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Tempering the Expectation for Potential Pirate Trade Returns

Neil Walker's arb salary and only one year of control won't yield much return Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Neil Walker’s arb salary and only one year of control won’t yield much return
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Before I get into the meat of this piece, I wanted to go ahead and tackle some FAQ’s I’m anticipating from readers. This should save us all time later and distract less from what we should actually be doing.

Q: Travis Snider was a backup outfielder and the Pirates got two decent prospects for him. Why shouldn’t they expect the same for Pedro Alvarez or Mark Melancon?

A: First, nobody liked the return the Pirates got for Snider when he was traded. Second, the Pirates viewed him as a backup outfielder. The Orioles did not. Finally, Snider had two years of control left. Melancon has one.

Q: Why shouldn’t the Pirates expect more if they’re dealing high on Walker and Melancon?

A: The Pirates aren’t dealing high on either player. In fact, the Pirates might be dealing them at their lowest trade value in years. The reason is simple. Not only are their years of control depleted, but their cheap years of control, the ones that really escalate trade value, have passed. In truth, Neil Walker’s trade value probably peaked somewhere around 2012 or 2013 while Melancon maxed out last offseason or the one before.

Q: Why is Nutting so cheap and dumping salary?

A: This piece has nothing to do with anything but trade returns and truthfully this isn’t all that relevant of a conversation piece anymore. I’m not interested in motivation, nor do I think the Pirates will get “ripped off” because they’re trying to cash out. It will appear that they’ve been ripped off because your expectation for return is too high.

Q: Why can’t I dream?

A: You can dream, but just don’t complain too much when I’m right and you’re nonplussed when the return for Mark the Shark is in line with the trade returns for other comparable closers recently. If you do, I’ll have to write another article refuting the overreaction.


With all that being said, let’s talk trade values. Pirates fans seem to expect the world for their guys and that’s ok. That’s what fans do, but fans also get disappointed when their unrealistic expectations aren’t met. I’d like to try to drag those elevated valuations back down with some perspective. While I know this ultimately won’t impact the reaction at large when the trigger is pulled, I’m hoping it can help a couple of readers come around pretty quickly to “it’s disappointing, but I can see why it makes sense.”

Neil Walker

Neil Walker is a lot of things. He is from Pittsburgh. He is a lot better at playing second base than he used to be. He is extremely consistent and reliable from season to season.

He’s also only slightly above average for his position and in arbitration year 4. This means he’s due a sum of money that will likely put him pretty darn close to his market value, especially compared to other players in their final year of team control. Kevin put Walker’s arbitration number at $10.3 million which equates to 80% of a market salary of $12.875 million.

With the exception of one over-performing blip, you can safely assume that he’ll finish with a 2.6ish WAR and a .760ish OPS. Based on a value of $6 million for 1 WAR, Walker would have a performance based value of $15.6 million. Subtract his anticipated arbitration salary from his WAR salary and you get $5.3 million in surplus value. While that might seem like a lot, that doesn’t even net you a top 100 prospect according to our prospect values.

While I don’t have any hard numbers to support it, that probably nets you a “B” or “B-” prospect if team really likes him or two “C+” prospects if they don’t. Think a similar return to Travis Snider with the greater potential to grab a single large prize.

All that said, I think Walker is a Pirate in 2016 based on questions surrounding Jung-ho Kang’s recovery.

Mark Melancon

I’ve been warning about the limited haul Melancon could bring for some time now. Rather than rewrite my opinion, here’s the quote

From the time I conceptualized writing <this piece>…., I had Melancon as ‘trade’. Then I looked at the trade return relievers got at the deadline this year. The best package anyone gave up for another team’s closer was their number ten prospect according to Jon Sickels coming into the season. That team? The Pirates. Going back a little further the returns weren’t much better during the hot stove last winter.

For a brief period, I thought Melancon provided more value to the Pirates by pitching his final season than he would on the trade market. At almost $9 million, a relief pitcher isn’t an easy decision for anyone even if we’re talking about a top 5 reliever in all of baseball.

If I used WAR to determine Melancon’s surplus value, we’re looking somewhere in the $1-3 million range. That’s hardly anything, but even in a pessimistic piece like this one, his trade value exceeds that thanks to those sexy 2015 counting stats of his. I would put him somewhere around $3-4.5 million range. That amounts to a “C+” prospect, a throw in Single A baller, and someone else’s problem, a.k.a. a reclamation project.

Pedro Alvarez

I suppose this is as good a time as any to let the world know that Kevin and I have a bet involving a round of adult beverages regarding whether or not Pedro Alvarez will be traded. It’s not what you think either. Kevin thinks the Pirates will find a dance partner. I think the Pirates will non-tender him as I don’t see any teams interested in either paying him $7.5 million especially or giving up players to acquire a guy who will likely be available on the open market in just a short couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I doubt there will be a shortage of teams lining up to take a chance on Pedro. They’re just not going to risk that much.

If Pirates manage to prove Kevin correct, I wouldn’t expect the Pirates to find the heir apparent at 2B, 1B or even in middle relief for that matter. What I would expect is a swap similar to the one the front office executed to acquire Casey McGahee for Jose Veras, but in reverse. I could see the Pirates looking for a reclamation pitcher in return for their slugger. In ideal world, it’ll be someone they can control a little if they manage to fix him.


In truth, the Pirates could trade all three of Melancon, Alvarez and Walker and it will likely have little bearing on the outcome of the 2016 season. I still expect them to find a way to compete with or without those three. However, I wouldn’t expect the return to be very enticing nor would I expect anything that resembles a core piece coming back in return. The Pirates should hope to find a serviceable return that has a chance to develop into a fringe contributor if things work out for them. If they can nab a cheap set up man in the bullpen, or solid platoon position player, they should be content. If they grab anything more, like they did in a similar situation when they dealt Joel Hanrahan for Melancon, they should rejoice.

About Steve DiMiceli (113 Articles)
Steve is a naturalized yinzer hailing originally from just north of Allentown, PA. He came to Pittsburgh to attend Duquesne University and decided to stick around after graduation. Steve is best known for his contributions to Duquesne hoops community as the owner of the Duquesne Dukes forum on Yuku and as the former editor of We Wear the Ring on the Fansided network. He is an avid Pirates fan, home cook and policy nerd. He is the co-founder of the Point of Pittsburgh. Easily irritated by people who misuse the word regress.

8 Comments on Tempering the Expectation for Potential Pirate Trade Returns

  1. Instead of looking for prospects they should be looking for quality players for a divisional run (again). The Pirates are not rebuilding any more, yes prospects are good never turn down a quality prospect but current mlb team is priority.

    Walker and Mark are surely worth a quality 3,4,5 starter in a similar contract situation. (i’m not sure who is available though)

    Pedro could be worth a middle relief or a struggling starter (like Happ and Volquez where before they’re trips to pittsburgh) Even it is just a salary swap trade it is still probably win for the pirates.

    The real win on dumping Walker and Pedro is saving salary as they have people ready or near ready to step in their place who will probably perform similar (Harrison and Hanson for second and Morse and Bell at first).

    I agree, teams will probably just wait out Pedro getting non-tendered.

    Mark is another story.. if they cannot resign Soria (who we got for a prospect at the deadline btw) or land another quality setup or closer guy then almost have to keep Mark. For a top closer his projected Arb. salary is still pretty decent.

    • Steve DiMiceli // November 2, 2015 at 11:06 PM // Reply


      Great points across the board. That said, I’m very big on both adding and subtracting at the major league both on competitive and non competitive teams. In fact, I think it’s essential for teams, large or small market, to do this effectively in order extend their competitive window beyond a single core group of players. You have to move some valuable pieces at peak value while keeping others during their useful playing years. They succeeded in doing moving Travis Snider and Joel Hanrahan at the right times, but may have actually waited too long on Walker to get the kind of return fans will expect for him.

      • Yeah, they’re not going to get a top arm or first basemen for walker or mark now. But they should be able to pull out a quality mid/bottom rotation guy whose contract is almost up from someone who doesn’t have a quality second basemen.

        For example, the Mets will probably loose Murphy this off season. They have a few fair pitchers with a year or two left.

        If Kang doesn’t project to be healthy early by early (like first month) of the season then you keep Walker until he is. Then gamble that a contender will need a consistent second basemen at the deadline where Walker’s value may go up again.. well atleast to that team 🙂 hopefully by that time Hanson is finally ready to make the MLB jump.

  2. Great article, so based on your #’s Dellin Betances of the Yankees had a 3.8 WAR (espn) and has 4 yrs. of control left (17-19 arb. yrs) What would it cost the Pirates in terms of prospects to acquire him.

    • Kevin Creagh // November 2, 2015 at 7:59 AM // Reply

      Let me jump and answer this one, in case Steve doesn’t see it..
      I’m going to use Fangraphs’ WAR of 2.4, because that’s the metric we use in our calculations for the MLB Prospect Worth article. The next four years of Betances’ career are his age 28-31 seasons, so I’m going to slightly downgrade him to an average of 2.0 WAR/season over that time period, still fantastic for a reliever.

      That’s 8 WAR at $6.5M/WAR for $52M of production.
      Since he’s a setup man and doesn’t (yet) have a bunch of shiny, arb-friendly saves, he’s still graded as a middle reliever. However, his ERA and counting stats are so gaudy that it may not matter. I’m comfortable putting him on a $5M/$7.5M/$10M scale for his arb years. That’s a total of $22.5M (plus $500K for 2016) for $23M of salary.

      That gives $29M of surplus value. Of course, there’s tons of combinations you can come up with from our chart in the article, but you could be looking at:
      Hitter #26-50 + Hitter #51-100
      Pitcher #11-25
      Pitcher #26-50 + Pitcher #51-100

      So something like Josh Bell + Alen Hanson OR Tyler Glasnow straight up OR Jameson Taillon + Nick Kingham (his value is dropped because of TJ, though). But you get the basic idea.

      • Hi Kevin,

        I love your website. I will admit I’m a Yankees fan but have been following the Pirates ever since G. Cole spurned the Yankees and went back into the draft (God that still hurts) 🙂 I came across your website after seeing a link on MLB Trade Rumors for an article in July on The Fallacy of Prospects. I have been coming back at to the site ever since.

        I have a couple follow up questions and just so you know I’m still wet behind the ears with the analytic side.

        In your response you used 6.5m per 1 WAR as does the link for prospect values, but in this article Steve uses 6.0m per 1 WAR how do you get the different numbers? Doesn’t this effect the valuation of prospects?

        Also in the article “How much an mlb prospect is worth” you said that Fangraphs and Baseball Reference came to an agreement on WAR, but when I was looking at WAR on BR and ESPN they had the WAR for Betances at 3.7 and 3.8. I know you guys use FanGraph but what do the GM’s use?

        If your Huntington and I’m Cashman and you use FanGraph and I use Baseball-Reference we’d never come to a deal because we both value players differently.

        • Kevin Creagh // November 2, 2015 at 2:26 PM // Reply

          Thanks for finding the site and continuing to come back. Keep spreading the word on TPOP.

          Steve and I worked on prospect values together and we went with $6.5M. Steve, himself, chose to go more conservative at $6M/WAR. There’s no “consensus” out there, as Fangraphs tracks it even higher. I read one time that Mark Shapiro, while with the Indians, put it closer to $10M/WAR — which is insane.

          The agreement between Fangraphs and BRef is on “replacement level value”. However, the two sides differ in the basis-of-calculation. FG uses FIP for pitcher WAR while Bref uses Runs Allowed (ER and Unearned). For hitters, it is defense — FG uses UZR, Bref uses Total Zone.

          Each front office uses their own in-house proprietary metric, I would presume, to calculate player worth. I imagine that the gulf between “citizen’s WAR” and “front office WAR” is not that substantial, perhaps with better defensive metrics.

          Two GM’s don’t get that deep in the weeds on if a guy is a 2 WAR or 2.5 WAR player — if they want a deal, the difference is close enough they hammer it out.

          • Thanks for the response and the clarification, you’ve been very helpful and informative.

            The reason I mentioned the GM’s and whom they might follow was b/c I remember reading that certain teams didn’t have a analytics dept. So I assumed that they would just got the numbers off a reputable website that did the leg work for them when needed.

            Thanks again for your time.

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