fielder, Braun, Gallardo, and the other talent they have is not going to make them a competitive team before 2011 in all likelihood (certainly not 2010), and retaining Fielder is going to cost enough money that it would difficult to do so afterwards. They are going to need young talent to get better-- replacing Fielder's uniqueness has a marketing argument, but replacing his wins is something that they should be attempting to do by trade.

Jul 09, 2010 07:55 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

If the Brewers were in any other division besides, perhaps, the AL Central, they probably wouldn't be competitive. But the Cardinals/Reds aren't all that strong, and offensively, the Brewers have just as good of a team as they do. The Brewers have scored 403 runs so far this year, the fourth most runs in the NL behind (in order) the Cardinals, Rockies and Dodgers. Their bugaboo has been run prevention i.e. pitching and/or defense. Last year they almost had a .500 record with runs allowed again a problem.

To poorly paraphrase what has been written at BP in the past about team marginal wins, a team has to figure out if it is a contender or not. If so, push for those extra few wins to get to the playoffs. If not, rebuild. The Brewers are quite a bit less than .500 this year, but their offense is solid. If, like last year, 91 wins can win the NL Central and if in the last few years, the Brewers have been a .500 team, are the Brewers perhaps a contender next year?

Let's say the Brewers are a .500 or near .500 team. If you replaced Fielder with a decent, but not great first baseman, you'd have to find a number of other positions to upgrade to make up the difference. If the Brewers issues are run prevention, and if the Brewers minor league system is dry, then they'll have to look at the free agent market for pitching. As you have noted in previous articles, free agents that switch teams tend to have less value than those who remain with their current team. So, there's a chance that the Brewers would invest unwisely... perhaps another Suppan gone bad, and perhaps another few million for a bad first baseman (Corey Kotchman?). Hence, with a rare talent like Fielder, I think that the Brewers should keep him if they are contenders.

But I guess that is what it comes down to...if the Brewers are good enough that they could win the NL Central in 2011. I grant that the Brewers are getting older... but they are not old, by any stretch of the imagination. So, there's a possiblity they can rebound next year. There have also been teams that have improved by ten wins even with slight defense and pitching improvements. It is possible. If, however, they are not contenders, tear the whole thing down and start over. If they are, stick with the current core.

Overall, I agree with you that Fielder's trade value is highest now. The question is, whether the Brewers team is good enough to be a contender immediately (this year or next year). The Cardinals are definitely getting older. The Reds have a lot of good things going for them and they have some young pitching. Can the Brewers overtake them both?

Ugh... too bad I'm a Cubs fan though, I've given up on them being competitive this year. And I did read (and enjoy) the No Turnover Standings articles... think I even commented on them :)

Jul 09, 2010 11:10 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

Yeah, my feeling is this. The Brewers are probably a .500 team next year. Becoming a 91-win team would cost about $50MM beyond whatever raises players are already due in arbitration and already written contracts. Sure, they could lucky, but why risk it? That's not the point where you make a dent. A team that is maybe five wins from contention should drop some money on free agents, but I don't think the Brewers can cover the win gap with free agents without losing money in the process. It may be that I'm underrating them, but I don't have much faith in their non-Gallardo pitching.

Jul 09, 2010 11:42 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I don't have much faith in their non-Gallardo pitching either.

Do you think they can get enough major-league ready pitching via trading Fielder and through free agency to make up that ten win gap? In other words, if the Brewers are a .500 team, does that change the kinds of players they trade Fielder for?

Jul 09, 2010 12:34 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

I would go for guys to make them competitive in a couple years if I were them. They don't seem likely to make up the gap in 2011 because they are giving up Fielder, but some prospects and some good moves could make them good in 2012 and 2013. It would probably involve trading some other pieces, probably.

Jul 09, 2010 12:51 PM
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Action: We... (07/07)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Wh... (07/02)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Th... (07/14)
Next Article >>
Seidnotes: The K/BB Ra... (07/08)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: The Quarter-Season Odds Report
West Coast By Us: Day 2: Taco the Town
Going Yard: The Near Perfection of Pederson
West Coast By Us: Day 3: Nice
BP Boston
West Coast By Us: Day 4: There Are Two L's I...
BP Bronx

MORE FROM JULY 8, 2010
Premium Article Under The Knife: Peavy's Unique Injury
Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: NL: Zero to Nine and Be...
Premium Article Changing Speeds: Free Agent Midterms
Seidnotes: The K/BB Ratio

MORE BY MATT SWARTZ
2010-07-23 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Buyers and Sellers
2010-07-16 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Why You Can Go for the G...
2010-07-14 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Three Eras of All-Star V...
2010-07-08 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Trading The Prince
2010-07-02 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Why Baseball Needs a Dra...
2010-06-25 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Not So Home-Field Advant...
2010-06-20 - Premium Article Between The Numbers: Walking Justin Morneau
More...

MORE AHEAD IN THE COUNT
2010-07-23 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Buyers and Sellers
2010-07-16 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Why You Can Go for the G...
2010-07-14 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Three Eras of All-Star V...
2010-07-08 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Trading The Prince
2010-07-02 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Why Baseball Needs a Dra...
2010-06-25 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Not So Home-Field Advant...
2010-06-17 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: Is Jimenez In Over His H...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2010-08-06 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: The 2010 Trade Deadline
2010-07-30 - Premium Article Ahead in the Count: The Poor Return on Dan H...