In the first couple installments we talked about players and prospects that are providing some value now and prospects that might provide a lot of value in the future. Today’s list has four players providing extreme value now and one player who has a chance to trump them all.
This is the fifth and final installment of the trade value rankings. You can read the primer and #25-21, #20-#16 , #15-#11 and #10-6 to catch up. Age in parentheses is the player ?s age as of the standard July 1st cutoff date. On to the rankings:
5. Jordy Mercer (28) – ML – SS – 4 years of control, pre-arbitration
Mercer being ranked so high is due to two factors. First, he still has one more year before he hits arbitration. The second is the fact that he plays the hardest position to find in the majors. SS has become as hard to find as a #1 starter in the majors, as it ?s hard to find both the glove and the bat. Most people were confident in Mercer’s bat coming up through the minors, but worried that he couldn ?t field the position. Those fears were quelled in 2014 when he had a great season, defensively ranking 10th of all SS ?s in defensive rankings by Fangraphs and the 13th best SS overall. Mercer was in a slump offensively at the beginning of 2014, so if he puts a full season together he ?ll be a 4 WAR player at the hardest position in the majors. He ?s controlled for four more years making him a very good asset.
4. Gerrit Cole (24) – ML- SP – 5 years of control, pre-arbitration
Gerrit Cole grew up a Yankees fan and was drafted in the first round by the Yankees back in 2008 but turned down the Yankees and headed to UCLA. Three years later the Pirates took him #1 overall and he ?s shown some great results. Cole has #1 starter stuff and even though he hasn ?t become an ace yet the upside is still there as he is still only 24. As he grows older it ?s not unrealistic to see him turning into the 200+ inning workhorse that his frame and his pedigree suggest. Cole is still controlled for five years and will make the league minimum for at least two of them, so even if he doesn ?t become a 5 WAR ace the cost will be low and the value will be high.
3. Gregory Polanco (23) – ML- OF – 6 years of control, pre-arbitration
El Coffee had a whirlwind of an 18 months starting in February of 2013. After coming to Spring Training in ?13 he played basically non-stop going from AA to AAA to the Dominican League back to AAA to start the ?14 season to his much anticipated call-up in July. In his debut Polanco showed a lot of the skills that made him so hyped. The patience, power, speed, defense and arm all teased us. Eventually he was exposed by LHPs and good RHPs and was replaced in the starting lineup by the super-hot Travis Snider. El Coffee will start Spring Training as the RF and should excel. Polanco gains value with his defense and could be the starting centerfielder on most teams. One of the signs that the Pirates believe in Polanco long term is the fact that they ?ve tried to extend him. The Pirates have six more years of this guy and he ?ll be real cheap for the first three years.
2. Starling Marte (26) – ML – OF – 5 year/$30M contract with two team options
I have to admit I was not a believer in Marte. I saw him in Altoona and thought he was maxed out physically with not much room for athleticism. I also saw the abnormal batting line with so few walks and thought he might be a prospect to sell high on. Marte has proven me wrong. He ?s had 8.7 WAR over the last two years and looks to be capable of more since he only played 135 games in each season. His abnormal skill set was just analyzed in detail by friend of TPOP Jeff Sullivan. We agree that he could be a superstar. The projections for Marte all have him in between 3-4.5 WAR, but he has the potential for 7 or 8 and that ?s not exaggerating. Marte ?s extension even makes him more valuable by keeping him around for 5 more years, plus two team options that could be very team friendly in 2020-21.
1. Andrew McCutchen (28) – ML- OF – 3 year/$38.6M plus one team option
If you ?d take Andrew McCutchen ?s drawing skills, impressions skills, dancing skills ? and overall great guy skills into account he ?d be the most valuable player in all of baseball by a landslide. Also take into account that he ?s an African-American in a sport clamoring for a greater minority presence and he ?s the cornerstone player that the Yankees wish they had.
For the past two seasons Cutch has been the second best player in baseball on the field behind Mike Trout. In the prior offseason Trout signed a 6 year/$144.5M extension. The reason it was ?only ? $24M a season was that he is still young enough that he ?ll reach free agency again when he is 27. Using that as a benchmark you could easily argue that Cutch is worth 5/$180M or 7/$210M if he ?d hit the market. There is a premium on elite players, which lets them get paid exorbitant quantities of money and Cutch is among the 5-6 elite players in baseball right now.
What is easy to miss is how Cutch ?s numbers continue to get better in an era where offense is very low. His .315/.410/.542 line last year was insane in the context of the league ?s .253/.314/.381 average line. His 6.8 WAR was lower than what you ?d expect from such a beast of a season, but he missed 15+ games with injuries and he was dinged a little sabermetrically on defense. 2014 could have easily been a 10 WAR season.
I believe that the Pirates have a lot of leverage with Cutch, since they control him for under $15M/year for 4 more years, which they could use towards an extension. They also could trade him in a Herschel Walker-type deal to a big market club and let the big market club sign the Miggy Cabrera-like extension.
Regardless of the path forward for McCutchen, he is not only an elite player, but is an elite value and easily has the most trade value of all the Pirates.
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