In the aftermath of the Zack Greinke trade, opinions seem to have converged: the Rangers had the minor-league talent to trump the Brewers’ package, but couldn’t offer what Kansas City GM Dayton Moore was insistent on acquiring – namely, MLB-ready, up-the-middle talent.
The antecedent to that verdict is, presumably, that the Rangers were simply not going to make Elvis Andrus available as part of a deal for Greinke. That’s a perfectly reasonable assumption to make, of course. Over the last two seasons, the 22-year old shortstop has electrified Rangers fandom with his smooth glovework, his daring baserunning, and his megawatt smile.
Throw in the fact that there are, at the moment, no obvious available replacements for Andrus, and it is indeed difficult to see how dealing a minimum of four years of Andrus for a minimum two years of Greinke makes sense for Texas – especially if Andrus was only one piece of an equivalent package that would also have included players like Julio Borbon, Tanner Scheppers, and, say, Robbie Erlin (as suggested by Baseball America’s Ben Badler).
For most Rangers fans – maybe for all Rangers fans – the idea that Texas would part with that sort of package for two years of Greinke* elicits an immediate feeling of fear and loathing. But should it?
*Perhaps the Rangers could’ve pulled back a prospect in place of Yuniesky Betancourt cash. Given that Betancourt’s likely to be worth no more than the $3 million Milwaukee will have to pay him this season, though, it’s almost as if the Brewers did the Royals a favor by taking him.
Over the last three years, Greinke has been very, very good (all stats from FanGraphs):
* Johnson threw only 87.1 IP over 14 starts in 2008.
Greinke’s 2009 certainly sticks out; it’s unlikely he or anyone else will achieve a 9.4 WAR season in the next couple years. Randy Johnson was the last pitcher to break 9 WAR – he posted a 9.9 in 2004, a 10.0 in 2001, and a 9.7 in 2000. Curt Schilling totaled 9.7 WAR in 2002; Pedro Martinez racked up 10.1 in 2000. That’s all for the aughts.
In fact, even 8+WAR seasons are rare: in addition to those in the paragraph above and the table above that, the list comprises Johnson and Schilling (2002), Halladay (2003), and Ben Sheets (2004).
As good as this all makes Greinke look, though, and as good as he’s projected to be in the future, from the Rangers’ side of the ledger, the package Badler mooted still seems ridiculously overpriced. Trades are now frequently judged by the value of one WAR, or its future equivalent in terms of prospects (discounted over time, of course). There are more and less complicated ways to do this, all of them predicated on work that Victor Wang has pioneered; fortunately, other folks have already done some work on the Greinke deal, so I can skip to the good part.
Projecting Greinke for a total of 12 WAR for 2011 and 2012, and including an assumption of Type-A draft picks upon his departure in free agency, that’d make him worth about $36.5 million over and above the $27 million he’ll be paid over the next two seasons. A big “but”: that $36.5 million doesn’t reflect the value of marginal wins to a team like Texas, which will almost certainly enter 2011 favored to win the still-weak AL West. Given the estimated $30-40 million revenue stream associated with post-season success, $36.5 million probably underestimates Greinke’s expected value to the Rangers over the next two years; $40-45 million may be closer to the mark.
On the other side, we don’t know exactly how much Tanner Scheppers or Robbie Erlin will be worth via Wang, because the Baseball America prospect rankings for 2011 aren’t out yet. John Sickels, however, has provided his preliminary grades for 2011: he scored Scheppers a B and gave a B+ to Erlin. Extrapolating a bit, that pair is likely Wang-valued at $18-20 million.
There’s a reasonable case to be made that Julio Borbon is worth something in the range of $22-25 million surplus to the Rangers over the next 5 seasons. Before even considering Andrus’ value, that’s $40-45 million – a pretty stark reflection of why, in the weeks leading up to the Greinke deal, the Royals were said to be “asking for the moon” in return for their ace.
It’s interesting to work the other way around, though – that is, beginning with what Andrus would be worth as the anchor of a deal. If, in general agreement with BBTiA’s own Joey Matches and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA, we pencil Andrus in for 14-15 WAR over the next four years, then (depending on how salary negotiations and/or arbitration hearings work out) a surplus value of $45-50 million over that period seems reasonable. There’s no way that’s getting pushed on top of a package already worth $40-45 million; to justify that sort of deal, the Rangers would need to expect Greinke to channel the 1963 Sandy Koufax – twice.
But what if – and, obviously, this is purely a thought experiment what-if – the Royals had been willing to deal Greinke for Andrus straight up in early December – before shortstops J.J. Hardy and Jason Bartlett were traded for prices the Rangers would have had little trouble matching?
This is where it gets more interesting, because many Rangers fans view Andrus as well-nigh untouchable. Their argument, at least as I’ve followed it, is that Andrus has a reasonable chance of being an elite shortstop in the next several years – or, put another way, that it’s not unreasonable to expect Andrus to reach the heights at which Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki are currently playing. Those sorts of expectations would, arguably, put Andrus in the 18-20 WAR range over the next 4 years, with a surplus value of $65-75 million. Given that projection, then even a one-for-one involving Andrus and Greinke makes little sense for the Rangers.
But this is the point at which the ghost of Kevin Goldstein starts cackling. About a year ago, Goldstein sat down with Jason Parks for a Q&A here at BBTiA. This is the next-to-last exchange of their conversation:
El Magico: Why do you hate Elvis Andrus so much? Seriously, what do you have to say to Rangers fans that think Elvis was robbed for the Rookie of the Year Award, or that he could still turn into a Hanley Ramirez-esque hitter? Let them have it.
Goldstein: Elvis Andrus didn't have a good year last year. He barely put up a .700 OPS last year. If you still think he's going to be good, that's one thing. If you think he was good last year, especially at the plate, he wasn't. Anyone who thinks Elvis is going to be a Hanley Ramirez type is in serious need of psychological counseling. Seriously? That's a joke. Look, he's going to be a plus to plus-plus defender and hit .290 to .300; that's a helluva player. That's a helluva player. He's not Hanley Ramirez or anything close. Please.
There was much vehement disagreement with Goldstein, most of which fell into two camps: first, Andrus wasn’t as bad at the plate as Goldstein suggested; second, Goldstein was tilting at scarecrows, as nobody had compared Andrus to Ramirez.
There’s a lot to be said about the first point, and a lot of it has been said – so we won’t revisit it here. And it’s probably true that nobody’s predicted Andrus could become a Ramirez-esque hitter. But there have been suggestions that Andrus could match Ramirez’s (and/or Tulowitzki’s) total production. The question is, why – or, equally, how?
Most of the answers seem to rely on Andrus significantly improving his patience and power as he ages. Without taking anything away from the 22-year old’s accomplishments, it’s hard to see the support for this line of reasoning. Andrus should certainly improve on his .036 isolated power (ISO, which is calculated by subtracting slugging percentage, or SLG, from batting average) – it was, after all, the lowest of 149 qualifying batters.
That said, there’s not much reason to believe that Andrus will average better than his .106 mark from 2009, let alone approach the .145 league mean. Without that power, or a marked improvement in his plate discipline, it’s difficult to imagine Andrus consistently drawing walks at a higher clip than he did last season.
That’s not a criticism, per se: after all, Andrus’ 2010 9.5 BB% was a full point above league average. And the ZIPS projection of .269/.344/.338 (that’s batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage; the Bill James projection listed at FanGraphs is similar, at .274/.344/.332) would be nothing to sniff at. (Those would be ISOs of .069 and .058, respectively.) Depending on Andrus’ defense and the league context, that’d probably be good for 2.5-3.5 WAR.
And it’s certainly not out of the question that by 2014, Andrus is capable of producing the .289/.349/.409 line (.120 ISO) that Baseball Prospectus anticipated in last year’s projections. That could very well put Andrus into the 4-5 WAR range.
That’s a helluva player. But it’s not an untouchable player. PR aside, and with a Bartlett or Hardy available as a replacement? That’s the sort of player that a club like the Rangers trades for a Zack Greinke, straight up, if someone’s crazy enough to make the offer.