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Using James Paxton to Revisit The Gerrit Cole Trade

The James Paxton deal seems like the perfect opportunity to revisit January’s Gerrit Cole trade. After all, these two are more similar than you may think. Photos by Ben Margot (left) and Keith Srakocic (right), AP.

The Yankees and Mariners got the hot stove warm Monday when New York acquired premier lefty starter James Paxton. In return, Seattle scored the Yankees ? top prospect — LHP Justus Sheffield — and a couple of lottery tickets (outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams and RHP Erik Swanson). It looks like Seattle is serious about rebuilding, so as we wait for Kevin to write up how the Pirates could pick the flesh from the Mariners ? bones (*cough cough* Juan Nicasio *cough*), let ?s ponder something else: is that really all James Paxton is worth?

I mean no disrespect to Sheffield or the other two players in this deal. Sheffield is a top 30-ish prospect in all of baseball with solid stuff and is major league ready. Thompson-Williams and Swanson are now top 10-15ish prospects in Seattle ?s barren system. But Paxton is an All-Star worthy pitcher who could be a bonafide ace if he stays healthy. Surely that is worth more than a high ranking prospect and a couple of throw-ins, right?

I was thinking something similar in January too when the Pirates dealt Gerrit Cole to the Astros. The Cole trade talk rumors had buzzworthy names like Forrest Whitley, Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar. Colin Moran, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin weren ?t those types of players. Joe Musgrove was a top prospect a few years earlier, but he struggled in the majors. Now we know the Pirates have a starter who fits well in their system, an average hitting/poor fielding corner infielder, a reliever with good stuff but hasn ?t been able to put it all together and an intriguing minor leaguer. Not a bad haul, but it ?s understandable to feel a bit underwhelmed by it.

These two trades are quite similar. Both were dealt with two years of team control remaining, and they had very similar career numbers to that point.

Cole’s time in Pittsburgh compared to Paxton’s time in Seattle. Courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. Click to enlarge.

The key difference between the two is Paxton had his two best seasons before being traded and Cole had his two worst. Even with that disclaimer, it ?s fair to assume Paxton had roughly the same trade value as Cole. So let ?s play the ?what if ? game. The Yankees were in on Cole, and Sheffield was in the mix. What if they offered the Pirates the exact same package they gave up for Paxton? Would the Pirates still be better off with what they got from Houston? The court of public opinion seems to think so, for what that ?s worth.

Let ?s dive further. One season removed, how does the Cole trade look now, and would the Pirates have been better off if they took a Paxton-like package from the Yankees?

Cole was worth 6.3 fWAR last year. Going based on the going rate of $8 million per win above replacement, he provided roughly $50 million in value last year. Assuming he matches that again in 2019, he ?ll provide $100 million in value over the course of his team control for roughly $20 million dollars in salary. That comes out to $80 million in surplus value. If Paxton duplicates what he did the past two seasons over the next two, he ?ll provide the Yankees somewhere between $40-$50 million in surplus value.

Obviously we cannot know for certain how these prospects will turn out, but thanks to the big brains of Kevin and Steve and their prospects model, we can project a pitcher like Sheffield to be worth around $32 million in the black. Going based off of Fangraphs ? prospect value for guys outside the top-100 list, the two throw-ins come in at $9 million in surplus value, bringing the package to roughly $41 million. That seems a little on the low side for Seattle, especially if this is the start of a rebuild.

Meanwhile, Musgrove, Moran and Feliz combined to be worth about 3 fWAR ($24 million in value) last season. At a total salary of roughly $2 million, those three were worth about $22 million in surplus value. Steamer projects the trio to be worth 3.6 WAR in 2019 with only a minuscule bump in payroll. That should put the surplus value for the first two years near $50 million, if you include Jason Martin. After 2019, their surplus value will take a hit once Musgrove enters arbitration and will stop being such a bargain. They aren ?t on pace to reach $80 million. Unless Musgrove or someone else string together a couple impact seasons, it looks like Houston is on pace to win the trade.

Cole and Paxton may have appeared to be two similarly valued pitchers, but the Pirates received the better package of players in return. The downside is Cole turned out to be worth even more than what the Pirates sold him for. Houston bet that Cole had another gear, and he did. Unless Paxton has an extra gear too, the Mariners probably received a better bang for their buck than the Bucs. So, to the question of ?which package is better, ? it looks like the one the Pirates took from Houston is superior, but that deal isn ?t necessarily great for the Pirates so far.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.

5 Comments on Using James Paxton to Revisit The Gerrit Cole Trade

  1. The real value will be if those 3 help the pirates to the playoffs this year.
    They are 3 important parts

  2. SalemPirate // November 21, 2018 at 12:31 PM //

    I’d be interested in knowing what Sonny Gray would cost the Pirates. He only has one year of control, as does Nova. Salaries are similar. The Pirates would have to sweeten any deal to get rid of Nova, either by money or prospect(s). All in all, would it be worth it?

  3. I remembered Sheffield’s name being mentioned when Pirates and Yankees were discussing the Cole trade so I did a search on Sheffield and Cole trade and found an article on ESPN dated Jan 13, 2018 that said Yankees “held the line on trading Torres, Sheffield, Florial, and Andujar” for Cole. So Sheffield was off the table then. I wonder why, or if the info was incorrect, or something changed about Sheffield

    • Kevin Creagh // November 22, 2018 at 7:21 AM //

      Sheffield has never overly impressed me. He’s a short pitcher at 6 feet.
      I’d say his walk rate this year gave Yankees pause on his long term future.

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