Assessing Roster Moves II: Trending Sideways

It was difficult to discern a roster building plan during the Brewers’ two week stretch of Rule 5 roster protection and waiver-and-designate, but that sense has disappeared completely this week. First, GM David Stearns effectively closed his waiver spree by signing Korean Baseball Organization superstar Eric Thames, adding a well-priced value play to the MLB roster. Next, Stearns sold high on Tyler Thornburg, returning four assets for a gamble that Thornburg can take the next step as a high leverage reliever. So, how much surplus value has Stearns added to the roster?

(1) Grading Thames
Several sources of projection have outlined expectations for Eric Thames in Milwaukee, so I’m not going to attempt to project Thames’s statistical performance in Milwaukee. Instead, I want to look at the opportunity cost of Thames, as well as the potential value from his scouting profile. Really, my analysis of both Thames and Thornburg will depend on your feelings of WARP; whether or not you believe that WARP adequately captured Chris Carter’s value to the Brewers is going to be a factor that impacts how you view the slugger’s surplus value, for instance (a similar issue will arise with Thornburg below).

In my last analysis, I estimated that in terms of contractual value and production, Carter was worth between $18 million and $25 million to the Brewers (the main focal point here is not to consider the fact that he may have cost between $8 million and $10 million in salary arbitration, but that the Brewers could release Carter without spending a dime [and they did just that], which frames his contractual value). The most interesting note on Thames is that the slugger has changed his approach and mechanics while working in the KBO, which places a different lens on his outburst in that league, and also changes his scouting outlook in the USA. Beyond the Box Score features a detailed look at Thames’s swing in the KBO, which shows some development from his MLB swing.

If one attempts to balance Thames’s winding career path with his recent KBO superstardom, a “punt” scouting grade of 45-50 may be in order for the age 30-33 first baseman’s contract. Yet, visions of Jose Bautista come to mind whenever someone says “late 20s mechanical adjustment,” as the Blue Jays’ iconic slugger was little more than a .239 / .324 / .398 slasher through 2008 when Toronto acquired him. The idea that a player can unleash his power after his prime development years is not implausible, and indeed some of those players become superstars (Edwin Encarnacion, Bautista’s teammate, is another example).

Eric Thames 3-Year WARP Full Contract WARP 70% Depreciation Contract Surplus Total Surplus Value
40 OFP 1.0 1.33 0.93 ($6.5M) -$8.5M -$2.0M
50 OFP 4.0 5.33 3.73 ($26.1M) $11.1M $37.2M
60 OFP 7.0 9.33 6.53 ($45.7M) $30.7M $76.4M
Jose Bautista 30-33 23.8 23.8 16.66 ($116.6M) $101.6M $218.2M

In 1,000 scenarios, imagine that Thames reaches 40 OFP 900 times ($1,800M), 50 OFP 80 times ($2,976M), 60 OFP 19 times ($1,452M), and Jose Bautista once ($218M): the Brewers still come out ahead, even if in 90 percent of scenarios Thames effectively busts (0.93 WARP over four seasons). Their total surplus, in this scenario, would be approximately $2.8M. So, the Thames contract is a wash at worst, and at best a fantastic opportunity to sign a foreign league superstar that was simply a late bloomer. Now the only question is if Thames ends up closer to the 0.1 percent odds of breaking out as an MLB superstar on the strength of his KBO adjustments.
Surplus Value: Approximately $2.8M if assumed 40 OFP in 90 percent of outcomes.

(2) Trading Thornburg
How does one grade the Thornburg trade? In my previous grading of current assets, Thornburg’s three-year performance weighed down his significant gains as a reliever. Boston obviously traded for Thornburg with the idea of building on his season as an excellent high leverage relief option, and whether or not Thornburg is a closer, there is a chance that he will provide excellent value to their roster if given the chance to prove himself in the late innings over another season. The best aspect for the big market Red Sox is that they now reserve arbitration rights for Thornburg for three seasons, meaning that there is plenty of time for Thornburg to move within different high leverage roles, struggle, iron out any issues, even weather an injury. In this case, a study of the McCann trade, which caused me to reconsider using depreciation-models to assess trade value, one would do well to assess Thornburg in the most robust manner, certainly weighing his 2016 improvements much more heavily than his previous struggles.

Tyler Thornburg 2016 WARP 3-Year Depreciation Model 3-Year Robust Model Contract Surplus Total Surplus
Conservative 1.6 0.49 ($3.4M) n/a 0.49 ($3.4M) $6.8M
Aggressive 1.6 n/a 3.0 ($9M) 3.0 ($9M) $18M

If anything, this comparison should show that it’s extremely difficult to simply assess a trade based on one single model, or one assumption. The Brewers could assume that Thornburg’s troubles would weigh heavier, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong; the Red Sox could buy high and have a robust model for Thornburg, and be equally correct. I dare say there will be no equilibrium found for this deal, between either club. The deal is an immediate victory for the contending Red Sox, who bolster their bullpen with a hard throwing up-and-coming reliever that offers three years of arbitration reserve; the deal is an immediate victory for the Brewers, who turned a struggling swingman-at-best into a lights-out reliever and then sold at the best possible moment (it can be argued that even waiting to see if Thornburg could close for the first half of 2017 is too risky for the Brewers, since any issues in that regard would tank the value built during 2016).

Thornburg Trade 2016 WARP OFP 3-Year Depreciation Contract Surplus Total Surplus Value
Travis Shaw 1.6 - 1.6 ($11.2M) 2.67 ($18.7M) $11.2M to $37.4M
Mauricio Dubon n/a 50+ 2.8 ($19.6M) 5.6 ($39.2M) $19.6M to $78.4M
Josh Pennington n/a 45+ 0.6 ($4.2M) 1.2 ($8.4M) $4.2M to $8.4M
PTBNL - - - - -
Total 1.6 45+ / 50+ 5.0 ($35.0M) 9.47 ($66.3M) $35.0M to $66.3M
Thornburg (Conservative / Aggressive) 1.6 - 2.5 ($17.5M) / 4.73 ($33.2M) 2.5 ($17.5M) / 4.73 ($33.2M) $35.0M to $66.4M

Considering both conservative and aggressive estimates for the trade as currently constructed, it should not be outlandish to say that the Red Sox properly gambled that they can retain value with Thornburg’s contract (which can be non-tendered without cost prior to 2018 and 2019). If the PTBNL turns out to be a player with a pedigree other than organizational depth, that might push Thornburg into 2.0 WARP/year territory to regain value. Yet, given that the Red Sox are gambling for playoff spots, overpaying in a trade for a high leverage player is not necessarily a bad deal if the payoff is somewhere between $10 million and $30 million of playoff revenue. Adding together playoff revenue, playoff prestige, and potential flags flying is well worth a PTBNL. There is plenty of evidence to argue the trade a success for either team, which is a good sign that Milwaukee maximized their short-term closer’s value.

(3) Miguel Diaz’s Value
I previously called GM David Stearns’s refusal to protect top RHP prospect Miguel Diaz from the Rule 5 draft a “dreadful, terrible” move, but I think I emphasized the wrong reasons. As the Brewers potentially lost Diaz to the Padres (via the Twins), depending on how he fares early in the season and whether he sticks with San Diego, it is worth recasting the move as a failure even if Diaz does not reach the MLB or his gaudiest 60 OFP from summer 2016.

Imagine that Diaz follows the odds of reaching the MLB at approximately 20 percent; among those potential MLB futures, consider a 40 OFP / roster filler status as the vast majority (95 percent of potential MLB futures, maybe reaching 1.0 WARP over three seasons), a 50 OFP (4.5 percent of potential MLB futures, maybe reaching 4.0 WARP over three seasons), and 60 OFP in 0.5 percent of MLB futures (maybe reaching 7.0 WARP over three seasons). Spread over 1,000 potential futures, Miguel Diaz averages out to approximately 0.23 WARP, or someone worth between $0.500 million league minimum contract (replacement contract) and $1.61 million using the standard $7 million / WARP “market estimation.” This is the biggest problem with failing to protect Diaz: in the first place, he’s one of only a few true 50+ / 60 OFP prospects in the Brewers system. There are many 50 prospects in the system, and several 50+ prospects, even, but not many reached a 60 OFP grade in 2016. Diaz reached that level, and is therefore one of the best prospects even adding in all the risk one can find.
Value Lost: $1.6 million.

(4) Roster Summary
Here is a summary of notables trades, Rule 5 transactions (MLB and AAA), and free agency signings. Moves with 40-man roster impact are highlighted.

Player 3-Year depreciation OFP 3-Year depreciation Contract Total Surplus
3B Travis Shaw 1.6 ($11.2M) - 2.67 ($18.7M) $37.4M
1B Eric Thames - 50 ($19.6M) 3.73 ($11.1) $37.2M
IF Mauricio Dubon - 50+ ($19.6M) Minor Leagues $19.6M
RHP Blake Parker 0.56 ($3.9M) - 0.75 ($5.3M) $10.6M
RHP Josh Pennington - 45 ($4.2M) Minor Leagues $4.2M
RHP Paulo Espino - 45 ($4.2M) Minor Leagues $4.2M
RHP Luke Barker - 45 ($4.2M) Minor Leagues $4.2M
1B Art Charles - 40 ($3.5M) Minor Leagues $3.5M
RHP Matt Ramsey - 40 ($3.5M) Minor Leagues $3.5M
RHP Steve Geltz -0.7 ($0.5M) - -0.7 ($0.5M) $0.5M
PTBNL - - - -
OF Rymer Liriano -0.4 ($0.5M) - Full Reserve ($0.5M) -$0.5M
1B/OF Adam Walker - 45 [$5.9M] Minor Leagues -$5.9M
RHP Tyler Thornburg 0.49 ($3.4M) - 0.49 ($3.4M) -$6.8M
RHP Miguel Diaz - 60 ($24.0M) Minor Leagues -$24.0M
1B Chris Carter 2.66 ($18.4M) - Two Year Arbitration ($12.4M) -$24.8M

Thus far, the Brewers have added approximately $23.7 million in total surplus through 40-man roster transactions (this figure does not factor in full reserve control for minor leaguers, but instead focuses on OFP value). That is basically worth 1.7 WARP from a league minimum contract, or 2.75 WARP from Eric Thames (2.75 WARP is worth approximately $19.3 million, minus $15 million guaranteed). In total surplus value, Stearns has acquired approximately $63 million for the organization, which can be translated as approximately 4.5 total WARP from a league minimum salary, or acquiring approximately three 50 OFP prospects via trade.

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