Links: Trade Values, Mark Melancon’s Arbitration Price

Two interesting links to share this morning, while I take a brief break from writing profiles in the 2015 Prospect Guide.

**Every year, Jonah Keri at Grantland releases a “Trade Values” series, looking at the top 50 most valuable assets in baseball. Part one of his list went up today, and includes two Pirates outfielders. Gregory Polanco ranked 45th, falling into a tier of talented young outfielders, along with Jorge Soler and Byron Buxton. Starling Marte ranked higher, finishing at 38th overall, in a tier with Carlos Gomez and Stephen Strasburg. Keri’s write-up had an interesting comparison, asking if you’d want two really good years of Gomez/Strasburg, or all of Marte’s years under his team-friendly extension.

The Pirates won’t be trading Marte or Polanco any time soon, so worrying about what they could fetch in a trade isn’t really important here. It is interesting to see how they compare against other players in baseball. The fact that they’re two of the 50 most valuable assets in the game right now, according to Keri’s list, is pretty significant.

**Yesterday the Pirates tendered offers to all of their arbitration-eligible players. One of the more interesting cases of arbitration this year will be with Mark Melancon. The reliever made $2.6 M last year, and Matt Swartz of MLBTR had him projected for $7.6 M in 2015, which was heavily inflated due to the fact that Melancon had a rare combination of a lot of holds, saves, and a low ERA. Those aren’t the best categories to determine a reliever’s worth, but they’re the categories that get a reliever paid in arbitration.

Swartz broke down Melancon’s arbitration case, which is a good thing to do, considering Melancon is in a unique situation. Ultimately, he looked at Melancon as just a good closer, rather than a good closer who was also a good set-up man in the same year. The updated projection was $5.6-6.1 M. I always go with Swartz’s estimations on the 40-man payroll page, although I didn’t go with Melancon’s original estimate, since I didn’t think he would end up that high. I have updated the 2015 payroll page to reflect the $5.6 M figure, since that could be closer to what Melancon will receive.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Hey Tim.Speaking of Melancon and trade value in the same headline , do you think the Buc’s are shopping him in a similar way to the two off-seasons leading up to moving Hanrahan ?


Melancon’s AvgAgainst went from went from .222 in ’13 to .194 in ’14. He’s been phenomenal. Having said that…he has a 92mph fastball (I understand Maddux and others don’t need to throw hard) but I just don’t see him being our closer at the end of the year. Think he’s going to be found out and they’re going to hit him around like has been shown very sparingly the last two years. I say trade while his value is high and his salary is going up.


Melancon’s arbitration is one of the more interesting low profile story lines of this winter, IMO. Given how difficult his salary seems to predict, I don’t think it is a stretch to imagine that not only will the two sides be unable to reach an agreement, but the numbers they submit to the arbitrator may be significantly different.

That’s a legitimate worry, since the arbitrator’s job is not to assign a salary of his own but to select the most appropriate salary submitted by the team and the player.

This is the perfect opportunity to buy out his remaining two years of arb, removing the risk of an arbitrator’s decision and adding cost certainty should they choose to trade him next winter.

Arik Florimonte

$5.6M for Melancon is probably fair, but should the Pirates pay that much? Or should they trade him and building their bullpen as they always do? Watson would become the closer and they would have to produce a few good arms out of thin air like they do every year.


Couple things…

The idea that the Pirates, under Huntington, have been good at building bullpens is an absolute myth. Only twice in seven years have they ranked in the top half of the National League in any of ERA, FIP, or WAR. You’re certainly correct that they seem to finds a few good arms every year, but that doesn’t make a good unit on the whole.

The math has to start changing with some of these unwritten salary limits. The Pirates 2015 payroll should end up almost $20m higher than the 2013 payroll the precipitated trading Joel Hanrahan. The team better have a damn good position to use the money on if they continue spending so little on the pen.

Arik Florimonte

Not that I don’t trust you, but I did look at the last 4 years and found their bullpen NL rank in WAR for each year:
2011 8/16
2012 12/16
2013 5/15
2014 8/15
Those are highly average results, for a far below average cost. To me that is “good at building bullpens”. But YMMV. I wouldn’t argue that they are good at building great bullpens.

But perhaps you are right and their ability to do that is overblown. I think the question remains, where would they get a better return on their money? While not in the strictest sense, payroll is effectively a zero sum game. Money you spend in one place you can’t (by choice or necessity) spend in another place.

I agree with you about spending the money. I don’t want to see them cut salary in one place without spending it well somewhere else.


I think it might be more illustrative to look at RA-9 WAR, to evaluate past performance.

2010: 14th
2011: 13th
2012: 5th
2013: 2nd
2014: 4th

The Pirates have collected relievers that FIP WAR rates poorly and have gotten solid performances out of them. I agree with NMR that it is a bit of myth that the Pirates have constructed great bullpens. It is more correct to say that the Pirates have consistently found solid to great arms to throw high leverage innings at minimal cost, some of their middle, 7th inning, relief has faltered.

I think the best bullpen strategy is have multiple options and save your resources for less volatile assets. That said pay Melancon, strikeouts, ground ball, and very few home runs is a very good combination. I don’t really have much to support this but combination of a cutter and 12-6 curve ball seems like a more durable skill set, then the relievers who rely on fastball, hard slider combination.


“To me that is “good at building bullpens”.”

Certainly within your right to believe that. I just personally don’t consider that acceptable for where they’re at on the win curve. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to imagine them as NL Central Champions last season had it not been for awful pen work until August.

As for the return on money, arbitrated salaries are artificially lowered. I think you’d have a hard time getting more value out of $6m spent on the free agent market vs. $6m spent on a top reliever through arbitration.

There certainly should be limits…I don’t think they should have more than one high-dollar guy…but I’d also caution against trying to be the smartest guy in the room without really any need.

Arik Florimonte

I think your position is not unreasonable. I appreciate the reasoned response. That was what I was hoping for when I posed it as a question!

I’m glad you didn’t call me on “below average cost” because I have no data to back that up, only perception. Though it would be interesting to know if that’s true.


Good conversation, Arik.

BTW, I think your perception of the cost is dead on.


Interesting article and trade values.
Would trading someone like Marte for an ace be a smart deal? IMO, since Marte is just beginning to show his upside and is a steal at the price they have him for right now, this would be a tough call. The Pirates have some very good pitchers on the way as well as a couple of high end outfielders on the way.

Ron Loreski

I would consider trading Polanco in the right deal. I’m confident enough in Travis Snider to let him be the fulltime RF. Plus there’s no guarantee Josh Bell will make the transition to firstbase.


I disagree with this sentiment, and I think the conclusion that Travis Snider is now a full time RF is only reached by overvaluing the most recent 200 PAs and neglecting to consider the previous 1500. Remember Domonic Brown’s “breakout” May and June last year?


When you factor in baserunning, fielding, etc, Snider would probably have to bat at least 50 points better than Polanco to have the same overall value.


We’re talking right field in pnc.. how much more value is Polanco’s defense over sniders..

Lukas Sutton

Right field certainly makes speed a bit less of a concern, but Polanco’s right arm makes him a clearly better defender than Snider. Anyone tagging at 2B legitimately has to think twice on anything right at or in front of Polanco.


Not when considering the value Polanco would bring back.


Fair enough. Everyone is for sale though – I’d trade Cutch for the right price. That being said, I’m a firm believer that we need to make up some value this year on the position player aggregate, post Martin, if that makes any sense. With the SB/DEF “head start” Polanco has over Snider in terms of value (not to mention upside, I think its unlikely that Snider outperforms Polanco. I’m not really a fan of trading positional value for pitching value. I think there’s probably going to be better to add pitching in the market, but then again, anything if its the right price.

Ron Loreski

Exactly. I’m not saying Polanco is just going to disappear.


I don’t see anything at all wrong with entertaining the idea of trading from a position of strength, which is all you seem to be suggesting.

It would take an awful lot, mind you, but I didn’t get the impression you were just giving him away either.

Scott Kliesen

What exactly would be the right deal for a guy w his upside? No way they get value that meets it. And Snider had a good couple months. Is that enough to really believe he finally has it figured out?

Personally, I like the idea of having competition for this position. It should cause one or both of them to up their game.


Taijuan Walker would be a starting point, but due to the inevitability of pitcher injuries I would want more from the M’s. If the Bucs traded Polanco to the Mariners (who need an OFer) for Taijuan Walker, 1B prospect DJ Peterson, and shortstop Chris Taylor, that would work for me.


We’ll have to wait & see part ll to answer that.. I would think any player listed as honorable mention to #1 should be in consideration as centerpiece. .

Ron Loreski

I don’t know specifically what a good trade would be, but definitely for an Ace pitcher. Maybe something similar to the Wil Myers/James Shields trade.

Lukas Sutton

If we trade Polanco for the equivalent of James Shields, we deserve to demand they sell this team. I get the “it worked out” notion, but that doesnt make it a good deal. Shields is, at best, barely an ace. I contend he is nowhere near the “ace” level and is a very good #2 pitcher that at times pitches like a #1 , but still not a shut down ace.

The idea that we should be on board with trading Polanco, to me, is absurd. If only for the fact that Cutch isnt signing a deal with PIT in a few years and if you take out Polanco it actually leaves our OF in bad shape. As is, we have the luxury of thinking “man, even if Cutch leaves we have 2 very above average talent OFers that can both be all stars”. Polanco is the guy i dont trade right now for anything.

Ron Loreski

I didn’t say trade Polanco for the equivalent of James Shields, I said for an Ace. I agree that Shields is more of a number 2. I was just using that trade as an example.

EDIT – I must add that KC also got Wade Davis in that deal, so there’s more added value.


Demand they sell the team?


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