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MLB Trade Value, Part 2: Ranking baseball's most valuable players

Jonah Keri's 2016 Trade Value player rankings continue as he lists Nos. 39–21, including stars like Matt Harvey, Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton and more.

Welcome to Part 2 of the 2016 Trade Value player rankings! A quick refresher on what I'm doing here: Looking at a number of factors (age, performance, contract status, etc.) and using statistical analysis, I've ranked the top 50 players in baseball for this season by their trade value—essentially trying to answer the question of "If every team made every player available via trade, which guys would fetch the greatest return?"

Yesterday, I laid out the ground rules and listed the players who had fallen off last year's rankings, this year's honorable mentions and Nos. 50–40 on the 2016 edition. Today, I'm tackling Nos. 39–21; tomorrow, I'll rank the top 20.

For a full breakdown of the Trade Value's history and rules, check out the intro in Part 1. Let's get on with the rankings!

All contract figures from Cot's Contracts; all WAR figures from

39. A.J. Pollock, CF, Diamondbacks
Last Year: Not Ranked

When the Braves and Diamondbacks first started talking about Shelby Miller a couple months ago, the rumor that kept coming up was that Atlanta wanted Pollock in exchange for the young righthander. That the Braves had to “settle” for a king’s ransom highlighted by No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson says a lot about how good Pollock is. Even in the hitter’s haven that is Chase Field, batting .315/.367/.498 with 20 homers, 39 steals and excellent defense in centerfield makes you an MVP candidate—or at least it would in a parallel universe in which more baseball writers value numbers as highly as they do reputation, or your team’s place in the standings.

38. Jake Arrieta, SP, Cubs
Last Year: Not Ranked

Arrieta is a free agent in two years and Scott Boras is his agent, so any team that trades for him in our made-up universe can’t assume long-term control. But what an electrifying two years those would be. Arrieta claimed his first Cy Young award last season, no mean feat considering how good Clayton Kershaw and the Koufax-ian Zack Greinke were in 2015. Arrieta’s second-half performance, in which he flashed a 0.75 ERA, was record-breaking. Assuming the wall he hit in the playoffs doesn’t have any lasting effect, he’ll go into 2016 as the nearly unhittable ace for the team widely considered the favorite to win the National League pennant.

37. Starling Marte, OF, Pirates
Last Year: 38

The only player in the big leagues to have “partay” affixed to the end of his name as a term of endearment, Marte is the type of player who can beat you in more ways than you can count. Over the past three seasons, he’s been one of the NL’s best and steadiest hitters (especially once you adjust for the pitcher-friendly dimensions of PNC Park); he’s stolen 101 bases; and he’s played very good defense in leftfield. Paired with Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, Marte has helped form what’s arguably the best all-around outfield in the majors.

Marte’s still something of a hacker at the plate, salvaging his on-base percentage by also being the most plunkable player in the league. If he ever learns to be more patient and wait for better pitches to drive, he could join the ranks of the NL’s super-elite. That would be a huge boon to the Pirates, who have Marte locked up inexpensively through 2021.

MORE MLB: Picking this off-season's most underpaid, overpaid free agents

36. J.P. Crawford, SS, Phillies
Last Year: Not Ranked

The second-best position player prospect in baseball (No. 1 is another shortstop), Crawford is one of the most polished 21-year-olds you’ll ever see. He’s a well-above average defender at that crucial position, owns terrific contact-hitting skills (with more walks than strikeouts playing at A ball and Double A last year) and boasts emerging gap power, even if that might not translate to big homer totals in the majors. The Phillies have overhauled their front office, locking up and promoting some bright, young analytical minds and sweeping away the last remnants of the Ruin Tomorrow Jr. Era. When the next contending team arrives in Philly, Crawford will be the All-Star fan favorite leading the charge.


35. Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners
Last Year: 20

Finally, a few signs of mortality. In 2015, Hernandez saw his ERA spike by nearly a run and a half, posting his worst strikeout and walk rates in four years, the second-highest home-run rate of his career and his lowest average fastball velocity ever at 91.8 mph. One of the biggest reasons for Hernandez’s status as a potential future Hall of Famer might also be responsible for some slippage in his skills: He’s fired 200-plus innings in eight straight seasons and will open his 12th big-league season still just shy of his 30th birthday.

Let’s not get carried away, though. Even in a down year, King Felix was a key asset for the M’s, and plenty of teams would gladly take him at $26 million a year through 2019 in a bizarro world in which Seattle ever made him available.

34. Marcus Stroman, SP, Blue Jays
Last Year: Honorable Mention

Stroman became a mini-legend in Toronto in 2015—not bad for a guy who made just four regular-season starts last year. A seemingly devastating knee injury during spring training figured to knock the effervescent righty out for the entire year. Instead, he became a patent and trademark mogul, got his college degree from Duke, turned into a social media icon with his delightful Tweets, shocked even the most decorated medical minds with his lightning-fast recovery, flashed a 1.67 ERA in those four regular-season starts and became one of the leading forces behind Toronto’s push to the ALCS

As entertaining as Stroman is off the field, his on-field accomplishments are legitimate too, highlighted by a career 55.6% ground-ball rate and fewer than two walks allowed per nine innings—both much needed skills when pitching in a hitter’s park like Rogers Centre. With David Price gone, Jays fans have lamented management’s inability to find a replacement for the top of the rotation. But it’s quite possible that the new staff ace is already on the roster, and Stroman might be it.

33. Kyle Schwarber, OF/C, Cubs
Last Year: Not Ranked

If you ever want to watch a grown man make an ass of himself, Google “Jonah Keri Schwarber”. Built like Matt Stairs and boasting a powerful uppercut swing, the Schwarbs launched multiple monstrous homers in his debut season. In Stairs-ian fashion, Schwarber also ranked among the league leaders in walk rate, working lots of deep counts, looking for pitches to drive and taking free passes as they came.

Schwarber probably won’t play more than a handful of games at catcher and is a defensive liability in leftfield, too. Still, there aren’t many players you can project for 30 homers and 100 walks (or close to it) every year, and he's got a shot to join that rare cohort. Throw in the fact that he’s not yet 23 years old, and the Cubs have themselves a keeper.

32. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
Last Year: Not Ranked

Russell wasn’t nearly as dazzling as Schwarber with the bat, but the good news is that he excelled in the field, ranking among the league leaders in Defensive Runs Saved at one of the toughest positions on the diamond. Offensive improvement could come soon: Russell put up big numbers in the minors, with uncommon power and on-base ability for a shortstop. The Cubs are already Las Vegas’ early favorite to win the pennant this year, and if Russell’s bat starts to catch up with his glove, they’ll become even more formidable.

MORE MLB: How badly did qualifying offer hurt free agency this winter?

31. George Springer, OF, Astros
Last Year: Not Ranked

One-hundred and eighty games into his major league career, Springer’s career line sits at an impressive .256/.354/.463—28% better than league average over that time. But for the second straight season, he spent an extended stretch of time on the disabled list, this time a two-month absence with a wrist injury.

You can still see the All-Star he’s poised to become: Springer slashed his strikeout rate in 2015 and tapped into some of the base running prowess that allowed him to swipe 45 bases three years ago in the minors. With his impressive power and Minute Maid Park's Crawford Boxes working in his favor, he could be a 30–30 guy some time soon. A healthy Springer could blossom into one of the 10 best players in the league. The Astros will have the rest of the decade to see if that happens in Houston.

30. Jose Fernandez, SP, Marlins
Last Year: 24

29. Matt Harvey, SP, Mets
Last Year: 13

Make no mistake: There’d be an absolute feeding frenzy if either of these aces suddenly became available. With Tommy John surgery now in the rearview mirror for both flame-throwing righties, we should expect both to dominate for the next three seasons. So why aren’t Harvey and Fernandez higher on this list, given their combination of elite stuff and youth? Because three years are almost certainly all you’re going to get, given that this is another pair of Boras clients.

A trade might not be that far-fetched either. Various columnists have proposed tradingHarvey, and Fernandez’s name surfaced endlessly in off-season rumors. Still, just because a trade might make lots of sense (though less now for the Mets as they’ve done a solid job of filling their lineup holes) doesn’t mean it’s likely to happen until at least season’s end. Given the Marlins’ history of selling off assets, let’s agree to meet here again next winter for some hot, hot Hot Stove action.

28. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
Last Year: 14

The one major asset the Marlins didn’t sell, Stanton theoretically holds the most expensive contract in baseball history. In reality, it’s not hard to imagine him opting out after the 2020 season. The way salaries have been rising, the seven years and $218 million that’ll be left in his deal at age 31 might constitute a bargain. That and Stanton could get sick of being a Marlin by then (if not sooner) if the Fish continue to wallow near the NL East basement under erratic ownership. A rich team making a run at one of the game’s most fearsome sluggers can’t be ruled out; industry scuttlebutt says a couple have already tried, just without any success.

The 2019 Dodgers roster notwithstanding, Stanton needs to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season, having missed 39 or more games in three of the past four seasons. He’s just 26 years old and a chiseled physical specimen with better-than-average speed and playable outfield range, so he at least seems like the kind of player who will age well. But until Stanton can avoid the freak injuries that have hindered his rise to stardom, we’re left to do little more than savor what he can do when he’s actually on the field: absolutely murder baseballs.

27. Dallas Keuchel, SP, Astros
​Last Year: Not Ranked

In 2014, Keuchel was an extreme ground-ball pitcher who parlayed weak contact into solid results despite a flaccid strikeout rate. In 2015, Keuchel’s strikeout rate surged—he fanned more than four batters for every one he walked—and that combination of whiffs and weak contact fueled his first Cy Young award.

Keuchel is a soft-tosser by modern standards, with a fastball that averages about 90 mph, so he has a few skeptics doubting his ability to sustain last season’s elite performance. You could also quibble about the 246 innings Keuchel fired between the regular season and playoffs and wonder if there might be a bit of a year-after hangover. But even if Keuchel does regress a bit, getting three years of even a near-elite pitcher at arbitration prices is worth a hell of a lot in today’s market.


26. Buster Posey, C, Giants
Last Year: 11

Posey’s stellar 2015 campaign did absolutely nothing to harm his standing in the baseball world. The second-best season of his illustrious career (by Wins Above Replacement) saw Posey hit .318/.379/.470 with 19 homers, an elite contact rate, top-notch defense and a career-high 150 games played. So why did he fall 15 spots on this year’s list? First, a golden age of young talent ushered a slew of amazing rookies into the league last year, bolstering an already terrific collection of under-25 major league talent. Second, Posey will be 29 years old by Opening Day, and catchers often age poorly and break down after they hit 30. There’s hope on that second front, though: Posey has been extremely durable over the past four seasons (playing no fewer than 147 games in a season), and the Giants have deftly shifted Posey to first base a bit more every year, to where he only squatted for 106 games last season.

MORE MLB: Manfred sends strong message with Chapman suspension

25. Miguel Sano, DH/OF, Twins
Last Year: Not Ranked

In recent years, general managers have changed the way they evaluate players, placing a heavier emphasis on the value of defense. Jason Heyward’s youth and on-base ability helped his market value, but he wouldn’t have landed the richest position player contract this winter without his Gold Glove-caliber defense. It’s not like home runs are going out of style, though, as newly minted multi-millionaire signees Chris Davis and Justin Upton can attest.

Sano worked on his outfield defense this off-season, so we might see him play games there in addition to third and first base to supplement lots of playing time at designated hitter. Wherever he ends up, though, Sano is going to earn a ton of money himself, and it’s going to be entirely because of his bat. Pro-rate Sano’s rookie stats over a full season and you get 70-plus extra-base hits to go with a gaudy .385 on-base percentage. And since he's just 22 years old, there’s good reason to believe he’ll improve, too. Now consider that Sano will make around the league minimum for two more years and that he can’t test free agency until 2021, and you have a truly drool-worthy asset.

24. Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
Last Year: 8

An older but also more established version of Sano, Abreu is another hulking AL Central slugger who’s made the talent evaluators who loved him many moons ago look like savants. Abreu’s numbers slipped significantly following his majestic rookie season, but he still ranked among the league’s best hitters, batting .290/.347/.502 with 30 bombs. Even better, the White Sox control Abreu’s rights for his age 29–32 seasons at the low, low cost of $44 million over four years. With third baseman Todd Frazier and second baseman Brett Lawrie now on board, Abreu will anchor an offense that figures to score far more runs this season.

23. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox
Last Year: 41

The fancy projection systems pegged the 2015 Red Sox to do big things, with ambitious outlooks for big-ticket free agents Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and for up-and-comers like Bogaerts and Mookie Betts. Sandoval and Ramirez were busts in year one, but Bogaerts and Betts were anything but, emerging as one of the best up-the-middle duos in the American League. Bogaerts’s aggressive approach—he walked just 32 times in 654 plate appearances—paid off with a .320/.355/.421 line, a fine accompaniment to his better-than-average defense in his first full big-league season as an everyday shortstop.

Some of those numbers could regress, given the uncharacteristically high .372 batting average on balls in play Bogaerts put up last season. On the other hand, he hasn’t yet tapped into the power potential he showed as a precocious teenager zooming through the minors, and at age 23, he has lots of room to improve.

22. Jacob deGrom, SP, Mets
Last Year: Honorable Mention

Look at deGrom’s major league resume and you’ll find zero flaws. In 2014, he stormed into the league by racking up 22 stellar starts, striking out more than a batter an inning, posting a 2.69 ERA and winning the NL Rookie of the Year award. In year two, he was even better: He struck out a few more batters, chopped one free pass per nine innings off his walk rate, made 30 excellent starts, lowered his ERA to 2.54 and made three terrific starts in the playoffs before struggling a bit in his final outing during the World Series.

This high on the list, though, you’d better be bullet-proof. My initial top-50 list had deGrom ranked in the teens, and when I ran it by a GM, this was his response: “Too high for me—older and has had surgery. Think he's going to break again.” Mets fans will have to hope that five more years of affordable control over a pitcher who is already one of the best in the league trump the possibility of a return to the multiple Tommy John surgery days of the team’s recent past.

21. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers
Last Year: Not Ranked

Kershaw didn’t win the Cy Young award this time around (though he had a pretty good argument for it), but he's still widely considered the best pitcher on the planet, given his rare combination of top-of-the league track record and youth. Ah, but that contract. The Dodgers have more money than several sovereign island nations, so $163 million (not including performance bonuses) over the next five seasons—or $98 million over the next three, if Kershaw exercises his post-2018 opt-out—poses no problem for their gargantuan payroll. Then again, it’s hard to imagine a penny-pinching team like the Rays running to spend that kind of money, let alone giving up three or four great young players in trade for the privilege of spending all that dough. Call this ranking a happy medium, then feel free to mock me as a know-nothing Canadian on your forum of choice.

Coming tomorrow: the final 20 players on this year's list.