Over at the Baseball Prospectus mothership, we do an annual series in July called The Trade Game. It’s a fun thought exercise where ten or so BP staffers pretend to be major league GMs and jockey to make the best deal. Some smart people (and this year, me) get to try and predict the market value for some top players, since you don’t want to pay way too much even if that gets you a “win” in the game, and everyone has some fun imagining communications between the GM. The first 2016 Trade Game article is about finding the best deal for the Milwaukee Brewers and Jonathan Lucroy. The teams were randomly assigned, so of course I got the Mets.
It became very clear to me that my main decision as Sandy Alderson was largely binary: do I include Amed Rosario in this package, or not? Lucroy has rebounded from an injury-riddled 2015 to reclaim peak offensive performance in 2016, is generally considered one of the best defenders in the game, and has a team option for 2017 at just $5.25 million, so I expected him to go for a top, top prospect or major league equivalent. And I thought the process I went through in deciding whether to deal Rosario or not illuminated many of the issues the Mets have going into the 2016 deadline.
As of our recently published midseason update, Rosario is ranked as the 15th best prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus. The Mets only have one prospect of this level — as we discussed with BP minor league editor Craig Goldstein on last week’s For All You Kids Out There, not only was Rosario the only prospect on our midseason top 50, he was the only prospect given significant consideration for the list. Dominic Smith did show up on Keith Law’s recent midseason top 50, but there’s a huge drop from the 13th (where Law ranked Rosario) or 15th best prospect in baseball to the 44th best prospect in baseball (where Law ranked Smith). By including Smith along with other position players like Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini, the Mets can offer somewhat impressive volume in mid-tier position prospects, but only Rosario offers the big name fronting a big trade. Given that Drew Pomeranz, with only a half-season’s track record as a very good starting pitcher, returned Anderson Espinoza, BP’s 24th-ranked prospect, in one of the deadline season’s earlier moves, I don’t see Brewers GM David Stearns, or his trade game doppleganger, accepting Smith as anything more than a good second piece of such a deal.
So does Amed Rosario’s future with the Mets look like? Signed for $1.7 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, he’s been one of the top prospects in the Mets system since the day he joined it. Statistically, he scuffled through the 2015 season, putting up mediocre numbers but consistently impressing with his tools. He finally broke out this year, in his age-20 season, whacking around the Florida State League for a .309/.359/.442 triple-slash, and continuing his assault on pitching for the last month in the Double-A Eastern League. He’s a good defensive shortstop and could plausibly be a factor for the Mets, or whomever else has him, by mid-2017.
One way to look at Rosario’s future value is by looking at what value prospects in his range have returned to teams. Fortunately, Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli of The Point of Pittsburgh have already done that calculation for us. Creagh and DiMiceli calculated that a hitting prospect ranked between 11 and 25 on major prospect lists averaged 13.0 WAR through their years of team control, and 74 percent of those prospects cracked 3 WAR over that span.
Another, less scientific way to get a range of outcomes is to take a peek at who we’ve ranked as around the 15th best prospect in baseball in the past. From 2007 to 2014, we ranked the following as the 14th, 15th, and 16th best prospects in baseball in our offseason lists: Yovani Gallardo, Andrew McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw, Andy LaRoche, Wade Davis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Giancarlo Stanton, Tim Beckham, Chris Tillman, Ryan Westmoreland, Martin Perez, Kyle Drabek (twice), Shelby Miller (twice), Manny Machado, Taijuan Walker, Jacob Turner, Travis d’Arnaud (twice), Billy Hamilton, Miguel Sano, Dylan Bundy, and Jonathan Gray. There’s certainly a few outright busts in there, but it’s mostly guys who have been good to very good when healthy, and McCutchen, Kershaw, Stanton, and Machado are all bonafide superstars. It’s certainly enough to make one hesitate before casually tossing Rosario aside.
After considering and dismissing Michael Conforto and d’Arnaud, I ultimately identified Zack Wheeler as the primary alternative big chip to Rosario. Indeed, almost a year ago, the Mets tried to deal Wheeler-plus for another Milwaukee Brewer, Carlos Gomez, at the time controlled for a year-and-a-half at substantially under market value. But Gomez is neither as good nor as cheap as Lucroy, and Wheeler probably isn’t as valuable an individual piece as Rosario is right now. Wheeler only has three years of team control remaining after 2016, whereas Rosario’s service clock is as of yet untouched, and it’s very easy to see the Brewers wanting a player with more control. The Mets are currently running out Logan Verrett every five days, and getting Wheeler back in August might be as big of a move for 2016 as getting Lucroy would be
Which brings up another consideration: how much should the Mets prioritize 2016 at all? The Mets are in much the same spot as when I last wrote about the buy/sell dilemma three weeks ago, on the fringes of the division race and in a mad scramble with four other teams for the two Wild Card spots. As of Wednesday morning, Baseball Prospectus only gave the Mets a 27.4 percent chance of reaching the NLDS. This, along with a thin rental market, is why you probably won’t see the Mets rent anything for more than the Akeel Morris, John Gant, and Rob Whalen sort of system depth that they’ve dealt to rent Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, and Kelly Johnson again over the past year. That takes the higher-end rentals like Rich Hill out of the equation, but Lucroy isn’t a rental, and he has a legitimate case as one of the best players in the game.
So where did I-as-Sandy Alderson come down on all this? I concluded that as good as Lucroy is, I just couldn’t move Amed Rosario for a player signed only through 2017 in the position the Mets were in. Were this a Chris Archer or Chris Sale trade game, then I’d be moving Rosario as the headliner. But, of course, it never hurts to try anyway, so I built what I thought was the most competitive, fair offer I could put together without Rosario. Was it enough for Sam Miller-as-David Stearns? Well, you’ll have to click on over to the Jonathan Lucroy Trade Game article to find out.