Blue Jays And The One Year MVP-Level Rental

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 12: Matt Holliday
ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 12: Matt Holliday /

Josh Donaldson of the Jays and Manny Machado of the Orioles are rumoured to be available in trade.  What would a such a trade look like?

Rumours abound about the Jays “listening” on Josh Donaldson and the Orioles actively shopping Manny Machado, whether that’s still the case for either club .  These two players are unusual, not only for the MVP-votes talent level, but also because they are in their last year of team control.  A team trading for them would accordingly only be guaranteed one year … but it could be a h*ck of a year.

(As an aside – my own view is that the Jays are not actively shopping Donaldson but instead just doing their due diligence in case someone wants to make a ridiculous offer).

The possible availability of Donaldson and Machado raises an interesting question: just what is one year of a superstar player worth?  Opinions vary – Dave Cameron of Fangraphs suggested that a pair of 2-3 WAR infielders would be a fair return, and Andrew Stoeten of Blue Jays Nation suggested that a package similar to the one the Jays paid for a half-year of David Price (Daniel Norris, then ranked #18 prospect by Baseball America, plus Jairo labourt and Matt Boyd, ranked # 12 and 16 of the Jays’ top prospects at the time) would be feasible.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

I am more optimistic.  Consider a team like the Cardinals, who are projected to win 88 games in 2018.  A Machado or Donaldson turns them from a wild card contender to a likely division winner, and greatly enhances their chances of wearing new jewelry in October.  To me, that carries considerable value.

So I thought I would look at similar deals in recent years to see the prices that were paid.  My criteria are that the trades had to be made in the offseason (i..e., not trade deadline rentals) and had to be structured around one 5+ WAR star position player (not a pitcher) who had exactly one year of team control remaining on his contract or through arbitration.

I found three relatively recent examples:

November 2014 – Cardinals trade RHP Shelby Miller and RP Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves for OF Jason Heyward and RP Jordan Walden

Jason Heyward was entering the last season of a two-year deal he signed with Atlanta in the 2013-14 preseason.  He was coming off a 5.1 WAR 2014, and had averaged 5 WAR over his last three years.  Not an MVP candidate, but a young, top-12 OF with upside.  Walden was considered a power bullpen arm with some control questions, and was under team control through 2016.

In 2013, Shelby Miller (ranked #6 prospect in baseball by BA) pitched 31 games (173 innings) at an ERA of 3.06 and finished third in NL rookie of the year voting. He struggled in the first half of 2014, but his 2.92 ERA in 12 starts after the All-Star break finished the season on a high note and gave him a 3.74 ERA for the season.  Miller went on to post a 3.02 ERA and 3.4 WAR for the Braves in 2015, before being traded to Arizona for a package including Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte.  Jenkins was a #94 ranked prospect prior to 2013, and was described as having a very high ceiling.

So for a 5-WAR player and a bullpen arm, the Braves got four years of team control of a top young starter with high upside plus a lottery ticket.

December 2010 –  Red Sox trade RHP Casey Kelley, 1B Anthony Rizzo, OF Reymond Fuentes and OF Eric Patterson to the Padres for 1B Adrian Gonzalez

Gonzalez was coming off a 2010 season in which his 142 wRC+ was 13th in baseball. His 4.4 WAR was disappointing after a 5.8 posting in 2009, but he was still 4th in NL MVP voting (just ahead of some guy named Tulowitzki).  At first it seemed unlikely that this deal would happen, as Boston tried and failed to negotiate an extension before the deal was finalized, but the Sox were ultimately able to sign Gonzalez to a 7-year deal some five months later.  “El Titan” went on to earn a 6.1 WAR for the Sox in 2011.

Kelly was the 31st ranked prospect in baseball at the time of the trade (just behind Gary Sanchez, Kyle Drabek, Zach Britton and Chris Archer!).  He was projected to be a #2 or #3 starter.  Rizzo was BA’s #75 prospect, and was projected to be a solid 1B with upside.  Fuentes was not a BA top-100, but he was graded a solid B prospect based largely on plus (or plus-plus) defense.

So for one year plus a chance to extend a ~6 WAR player, the haul was a #31 prospect, a #75, and some extras.

November 2008 – Rockies trade OF Matt Holliday to the Athletics for OF Carlos Gonzalez, LHP Greg Smith and RP Huston Street.

Holliday was coming off a monster 2008, with a 5.9 WAR (and a 5.4 average WAR over the last three years).  He had been an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and top-20 in MVP voting in each of the last three years.  Colorado wanted to keep him, but his agent (some fellow named Scott Boras) had made it clear that he expected top dollar – more than Colorado could pay.

In exchange for Holliday, the Rockies got Carlos Gonzalez, Houston Street and Greg Smith.  CarGo was the #22 prospect on the Baseball America list entering 2008, and had 316 PAs for Oakland with a 67 wRC+ and a 0.6 WAR. He was considered a top young talent.  Street was an established closer with Oakland (34 saves in the past two years) with multiple years of team control.  Greg Smith was a LHP rookie who has just pitched 190 innings for the A’s in 2008 with a 4.16 ERA (and a major-league-record-tying 15 pickoffs!)

So for one year of CarGo, the Rox got a #22 prospect plus an established closer plus a potential back-of-the-rotation innings eater.

The bottom line

Based on these three examples, the “going rate” for one year of a superstar is something on the order of:

  1. A prospect ranked in the 20s or 30s, ideally with a bit of MLB experience.
  2. A second solid asset (whether a second top-100 prospect or something of value from the big league roster), and
  3. A lottery ticket.

Alternatively, a team could get one highly ranked young player with plenty of team control in exchange for the two players in 1 + 2.

Next: Why Josh Donaldson is the right MegaDeal

So to illustrate, using this template: if the Jays were to trade for one year of Machado, the price might be something like Alford + Pearson/Warmouth/Tepera + McGuire.  Or if the Cards traded for Donaldson, the deal could look like Luke Weaver + Randall Grichuk/Dakota Hudson + Ronnie Williams.