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Trade Values: Relief Pitching Options


Over the last few days, we’ve heard that the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking at bullpen upgrades.  They’ve already started adding to the bullpen today, with the anticipated addition of Jason Grilli.  Yesterday I detailed a list of bullpen options they’ve been linked to.  Adding to that list, we’ve recently heard rumors about Oakland Athletics pitchers Craig Breslow and Grant Balfour.  To get an idea about what it would cost for a bullpen upgrade, let’s take a look at the trade values of the names we’ve heard.

NOTE: The purpose is to see the values of these players, using projected values (calculated as [(WAR*$5 M) – Salary]) and Victor Wang’s research on prospect values.

Mike Adams

Here is Adams’ trade value:

2011 $2.5 1.7 $2.0
2012 $4.0 1.7 $4.7
TOTAL $6.5 3.4 $11.7

Explanation: His 2012 salary is based off of arbitration, and with the numbers he is putting up this year, it would be easy to see him jumping up to the $4 M range.  If it’s lower, his value only goes up.  He profiles as a Type A free agent, and is actually the top relief pitcher in the National League in the Elias projections at MLBTR, so his final value reflects the extra $5 M that would go to the compensation picks received for that status.

What He’s Worth: Based on his final value, Adams would be worth Stetson Allie or Tony Sanchez.  If his Type A value was removed, he would be worth Starling Marte.  Or, if the Padres accepted lesser options, he would be worth one of the Justin Wilson/Rudy Owens/Bryan Morris/Jeff Locke/Brad Lincoln group, and a Grade C pitcher like Aaron Pribanic, Tyler Waldron, or Nate Baker.

Grant Balfour

Here is Balfour’s trade value:

2011 $3.8 1.0 $0.5
2012 $4.0 1.0 $1.2
2013 $4.5 1.0 $0.7
TOTAL $12.3 3.0 $7.4

Explanation: Balfour has a two year deal with an option.  His option for 2013 is for $4.5 M, with a $350,000 buyout.  He profiles as a Type A free agent, so his final value reflects the added $5 M.  However, that’s not guaranteed.  In order to get that, a team would have to offer him arbitration after his 2013 season, and he might just accept the raise over his $4.5 M salary from the previous year.  A team could decline his option and offer him arbitration after 2012, but if he accepts, it would be more expensive than just picking up his option.  If you remove his 2013 option, and his Type A status, he’s worth $1.3 M.

What He’s Worth: His total value above would be worth Starling Marte and a Grade C pitcher, or a package of a borderline Grade B pitcher, and a Grade C pitcher.  However, I think it’s more likely that he’d be valued at $1.3 M, removing his Type A value and his 2013 option year.  That makes him much more affordable, and since he’s with the Oakland Athletics, the Pirates could probably land him and one of Josh Willingham or Conor Jackson, while only giving up a Grade C pitcher like Tyler Waldron, Nate Baker, or Aaron Pribanic.

Heath Bell

Here is Bell’s trade value:

2011 $7.5 2.0 $0.9
TOTAL $7.5 2.0 $5.9

Explanation: Bell is owed $2.47 M for the remainder of the 2011 season.  He profiles as a Type A free agent, so most of his value comes from the $5 M that Type A compensation receives.  I’m not sure if he would be a lock to receive arbitration, since he would be due a raise over his $7.5 M salary.  He might opt for free agency, hoping to get a big multi-year deal.  Since that seems more likely, based on his success in the past, I’d leave his value at $5.9 M.

What He’s Worth: If the team went with a single prospect, he would be worth Starling Marte.  If the Pirates could get him for multiple prospects, he’d be worth one of the 2010 Altoona pitchers, and maybe someone like Gorkys Hernandez.  That wouldn’t be a bad thing, considering he would also come with two compensation picks, which might end up being two additional first round picks in the 2012 draft.

Craig Breslow

Here is Breslow’s trade value:

2011 $1.4 0.5 $0.5
2012 $1.8 0.5 $0.9
2013 $2.2 0.5 $0.5
TOTAL $5.4 1.5 $6.9

Explanation: Balfour is making $1.4 M this year, and would be owed $546 K from now to the end of the year.  He’s arbitration eligible in 2012 and 2013, and I just put his figures with a $400 K raise each year.  That actually might be a bit on the high side, although it doesn’t affect his value much.  He profiles as a Type A free agent, although the compensation system might be gone by 2014, or changed to where he wouldn’t qualify.  He also might have a hard time actually getting compensation, since teams might be unwilling to part with a first round pick for him.  So you could easily deduct $5 M from his value.

What He’s Worth: He’s rumored to be included with Josh Willingham, and the total combined package, when you don’t consider the Type A status, would be a little under $3 M.  That would be a Grade C pitcher and a Grade C hitter.

Chad Qualls

Here is Qualls’ trade value:

2011 $1.5 1.0 $1.2
TOTAL $1.5 1.0 $0.2

Explanation: Qualls has a one year, $2.55 M deal.  That’s made up of a $1.5 M salary in 2011, and a $1.05 M buyout on his $6 M option in 2012.  His performance doesn’t really warrant the option year, so any team adding him would be assuming the buyout, plus the roughly $500 K he is owed for the remainder of the year.  He doesn’t profile as a Type A or Type B pick.

What He’s Worth: Since his value doesn’t match the $1.55 M in salary a team would assume for the remainder of the year, he could be had for next to nothing.  My guess is that teams will try to go for other Padres relievers like Bell and Adams, before settling for Qualls.  I don’t really see him as an upgrade over Chris Resop or Jose Veras, just as another option to pair with those two.

Koji Uehara

Here is Uehara’s trade value:

2011 $3.0 1.7 $1.9
2012 $4.0 1.7 $4.5
TOTAL $7.0 3.4 $11.4

Explanation: Uehara has a one year, $3 M deal, plus a 2012 vesting option, which is almost a guarantee.  The option vests at 55 games, which he is a lock to reach.  Included in the final value is his Type A status (he profiles as the top reliever in the AL in MLBTR’s Elias projections), as well as $200,000 in performance bonuses in 2011.  He receives $100,000 each for 45 and 50 games, which he would likely reach with his new team.  Uehara would only have four years of service time after 2012, although he has the option to elect free agency when his contract ends.

What He’s Worth: His value is very similar to Mike Adams, and he would be worth the same as Adams.  Like Adams, his Type A value isn’t guaranteed, but in this case it’s because Uehara will be 38 years old heading in to the 2013 season.  I’m not sure a team will want to risk a raise over $4 M on a 38 year old.

Overall Opinions

There are a few different options to consider here.  The first group are the guys who just provide bullpen depth.  That would include Chad Qualls, Craig Breslow, and possibly Grant Balfour.  These guys wouldn’t really upgrade the eighth inning over what the Pirates have seen this year from Chris Resop and Jose Veras.  However, all three could be had for a cheap price, assuming the Type A value is removed from Breslow and Balfour.

The second option would be a strong 8th inning upgrade that would be around only for the final two months of the 2011 season.  That would be Heath Bell out of this group.  I would assume that his Type A status would stand, and with his demand being high, it would probably take a top prospect to land him.

The third option would be a strong upgrade under a multi-year contract.  That would be Uehara or Adams.  In either case, the Type A status really affects the value.  Without that value, they’d both be about the same value as Bell.  Honestly, I’d much rather go for one of these two over Bell if a top prospect is needed.  Uehara would be my pick, due to his ability to start.

Overall, the Pirates have a lot of options.  They could take a good bullpen arm, while offering a little more than salary relief to their trade partner.  They could add a guy like Heath Bell, and really strengthen the 8th inning for the remainder of the year.  That would almost certainly cost a good prospect.  They could also do the same with Uehara or Adams, adding a strong 8th inning arm for the remainder of the year, and for the 2012 season.  The ultimate question is, do the Pirates give up a good prospect for an upgrade to the bullpen, with Veras and Resop performing well in the role this year?  Or do they use a top prospect to fill other needs, like an offensive upgrade?

Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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