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McCutchen or Harper? Cole or Strasburg? And another look at Price

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SOUTH HILLS – Grantland’s Jonah Keri released his top 50 Trade Value rankings  yesterday, which are always an entertaining and thought-provoking read. I know some readers discussed this in yesterday’s thread but I wanted to focus on it here.

 

I think the rankings should be a ray of optimism for #BUCN, helping keep some long-term perspective even as the Pirates have been slow to make a splash this offseason. The Pirates have under club control over the next five season two of the top 26 assets in baseball in Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.

 

We all know that McCutchen is an incredibly valuable asset to a major league team. He’s a deserving NL MVP and he’s signed to a ridiculously club-friendly deal that will pay him $59 million over the next five years. We know he’s talented but you might be surprised who is ranked behind him: Bryce Harper.

 

You know, the LeBron James of baseball.

 

Wrote Keri:

 

McCutchen leapfrogs Harper this year, because when you’re a 27-year-old player with no weaknesses who’s coming off your first MVP award and you’re under team control for the next half-decade for basicallythe Darren Dreifort contract, you’ve earned that promotion. And more improvement could be on the way.

 

Deep fly balls can be a fickle species, and in McCutchen’s case, they netted nine more doubles but 10 fewer homers in 2013; a return to 30-homer territory in 2014 would crank his value even higher. McCutchen’s also showing strong trends in line-drive rate and posted the second-best strikeout and walk rates of his career in 2013. There’s absolutely nothing not to love.

 

Also, McCutchen is also under club control one year longer than Harper. How about a Harper-McCutchen trade to shake up fanfest?

 

McCutchen is a great, great player but I’d have a hard time passing up Harper’s upside, which I think is 50 HRs and a 1.100 OPS level.

 

Coles comes in at No. 26.

 

Cole is a pitching prospect, and pitching prospects are land mines smothered in crazy-ex sauce. But Cole is the bluest and chippiest of the blue-chippers: The no. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cole is a 6-foot-4, 235-pound BAMF who wields four plus pitches and got better as his rookie season wore on. He lit up the league in September, then pitched very well in his first two playoff starts. He’ll probably be the Pirates’ no. 1 starter by July; he’ll definitely be Pittsburgh’s property all the way through 2019. Of course, we’ve seen enough young pitchers break down over the years to plant a seed of doubt, even for a pitcher with promise as perfect as Cole’s. A position player this young, this skilled, and this cheap would rank at least 10 spots higher.

 

Strasburg came in at No. 15. Who ya got over the next five years?

 

Pretty impressive that two Pirates are now rivaling Bryce and Strasburg in value. Two once-in-a-generation, No. 1 overall picks.

 

Also, Starling Marte came in as honorable mention with essentially the No. 51 ranking. And it should be noted the list doesn’t include prospects. While the Pirates don’t have as many top 50 assets as Tampa (4) or Washington (4), the Pirate are still in excellent long term shape …. if they can supplement their core.

 

FURTHER EXAMINING THE PRICE OF PRICE

 

We have had some interesting differing opinions from the baseball intelligentsia regarding the value and cost of acquiring Tampa Bay ace David Price.

 

Over at Fangraphs.com Dave Cameron notes that the price the Rays enjoyed for James Shields shouldn’t set the market — it should just be viewed as a mistake by the Royals. Cameron advises against the Pirates giving up a player the caliber of Gregory Polanco for Price:

 

If we think Polanco is a league average player now, and will improve into a minor star by the time he’s at his physical peak, he’d be projected to produce about $91 million more than what he’d be paid over the next six years. This forecast has Gregory Polanco as a $91 million asset, or about three times as valuable as David Price. Even if you just focus on the next two seasons, this would suggest that Polanco is a $26 million asset in 2014/2015, almost nearly equal in surplus value to Price by himself.

 

However over at SBNation, Rob Neyer suggests it wouldn’t be so crazy for a certain team, the Pirates, to deal for Price.

 

The Pirates might have the greatest need. Last season was brilliant, as they came so close to reaching the League Championship Series. It was a storybook season, but to really keep their fans coming back, the Pirates can’t revert to their old selves in 2014. They don’t necessarily need to reach the playoffs again. But they probably do need to try real hard. But with A.J. Burnett leaving via free agency and the rotation jam-packed with question marks, the Pirates seem at least a starting pitcher short. I’m not usually a fan of selling the farm … But if you’re going to do it, this is the spot. And even if they trade two of their best prospects, the Pirates will still have an impressive group of young players.

And the Pirates might be the only one of those teams that really can “put together the sort of package” it would take to get Price. We know what it takes; roughly speaking, it takes one Grade A prospect (like Wil Myers) and one Grade B+ prospect (like Jake Odorizzi). 

 

It’s a fascinating prospect for the Pirates. In a vacuum the cost does not make sense but of course we don’t live in, and teams don’t operate in, vacuums. The Pirates have a five-year, I think, window (covering the McCutchen and Cole contracts) to really achieve something special. Anything beyond the next five years becomes murky and remember the Pirates won’t expect to be drafting in the top 10 going forward.

 

THE CASE FOR PRICE: Price is already an outstanding pitcher and he would figure to see a significant spike in moving to the National League like a Cliff Lee, Francisco Liriano, or C.C. Sabathia experienced. Price could be an absolute monster in PNC Park with an upside as something nearing Clayton Kershaw. Seriously. Moreover, many of the top rival bats in the NL Central are left-handed (Votto, Bruce, Carpenter, Adams). Also, the Pirates figure to need to rely on pitching and defense to win in 2013 and no pitcher on the market could improve the Pirates’ run prevention ability like Price. Imagine a Price-Cole-Liriano playoff rotation.

 

THE CASE AGAINST PRICE: It is laid out by Cameron. A player like Polanco – or Taillon – is likely to be more valuable over six years than two years of Price. You don’t want to trade a Wil Myers for James Shields unless you think it delivers you a flag…. and even then. And such a trade would include more than one prospect. Moreover, pitchers get hurt more often so they’re more risky to acquire than, say, Giancarlo Stanton. Moreover, Price had some red flags last season as his velocity and strikeout rate declined. Also, Price is going to be expensive over the next two years and if you were looking to upgrade via trade Doug Fister would have been a much cheaper and nearly as effective option. If the Pirates aren’t willing to pay market price for one year of Burnett how will they afford Price?

– TS

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