Q. What is Cliff Lee's trade value this July? Is it really only one high-quality prospect and a few fillers?
A. This is the kind of thing that jemanji used to win closets full of baseball caps wagering on. ;- ) If that's the early line, gimme the OVER, with gusto.
Here's a different article that, um, pegs the value of a sizzling-hot rental player at four, not one, high-quality prospects. It's not back-of-the-envelope math; it's a review of this trade:
- Two months of Mark Teixeira, who had disavowed the Rangers, "hamstringing" their "leverage"
- Bit part
... for ...
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c
- Elvis Andrus, ss
- Naftali Perez, my favorite martian
- Matt Harrison, p
- Bit part
At the time of the Teixeria trade, these were four legit glam prospects. Harrison, for example, was the Braves' top pitching prospect, which is a little different from saying that somebody was the Mariners' best pitching prospect...
Perez was throwing 100+, Saltalamacchia was a projected MOTO and plus defensive catcher, etc.
You could find any number of "rental" trades that brought back a whale of a lot more than one blue-chipper and change. And, of course, you can find a few that set the lower boundary at that one high-profile 'spect, when everything breaks against the selling club.
Bartolo Colon -- two months of him -- was traded for Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and two more impact prospects. Randy Johnson was traded for a staff ace, a 5-tool glamor shortstop, and a starting pitcher. etc etc.
Like we say, you'll also find cases where the return was more disappointing. Not often, though, when you are selling both the sizzle and the steak, as the M's are with Lee.
Q. What's wrong with the back-of-the-envelope math? Isn't Lee worth 3.5 to 4.0 wins, which is equal to $18m, and add $6m for the comp picks Lee brings? Subtract $5m salary and it's an $18m asset you're dealing for?
A. It's always essential to know what the WAR zero out to, as a starting point for your decisionmaking.
But such simple math will always leave out a bunch of considerations. The WAR/$ memo is the place at which you begin, not the place at which you stop.
Q. Leave out what?
A. If you trade for Cliff Lee in July, by how much does that increase your chances of signing him to his next contract? What does our envelope say?
It doesn't, because you cannot calculate the value of having Cliff Lee on a three-month recruiting tour with other teams legally prohibited from even phoning him.