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 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.
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.
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.