And would the return justify trading them?
On Tuesday, I went through the Cardinals’ roster and wondered who exactly the team would sell if they decided to do so at the trading deadline. I ultimately concluded that Kwang-Hyun Kim was just about the only player who it made sense to sell, being the only player who is set to be a free agent next year, who could get any sort of return, and who would not be contributing to the next Cardinals team. Commenters reasonably pointed out that the Cardinals should sell their good relievers since relievers are a crapshoot.
I’m not totally sure I agree with them. It’s a matter of risk and return for me. I’m not sure the risk with trading these guys would be worth the return they’d fetch. What is the risk? Well for one thing, if you trade the good relievers, you’re kind of banking on a few of the other relievers becoming good. And secondly, the Cardinals have tended to improve their questionable bullpen – which they would have with these trades – with free agent moves. Bad free agent moves.
However, part of that calculus is that I simply am not sure the return would be worth all that. So what’s the return? I can’t exactly answer that question, but what I will attempt to do is figure out what their trade value is. And then using that value, I can figure out the type of prospects they’d return. In theory anyway.
With trade value, first one must figure out salary. And since Gallegos hasn’t entered arbitration yet, I’ll have to make some educated guesses on his salary. In order to do that, I’m going back to the 2020 arbitration cases – that last time arbitration was decided based on a full year of baseball and not that weird half season we just had – and look at comparable relievers. Since Gallegos will have 3 years, 85 days, I need to find any reliever-only pitchers with over 3 years, but who wouldn’t have qualified for Super Two. The official Super Two cutoff in the 2018-2019 offseason was 134 days, so I’ll go with any reliever-only guy with between 3 years, 0 days, and 3 years, 133 days.
I found roughly five comparable relievers: Luke Jackson, John Gant, Nick Wittgren, Seth Lugo, and Chad Green. Jackson isn’t great, because he only had one Gallegos-like season and had 18 saves the year prior. Gant isn’t great, because some of his starting was probably factored into his price. Wittgren pitched significantly less innings than Gallegos (and was way luckier). Lugo threw 100 and 80 innings in the two years prior. Green is probably the closest, although even then he had a 4.17 ERA the year prior. All of them avoided arbitration. Lugo signed for $2 million, Green for $1.3 million. I’ll give Gallegos $1.6 million in his first year. Using the Point of Pittsburgh Model of 25/40/62, Gallegos will have salaries of $2.6 million and then $4 million. (If Gallegos ends up with an ERA close to 4, Green’s numbers of $1.3 and $2.2 million are more accurate I imagine)
Now, what’s his expected value? ZiPS three-year projections makes this easy. They thought he was a 0.9 WAR pitcher this year, 0.8 the next two years. Since he’s pretty much the same pitcher now, but a year older, I’m just going to assume his projection will be pretty much the same. His rest of season projection is 0.6 WAR. That’s 3.1 WAR for $8.39 million. A surplus of $19.5 million. According to Craig Edwards’ Trade Value chart from a few years ago, this means the Cards could nab a top 100 prospect – the very back end, but still. For his chart, he has the 91st to 94th. So let’s say 90th to 100th is what he could get.
If you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket, I imagine you could instead combine two guys that are top 300 guys or something. There can’t be that big of a difference between the 90th guy and the 190th guy, and obviously the Cardinals will have their own values on these guys. I can definitely see the argument for trading him if this is the return, although it is worth pointing out the bust rate (less than 1 WAR) is over 50% for players with this type of future value (also in Craig’s article). Something to keep in mind if you’re giving up your elite, cheap reliever of the next three years.
Well, obviously, there are no literal comparisons to Alex Reyes – guy who accumulated two years of service time before he really pitched at all, pitched like any old reliever for half a season of fake baseball, and then became a closer who will probably finish with 30+ saves. But maybe I’ll try to stick to relievers with between 4 years and 4 years, 133 days who became a closer for basically the first time preceding their second arbitration case.
I couldn’t find anyone good who fit my definition, but I found an imperfect comparison in the form of Liam Hendriks, who went from being DFA’d by the Athletics and being claimed by nobody in 2018 to having a 3.8 WAR season. He’s useful though because arbitration only improved his valuation so much. He went from $2.2 million to $5.5 million with a 3.8 WAR season. Reyes only makes $900,000 this year. That matters in his number next year. Again, using the PoP model, Hendriks went from being valued as a $4.3 million player to an $8 million player overnight.
So I’ll apply that same thing to Reyes. So Reyes, valued as a $3.6 million player this year, will now be valued as a $6.7 million player. I know arbitration is absurd, it’s just how the system works. 40% of that is $2.7 million. So that’s my guess for next year. Might be low. I don’t think it’s that off though. If Reyes repeated his 2021 in 2022, he would see a similar jump in value. Impossible to say if he’ll even still be a closer at that point. I’ll hedge my bets and say he’ll be valued at $5 million in 2023. There’s a wider range than normal possible here, and I kind of picked the middle.
ZiPS is useless here. They have him as a starter. His rest of season projections is 0.3 WAR. His advanced stats really don’t match his ERA so that makes sense. He has that over 31 innings. In lieu of a better method, his projections the next two years are going to be 0.6 and 0.6. If given 65 innings, I’d probably assume more WAR, but I think that’s more than balanced out by the fact that you can’t at all trust Reyes to throw 65 innings. So that’s 1.5 WAR at a cost of $8 million. That’s a surplus of $5.5 million. That’s either a 45 position player or 45+ pitcher.
The Cardinals naturally have neither of these in their current farm as determined by Fangraphs so I can’t give you a name. They have a few 45 pitchers (Thompson, Oviedo). Something like Thompson I suppose.
Cabrera is going to be a tough one. He is pitching virtually identical to last season by xFIP and SIERA. His xERA, however has improved from 4.77 to 3.55. Both are close to his actual ERA for both seasons. But yeah not only are we far removed from the stats that will determine his arbitration number, I can’t even really predict his stats. His rest of season projection is just 0.1 WAR.
That’s 0.2 over a full season. You’d probably assume a 24-year-old would improve in his age-25 season. While ZiPS has him as a starter, he improves from a 0.4 WAR player to 0.7 in similar innings. So I’ll give him a 0.2 boost and assume he’s a 0.4 WAR reliever going forward. And because he’s so similar to John Gant – too many walks, ERA defying advanced stats – I’ll just use Gant’s arb numbers. Gant made $1.3 million last year, is making $2.1 million, and if the trend continues, next year will be $3.2 million. So that’s 1.7 WAR for $7.3 million for the next four years and two months.
$8 million in surplus. In theory, you could get a good 45+ position player prospect. That’s someone solidly out of the top 100, but better than your average prospect. Now if you can actually get that for him, yeah I’d probably trade him. He’s the one player where I’m just not sure the downside of trading him is all that high. Gallegos is a consistent, elite reliever which aren’t easy to find and Reyes has quite a bit more potential than his trade value. Cabrera? Elite reliever potential is definitely there, I’m just not sure he’ll ever have the command to become that.
So that’s the best I got. Don’t know if it’s accurate, but pretty interesting returns for all three from what I used. Would you trade them?