Gio Gonzalez Would Cost Too Much

Throughout the 2011 season I took a look at trade values for various players, looking both at the internal options that the Pittsburgh Pirates had to trade, and the external options that they could pursue.  With all of the talk about Gio Gonzalez being available by the Oakland Athletics, I figured I would revisit the series and see what the trade value would be for the left hander.

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.

Gio Gonzalez

Here is Gonzalez’s trade value:

2012 $4.2 3.3 $12.5
2013 $6.6 3.3 $10.1
2014 $9.9 3.3 $6.8
2015 $13.2 3.3 $2.1
TOTAL $33.9 13.2 $31.5

Explanation: His 2012 salary is based off of MLBTR’s arbitration projection for him as a Super Two player.  The 2013-2015 salaries are based on the 40/60/80 scale.  They might be a big high, but then again they might not if he repeats his 2010-2011 performances.  Keep in mind that the lower those salaries go, the higher his trade value gets.  His WAR is based on the average of his 2010-2011 seasons.  I don’t see him getting much better than what we saw in 2011, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he regresses from those numbers.

What He’s Worth: A $31.5 M value would be worth two top 50 pitching prospects.  That would mean Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia.  A lower combination would likely include one of those pitchers, plus one of Starling Marte or Robbie Grossman, and maybe a third prospect.  There might be some that will suggest Heredia, Grossman, and a third prospect, but I would guess that Oakland holds out for Taillon, since he’s more of a guarantee than Heredia.  It also depends on the value placed on those pitchers.  You could make the argument that Heredia is a top 50 pitching prospect and Grossman is a 76-100 hitting prospect.  Their combined values would be $28.4 M.  If Heredia is a 51-75 pitcher, and Grossman is a Grade B hitter, their combined values are $17.6 M.  A guy like Taillon is pretty much a consensus top 25 prospect.  Heredia’s range isn’t set, and neither is Grossman’s due to the split opinion of him in the scouting community.

Analysis: The big concern I have with Gonzalez is that his xFIP is much higher than his ERA over the last two years.  His career xFIP is 3.98, although he’s been in the 3.12-3.23 ERA range the last two seasons.  There’s also the concern that playing in Oakland’s pitcher friendly confines have given him a boost.  Another concern is his high walk total, with a BB/9 ratio north of 4.0 the last two years.  None of this is to say that he’s a bad pitcher.  Even with a regression, he’s a good pitcher.  It’s just the difference between a possible ace, and a strong number three starter.  I definitely wouldn’t give up Taillon for him, and I’m not sure I’d give up a package containing Heredia and Grossman.

In Taillon’s case, I believe the Pirates could see him in the majors as soon as June 2013, although a more conservative approach has him up in 2014.  Expectations aren’t high for the 2012 season.  Would it make sense to have Gonzalez for four years, with one of those years being the 2012 season that everyone is dreading?  Or would it make sense to keep Taillon and have him for 6+ years, ideally in the time frame that the team has the best shot of competing?  I’d take Taillon for the two extra years, and because I think he’s got a better shot of being an ace.

In the case of Heredia and Grossman, it’s really a matter of value.  They both have value, but they also have room to improve on their value.  Grossman is a borderline top 100 prospect right now.  Heredia is a borderline top 50 prospect.  If Grossman repeats his 2011 season at the upper levels, we’ll see him jump up the prospect lists.  If he continues to add power, we might even see him as a top 25 prospect, although I’ve never spoken to anyone who expects him to be more than a 15-20 home run hitter.  Heredia, on the other hand, is raw, but has a lot of potential.  He just played his first pro season in 2011, and he probably won’t reach full season ball until the 2013 season.  I’ve said before that I wouldn’t trade any of the young pitchers until at least one of them emerges and fulfills their potential.  With Heredia, I wouldn’t deal him now, as he has the potential to be one of the best pitching prospects in the game in a few years.

The flip side to this is that prospects aren’t guarantees.  Grossman could struggle with the difficult jump from high-A to AA.  Heredia has the makings of four plus pitches, but what if his potential never pans out?  There’s no guarantee that either player continues their climb up the charts.  There’s a risk either way for the Pirates.  That said, I’d rather risk it with the prospects, hoping they add more value going forward.  Then, if the Pirates want to make a deal, they’ll have an easier time making that deal, and might even be in the situation where they only have to give up one of the two pieces for a Gonzalez type pitcher, rather than both and a third player.

Gonzalez is a good pitcher, but his high walk rates and his xFIP suggest that he’s not an ace.  I’d rather see the Pirates sign a free agent with an xFIP around 4.00, rather than trading some top prospects for a guy who is at his peak value and a risk for a regression.  That feeling is only reinforced when you consider that Gonzalez is only under control through the 2015 season.  There will be other opportunities to trade for pitchers in the future, and I think it would make sense for the Pirates to wait until they’ve actually got a team that is close to contending to make such a move.  Then again, the Pirates might not need to make that type of trade if Cole and Taillon both realize their potential.  At that point it might make more sense to deal for another position of need.

  • Funny you say we can’t afford him when our FO just cut like 20M off the books for next year, freaking pathetic.  This organization should just fold and call it a day.  Embarrassing.  

  • Same arguement for Cahill as well?

    • Cahill is a bit difficult to project. He’s got a contract that runs through 2015, with two club options for 2016 and 2017. Right now he’s a 2.2-2.5 WAR pitcher. If he’s a 2.5 WAR pitcher through the life of the contract, then he’s overpaid in 2015 ($12 M), and his options aren’t worth the production. If he improves in the range of one win per year, he becomes the same value as Gonzalez.

      The thing about Cahill is that he’s younger than Gonzalez. He’ll be 24 in 2012. Gonzalez will be 26 on Opening Day, and will be 27 by the end of the season. Cahill has a better shot of improving on his current production than Gonzalez, but how much? Right now he’s a 4.23 xFIP pitcher, although he’s gone down in each of the last two years, to a 3.90 xFIP in 2011. A lot of questions impact his value: what kind of jump can he make in the next few years? How soon will that increase in production come? Is his trend of increasing strikeouts going to continue? Will he continue to walk 3.5 batters per nine innings? Right now his value is more of a good third starter, although he’s got a chance to improve. Question is: what will Oakland sell for? Will they sell him as a third starter, or as a guy who is young and has the potential to improve? It’s a difficult situation to project.

      • Do you believe Cahill could be had for Allie & Grossman? If so, I’d do that in heartbeat.

        • No, not with billy beane running the ship. He would like Grossman obp for sure. Allie right is now is too much of a reach which means it would cost another prospect to get cahill.

  • They do not have to give up on 2012, if giving up on 2012 is the thought process here then why trade or get a FA. Just use the system, Hague at 1st, D’Arnaud at SS, the Fort Catching, Locke for Maholm, what the heck losing is losing, why give up top prospects or a 25 man roster player?

    I don’t subscribe to these philosophies, trying to win and getting the best players they can is the right way to go IMO and if that means parting with anyone in the system, then part with them, most of the teams that have used the money ball philosophy traded a top prospect or two along the way, and the reply to that is those teams were close, well the Bucs were close to, 1st place in July is close.Two solid aces in the starting rotation would make this team very competitive in a hurry, that is how close they are. Every team has holes, no one can afford a star at every position, the Pirates competed last year because they had terrific defense up the middle and good pitching, injuries and fatigue, without depth hurt considerably.

    Lot of talk about Cole, Taillon, Heredia, Grossman, here, but not much about maybe the best get the Bucs have drafted in Bell, this kid might be the best draft pick they have had in years.

    • I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. It’s not “trade for Gonzalez” or “give up on 2012”. I think they can upgrade for the 2012 season without a trade, and I’d rather see them make a trade when they’re closer to contending.

  • Great article Tim. You just convinced me, forget about Gio Gonzalez.

  • You could have saved yourself a lot of time and effort by just writing a short summary of the reality:

    “The Pirates will not trade for Gio Gonzalez because they have no intention on acquiring established, successful major league baseball players.  If Gio Gonzalez made major league minimum and could be acquired for a player similar to Aaron Baker, then they might consider it.”