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Rays trade deadline 2015: If they're sellers, how much is each player worth?

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You have to give value to get value.

The new king of Rays trade value
The new king of Rays trade value
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

A couple days ago, Danny posed the question of whether or not the Rays would and/or should be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. A full 48% of you said that the Rays should sell, with 28% in favor of buying, and 24% in favor of doing nothing.

With the Rays sitting one game below .500, six games back in the American League East, and 3.5 games back in the wild card, that seems like a reasonable poll result, so let's move on to the next question: What should the Rays sell? For how much? What is each Tampa Bay Rays player worth?

Friend-of-the-site Jason Hanselman operates the excellent blog Dock of the Rays, and he's already done the work on this, estimating the mean surplus value of every Rays trade piece.

Before we get to the numbers, let's talk about the concept a bit.

  • Baseball players can be expected to either help or hurt the team that they play for based on how good they are and how much playing time they receive. The number that represents their total contribution -- based on offense, defense, pitching, and baserunning -- is called "Wins Above Replacement," or "WAR." It's a complex calculation, but the concept is simple, so don't get caught up in overthinking it. Use WAR as a starting point and adjust it if you want.
  • For trade value, we're not especially interested in what a player has done already, but rather what he should be expected to do for the remainder of his current contract. For these calculations, Jason has built in some expected decline for future years, so the WAR total for every year is the current level of production minus half a win each year. This not only captures the decline due to age, but builds some risk of injury into the calculation.
  • Players are paid to produce, and better players get paid more. So the next step is to turn the WAR figure into a dollar figure. This is done by simply multiplying each expected WAR total by the average value teams pay for a win. Salaries are always increasing, as baseball teams continue to make more money annually. Jason has accounted for this with a 7% inflation rate on the $7 million per-WAR average he's used for this year.
  • It's important to remember that this average $/WAR number is just that -- an average. An extra win is worth much more to a team that's one win shy of making the playoffs than to a team that's ten wins out, so some trade partners will be willing to trade more, and some willing to trade less.
  • The next step is to subtract the salary owed from the expected production. We do this because, in theory at least, a player being paid exactly what he's worth neither helps nor hurts his team, as money is a limited resource, the same money a team could spend elsewhere. Of course it's not this simple, as baseball players and wins themselves aren't that liquid, but it's a starting point.
  • Expected production over the length of the contract minus money owed gives us surplus value. This is the number we're looking for, and it tells us how much of a haul we should expect back were Matt Silverman to trade any of the current Rays.
  • Remember, a trade where teams exchange equal surplus value can be a win-win, if they are exchanging current wins for future wins.
I'm not going to give the numbers here, because, well, Jason has done all of the work on this, and you should read it from him. But the numbers themselves are somewhat arbitrary anyway, so let's look at what type of prospects each Rays piece should bring back, were it to be traded. For this I will use numbers from The Point of Pittsburg's excellent work on the subject. Here's the list:

Two Top-10 Prospects, And Also More
  1. Chris Archer
  2. Kevin Kiermaier

These two players are almost impossible to trade. They're just too good and have too many years of team control left. Archer signed a team-friendly long-term deal and Kiermaier is just finishing his first full season of service time. In all seriousness, two Baseball America top-10 prospects is not enough.

Two Top-10 Prospects
  1. Jake Odorizzi
  2. Evan Longoria

Now we arrive at the players who are extremely valuable, but not impossible for another team to match. Evan Longoria still has plenty of years on his contract, but the cost is going up, and he's not getting any younger. Jake Odorizzi has one more year at league minimum, and then three arbitration years (still a very good deal for a quality starter). For that you'd expect a blockbuster deal.

Photo credit: Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

A Hitter Ranked 11-50 or a Pitcher Ranked 11-25
  1. Erasmo Ramirez
  2. Logan Forsythe
  3. Brad Boxberger
  4. Brandon Guyer
  5. Desmond Jennings
  6. Drew Smyly
  7. Alex Cobb
  8. Jake McGee
  9. Matt Moore

Okay, so this is kind of a wide range, but it doesn't make much sense to pretend the calculations are more precise than they are. Erasmo Ramirez is actually a little bit above these other guys, which is pretty impressive for a guy the Rays pulled off someone else's scrap heap.

The Rays relievers should be safe, but Brandon Guyer should be traded if he won't be in line for playing time; however, with the uncertainty around Jennings' knee, I think he will get that playing time.

Injuries Drew Smyly, Alex Cobb, and Matt Moore have obviously depressed their value, and it may actually be lower that reported here, given the increased risk they carry. Jennings is already in his arbitration, and his injury history is beginning to become worrisome, so I'd discount him a bit more too.

Forsythe is in a similar contract situation, having entered arbitration, but he's raised his value immensely with his 2015 performance. With Tim Beckham and Ryan Brett on deck, the Rays could easily sell high on their ginger-bearded second baseman in his career year, but that's dependent on trade partners believing in his breakout more than the Rays do.

A Hitter Ranked 51-75 or a Pitcher Ranked 26-50
  1. Rene Rivera
Rivera isn't producing much (although this doesn't account for all portions of his defense), but he's also not being paid much, and he'll continue to not be paid much for two more years.

Less Than a Top-100 Prospect
  1. David DeJesus
  2. John Jaso
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera
  4. Kevin Jepsen
  5. James Loney

And now we get to the guys many fans would be happy to trade but for whom we really shouldn't expect much in return.

The three top players on this list have slight positive surplus value. Jepsen is paid more or less exactly what he's likely to be worth, and Loney has negative surplus value. That doesn't mean that there won't be a team who might want to add them for a playoff run, but it does mean that said team probably won't offer anything exciting.

To see the exact numbers, as well as a more full breakdown of how he arrived at each one, read Jason's work on his own site. And keep this list in mind as we enter the craziest day of the year, in which, most likely, nothing will happen.

Conclusion

There aren't really any Rays players this year who fit the profile as a short-term rental. None of the players with one or two years left on their contracts (DeJesus, Jaso, Cabrera, Jepsen, and Loney) are actually that desirable from a surplus value vantage point, so any trades dealing them to playoff teams will necessarily be small. Of these, I figure that Jepsen and DeJesus are most attractive to a contender, but given the inactive first-base market, Loney might be given a look as a possible platoon bat.

Jake McGee is a know quantity with three years left, and every single contending team should want his services, but given the value he'll provide in future years, the Rays should ask for more than teams usually trade for a reliever.

And then, there are two players for which the Rays might wish to sell high. Both Erasmo Ramirez and Logan Forsythe have enjoyed career years, and both of them have more than a couple years of team control. The question with them then is one that needs to be asked both now at the trade deadline and in the offseason: Who believes?

If another team believes in their breakout more than the Rays do, there's possibility for a pretty major trade centered on either one of those two. But if the Rays believe in their guys more than the rest of the league, Ramirez and Forsythe are very unlikely to be moved, because they each carry a ton of future value. The main driver on this trade is not the deadline itself, but rather a potential difference in valuations.

Once more, a big thanks to Jason for doing the legwork on this. For us to speak intelligently about trades, this is crucial work, but it's also time-consuming, so give him some love on his site.