Trading for Trout

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It was a week before opening day and renovations on the stadium were almost complete. The home opener was another three days away, which would take care of any last minute setbacks. The stadium was in good shape, but the ball club was in better shape. In his first year as Indians General Manager, Mike Chernoff was cautiously optimistic- no, that's not right. He was secretly giddy. There was a case to be made that the Indians were the best team in the American League, and several of the major pieces in that puzzle Chernoff felt were "his guys." Players' he'd lobbied for and supported acquiring.

Everything was coming up roses. Brantley would be back earlier than expected, Kip and Yan looked great. The rotation would be lights out for sure. Reports from Callaway had everyone feeling good about the bullpen. It even looked like Naquin might be able to make it in center field this year.

"If he can stay healthy," Chernoff thought. He absent-mindedly leaned forward and set his executive ball clicker in motion.

The ringing phone pulled him back to the present.

"Hello Mike,"

The voice on the other end was Billy Eppler, general manager of the Angels. Sincere but tangential pleasantries were exchanged. The two men knew each of fairly well, despite both being first year GM's. Strangely, considering the time of year, something in Eppler's tone made it sound like a trade inquiry.

Getting down to business Eppler asked "what would you take for Carlos Carrasco?"

Chernoff grinned. This was a question he'd fielded about sixty times during this previous six months. Everyone asked. With a rotation like Cleveland's it was bound to happen. Sometimes it was about Kluber, sometimes Salazar. The Cub's Theo Epstein asked about Bauer at the winter meetings, but he was just being polite.

"Mike Trout," Chernoff answered. His grin could be heard in his voice on the other end of the phone.

The steel balls clicked on his desk.

Eppler didn't laugh.

Mike Chernoff's perception of the conversation turned upside down in a moment. The stainless steel ball seemed to hang in mid air.

"We're going to need more than just Carrasco."

What followed was about thirty hours of round the clock negotiation. During that time, twitter exploded with the news that Trout was demanding a trade. If the Indians front office felt busy, they knew it was nothing compared to what was happening in Anaheim.

In the end, the first team Billy Eppler called was the team that got the prize. They say that beggars can't be choosers. The man dealing Mike Trout can pretty much name his price.


The headline should read "Carlos Carrasco and Entire Cleveland Farm System Traded for Mike Trout," except that's too long. The problem with trading for Trout isn't just that he's a 9 WAR player, it's that he's under contract for five more years at a bargain basement price. What's the closest thing the Indians have to such an asset? Carrasco is the closest, but he's not that close. They are under contracts of similar length, including team options for Carrasco in 2019 and 2020. But, Cookie can be expected produce about half as much value on the field. On the plus side, he's even cheaper.

Trout Carrasco
2016 15.2 4.5
2017 19.2 6.5
2018 33.2 8
2019 33.2 9
2020 33.2 9.5
Total $ 134 37.5
$ / WAR 2.98 1.56

The similarity of the two contracts makes figuring out the rest of the package a bit easier. The excess value of Trout over Carrasco is around 4 wins per year. Using a guideline suggested here, I'm shooting for four times as much future value as present day value. But I'm also keeping an eye on when the expected value in prospects exceeds the value of the Trout contract.

With Trout gone, the Angels will need a new CF. Bradley Zimmer should fit the bill nicely, although they'll have to wait another year at least before he's ready. Zimmer is projected to be a front-line starting center fielder. I'm pegging him as a 4-win player, at his peak.

Even with Carrasco on board, the Angels still won't be a team with great pitching. So if you're trading away a once in a generation player, you might as well get a generation's worth of pitching. To that end Cleveland sends Brady Aiken and Justus Sheffield. Not either, both.

That sounds like a great haul for Anaheim, and for most players, most contracts, it would be. But, I did a little digging into how often prospects pan out. Top 100 prospects bust 70% of the time. Remember Matt LaPorta? Position player prospects are more reliable than pitchers. But neither one approaches 100%, so it wouldn't make sense to assign them full hoped-for value in a trade.

A quote from a very nice article on Royals Review:

Fewer than one-third of top 100 prospects succeed in the majors, but there is a big difference between position players and pitchers. While nearly two out of five position players in the top 100 succeed, fewer than one in four pitchers do.

Unfortunately, that leaves the Angels return at negative 3.5 wins. Carrasco and the Tribe's top 3 prospects are only expected be worth about 41 wins over the course of their team controlled years. So we pile on more prospects.

Bobby Bradley projects as a solid starting first base potentially debuting in 2018. Francisco Mejia could be starting at catcher for an MLB team around the same time. Triston McKenzie and Juan Hillman may be appearing on the mound a year later.

Add all this up, discounting for failure rates of prospects, and you get the Indians giving up an expected 59 wins for Trout, over the course of 9 seasons, maybe more.

peak WAR ETA certainty
Trout 9 - 95%
Carrasco 5 - 80%
Zimmer 4 2017 50%
Bradley 3 2018 30%
Mejia 2.5 2018 25%
Aiken 4 2019 25%
Sheffield 3 2018 25%
McKenzie 3 2019 20%
Hillman 3 2019 20%

The Angels start to break even, meaning the players they gain from the trade generate more on-field value than Trout provides on a yearly basis in 2019. In 2018 we expect Trout is still more valuable than what Carrasco, Zimmer, Bradley, Mejia and Sheffield provide. In 2016, '17 and '18, Trout's performance is expected to worth a total of 9 wins more than those players. The other guys won't be playing in the majors yet.

But there is a catch to all this. The Cleveland Indians' payroll is about tapped out even before adding Trout's contract. So we're going to need the Angels to eat $25 million of his already absurdly low contract. Cleveland gets $10 million in 2016 and $15 million in 2017. After that, well, just count on the Mike Trout-led world series championship to be bringing in enough additional revenues.

Angels give up:

-Mike Trout, CF

-25 million cash

Indians give up:

-Carlos Carrasco

-Bradley Zimmer

-Bobby Bradley

-Francisco Mejia

-Brady Aiken

-Justus Sheffield

-Triston McKenzie

-Juan Hillman

Would either team be willing to make this trade? The Angles get a brand new farm system and an ace starter. Is that enough to balance out the stigma of trading away the greatest right-handed hitter since Rogers Hornsby? Probably not, but it's within the realm of sanity.

The Indians on the other hand will no doubt sorely miss Carlos Carrasco. Yet, they have Tomlin and Anderson ready to go now, and could still call on Clevenger, Plutko, Kaminsky, etc. in the coming years. Also, they get to do something like this for a batting order:

1 Santana DH
2 Kipnis 2B
3 Trout CF
4 Brantley LF
5 Napoli 1B
6 Lindor SS
7 Gomes C
8 Chisenhall RF
9 Uribe/Urshela 3B

Goodbye middling offense. Hello five years of playoffs.

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