August 10, 2017
Guarding The Lines
Prospects and Relative Valuation
We often talk about prospect value in an absolute sense: Joey Outfielder is the 23rd-best prospect in baseball with an OFP 70, likely 60, moderate risk, and the second-best prospect in his system [ed. Note: That OFP/Likely would make him better than the 23rd-best prospect]. But just as an injury replacement player in any given situation isn’t necessarily “replacement-level” in the sabermetric context, prospects can have different relative values to different teams, even if the teams value the prospect and his skills similarly. These kinds of relative value disparities can often spur on interesting trades.
The most obvious situation in which a player’s relative value is lower to one team than another is when he is totally blocked by the incumbent team. Jeimer Candelario is a nice prospect, but for the last little while he’d been a third baseman ready for the bigs in the Cubs system (hello, Kris Bryant) whose only plausible secondary position is first base (hello, Anthony Rizzo). Joe Maddon does a nice job using the positional versatility of players like Bryant, Javier Baez, and Ben Zobrist to get everyone in, but a pure corner infielder just wasn’t going to rate to get more than a couple hundred at-bats a year for the Cubs. Therefore, the Cubs were able to “overpay” a bit for Justin Wilson, because what they were trading had so much less relative value to their own team than to Detroit’s, where Candelario can develop into a role suitable to his skills. In fact, this is the second straight trade deadline where they’ve done the same thing for largely the same reasons, having picked up Mike Montgomery in 2016 for the even more hopelessly blocked Dan Vogelbach.
Sometimes, there’s no out-and-out immovable objects, but teams just have so much talent stocked at a position that it becomes easier to trade the lesser hands out of the deck. The Yankees have a young talent situation that is so enviable that it’s starting to cause them 40-man roster problems. At the core, they’re specifically loaded in outfielders and middle infielders. Aaron Judge is an instant superstar, and Clint Frazier isn’t far behind. Jacoby Ellsbury remains a solid contributor and is signed through 2020. Aaron Hicks might’ve finally broken out. Tyler Wade merges the medium-term outfield and middle infield muddlement with his ability to play both. Didi Gregorius is entrenched at short, and Starlin Castro and Gleyber Torres should combine to lock in second and third for awhile.