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Why Gaby Sanchez Lacks Trade Value

Last week, we discussed the possibility of trading Gaby Sanchez. Eric Ely took the stance of keeping him because he is a cost-controlled talent. I took the devil's advocate stance of trading him because, among other things, he is a cost-controlled talent. And now with the Marlins interested in Matt Garza, the Fish may be cashing in Sanchez as a trade chip to acquire a starting pitcher of interest.

In my article, I mentioned that Sanchez's trade value is never going to be higher.

Sanchez, Year WAR $ Value ($Mil) $ Salary ($Mil)
2012 2.0 9.0 0.4
2013 2.0 9.4 3.5
2014 2.5 12.5 6
2015 2.5 13.3 9.5
Total 9.0 44.2 19.4

This sort of setup yields a surplus value of $24.8 million over the next four seasons. With some guesswork involved, I would say the range in value is between $20 to 25 million for Sanchez's trade value.

This holds significant value in the trade market. Research from two years ago by Victor Wang states that this is the approximate value of a Baseball America top 11 to 25 position player. That value may have changed over time, but this estimate seemed appropriate enough. And yet there is no way that Sanchez will be viewed the same as players like Dustin Ackley, Manny Machado, or Brandon Belt were viewed before the 2011 season. After hearing comments about the lack of trade value of Sanchez despite his contract, I began to wonder why Sanchez was viewed so lowly. And I think I figured out why.

Trade Value Versus Real Value

We talk a lot about "surplus" or "trade" value when evaluating moves like these. The concept behind this is fairly intuitive. If you have a player who is being paid what he deserves in the free agent market, why would you trade assets that are valued at more than what they are currently being paid in order to acquire the right to pay a guy what he is worth? Theoretically, one could simply purchase those wins in the free agent market and forgo the cost of prospects or other team-controlled talent. On the other hand, if a player is an average player but is being heavily underpaid, he brings a lot of surplus or trade value to the picture, since a team can use that additional money not being used to pay for that player's wins to improve the club in other ways.

But teams do not always think in terms of trade value when they look at trades, and rightfully so. After all, the surplus value that theoretically can be used in buying other assets at market value is not completely flexible for a team; that money can only translate into wins depending on the needs of the ballclub and the availability of players. If a team is looking to fill a hole at shortstop, that surplus value only helps the team now if there is a shortstop available to sign. Similarly, trade value is affected by the position of the player and the needs of the acquiring team. Sanchez has very little trade value to the Boston Red Sox because they already have a long-term first baseman locked up. Sanchez's surplus value reaches its full value with a team that does not have a first baseman, like the Chicago Cubs.

All of these reasons lead to the idea that teams also value "real" value in their trades. In other words, not only do teams consider the surplus value, or how many wins could be bought with the money saved on this trade, but they also consider how many wins this trade brings in. That surplus value is not guaranteed to be converted to wins directly, while the player is a direct representation of wins. With some teams more concerned about immediate wins, the real value of a player may indeed begin to trump the surplus value of a player in a possible trade.

Sanchez and the Win Curve

This brings us to the second problem with Gaby Sanchez's trade value: he is a good, cost-controlled player. Wait, what?

Let me explain. Gaby Sanchez is not a star. Most Marlins fans recognize that fairly well. But Sanchez is an average or above-average player. So his win contribution is not very large, but still decent. What brings him trade value is his status as team-controlled and thus cheap.

Now consider the teams that are available to acquire such a player in a trade. Each team occupies a certain area in the "win curve," the theoretical value that a team would pay for their next win. This concept is also completely logical; adding another win is worth more to a team like the Atlanta Braves, that is closer to a playoff spot and its subsequent monetary benefits, than a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates, that is too far away from the playoffs to make another win matter much. For those teams closer to a playoff spot, they may be willing to pay more to get actual value from a player rather than just considering surplus value. For those teams further from a playoff spot, that actual, immediate value is less relevant, and they're more likely to consider primarily surplus value in their trade talks. They are also more likely to want future value in terms of prospects or potential rather than current value.

The problem with Sanchez is that he does not have much to bring to either side. For teams low on the win curve, their preference is for future value, whether it is in the form of prospects or young players with growth potential. Sanchez, at age 28, has neither of those qualities. Right now, he is who he is, and he is not likely to get any better over the next four years. A team like the Cubs, that is far from contention at the moment, has little need for a player who will be the same guy he is right now by the time they may be ready to compete in three or four years. For them, they would prefer guys who may become more significant contributors by that point, as the wins Sanchez contributes now are less important to them.

For clubs that are ready to make the leap into the playoffs, Sanchez's current impact may be too small. Those teams may be looking for three- or four-win upgrades at positions, and Sanchez simply cannot provide that kind of value. In addition, few contending ballclubs have direct first baseman needs. Among teams that made the playoffs in 2011, only one projects to have replacement-level talent at first base in 2012. The Tampa Bay Rays do not have a "true" first baseman on their depth chart, listing only second baseman Ben Zobrist at the first base position. The Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers currently have players who are perhaps one or 1.5 wins worse than Sanchez, but no more than that. Only the Rays stand to gain enough real value from a Sanchez acquisition to make a trade interesting.

As a result from all of this, there seems to be a league-wide undervaluing of Sanchez's trade value. The teams way out of the hunt do not want to acquire a player who is unlikely to improve and whose value is too tied to the present. The teams closer to the playoff hunt either have no first base needs or would like to see a stronger upgrade at the position in order to make them better contenders. Even though Sanchez is a great trade chip with a lot of surplus value, Eric E. may be right in that that value may be greatest with him on the Marlins rather than being used as a trade chip.