The Brewers season ended in April. The trade deadline is just 10 days away. There have been no trades made and players like Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, and Jonathan Broxton have erased much or all of their value. It’s no surprise panicking Brewers fans longing for a rebuild are looking for anyone and everyone that could fetch anything in a trade.
Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of people suggest the Brewers trade Mike Fiers. I understand the impulse. He has been the most effective Brewers starter this year. There are four years of team control remaining which seems valuable on the surface. But realistically, Fiers is still very much an unproven commodity and that affects his perceived value.
Value, especially trade value, is a difficult thing to define. There are several different ways of looking at such a thing and each perspective matters when deciding to part with an asset or not.
TRUE VALUE VS PERCEIVED VALUE
By true value, I mean true talent level. I don’t know what Fiers’ true talent level is right now. He might be a mid-rotation starter. He might even be better than that. He could also be worse. However, when we’re talking about trade value, his perceived value is what really matters.
Perceived value and true value don’t always line up. It’s what the whole “Moneyball” thing was all about. Just because a player is worth five wins, doesn’t mean every team sees him that way. I have a suspicion that Fiers’ perceived value is rather low right now. I think it’s low because I think Fiers’ true value hasn’t been fully established yet.
Consider this: While he made his true debut in 2012, Fiers has yet to pitch a full season in the majors.
In 2012, he acted mostly as an injury replacement, though a very effective one. The following season he threw 22 pretty disastrous innings, though there were some extenuating circumstances (his mother was very ill and eventually passed away, he also broke his arm while in the minors). Last year ,the Brewers kept Fiers in Triple-A for the majority of the season, only calling him up as their 7th starter, replacing the injured Matt Garza.
His 127 2/3 innings in 2012 were the most he’s thrown at the major-league level. He did perform quite well that season: 25.1 K%, 6.7 BB%, 3.74 ERA, 3.09 FIP. But he likely received an advantage as opposing hitters had never faced him before. This advantage wore off as the season went longer. His ERA for June and July were 2.51 and 1.01 respectively, while his ERA for the final two months were 4.89 and 7.09.
It’s not that uncommon to see a pitcher struggle once the competition has had a chance to adjust. Despite his poor showing in 2013, he did rebound quite nicely last year: 71.2 IP, 27.7 K%, 6.2 BB%, 2.13 ERA, 2.99. Again though, this was just a portion of a season. He didn’t make his first appearance until the middle of June.
In total, this season he’s thrown 102 2/3 innings with a 22.9 K%, 8.7 BB%, 3.79 ERA, 3.92 FIP. That’s decent, but his year has been somewhat uneven, and after starting out horribly in April (5.79 ERA, 4.35 FIP), he has cleaned things up nicely. In May, he had a 3.82 ERA, 2.85 FIP. In June, he had a 3.57 ERA, 3.83 FIP. So far in July, he has a 2.25 ERA, but a 5.06 FIP. Solid results this month, but his FIP looks poor.
If you still believe Fiers has mid-rotation potential I wouldn’t necessarily argue with you. But the keyword is “potential.” I need to see him do it over an entire season at least once before I can say with conviction that he is indeed mid-rotation caliber. I suspect that sentiment is held by most major-league teams as well.
Therefore his perceived value is less than what his true value might be. Which leads me to my next point. Time has an effect on value. And fortunately time is on the Brewers’ side.
PRESENT VALUE VS FUTURE VALUE
Fiers isn’t young—he turned 30 last month—but he does have a large amount of team control remaining. After this year he has one more pre-arbitration season in which he will make near the league minimum followed by three arbitration seasons. If teams are uncertain what caliber pitcher he is now, it’s hard to determine how much value those years of control are worth. His true talent level must be established first.
What those extra years of control do is allow the Brewers to take their time with him. They should (and almost certainly will) let him pitch the rest of this season. With a couple of solid partial seasons and one full season where he presents as a mid-rotation starter, his value will be easier to define and harder to deny.
Even if the Brewers were to hold onto Fiers for two years, they’d still be able to offer tw0-plus years of control for a potential mid-rotation starter. That’s immensely valuable. This relates to my final point.
TRUE VALUE VS PRACTICAL VALUE
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Fiers true value and perceived value are the same. The value for a mid-rotation starter with four-plus low-costed seasons remaining is off the charts. So valuable in fact I’m not sure the Brewers could find a team willing to part with that true value in terms of a prospect package.
Hypothetically, let’s say a mid-rotation starter with that amount of cheap team control is worth three 50 grade prospects (50 on the 20-80 scale is considered major-league average, which is quite good). We’re probably talking about the top 2-7 prospects in any given farm system. Teams would be unlikely to part with that much for a pitcher, even though that might be fair value.
If that’s true, then there would be no reason to trade Fiers now.
I think there are two reasons to trade Fiers right now. You trade him if a team is willing to pay a lot. As I pointed out, I think it’s unlikely that is going to happen. The other reason you trade him is if you don’t believe he’s more than a no. 4/5 starter. If that’s the case, the cost to acquire is lower and you’ll find more teams willing to meet it. I think he’s better than that, so I’d want to hold onto him and hope someone either matches that value or overpays in the future.
I’m not against the idea of trading Fiers. I’m against selling low on him, and right now I don’t believe he has enough trade value because his true talent level remains somewhat obscure. Given time, that should clear up. And fortunately for the Brewers, they still have a good amount to team control left. That means if/when Fiers truly establishes himself as a mid-rotation starter, the Brewers will still have the ability to trade him for a sizable package if indeed that is their chosen course of action.
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