Grading Trades IV: Current Assets

The Brewers are in an intriguing position entering the 2016-2017 offseason:

  • The club has one of the best farm systems, if not the best in terms of depth and top prospects, in the MLB.
  • Milwaukee has extreme payroll flexibility in terms of guaranteed and arbitration contracts.
  • While the front office was sorting through roster options after a disastrous April, the Brewers played sustained stretches of near .500 baseball (a 44-49 stretch from May through August 14 being the best such stretch, prior to a 4-12 stretch to close August against the Cubs, Mariners, Pirates, and Cardinals).
  • Following sustained roster orchestration, the Brewers also discovered a core team that went 132 RS / 108 RA (17-13) to close the year, demonstrating average offense and significantly better than average pitching.
  • As I’ve written extensively here, the Brewers are basically devoid of rebuilding trade options, to boot; it’s now time to develop players and assemble the best possible team.

What this all means is that the Brewers can use this offseason to align great future value — as any MLB team can — while also making decisions about who best fits the roster needs for 2017. This is slightly different than the goals for 2016, where assembling as much talent as possible, including several gambles, was the goal. Now, value-plays like Keon Broxton or Jonathan Villar have their respective chances to form starting roles in Milwaukee, building on their 2016 successes. This is an exciting environment, especially in the outfield, where Broxton is essentially fighting Lewis Brinson, arguably the club’s top prospect, for centerfield time; Villar will play around the infield, but undoubtedly wants to prove that he is the club’s shortstop (although an Orlando Arcia-Villar middle infield combination appears tantalizing).

Grading Trades:
III: Normative Analysis
II: Surplus
I: Inventory

So now, one can ask of the Brewers roster, who are the most valuable trading chips? Who are the most valuable roster assets to keep with the club? This is a crucial question because the right answer can both help the future Brewers and help GM David Stearns to assemble the most competitive club possible in 2017. For example, if Keon Broxton is poised to be a starter, it would be worth keeping the centerfielder to see how the first few months of the season play out, prior to Lewis Brinson forcing his way to the MLB. However, if there is a discrepancy between how the Brewers front office views Broxton versus other clubs, this is a potential area for a trade. Milwaukee can go down the line, player by player, to make this type of decision.

I’m not saying that the Brewers should trade anyone; they could arguably be justified in keeping together their exciting September core and seeing how that fast-track, power-speed combo continues to gel in April and May. Moreover, getting a “Broxton trade” (or Villar, or Gennett, etc.) correct is not necessarily going to make or break the franchise. This is not the same type of decision as, say, maximizing Jonathan Lucroy’s trade value for prospects. Many of the potential trades open for the Brewers will be depth trades, which are immensely interesting in the sense of improving the margins of the roster, but obviously not as thrilling as a rebuilding blockbuster that returns star prospects.

Following this series of trade analysis, I assembled a group of the most valuable 2016 performers, as well as each guaranteed contract and arbitration eligible player, and assessed each player on a 10 percent depreciation scale. This means that I used their previous three-year WARP performance as a baseline, and then projected three-year value at 70 percent. Since teams are not simply trading for production, but also for contracts, I then compiled the contractual value of that production, and added both figures together. Not surprisingly, extremely productive players under reserve control are the most valuable, but there remain some intriguing conclusions to be drawn from this list. I am assembling the list based on the trade return for previous Brewers counterbuilding and rebuilding deals, in order to provide an idea of what a specific value means in concrete transactional terms. I cannot stress enough that this is only one model with many shortcomings, and I am simply using it as one template for attempting to judge trade value.

(1) Jean Segura Surplus Value
Trade return baseline: 50-60 surging prospect (Isan Diaz), established MLB depth player, MLB veteran contract.

Brewers Trade Value 2016 WARP 3-Year Depreciation Contract WARP / Surplus Value Needed
IF Jonathan Villar (reserve+) 4.8 4.76 ($33.3M) 6.35 (+$44.4M) $88.8M

It should be no surprise that Jonathan Villar is the most valuable trade potential on the Brewers roster. The infielder has many standpoints for offensive success (discipline, power, speed), positional flexibility, and a reserve contract. This value indicator should be prohibitive — the only way Milwaukee trades Villar is if they are blown out of the water by an extremely valuable prospect or prospect+MLB package.

(2) Khris Davis Surplus Value ($39.4 million) / Lucroy-Jeffress Surplus Value ($41.4 million)

Trade return baseline: 55 prospect baseline, plus organizational depth play. Considerable risk assumed.
Trade return baseline: Two 60 prospects, plus organizational depth play. Less risk assumed.

Brewers Trade Value 2016 WARP 3-Year Depreciation Contract WARP / Surplus Value Needed
RHP Zach Davies (reserve+) 3.3 2.59 ($18.1M) 4.32 ($30.2M) $60.4M
LF Ryan Braun (4/$64M+) 3.9 5.88 ($41.2M) 7.84 (-$9.12M) $45.76M

If Villar is the most valuable trading asset for Milwaukee, Zach Davies and Ryan Braun might be the most interesting. First, both players are “traditional contending core” profiles: Braun is an elite veteran outfielder, Davies is (at the very least) a clear rotational depth option, and maybe much more if he continues to hone his ability to adjust at the MLB level. Although these players’ actual contractual value suggests that they are at a trade level lower than Villar’s value, it is worth stating that the Brewers front office should not trade either of these players for anything short of an excellent prospect package.

(3) Middle of the Road Value
Will Smith model: Blocked MLB player / potential starter, 45 prospect / controversial unclear prospect value. Extreme risk assumed.
Gomez-Fiers model: MLB-ready prospect, two 50+ range prospects, one organizational depth play. Moderate risk assumed.

Brewers Trade Value 2016 WARP 3-Year Depreciation Contract WARP / Surplus Value Needed
1B Chris Carter (2 arb) 0.8 2.66 ($18.6M) 1.77 ($12.4M) $24.8M
CF Keon Broxton (reserve+) 1.5 0.98 ($6.9M) 1.64 ($11.4M) $22.8
2B Scooter Gennett (3 arb) 2.0 1.54 ($10.8M) 1.54 ($10.8M) $21.6M
RHP Junior Guerra (reserve+) 1.3 0.91 ($6.4M) 1.52 ($10.6M) $21.2M
RHP Wily Peralta (2 arb) 1.3 2.17 ($15.2M) 1.45 ($10.2M) $20.4M
C Andrew Susac (reserve+) 0.1 0.84 ($5.9M) 1.40 ($9.8M) $19.6M
RHP Corey Knebel (reserve+) 0.5 1.05 ($7.4M) 1.40 ($9.8M) $19.6M
UTIL Hernan Perez (reserve+) 2.4 0.98 ($6.9M) 1.31 ($9.1M) $18.2M
RF Domingo Santana (reserve+) 1.0 0.78 ($5.5M) 1.28 ($9.0M) $18.0M
RHP Taylor Jungmann (reserve+) 0.0 0.77 ($5.4M) 1.28 ($9.0M) $18.0M
C Martin Maldonado (2 arb) 1.1 1.89 ($13.2M) 1.26 ($8.8M) $17.6M
RHP Carlos Torres (2 arb) 0.7 1.19 ($8.3M) 0.79 ($5.6M) $11.2M

This is where it gets more difficult to judge full trade value, likelihood of trading, and the value of prospect returns themselves. Since I already wrote at length about Gomez-Fiers and Smith deals this week, I will not rehash the arguments about those trades here. At this point, some of the surplus value suggestions seem absurd, as it would be stunning to see Carlos Torres traded for a 45 prospect and blocked MLB player, for example. Other players listed here have more value to the MLB roster, arguably, than via trade: Martin Maldonado is an excellent depth catcher, an essential aspect of filling 162 games; Junior Guerra is almost impossible to grade, but remains one of the best pitchers under club control; Andrew Susac, Domingo Santana, and Keon Broxton themselves are recent trade returns that will probably receive long looks in Milwaukee.

This category is where the value of this model breaks down. But if there are two interesting trade options here, those options are Scooter Gennett and Chris Carter, who presented sturdy 2016 seasons for the Brewers. While neither is clearly a first division starter, both players could offer value for the right suitor. In both of these cases, returning something like a Susac/Bickford combo (in terms of risk and potential) seems about right.

(4) Depth Players
Adam Lind model: assume extreme risk by trading for depth prospects that are extremely far from the MLB.

Gerardo Parra / Francisco Rodriguez model: take on 45 grade prospect with depth/back-end rotation profile that is close (or relatively close) to MLB.

Aaron Hill model: Organizational depth play.

Brewers Trade Value 2016 WARP 3-Year Depreciation Contract WARP / Surplus Value Needed
OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis (3 arb) 0.6 0.77 ($5.4M) 0.77 ($5.4M) $10.8M
RHP Tyler Thornburg (3 arb) 1.6 0.49 ($3.4M) 0.49 ($3.4M) $6.8M
RHP Jacob Barnes (reserve+) 0.3 0.21 ($1.5M) 0.35 ($2.5M) $5.0M
LHP Brent Suter (reserve+) 0.1 0.1 ($0.5M) 0.1 ($0.5M) $0.5M
C Manny Pina (reserve+) 0.2 0.0 ($0.5M) 0.0 ($0.5M) $0.5M
RHP Jimmy Nelson (reserve+) -0.7 0.0 ($0.5M) 0.0 ($0.5M) $0.5M
RHP Chase Anderson (4 arb) -0.5 0.0 ($0.5M) 0.0 ($0.5M) $0.5M
IF Yadiel Rivera (reserve+) -0.3 -0.42 ($0.5M) -0.7 ($0.5M) $0.5M
RHP Matt Garza (1/$15.5M+) 1.3 0.42 ($2.9M) 0.14 (-$15M) -$14.5M

This list looks like so many non-tenders in one shape or form, or even roster cut candidates. On the other hand, it is worth pointing out that this level of player can produce some value in the right type of deal. These types of players could be added to other trades to increase value in some cases, or could be moved in other organizational depth trades. Most likely, many of these players will remain in Milwaukee simply because of the demands of filling a roster for 162 games.

(5) Rule 5
For fun, I also assembled a list of 2015 Rule 5 protections, as well as 2016 top Rule 5 eligible players. For this model, I used prospect Overall Future Potential grades to predict a WARP-depreciation figure; a three-year performance for a 60 scale prospect went 4 WARP, 2 WARP, 1 WARP; a 55 scale played 3 WARP, 2 WARP, 0 WARP; a 50 OFP might play 2 WARP 2 WARP, 0 WARP; and a 45 scale player might go 2 WARP, 0 WARP, 0 WARP. Obviously, this list will show just how far some players can outperform their grades; Zach Davies is the best example here:

Brewers Rule 5 Value 2016 WARP 3-Year Depreciation 2016 OFP OFP Contract Surplus
SS Orlando Arcia 0.2 0.3 ($2.0M) 60 9.8($68.6M)
OF Lewis Brinson n/a n/a 60 9.8 ($68.6M)
RHP Luis Ortiz n/a n/a 60 9.8 ($68.6M)
RHP Miguel Diaz n/a n/a 50-60 8.4 ($58.8M)
RHP Jorge Lopez n/a 0.14 ($0.5M) 55 7.0 ($49.0M)
OF Brett Phillips n/a n/a 55 7.0 ($49.0M)
LHP Josh Hader n/a n/a 45-50 4.2 ($29.4)
RHP Zach Davies 3.3 2.59 ($18.1M) 45 2.33 ($16.3M)
OF Tyrone Taylor n/a n/a 45 2.33 ($16.3M)
OF Ryan Cordell n/a n/a 45 2.33 ($16.3M)
OF Michael Reed -0.1 -0.14 ($0.5M) 40-45 0.7 ($4.9M)
RHP Jacob Barnes 0.3 0.21 ($1.5M) 40-45 0.7 ($4.9M)
RHP Adrian Houser 0.0 0.0 ($0.5M) 40-45 0.7 ($4.9M) [injured]
LHP Wei-Chung Wang n/a -0.28 ($0.5M) 40+ 0.7 ($4.9M)

The most valuable players here are interesting because one can use their OFP and proximity to the MLB to gauge the likelihood of being included in a deal for an impact MLB player. Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Miguel Diaz are the best examples here. Compare Davies’s $16.3 million surplus value here to his $60.4 million surplus value above: one season can certainly change a player’s outlook, even if that player’s overall grade might not necessarily change. In scouting terms, Davies might still be expected to serve as a middle-to-back end rotation option in terms of size, stuff, and projection, but the righty himself showed the value of making adjustments in arsenal and strategy at the MLB level.

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