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2021 Trade Value: #11 to #20

As is the annual tradition at FanGraphs, we’re using the week after the All-Star Game to take stock of the top 50 players in baseball by trade value in anticipation of next week’s trade deadline. For a more detailed introduction to this year’s exercise, as well as a look at those players who fell just short of the top 50, be sure to read the Introduction and Honorable Mentions piece, which can be found in the widget above.

For those who have been reading the Trade Value Series the last few seasons, the format should look familiar. For every player, you’ll see a table with the player’s projected five-year WAR from 2022-2026, courtesy of Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections. The table will also include the player’s guaranteed money, if any, the year through which their team has contractual control of them, last year’s rank (if applicable), and then projections, contract status, and age for each individual season through 2026, if the player is under contract or team control for those seasons. Last year’s rank includes a link to the relevant 2020 post. One note on the rankings: particularly at the bottom of the list, there’s not a lot of room between players. The ordinal rankings clearly matter, and we put players where they are for a reason, but there’s not much room between, say, 35 and 60. The magnitude of the differences in this part of the list is quite small. Several talent evaluators we talked to might prefer a player in the Honorable Mentions section to one on the back end of the list, or vice versa. We think the broad strokes are correct — but with so many players carrying roughly equivalent value, disagreements abounded. Thanks are due to Sean Dolinar for his help in creating the tables in these posts. At the bottom of the page, there is a grid showing all the players who have been ranked up to this point.

As we enter the top 20, you’ll see commentary from both of us for each player. And now, to the next group.

Five-Year WAR +23.5
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2025
Previous Rank #23
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2022 24 +4.8 Pre-Arb
2023 25 +4.9 Arb1
2024 26 +4.8 Arb2
2025 27 +4.6 Arb3

For the last three years, Bichette has attacked baseballs early and often, a style that leads to loud contact but not a ton of deep counts. It’s not what you’d call a plus approach, and we had several evaluators question its sustainability, but his numbers speak for themselves. It’s a weird skillset, but that’s no knock on Bichette; most players who swing this much aren’t this good at avoiding whiffs. He’s been grounder-heavy this year, which is a slight worry going forward, but we were comfortable treating him as an easy plus bat given two-plus years of evidence. If you want to question something about his game, it would be his defense; he’s been dicey at short, though it’s more an issue of errors than range.

Still, how many hitters with this kind of thump do you know who can fake shortstop? There aren’t many, and most of them are pricey, nearing free agency, or both. Bichette doesn’t even hit arbitration until the 2023 season, so you can have your proverbial cake and pay it a below-market salary too. If you want to place Bichette lower than this, it’s because you either think he’s a second baseman or think he’s a below-average hitter, and while we moved him slightly lower on the list to reflect those risks, I don’t think either is particularly likely. – BC

It feels like baseball analysis is still making a transition away from the binary of thinking that players who walk are strictly good and players who don’t are strictly bad. Would improved plate discipline make Bichette a better player? Of course it would. Is he still good despite having a low walk rate? Unquestionably, and very good at that.

Bichette goes up to the plate looking to hit, and it works for him. He has no profound weaknesses versus a particular pitch type or location, focuses on hard contract to all fields, and is showing more power than ever in 2021. He’s a plus runner, and while he’s probably more of a 45 defender at short, his offense for the position more than makes up for it. Still just 23 years old, and not entering arbitration until 2023, Bichette is a star now, and one lined up for considerable improvement over the next four years. – KG

Five-Year WAR +13.8
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2024
Previous Rank #28
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2022 29 +3.4 Arb2
2023 30 +3.0 Arb3
2024 31 +2.7 Arb4

Woodruff is the first player on the list I gave serious thought to putting in the top 10. Three years of arbitration salaries — albeit years two through four thanks to his Super Two status — is a lot of control for someone pitching like an ace right this minute. ZiPS isn’t in love with his production, but if we were making this list based off of projections alone, it would be kind of boring. Woodruff is absolutely seen as a top 10 pitcher in the game, and now that he still looks great after the sticky stuff crackdown, rumors (warranted or not) that he’s a Spider Tack creation carry less weight.

Some team sources we spoke to thought that the team control alone should place Woodruff in the top 10. The reason he’s this low on the list isn’t because he’s not great — I don’t have anything bad to say about his pitching — but because everyone above him on the list is either better, on a preposterously team-friendly contract with plenty of years of control, or both. This is where things started getting heavy — enough so that no one from here on out will realistically be moved. – BC

Early in my baseball career, somebody in the industry I greatly respect (and who has been a part of championship organizations as a key decision maker) said something that has always stuck with me: “Players can change, often in unexpected and dramatic ways, both good and bad.” It really should be a mantra for those who follow prospects and draft picks, and it’s also true of big leaguers. These are human beings and sometimes they get dramatically better or worse for reasons we can’t quite (and often will never) put our finger on.

Woodruff certainly wasn’t expected to ever rank so highly on a list like this when the Brewers selected him in the 11th round of the 2014 draft. He was a big guy with some stuff, but he also began that spring as Mississippi State’s Friday starter and ended it as a mop-up reliever with an ERA approaching 7.00. Nobody could have predicted Woodruff developing five plus pitches or anything close to above-average command and control, but here we are, and he’s one of the best pitchers in the game despite only making the very fringes of a handful of Top 100 lists as he blossomed in the minors. His 2021 season will assuredly produce an impressive platform for his second year of arbitration in 2022, but any player with this ability prior to free agency is a hefty bargain. – KG

Five-Year WAR +13.5
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2025
Previous Rank HM
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2022 26 +3.0 Pre-Arb
2023 27 +2.9 Arb1
2024 28 +2.7 Arb2
2025 29 +2.5 Arb3

When the Diamondbacks swapped Jazz Chisholm Jr. for Gallen, many thought that they got the better end of the trade, but I don’t think those many expected Gallen to perform at this level. Through 37 major league starts, he’s been a front-of-the-rotation stud, though it doesn’t always look like he has that kind of stuff. As it turns out, he just has a combination of good-enough stuff, excellent command, and feel to pitch (I know, it’s vague) that works out to dynamic production. He’s also around for four more years after this one, including one for roughly the league minimum, about as much as control you can reasonably expect out of someone with his established level of competence.

Whether you’d take an extra year of solid pitching or a higher top end in Woodruff was something that various people we talked to had differing opinions on. No one thought Gallen was better than Woodruff, but that extra year was worth enough that the two felt like a toss-up overall. I wouldn’t hate swapping them, particularly given that team control is worth slightly less with pitchers than hitters (there’s a higher likelihood of injury), but in the end, the siren song of extra years was too strong for us to ignore. – BC

Zac Gallen has been a well above-average pitcher since he debuted in 2019, and while the Diamondbacks gave up quite a bit to acquire him, the deal still looks like one of Mike Hazen and company’s strongest moves during his Arizona tenure. “I thought he was a No. 3 starter, but he has way out-performed that,” said one National League scout. He’s down a bit this year but still quite good, and some occasional bad bouts with his command could be attributed to a minor elbow strain followed by a hamstring issue.

When healthy, Gallen is among the kings of the secondary pitches, but his four-seam fastball, which he throws less than half the time, also performs well above it’s 93-95 mph velocity thanks to fantastic pitch shape. Once he gets ahead in the count, hitters struggle to guess what is coming, as his curveball, changeup and new slider are all capable of finishing an at-bat without contact. Gallen doesn’t reach arbitration until 2023, and while Chisholm would look awfully good at shortstop in Arizona right now, there’s no reason to think the D-backs would take back that deal. – KG

Five-Year WAR +16.0
Guaranteed Dollars $5.5 M
Team Control Through 2023
Previous Rank #43
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2022 27 +3.6 $5.5 M
2023 28 +3.5 Arb3

It’s possible that we’re getting caught up in Ohtani-mania on this one, as no one even close to him has so few years until free agency. But no one even close to him has anywhere near the star power, or the two-way ability, or really anything resembling Ohtani’s multifarious excellence. In fact, we didn’t get much feedback on Ohtani’s slot in the rankings at all; most people we talked to thought he was reasonable around here, or potentially couldn’t figure out a value and knew it was all academic anyway given that the Angels are about as likely to trade him as they are to voluntarily put Anaheim back in their name.

I don’t really have much else to say about this one, aside from a general plea to not pay too much attention to the ZiPS forecasts for him here. How in the world are they supposed to handle someone truly without precedent? The year he’s having right now is absolutely bonkers, and he might never recapture it, but the chance that he’s the best DH in the league and also a number two starter is simply too great to ignore. – BC

You are assigned to write a couple of paragraphs about Shohei Ohtani. Where do you start? You can write about the player himself, who has seemingly achieved the impossible by being one of the top hitters and pitchers in baseball this year. But it doesn’t stop there — there’s so much to say about the most interesting man in baseball. Beyond his play, there’s his marketability. Front offices measure success by wins and losses, but owners and ownership groups measure it by profit, and there’s no player who would mean more to a team’s bottom line than Ohtani, and it isn’t all that close. He increases attendance, boosts merchandise sales to a degree like no other, and is still earning just $5.5 million in 2022. That fact leads us to another interesting aspect of Ohtani, namely, what he will make in 2023, a salary that will likely be decided by an arbitrator. Arbitration revolves around comps. Teams, with the help of MLB’s labor relations department, work to establish comparable players and then argue that if Player A is like Player B and Player B earns X, the transitive property says that Player A should get X as well. Agents work in a similar manner, finding Player Bs with higher salaries. Ohtani is a truly unique player, one for whom there simply are no good comps. There aren’t even any “kind of OK if you squint” comps. It will be an arbitration like no other should it come to a hearing, as there is no precedent for two-way players in the process, and one could logically argue that the player-side should try to dictate a separate salary for both his hitting and pitching and simply add them up for a recommended number.

Ohtani’s talent alone had some sources arguing for a top 10 placement on this last, while many others wanted to see some sustained durability, as Ohtani is in his fourth year in the majors and only recently crossed the 100 career innings threshold. Meanwhile, as a hitter, he has turned into a left-handed version of prime Giancarlo Stanton, where the strikeouts pile up but you have no reason to care as the other-worldly power more than makes up for it. The end result is elite-level run production. All that the Angels (and quite frankly, the rest of baseball) can hope for at this time is continued health and availability in both roles. – KG

Five-Year WAR +14.9
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2026
Previous Rank
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2022 25 +3.1 Pre-Arb
2023 26 +3.2 Pre-Arb
2024 27 +2.9 Arb1
2025 28 +2.9 Arb2
2026 29 +2.7 Arb3

I can’t speak for Kevin, but I spent hours puzzling over Hayes’ peripherals, his batted ball quality, his approach — whatever I could dig up, both in terms of his major league performance and scouting reports. He was without a doubt the player I had the hardest time placing, and I think that if we’d spent a few more weeks making the list, he might have ended up lower down, as I have an easier time talking myself down than up when it comes to him. But this is nitpicking, because he’s a likely plus bat with elite defense, and he’s going to be sticking around a long time; despite his 1.6 WAR in 2020, he only played in 24 games, and didn’t even accrue enough service time to qualify for Super 2, which means he won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2024.

There’s risk here, obviously. Hayes has hit a ton of grounders this year, and is running a low line drive rate; the two of those have combined to make for a low xwOBA, not that that’s a particularly predictive statistic. He’s still hitting the ball plenty hard, and already has a good feel for the strike zone; I’m not surprised to see his walk rate creep above 10% this year, and the combination of his plate discipline and contact quality make it hard for me to believe he won’t put up at least a few 130-150 wRC+ seasons at some point down the line. Combine that with elite defensive chops, and you have a franchise cornerstone whose biggest question mark is whether he’ll hit enough to be a superstar rather than merely a great player. – BC

Hayes is an exciting young hitter. Wrist injuries take time to recover from, and even after a return to play, it can take months for the power to come back. That seemed to be the case for the 24-year-old during the first half of 2021. He has a good approach, with plenty of plate coverage and a knack for finding the barrel; the mid-point of the external evaluations on him suggests a future of seasons marked by 40 doubles and 20 home runs.

And then there is the defense. Third base is a unique position on the infield. It’s not a place where range is required as much as an ability to read and react, and few in the game do those two things as well as Hayes. All this, and still five more seasons until he reaches free agency. – KG

Five-Year WAR +23.9
Guaranteed Dollars $252.0 M
Team Control Through 2028
Previous Rank
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2022 31 +5.7 $36.0 M
2023 32 +5.2 $36.0 M
2024 33 +4.8 $36.0 M
2025 34 +4.3 $36.0 M
2026 35 +3.9 $36.0 M

Hoo boy, is this one going to inspire some takes. I know, I know, you surplus value types will be upset. The Yankees owe him so much money! We got exactly that feedback from several people we sent the list to. But the game is baseball, not surplus value maximization, and while that general mode of thinking is alive and well in front offices (and played its role in this list), the desire for a globe-destroying ace who makes you a favorite in every game he pitches exists as well.

Cole might win a Cy Young this year, but whether he does or not, it’s clear that he’s still at the top of his game. Even down 150-plus rpm in the aftermath of goop-gate, he’s blowing opposing hitters away, and while pitcher health is never guaranteed, it feels like he hasn’t missed a start since the Nixon administration. Cole won’t become available while he’s still this great because teams don’t trade players like this when they’re at their peak and in the juicy part of long-term deals, but if he did, the bidding would likely be fierce. Maybe money would get thrown around to make the numbers work, but the sheer talent that a team would have to surrender to get the Yankees to even pick up the phone merits this spot, and I was tempted to put him even higher. – BC

Cole was one of the players at the center of the sticky stuff controversy after he followed a poorly-worded answer to a question on the subject during a Zoom presser with some lackluster outings. But then he threw a shutout against the best offense in baseball on the road and struck out 11 Red Sox in his next outing, and people seem to have stopped talking about it. Did Cole use foreign substances? Almost assuredly. But here’s the thing: if you take an advantage away from everyone, the talent afterward is going to line up mostly the same way as it did before. And as starting pitchers go, Gerrit Cole is one of the best, with his combination of quality and quantity arguably unmatched in the game. He’s not only an elite pitcher on an inning-by-inning basis, he’s also the pitcher most likely to deliver 32-33 starts and well over 200 inning per season.

Few can touch Cole in terms of power stuff, as he sits in the upper-90s with a fastball that becomes all the more dangerous due to it’s vertical shape. Then there are two dominating power breakers and a changeup that has gone from solid to downright excellent over the past few years. Beyond all of that is Cole’s command and control, which exceed that of many low-velo pitchers who are labeled as pitchability types. Yes, it’s a long and very lucrative contract, but he’s absolutely well worth it. – KG

Five-Year WAR +15.8
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2024
Previous Rank
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2022 27 +3.7 Arb1
2023 28 +3.5 Arb2
2024 29 +3.1 Arb3

Burnes is a handy reminder that while we base this list off of plenty of industry feedback, our own evaluations matter a lot in the process, particularly when it comes to breaking ties. Could you put Woodruff or Hayes, just to name two, over Burnes? Sure! But he’s piling up a strong track record that says he might be in that Cole/deGrom tier, and while I like Woodruff plenty, I simply don’t feel the same way about him. We had several sources say Burnes should be in the top 10, and several say he should be below Woodruff (sometimes the same person, even), so this feels like an appropriate landing place.

There’s no question that Burnes lost some movement when the league cracked down on foreign substances, but in his four starts since June 21, he’s struck out 32 while walking only four. He’s put up a 1.75 FIP and 2.51 xFIP over that time period, and a 0.99 ERA. Apparently great pitchers are still great! It’s a tiny sample, of course, but he still looks the part. The big change Burnes made after 2019 — no four-seamers, all cutters — is starting to feel like one of the great pitching adjustments of our time. The suddenly plus command is just gravy, and if I had my druthers, he might have ended up in the top 10. – BC

Corbin Burnes has one of the best cutters in baseball. It’s more of a “natural” cutter, in that it’s just how his 95 mph-plus fastball moves. His low-80s curve and upper-80s slider might be even better than that. Oh, and the changeup is nasty too. And have I mentioned that he pretty much never walks anybody, or gives up home runs? He’s also just entering arbitration next year, leaving his age-27-29 seasons among the most valuable in baseball.

Our assignment as part of these player blurbs is to talk about the player and why they rank where they do. To do so you need to discuss what a player is good at and what he isn’t. For Burns, that is a struggle, other than the fact that he’s still unproven in terms of workload. I guess I’ll just leave this here then: He doesn’t do a great job of paying attention to runners at first and it takes him a while to deliver the ball, so overall, he’s quite easy to run on. There, I found something. – KG

Five-Year WAR +24.2
Guaranteed Dollars $334.05 M
Team Control Through 2030
Previous Rank #4
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2022 30 +6.3 $37.1 M
2023 31 +5.7 $37.1 M
2024 32 +5.0 $37.1 M
2025 33 +4.0 $37.1 M
2026 34 +3.2 $37.1 M

Look, I don’t know. Even more than Cole, this one took some theorizing. Most teams in baseball wouldn’t be willing to take on Trout’s contract, regardless of return; that’s simply not how they operate. But concentrating so much value in a single position — penciling a perennial MVP candidate into your lineup every day until he declines — is such an attractive proposition that the bidding among teams that can afford him would be intense — even if, like in Cole’s case, any deal would be complicated.

That said, this might be Trout’s last year with such a lofty place on the list. His injury troubles have become more chronic than one-off, and the game has always been to squeeze out as many years of peak performance as possible before the back end of the deal kicks you in the teeth. That can be worth it if you’re not cash-constrained and are in the juicy part of the win curve, but it doesn’t take that many lost years to flip Trout from intriguing to albatross. If he misses one of the next three years (cumulatively) with injury, the deal flips from favorable to neutral. It’s even possible we’ve already missed the inflection point — that 2026 ZiPS is scary, though I’ll easily take the over on it. But while we did get feedback that Trout was too high, it was always a commentary on big contracts in general, not Trout in particular. For now, at least, there’s still the belief that he’s the best hitter in the game when he can play. – BC

The baseball world is a better place when Mike Trout is on an active roster, and the good news is that that seems like it will be happening again soon. I knew he was having a good season before his injury, but I didn’t realize until starting this series that his 2021 actually represented a career-best in terms of OPS, albeit in just 36 games. This year’s malady is a calf strain, but it should be noted that Trout is starting to get a reputation for being an outstanding player who tends to find himself on the Injured List once or twice a year, as thumb, wrist and foot issues limited him to an average of just 129 games over the last three full seasons.

Like most players, Trout has lost a step as he approaches 30, but he’s worked hard on his defense and is still mostly solid in center field. He’s also turned into a strong pull hitter and has seen his contact rates both in and out of the zone take a dip in recent times. It’s going to happen, folks. Mike Trout is (we are pretty certain) human, and like all of us, he is aging. He’s beginning to exit his prime, but since that prime was among the best in the history of baseball, a standard decline as he gets older should still leave him a star for the remainder of his deal. – KG

Five-Year WAR +20.6
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2024
Previous Rank #10
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2022 27 +4.7 Arb1
2023 28 +4.4 Arb2
2024 29 +4.1 Arb3

I wouldn’t judge you if you wanted to put Bieber behind Burnes. I wouldn’t judge you if you wanted him to be four or five spots higher on the list. The injury risk here is real, as is the talent; he’s been on the IL since June 13, though he resumed throwing this week. This rating assumes he’ll be back at some point this year, which appears to be the case, but shoulder injuries are scary, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back to his old self immediately when he does return. Sure, he still has three more years of arbitration after 2021, but if you trade for Bieber, you’re trading for him for the four years of playoff starts as much as the regular season.

But yeah, if he’s back, you can’t argue with the results. Over the last two seasons, he’s turned from a down-ballot Cy Young candidate to one of the few best pitchers in the game. This season hasn’t been as good as 2020, but how could it be? He was simply ludicrous last year, with ace closer levels of production for seven innings a start. If you’re nitpicking, you could look at the fact that he allows hard contact when he does get hit, or that he relies a lot on breaking pitches for his whiffs, with the occasional walk issues that implies. That and the injury scare have him down slightly, or he might otherwise be the number one pitcher in the game when it comes to trade value. – BC

Shane Bieber only throws his fastball a third of time. It’s a far lower proportion than most, but it’s with good reason, as he’s also in possession of some of the nastiest breaking stuff in the game. His curveball and slider (and some in between) have big velo, massive movement, and somehow Bieber has shown a profound ability to locate them despite just how much they break.

He can miss bats as well as anyone and doesn’t enter arbitration until 2022. A month ago, Beiber would have ranked in the single digits, but that same month ago, he was placed on the IL with a shoulder strain. Obviously, there are no good injuries, but elbows feel like a bump in the road more often than not. Shoulders? They scare the hell out of teams. Bieber is reportedly throwing again, but there’s no set timetable for his return, and until he’s out of the injury nexus, we had to hedge a bit on this list. – KG

Five-Year WAR +17.8
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2025
Previous Rank #34
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2022 25 +3.7 Pre-Arb
2023 26 +3.8 Arb1
2024 27 +3.6 Arb2
2025 28 +3.5 Arb3

Kevin and I spent a lot of time on this one. You need to be pretty sure that a DH-only type will hit to put him this high, even with four years of discounted team control remaining after this year. Well, we’re pretty sure that Alvarez will hit. We both have him as an easy .900 OPS, 150 wRC+ type, perennially one of the best hitters in the majors. It’s easy to call this year a disappointment, but even then, he’s running a .352 OBP, hitting for power, and hanging around the top of the league when it comes to barrel rate while simultaneously swinging and missing far less often than average.

Want to engage in some pedantry with your trade value list? I’m a seller of the DH positional adjustment. Someone has to sit in the DH role. Teams aren’t short for people who can stand in outfield corners, but they are short for hitters who can win MVP trophies. Teams don’t actually care whether Alvarez plays an inoffensive outfield or doesn’t play in the field at all, but WAR docks him roughly a win for it. Even with that hit to his value, the projections look good, and make no mistake: they’re underselling how much teams value elite hitters. Four years of this amount of thump would command a hefty price, whether or not the NL adopts the DH. – BC

It’s hard to put a bat-only player this high, but when it’s a 24-year-old bat of this quality who doesn’t hit his first year of arbitration until 2023, it becomes a bit easier. Yordan’s exit velocities match up with nearly any player in the game and he does it without selling out for power, as he’s more likely to rifle a ball up the middle than he is to pull something. His approach has gotten a bit weird this year, as he’s swinging in the zone less and out of the zone more, but a return to form with his power and in-zone contact rates would potentially create 1.000-plus OPS seasons.

The Astros hope that Alvarez’s knee issues are a thing of the past after surgery in August of 2020, and he’s been surprisingly acceptable during his limited run in left field this season, although he’s no longer the 50-55 runner he was as a rookie. But talking about anything beyond the bat is playing in the margins, as Alvarez is one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball and likely still years away from his prime. – KG

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