San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is currently the subject of about 1,237 trade rumors. The lefty batter with the silky-smooth swing and sweetheart contract doesn’t appear long for San Diego. Last month, Padres CEO Jeff Moorad told the San Diego Union-Tribune that “While I’d be thrilled to have him part of the organization for the long term, the early signals indicate his cost will be greater than our ability to pay.” More recently, we heard that Gonzalez is shooting for the stars when it comes to his next contract.
All signs point to the 27 year-old wearing new duds in the not-too-distant future. As such, this seems like a good time to try to get a rough estimate of what sort of prospect haul Gonzalez will command if and when new Padres GM Jed Hoyer pulls the trigger on a deal.
Gonzalez offers potential trade partners the best of both worlds: he’s a championship-caliber player under team control for two more years at a humongous discount. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Gonzalez will earn a measly $4.75 million in 2010, and he’ll pull down $5.5 million in 2011 when whomever he’s playing for exercises a no-brainer club option.
So, Gonzalez is owed only $10.25 million over the next two seasons. That’s criminal compared to what his production would fetch if all teams were able to bid on his services. But just how much of a bargain are teams getting?
The former Marlin and Ranger has progressively become an offensive force. His walk rate and Isolated Power have increased in each of his four full seasons in the majors, culminating in last year’s off-the-charts showing at the plate. Adjusting for both league and park factors (Petco is, of course, death to lumber), Gonzalez’s bat was 58 percent better than the major league average (158 wRC+). Over the last three seasons, he has a 140 wRC+, and has provided an average of +35 runs more than the average MLB hitter per year. CHONE projects Gonzalez to post a 138 wRC+ in 2010, which would be worth about +29 runs.
Defensively, Gonzalez rates decently by whatever metric one uses. Ultimate Zone Rating has him as average with the leather (career +0.1 UZR/150). John Dewan’s Plus/Minus system says that Gonzalez has saved an average of two to three runs per season. The 2009 Fans Scouting Report dubbed him the third-best first baseman in baseball. For 2010, CHONE has Gonzalez pegged as a +3 run defender.
Accounting for positional and replacement-level adjustments, CHONE forecasts a +4.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) season for Gonzalez. Let’s say that he follows that up with a +4 WAR year in 2011. Over the next two seasons, he seems like a good bet to produce at a level more than eight wins better than a freely available talent.
One win above replacement is thought to cost somewhere between $4 million and $5 million on the free agent market. If we use a $4.5 million/WAR figure and Gonzalez does indeed post two 4 WAR-type campaigns, then his production figures to be worth around $37 million over that time period. Remember, he’s only getting paid $10.25 million for 2010-2011.
A player’s trade value is derived from his surplus value: how much his performance would garner if all teams could sign him minus his actual salary. If you value a pizza at $10, then you would be willing to pay up to $10 for some cheesy, gooey goodness. Similarly, if a player’s contributions are valued at $27 million, then the team looking to trade for the player would be willing to surrender up to $27 million in value. The team looking to trade the player, meanwhile, would be looking to get no less than $27 million in return for the player.
Gonzalez’s surplus value figures to be somewhere in the range of $27 million ($37 million in free agent value minus his actual $10.25 million salary). What does that look like in terms of a prospect bounty?
Luckily, Victor Wang did the heavy lifting for us, determining the average surplus value of prospects depending upon their ranking on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects (for players not cracking the 100, John Sickels’ prospect grades were used). Wang compiled the value of prospects during their first six years of major league service time, when players are under team control and earn less than what they would make if they were on the free agent market. The folks at Beyond the Boxscore came out with a chart last year that summarizes Wang’s findings:
(Prospect tier and surplus value during first six years of major league service time)
Top 10 hitting prospects $36.5M
Top 11-25 hitters $25.1
Top 26-50 hitters $23.4
Top 51-75 hitters $14.2
Top 76-100 hitters $12.5
Top 10 pitching prospects $15.2
Top 11-25 pitchers $15.9
Top 26-50 pitchers $15.9
Top 51-75 pitchers $12.1
Top 76-100 pitchers $9.8
Grade B pitchers (as graded by Sickels)
Grade B hitters $5.5
Grade C pitchers 22 or younger $2.1
Grade C pitchers 23 or older $1.5
Grade C hitters 22 or younger $0.7
Grade C hitters 23 or older $0.5
Top-10 hitters are the surest bets among prospects, providing more than twice as much surplus value as similarly-ranked pitchers. Overall, there’s far more volatility and uncertainty with pitching prospects, as reflected in the lower surplus values and lack of distinction between the 1-10, 11-25 and 26-50 tiers.
This chart suggests that in order to acquire Gonzalez’s thunderous bat, a team would have to pony up some serious farm talent. The club most often linked to Gonzalez is the Red Sox. Baseball America just released its annual Top 100 list, and Boston has four players on the list: first baseman Lars Anderson (number 87 on BA’s top 100), outfielder Josh Reddick (75), right-hander Casey Kelly (24) and outfielder Ryan Westmoreland (21).
It’s worth mentioning that Gonzalez could be more valuable to the Sox than the $27 million surplus value implies, given the team’s position on the win and revenue curve. Each additional win added in the cut-throat AL East matters dearly, and Boston has deep pockets. They make more cash than the average team with each additional win, so they can afford to spend more for each win as well.
If Theo Epstein is looking to snag Gonzalez from the West Coast, then he might have to surrender Westmoreland and a B-level pitcher (like, say, Michael Bowden, Stolmy Pimentel or Junichi Tazawa). That’s somewhat over the $27 million value, but in the same ballpark. Or, perhaps a package led by Kelly and Reddick.
Update: this is assuming Gonzalez would play the field. If he’s a DH, then he’s about a 3 WAR player.
Clearly, a club intent on getting Gonzalez will need plenty of ammo in the form of young, cost-controlled talent.