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Gio Gonzalez Would Cost Too Much

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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:

YEAR SALARY WAR 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.

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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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