Finding a Match for Nolan Arenado: New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies

Superstar 3B Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies finds himself immersed in the latest MLB Hot Stove Madness. Andy Martin of SNY asserts the following:

“people briefed on the Yankees thinking say that GM Brian Cashman — who did not respond to a request for comment — has internally discussed the possibility of trying to trade for Arenado either now or during the season. One source said that the teams have likely talked already, but neither Cashman nor Rockies GM Jeff Bridich have confirmed this.”

Arenado is under control for one more season. This year was his fourth and final year of arbitration eligibility. The Rockies and Nolan Arenado couldn’t come to an agreement, thus failing to avoid arbitration. The Rockies offer to Arenado was $24 million ($6 million short of what Arenado sought). For the purpose of this investigation, let’s assume that the arbitrators land somewhere in the middle of the spectrum ($27 million).

If Arenado loses in arbitration and his salary for the 2019 season is $24 million, he will still break the record for the largest one-year arbitration contract. And boy is he worth every penny. In his last 4 seasons (2015-18), Arenado has been worth 20.9 fWAR (avg. of around 5.2 WAR annually). That ranks as the 10th highest WAR in that span. Ironically, the player 1 spot ahead of him is Manny Machado (21.7 fWAR). Arenado has hit for a batting average of at least .287, driven in no less than 97 runs, and slugged 37 HRs or more in each of his previous 4 seasons. His plate discipline is very good (2018 BB rate: 10.8% and 2018 K rate: 18.1%) as well and Arenado is one of the best defensive 3B in the league. From 2015 to the present, Arenado has saved 79 runs defensively per Fangraphs (21 more than Adrian Beltre, who ranks 2nd place), which is by far the most in the league amongst qualified 3B. It is mildly concerning that his DRS dropped to 5 this season after being 20 in each of his prior seasons; however, it would be brash to come to any conclusions this early (not ample evidence that Arenado’s fielding is beginning to decline).

In order to most accurately gauge Nolan Arenado’s value, we first need to see how many WAR he will be worth in 2019.

Arenado is projected to be worth 4.7 WAR per Steamer (0.5 WAR less than Manny Machado).

We will integrate Fangraphs’ new Update to Prospect Valuation system in order to most precisely formulate realistic compensation that the Rockies could demand (for Nolan Arenado) from the Yankees or Phillies.

results are presented in present-day WAR and translated to a rough dollar figure based on $9 million as the cost of a win on the free-agent market. Keep in mind that the dollar figure isn’t a direct value, but rather equivalent value of a prospect relative to the free-agent market. Part of the reason prospects have such tremendous value is due to the suppressed salaries permitted by the CBA until a player has reached six years of service time. By translating the WAR figure into a monetary value, we can compare the value of prospects with the values of major-league players and their contracts. These values likely roughly approximate what an individual player might get as a signing bonus if he were declared a free agent and teams could only provide a signing bonus instead of a long-term contract.

Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards

In other words, Fangraphs assigned a monetary value for all minor league prospects (based on how former prospects belonging to that tier / rank performed during the first 9 seasons of their baseball career [“including the season in which a prospect was ranked”]). These values are comparable to current major leaguers (calculated through incorporating WAR [$9 million / 1 WAR] and the cost of the player’s contract). 

The calculations for Nolan Arenado’s surplus monetary value can be seen below…

(4.7 WAR projection [per Steamer] for 2019 * $9 million / 1 WAR) – $27 million (salary for 2019) = $42.3 million – $27 million = $15.3 million in surplus value

It is important that we take into account what the market is like for superstars who man the hot corner (3B). Manny Machado was traded from the Orioles to the Dodgers at the trade deadline last season for OF Yusniel Diaz ($8 million), RHP Dean Kremer ($1 million), 2B Breyvic Valera ($2 million), RHP Zach Pop ($1 million) and 2B/3B Rylan Bannon (no monetary value).

112 days with Orioles / 184 days total = 60%

He had been worth 3.8 WAR in his time with the Orioles. At that pace, he would have accrued an additional 2.5 WAR with the Dodgers.

[(3.8 / 1.27) * 5] – 3.8 = 2.5 WAR

40% (time with Dodgers) of $16 million (salary for 2018) = $6.4 million

The calculations for what would have been Manny Machado’s surplus monetary value (if continued same pace) can be seen below…

(2.5 WAR projection * $9 million / 1 WAR) – $6.4 million = $16.1 million

The total monetary value of the prospects the Orioles received was $12 million.

After looking at what the Dodgers conceded in return for Machado, it now appears that Arenado’s monetary value is a fair estimate.

Here are some packages Colorado could net in return for Arenado…

Yankees

RHP Albert Abreu ($13 million) and CF Antonio Cabello ($2 million) for Nolan Arenado ($15.1 million)

Albert Abreu is ranked in the backend of Fangraphs’ top 131 prospect list. He has the upside of a high-leverage multi-inning reliever or a #3/4 starter. He struck out over 9 batters / 9 IP in 62.2 innings at A+. His walk rate was an issue, sitting at over 4 batters / 9 IP. His 3 pitch mix is highly regarded (Fangraphs gives his fastball a 65 FV, his curveball a 60 FV, and his changeup a 65 FV) and gives hitters fits.

International signee Antonio Cabello, an 18-year-old outfielder, performed exceptionally well in R. His batting average was over .300 and he smashed 5 big flies in 192 PA. Cabello also stole 10 bags. While he remains a very raw prospect, Cabello flashes high upside and could be worth a gamble.

Phillies

CF Adam Haseley ($8 million) and SS Luis Garcia ($8 million) for 3B Nolan Arenado ($15.3 million) and $0.7 million in cash

In 513 PAs between A+ and AA, Haseley hit for an average north of .300 and slugged 11 HRs. His OBP was just over .400 in AA and his K rate and BB rate were 10.1% and 11.9%, respectively. If he can continue to hit at a high level, Haseley will presumably be able to stick in CF as a starter, where he’s a tick below average defensively.

Similar to Yankees prospect Antonio Cabello, SS Luis Garcia is very raw and talented. His average was .369 in 187 PAs at rookie ball. Garcia is a highly regarded defender (given 55 FV in terms of his defense) and is very fleet-footed (stole 12 bags). He walked 8% of the time and struck out 11.2%. Luis also flashed plus extra base hit power (11 2B and 3 3B). Garcia, only 18, will likely grow into a very good ball player if he can develop more HR power (1 HR). He is still ways away from the majors though.

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