Evaluating the C.C. Sabathia trade

The C.C. Sabathia trade seems to have put the Brewers in a prime position to at least reach the playoffs this year. While Matt LaPorta is a highly regarded prospect, the Brewers are stacked with young position players at the major and minor league levels. The Brewers now have arguably the top one-two punch of any of the playoff contenders, with Sabathia and Ben Sheets. Meanwhile, the Indians were never able to get going this season and were unlikely to resign Sabathia. By acquiring LaPorta, the former No. 7 overall pick, the Indians get a much needed power bat for their farm system. LaPorta appears to be their left fielder or first baseman of the future, depending on what the team decides to do with Ryan Garko.

It is unlikely the Indians could have gotten a prospect of LaPorta’s caliber with the additional picks they would have received for having Sabathia leave as a Type A free agent. The trade looks like a win-win so far, but we need to take a closer look to see if there is a true winner. I did similar evaluations in the offseason for the Johan Santana trade. So first off, let’s look at the players involved.

Brewers Receive:
C.C. Sabathia – $5.6 million

Indians Receive:
Matt LaPorta- $23.5 million
Rob Bryson- $5 million
Taylor Green- $7 million
Zack Jackson- $1 million
Total: $36.5 million

The following numbers are the surplus values of the players involved. When we evaluate player trades, what we care about is the surplus value of each player involved. A player’s surplus value is equivalent to his win value in a dollar figure minus his salary. This is similar to dealing with housing and mortgages. I calculated Sabathia’s surplus value by using a 5/3/2 weight of his last three years of pitching performance. I then gave that a 3/4 weight while weighting his current performance by one-fourth. I used WSAB as a pitching performance metric.

I then converted that into his performance salary and subtracted that from his actual salary, which is his surplus value. He has an overall surplus value of $11.15 million but since the Brewers only have him for half the season, I divided the surplus value by 2. The surplus values for the prospects the Indians received come from the prospect value tables in the first Johan Santana article.

I rated Matt LaPorta as an 11-25 hitting prospect. He was ranked No. 23 last year by Baseball America and No. 31 by Kevin Goldstein. Given his performance this year, I felt that Laporta’s 11-25 ranking was a fair ranking. I do not believe any of the other prospects received will be rated as a top 100 prospect when the season is over or are of that caliber, so I estimated the remaining prospects’ surplus values based off of what I felt were reasonable subtractions from the 76-100 hitting and pitching prospect ratings.

While Taylor Green was not officially named as the fourth prospect, various sources have reported that Green will be the player to be named later. So from the initial ratings, the Indians have a large advantage. However, we still need to factor in the boost on the win curve the Brewers get from adding Sabathia.

Before the Sabathia trade, the Brewers were 49-39, on pace for 90 wins. However, the Brewers have a run differential of only +11. If we assume that the Brewers would have played at their Pythagorean level for the remainder of the season, they would be on pace for 87 wins. An 87-win team has about a 23 percent chance of making the playoffs. Given this, the Brewers are right in the sweet spot on the win curve, so a trade for Sabathia will be very beneficial relative to other positions teams may be on the win curve. With the addition of Sabathia, the Brewers are adding about 3.8 wins above a bench player. However, we have to see if Sabathia is actually replacing a bench caliber player on his team or not.

For now, let’s assume Sabathia replaces Seth McClung. Dave Bush is also a candidate to be replaced, but he has pitched well recently and McClung has had experience in the bullpen this year.

So for now we’ll say McClung will be demoted to the bullpen. While McClung has pitched pretty well so far this season, he rates as barely above a bench player given his past performance. However, by demoting McClung to the bullpen the Brewers will also be able to get rid of a mediocre reliever, likely Randy Choate. The net benefit of McClung replacing Choate will be about 0.6 wins. Given this, the addition of Sabathia and the resultant chaining will be worth about 4.4 wins or 2.2 wins over about half the season.

Based off this, the Brewers are an 89.2 win team and can expect to reach the playoffs about 51 percent of the time. It could be argued that the chances of the Brewers reaching the playoffs as an 87 and 89 win team are higher than average because of what appears to be weak wild card competition in the NL this year. However, the overall change in their chances of making the playoffs will remain similar. An essay in the Baseball Prospectus 2008 annual (page 298), based on work continued from Baseball Between the Numbers, estimates an additional regular season win as worth $950,000 in revenue and a playoff appearance as worth $35 million. Based off of the numbers so far, we now have the Brewer’s value in the trade as this:

Brewers Receive:
C.C. Sabathia- $5.6 million
2.2 Additional wins = 2.2 * 950,000= $2.1 million
Increased Playoff Odd s= (.51-.23)* $35 million = $9.8 million
Total- $17.5 million

There is one last thing we need to factor in before we can finalize our comparisons in value and that is the value of the draft picks the Brewers will likely receive assuming they do not resign Sabathia. In 2005, Nate Silver estimated the value of draft picks based off of Rany Jazayerli’s draft study. He estimated a tier three pick (picks No. 16-25) as worth $8.95 million and a tier four pick (pick 26 or later) as worth $3.24 million. These are likely the two picks the Brewers would get, assuming they don’t re-sign Sabathia. When we factor in baseball inflation with this, we get these as our final surplus values:

Brewers Receive:
C.C. Sabathia- $5.3 million
2.5 Additional wins= 2.5 * 950,000= $2.38 million
Increased Playoff Odds= (.51-.23)* $35 million= $9.8 million
Tier three Pick- $12.2 million
Tier four Pick- $4.42 million
Total- $34.1 million

Indians Receive:
Matt Laporta- $23.5 million
Rob Bryson- $5 million
Taylor Green- $7 million
Zack Jackson- $1 million
Total- $36.5 million

So, in conclusion, the trade is about dead even. The $2.4 million difference is basically gone when we consider the risk premium that comes with trading prospects. However, when we consider that the Brewers have had a long playoff drought, are loaded with young position players and prospects, and that Jack Zduriencik is one of the best scouting directors in the game, it is very easy to see why the Brewers made this deal.

Also, it is clear to see that the Indians made the right move in trading Sabathia. They did not have much of a chance of reaching the playoffs even with Sabathia and also had little chance to resign Sabathia. The prospects they received far outweigh the value of the picks they would have received if they kept Sabathia and let him walk ($36.5 million versus $16.62 million). But of course, this trade will go down as a huge win in Brewers’ history if Sabathia helps them bring home a World Series.

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