I imagine most of you probably have read a Bill Simmons column at least once. While he’s not much of a baseball analyst, his stuff is a fun read, and he has a running column he does every year ranking the top 40 players in the NBA in terms of trade value. Analytically, its a puff piece, full of cliches and unsupported arguments that, in the grand scheme of things, mean nothing. But every year, I enjoy reading it. It’s not serious analysis, but variety is the spice of life. So, as we enter the Week Of Insane Rumors, I figured I’d kick it off with my baseball version of his idea, and rank the 40 most valuable commodities in baseball. I’ll let him summarize the rules, though I’ll change the examples for those of you who don’t follow the NBA:
A. Salaries matter. Would you rather pay Bobby Crosby $2 million for the next three years or Derek Jeter $44 million for the next three?
B. Age matters. Would you rather have Pedro Martinez for the next five seasons or Roy Halladay for the next 12?
C. Pretend the league passed the following rule: For 24 hours, any player can be traded straight up for any other player without budget ramifications. So if Team A tells Team B, “We’ll trade you Player X for Player Y straight up,” would Team B make the deal or not?
D. Concentrate on degrees. For instance, neither the Marlins nor Cardinals would pull the trigger on an Pujols-Cabrera trade. But at the very least, the Marlins say, “Wow, Albert Pujols is available?” while the Cardinals would say, “There’s no way we’re trading Pujols.” That counts in the big scheme of things.
E. Make the list in reverse order (Nos. 40 to 1). So if Alex Rodriguez comes in at No. 19, players 1 through 19 are all players about whom New York would probably say, “We hate giving up A-Rod, but there’s no way we can pass up that deal.” And they wouldn’t trade him for any player listed between Nos. 19 and 40.
Fair enough? Oh, and my own personal add-on rule: This is for fun. Try not to get too worked up over this. Feel free to disagree, make your own list, whatever. But try not to get offended, okay? Off we go.
#40: Daniel Cabrera, RHP, Baltimore
If you take away Felix’s command, you have Daniel Cabrera. Huge velocity, dominant groundball pitcher, impossible to hit, and crazy wild. Even when he’s not throwing strikes, he’s not bad, and if his command ever improves to passable, he’s an all-star. Also just 24 years of age and making the league minimum.
39: Felipe Lopez, SS, Cincinnati
After being a continual disappointment, he’s finally living up to his potential, hitting .291/.350/.486 and playing a passable shortstop for the Reds. Of course, that brings his career line up to .252/.317/.416 in 1250 major league at-bats, so there’s some pretty obvious downside, and he hasn’t been known as the hardest worker around. But shortstops who, at age 25, can post a .290 EqA aren’t exactly growing on trees. The chance that he’ll be a perennial all-star is worth the risk.
38: Nick Johnson, 1B, Washington
He went from the Future of the Yankees to the poster by for AFLAC, running himself out of the Pinstripes by continually finding himself on the disabled list. He’s always been a good hitter, but never stayed on the field enough to make it count. Well, at age 26, he’s finally put together a mostly injury free season, and he set a career high in games played, all while hitting .289/.408/.479. As a talent, he’s comparable to Edgar Martinez, and if he can ever stay healthy, he’s going to be a dominating offensive force.
37: Dan Haren, RHP, Oakland
The kid the A’s got from St. Louis in the Mark Mulder deal was a rock, throwing 217 league average innings for the league minimum and outpitching the all-star he was traded for in the process. Haren’s a command guy without a dynamite out pitch, but he’s a smart pitcher with good mechanics who is efficient enough to pitch deep in games. He’s not going to win any Cy Youngs, but he’s going to be a middle of the rotation starter until his arm falls off, and he won’t cost a significant amount of money until 2009.
36: Jason Bay, OF, Pittsburgh
Just signed a four year, $18 million contract with the Pirates that will take up through his arbitration years. That’s $4.5 million per year for a guy who just hit .306/.402/.559 at age 26. Talk about a bargain.
35: Jhonny Peralta, SS, Cleveland
Peralta just put up one of the biggest “Holy Crap” seasons in recent history, ranking as a legitimate downballot MVP candidate after showing little in his first 300 major league at-bats. He’s probably not quite as good a hitter as he was in 2005, but he’s an offensive force at shortstop, and he’s dirt cheap for the next several years.
34: Andruw Jones, CF, Atlanta
He almost won the MVP in his age 28 season and plays a premium defensive position, so why this low? He’s already extremely expensive and only has one more year left on his deal, after which he’s likely to become even more expensive. He also doesn’t strike me as a player who is going to age particularly well.
33: Scott Kazmir, LHP, Tampa Bay
If the New York Mets had compiled this list, Kazmir would be about 1,145 spots lower. Victor Zambrano? Ouch.
32: Rickie Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee
The best second base prospect to come along in years, he hits like Jeff Kent. He also fields like Jeff Kent. He has the tools to become a good defensive player, and his bat has the chance to be extremely special. Weeks is hard for me, because there’s a great chance that in a year, he’ll be in the top 10 on this list. But he’s not there yet.
31: Victor Martinez, C, Cleveland
Did you know he turns 27 in a couple of weeks? Because of catcher attrition, he probably only has another 3 all-star level years in him before the decline, but for the next three years, he’s an amazing bargain, and one of the most valuable players in the American League.
30: Lance Berkman, LF, Houston
The bat belongs much higher up the list, but he turns 30 in a few months and is coming off a serious knee injury, so he doesn’t offer much besides a thunderous bat. But man, what a bat.
29: Mark Teixeira, 1B, Texas
Just 25-years-old and already has 100 career homers and a .282/.362/.541 line in 3 seasons. Playing in Texas has padded his stats a bit, but he’s an elite young slugger who also just won a gold glove. If he had played for an organization that would have left him at third base, he’d likely be much higher on this list.
28: Travis Hafner, 1B, Cleveland
The Indians got him for Einar Diaz. He just hit .305/.408/.595 last year, following a .311/.410./583 season. Einar Diaz. And you wonder why I think Mark Shapiro runs the best organization in baseball?
27: John Lackey, RHP, Anaheim
Why doesn’t anyone realize how good this guy is? He took a big step forward in performance at the age of 26, and he’s one of the ten best pitchers in the American League. He’s also three years away from free agency. He, not Bartolo Colon, is the ace of the Angels.
26: Adam Dunn, LF, Cincinnati
His home/road splits don’t inspire confidence. He’s a bad defensive player. He’s not much of a baserunner. But Dunn has once-in-a-generation power. He’s a monster of a hitter, and with some growth, could be a hall of fame slugger. He just turned 26, and he’s got a long career of mashing ahead of him.
25: Josh Beckett, RHP, Boston
How often is a guy like Beckett traded? He just finished his age 25 season, is under control for two more years at reasonable prices, and has a 3.46 career ERA. A fantastic acquisition by whoever happens to be running the Red Sox at the moment.
24: Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Chicago
The Pirates rushed Ramirez to the majors at age 20, watched him have an all-star season by age 23, and then shipped him out at age 25 for Bobby Hill and Jose Hernandez. Just a monumental series of bad decisions in Pittsburgh, and now the Cubs get to enjoy the prime of Ramirez’s career.
23: Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia
Like Victor Martinez, he’s a “young player” who is going into his age 27 season. He might not have the longest career of the players on this list, but a second baseman who can hit like he does doesn’t come around every day.
22: B.J. Upton, SS, Tampa Bay
Was on the Aramis Ramirez career path before Chuck LaMar was shown the door. Now that competant people are running the Devil Rays, he should be developed like a player of his abilities should, and there are few better talents anywhere in the game.
21: Eric Chavez, 3B, Oakland
A great defensive third baseman, it’s also been said that Eric Chavez can hit a little bit. Especially against the Mariners. Now if he could only learn how to hit left-handed pitching.
20: Jeremy Bonderman, RHP, Detroit
He who laughs last, laughs best. Grady Fuson must be rolling.
19: Bobby Crosby, SS, Oakland
A guy who just plays way above his tools. Crosby’s got a shot to be the best shortstop in the American League for the forseeable future. He’s also not a free agent until after the 2009 season.
18: Carlos Zambrano, RHP, Chicago
When the Cubs were assembling their rotation of young hurlers, Zambrano was always listed last. He was the wild, emotional guy without a firm grasp of how to pitch. Without much fanfare, however, he has become a frontline starter. His combination of groundballs and strikeouts makes up for the fact that he’s also ridiculously ugly. He is what Daniel Cabrera aspires to.
17: Delmon Young, RF, Tampa Bay
If you haven’t heard of him yet, you will. He’s worth this ranking, despite never having played in a major league game. He’s that good. And he’s got a long, long career ahead of himself.
16: Ben Sheets, RHP, Milwaukee
Would have ranked significantly higher before the injuries. Was called the best kept secret in baseball for so long, he’s no longer a secret. He’s just a terrific pitcher.
15: Dontrelle Willis, LHP, Florida
The Marlins have had a ton of good young arms over the past few years. Beckett, Burnett, Clement, Penny. All gone. The D-Train remains. Turns 24 in January and already one of the best pitchers in baseball.
14: Jake Peavy, RHP, San Diego
If Ben Sheets used to be the best kept secret in baseball, its probably now Jake Peavy. This kid is something else. I’ll take him over Dontrelle because he has better stuff, but it’s basically a coin flip. These kids are part of the creme of the crop in the National League.
13: Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota
A 22-year-old catcher who can already hit .300, has amazing plate coverage, and developing power? He also has one of the best arms behind the plate in the game. Oh, and he’s playing for his hometown team, where he’s a local high school legend. I’m not sure the Twins would trade him for all of the next 12 players on this list, much less any of them.
12: Roy Oswalt, RHP, Houston
He’s pitched almost 1000 innings in his major league career and has an ERA of 3.07. If his arm doesn’t fall off, he’s going to the Hall of Fame. Not bad for a 23rd round pick.
11: Vladimir Guerrero, RF, Anaheim
$13 million per year gets you Rafael Furcal. $15 million per year gets you Vladimir Guerrero. Advantage, Los Angeles. No, the other one.
10: Mark Buehrle, LHP, Chicago
I’m prepared to get impaled for him being this high, but did you know that he has five straight seasons with 220 innings pitched, and has gone over 230 in the last four years. The man is the definition of a workhorse, and he’s pretty freaking good, to boot.
9: Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York
The contract, and the fact that he’s now 30, make this the highest I can put him. But he’s the only player on this list who would still be inducted into Cooperstown if he never played another game.
8: Mark Prior, RHP, Chicago
Maybe I have a weak spot for Prior, as his performance the last two years can’t match that of several pitchers behind him. But watching him pitch when he’s going right is like watching a movie. He has three amazing pitches, great command, and he knows how to pitch. He just turned 25, and he’s the most talented pitcher in the National League. I have a feeling his next five years will be a lot more successful than the last five.
7: Roy Halladay, RHP, Toronto
Did you know he holds the major league record for highest ERA in a season with at least 50 innings pitched? Hard to believe a guy this talented could give up 80 earned runs in 67 innings, but that’s what he did in 2000. Since then, his ERA’s have ran 3.16, 2.93, 3.25, 4.20, and 2.41.
6: Rich Harden, RHP, Oakland
He just turned 24, and his ERA was 77 percent better than the league average last year. Health is a concern, but talent is not. And he’s dirt cheap for several more years.
5: Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle
I’ve written so much about Felix, I’m running out of interesting things to say about him. Long Live the King.
4: David Wright, 3B, New York
A few years ago, when Wright was having what appeared to be a pedestrian season in the Florida State League, I wrote an article at Baseball Prospectus and compared him to Scott Rolen. I got several emails that weren’t exactly friendly, lambasting me for saying a guy who wasn’t playing great baseball in A-ball was comparable to the best third baseman in baseball. In hindsight, they were sort of right. There is no comparison. David Wright is already better than Scott Rolen has ever been.
3: Johan Santana, LHP, Minnesota
Greatest Rule 5 Selection Of All Time.
2: Miguel Cabrera, LF, Florida
Most Similar Batters Through Age 22: Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Conigliaro, Mickey Mantle. So, basically, unless he dies, he’s going to the Hall Of Fame.
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis
From ages 21-25, an average Pujols season reads .332/.416/.621 with 41 home runs, 82 walks, and 71 strikeouts. If he had posted those numbers in the minor leagues, he’d be something like the best prospect we’ve ever seen. Since he posted those numbers in the National League, he’s something like the best hitter, at his age, of all time.