Rizzo, Bryant, Soler Among Baseball’s 50 Most Valuable Assets
Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler are among the 50 most valuable assets in baseball, according to both Jonah Keri of Grantland and Dave Cameron of FanGraphs. The third edition of Keri’s annual MLB Trade Value Rankings was published last week, prompting Cameron to go ahead publish an offseason update to FanGraphs’ Trade Value series, which comes out every All-Star break.
The rankings essentially try to answer a simple question: which player would command the greatest return if traded? They consider not just historical performance and talent, but also age, injury history and contract status. A 31-year-old MVP that’s locked up for the next seven years at $25 million per year might have a great shot at winning another crown next season, but his past-prime age and prohibitively expensive contract severely erode his trade value.
On the flipside, the best prospect in the game might have a scouting report littered with 60 and 70 grades, not to mention youth on his side. But until he dominates in a large-enough sample size in The Show, his team isn’t going to be able to trade him straight up for a bona fide maj0r-league star that just turned 25.
So, the players with the absolute highest trade value offer that ultra-rare combination of youth, dominance at the major-league level and a long-term contract that is highly team-friendly. This may shock you, but Mike Trout is the most valuable asset in the game. Following him and rounding out the top five on Keri’s list are fellow superstars Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner.
For Cameron, the top assets in the game not named Mike Trout are McCutchen, Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton.
The Cubs, with the majority of their most important assets still in minors, are nonetheless represented well on both Keri and Cameron’s lists. So let’s take a look at where those players fall, and what kind of company they keep:
Keri ranks Soler as the 44th most-valuable asset in the game, while Cameron slots him at No. 47. So which players, according to the rankings, could the Cubs acquire roughly straight up for Soler? You’re looking at Pirates beastly outfielder Gregory Polanco, Twins do-everything mega-prospect Byron Buxton and Cardinals veteran third baseman Matt Carpenter.
That’s not too shabby for a guy who, just a year ago, was widely considered the member of the Cubs’ original “core four” most likely to fail. The Cubs own Soler’s rights through the 2020 season, and if he settles into a production level anywhere near the stratosphere he showcased this past summer, he’ll rocket up this list.
What Keri says:
Soler was never rated as highly as Polanco (let alone Buxton), even getting overshadowed by flashy prospects Bryant, Baez, and Russell within the Cubs system. But he made it to the Show at age 22 last summer and punished the ball, belting five homers, eight doubles, and a triple in just 89 at-bats, with three of those five long balls traveling 420 feet or more. He doesn’t quite have the well-rounded tool set that Polanco and especially Buxton do, but at a time when power is at a premium throughout the majors, the Cubs have a player with major pop who’s ready to be their Opening Day right fielder four months from now — and take aim at Waveland Avenue for years to come.
What Cameron says:
Was a monster in 100 plate appearances after getting called up. Health track record still a bit of a question mark, but could move way up the list with a strong season in 2015.
Without a single major-league at-bat on his resume, Bryant is ranked 18th on Keri’s list and 17th on the updated Cameron rankings. In terms of trade value, this already puts Bryant on par with the following established major-league stars: Royals catcher Salvador Perez, Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez and Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Are the Cubs going to deal Bryant anytime soon for King Felix? Obviously not. But the fact is, the organization connected so well on its 2013 first round draft pick that the asset has already blossomed into the general value of a perennial Cy Young contender still in the back end of his prime.
What Keri says:
Admittedly, this is an aggressive ranking for a player who’s never seen a pitch in the big leagues, but several factors work in his favor. For one thing, Bryant isn’t a pitcher, so his risk of major injury or sudden skill erosion is comparatively low. For another, he’s a damn beast. No amount of park adjusting or number manipulating can douse the .325/.438/.661 beating he laid on Double-A and Triple-A pitchers last season, when he launched 43 homers in 138 games. He’s an all-world talent, he doesn’t turn 23 until January, and he’s one of the biggest reasons to start fearing the Cubs.
What Cameron says:
He’s basically big league ready at this point, and there are few players in the game who can match his power from the right side. I’ve had one executive tell me that he’s Troy Glaus. Sounds about right, and seems like one of the most valuable young talents in the game.
In an incredible turn of events following an inconsistency-plagued 2013 season, Anthony Rizzo is now the Cubs’ most valuable asset. Rizzo is ranked 7th overall on Jonah Keri’s trade value list, while Dave Cameron slots Rizzo 10th. That gives the Cubs an asset roughly on par with MLB superstars like White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, White Sox pitcher Chris Sale and Giants pitcher and World Series out-machine Madison Bumgarner.
Elite raw power, paired with a heavily team-friendly contract, have kept Rizzo’s value high since the moment he signed that extension. The truly amazing thing to consider here, though, is that in two years’ time, Rizzo could continue his terrific production and still not even rank as the Cubs’ third or fourth most valuable asset.
What Keri says:
The White Sox get to employ Abreu — the reigning rookie of the year and MVP candidate — for the next five years for just $51 million. The Cubs have an even better deal with Rizzo, whom they’ve got for five years at $35 million, plus a pair of $14.5 million club options in 2020 and 2021 that look supremely reasonable for a 25-year-old slugger who just batted .286/.386/.527 (the NL’s third-best park-adjusted line) while flashing a solid glove.
What Cameron says:
The fall of Machado and Tulowitzki move him up somewhat by default. I’m still a big fan, of course.
Honorable mention: Javier Baez and Addison Russell
Appended to Keri’s rankings were honorable mentions to give nods to players that just missed the top 50. Baez and Russell received such mention, placing them in a cluster including Dodgers prospects Corey Seager and Joc Pederson. As with the budding stars in Los Angeles, the arrows for Baez and Russell generally point up.
However, Baez’s massive struggles in his first two months in the big-leagues, and Russell’s lack of experience beyond the double-A level, kept both of the ultra-talented infielders outside of Keri’s top 50.
How many more Cubs will populate these rankings a year from now? The most likely answer is several. With none of the Cubs’ star talents even in the midst of their primes, it would take a bust rate of historic proportions to keep Keri and Cameron’s trade value lists from growing increasingly Cub-centric.
Bryant could see a Baez-like backslide if he struggles to make contact early on, and Soler could take a step back himself if he isn’t able to to adjust to the advanced scouting attacks that are surely coming his way this spring. But on sheer volume of major league-ready young talent, the chance of the Cubs organization boasting fewer than four top-50 assets a year from now is virtually nil.