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What’s Will Smith’s trade value?

He’s been so good for the Giants, but can his value help Farhan Zaidi close the deal on a big deadline trade?

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MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Over on SB Nation’s Twins site, Twinkie Town, I talked about what a Madison Bumgarner deal might look like, but because I’m not in the industry and don’t talk to scouts or execs every day, I don’t have a firm grasp of how Bumgarner’s talents are viewed by everybody. So, I relied on comparisons to arrive at this proposal:

[...] Farhan Zaidi dealt with Thad Levine just last year in the Logan Forsythe-Brian Dozier trade. That was a weird one in that Forsythe and Dozier’s salaries were the same, but Dozier was performing so much better. But the Dodgers had to give up two prospects along with Forsythe: their 5th round pick of 2014 (Devin Smeltzer) and 7th round pick from 2016 (Luke Raley). Raley was the Dodgers’ #27 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Dodgers Top 30 at the end of 2017. Let’s take a look at the reverse and equivalent in 2019: the Twins’ #27 prospect on Pipeline’s year end list before this season was Kohl Stewart. The 5th round pick from four years ago, Alex Robinson, is a 23-year old A-ball reliever who appears to have had Tommy John surgery or extensive injuries. The 7th round pick from two years ago is pitcher Ryley Widell, who looks to have returned from Tommy John surgery.

That’d be a great deal for the Twins, but I don’t see that being a reasonable starting point. I think you’d agree that Madison Bumgarner is more valuable than Brian Dozier. I’m not suggesting Bumgarner for Kirilloff, though. [...]

The sum of my knowledge regarding the Twins’ system can be found on this MLB Pipeline Top 30 list I’m looking at right now; and, I can’t know what the scouts are looking for or who the Giants value in the Twins’ system, nor do I have a sense who Thad Levine values most. Generally speaking, it feels safe to say that most GMs and scouting directors are more comfortable with moving on from players they did not draft or develop. By that measure, gimme Jorge Alcala plus two players not in the top 30 for Madison Bumgarner seems reasonable.

I really don’t know if this is a relevant comp, but it feels more correct than comparing Madison Bumgarner to previous big pitcher deals at the deadline, as Ken Rosenthal did for The Athletic this morning (subscription required).

Still, Giants fans should expect only so much from a Bumgarner trade. For all the talk of Zaidi needing to accelerate the team’s rebuild by hitting a home run with his top asset, the market for a top rental starting pitcher is fairly established. Zaidi, in fact, played a role in establishing it as the Dodgers GM in 2017, acquiring right-hander Yu Darvish from the Rangers for infielder/outfielder Willie Calhoun, right-hander A.J. Alexy and infielder Brendon Davis.

But what about Will Smith? What’s the market for a top closer on an expiring deal? In that Twinkie Town piece, I was asked about a possible Bumgarner deal and a possible Bumgarner plus Will Smith package. My answer:

Will Smith would seemingly fall into the Zach Britton arena of value. The Yankees traded three prospects for him last July, including their end-of-2017 #11 and #22 prospects on MLB Pipeline. Theoretically, the Giants could get three prospects for Bumgarner, too. It seems unlikely the Twins would trade six players for two Giants on expiring deals.

At the time of the trade, Britton was 30, had a 3.45 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 7.5 K/BB, and 5.7 BB/9 on an historically awful Orioles team yet just two years removed from being the sixth-most valuable reliever in baseball (per fWAR). Still, those 2016 and 2018 lines are worse than what Smith’s projected final value will be and current value is right now, so is there a better comp than the one I made in haste yesterday? What about 2016 Andrew Miller?

This one’s a little bit trickier because the Yankees weren’t using him as their closer (even though he had nine saves), but they also weren’t quite using him in the multi-inning role that Cleveland had him in that postseason. As a setup man for New York, he had a 1.39 ERA, 1.78 FIP, 15.3 K/9 (77 K), 1.4 BB/9 (7 BB), 1.0 HR/9 (5), and a 0.772 WHIP in 45.1 innings.

The Yankees received RHP J.P. Feyereisen (23 years old), OF Clint Frazier (21), RHP Ben Heller (24), and LHP Justus Sheffield (20) from Cleveland. To carry over my sloppy methodology from that Twinkie Town post, MLB Pipeline’s final ranking for 2015 (they only archive the year-end results and I’m not going to hunt around for a mid-season report on Cleveland’s farm system) had Frazier as their #2 prospect and Sheffield at #6. Heller and Feyereisen were two Double-A relievers with low ERAs and high K/9 (12.7 and 12.5, respectively).

Smith’s line — 2.12 ERA, 2.23 FIP, 13.3 K/9 (44), 2.1 BB/9 (7), 0.9 HR/9 (3), and .809 WHIP in 29.2 IP doesn’t reach Miller’s heights, but he’s much younger than Miller was at the time of the deal and he’s now two years removed from Tommy John surgery. Both Miller and Britton were free agents after the year, so again, the supremacy of a reliever over a starter in the trade market is firmly established.

One more example: Aroldis Chapman in 2016.

Yes, Will Smith compares somewhat favorably to him. Obviously, Chapman’s explosive fastball carries a stronger reputation, but look at his line:

2.01 ERA, 1.93 FIP, 12.6 K/9 (44), 2.3 BB/9 (8), 0.6 HR/9 (2), 0.894 WHIP in 31.1 innings.

The Cubs traded SS Gleyber Torres (19), RHP Adam Warren (28), OF Billy McKinney (21), and OF Rashad Crawford (22) for Chapman. Torres is now a Yankees star, and was the Cubs’ #1 overall prospect at the end of 2015. McKinney was #2.

So, what’s the possible return? These seem to be the broad strokes of a deal, based on precedent (a reminder: Britton, Miller, and Chapman were all on expiring contracts):

  • 3-4 players
  • Two top 30 prospects
  • Largely pitching in return, but not exclusively
  • Largely under-25 year old players

That means I might’ve undersold it a bit for Twins fans in that Twinkie Town post...

By that measure, gimme Jorge Alcala plus two players not in the top 30 for Madison Bumgarner seems reasonable. Add Will Smith into the mix and I’m thinking we’re in the territory of something like Trevor Larnach, Luis Arraez, and/or Jorge Alcala (if or, then maybe a couple of other “lottery ticket” unranked prospects) territory.

Will Smith alone should be able to net OF Trevor Larnach and either IF Luis Arraez or RHP Jorge Alcala (my personal preference, thanks to a 70-grade fastball). And probably one or two more pitchers from Double-A.

What might complicate matters is that Smith is not far and away the best available reliever on the trade market. That market is still taking shape, but there’s a good chance he’s the fifth-best available reliever when the phone calls and text start to happen.

Kirby Yates has consistently been the best closer this year. Brad Hand is right there behind him. The Reds might not become sellers, but if they do, David Hernandez doesn’t give up home runs while still striking out a good amount of hitters. Greg Holland has had an excellent rebound year in Arizona.

I’d really only put Yates and Hand above Smith, and largely because of the team control beyond this season. With a potential flood of cheaper and nearly as good options, this might also be a buyers’ market for relievers, too.

So, one of these Yankees hauls from 2016 probably isn’t realistic. No #1 prospects. But even in a competitive marketplace, Smith’s skill set and value are undeniable. The Giants will get great players in return for Will Smith, but maybe it’s a bit more like the #5 and #10 prospect from a system. That’d still be pretty good, and it could look something like this:

Braves — #5 OF Drew Waters | #10 LHP Joey Wentz
Phillies — #5 RHP Spencer Howard | #10 LHP Ranger Suarez
Cardinals — #5 OF Jhon Torres | #10 IF Edmundo Sosa
Rockies — #5 1B Grant Lavigne | #10 3B Josh Fuentes
Red Sox — #5 RHP Tanner Houck | #10 OF Nick Decker
Rangers — #5 OF Bubba Thompson | #10 LHP Taylor Hearn
Angels — #5 OF Jordyn Adams | #10 RHP Chris Rodriguez
A’s — #5 OF Austin Beck | #10 SS Jeremy Eierman

Yeah, that’s more of a wish list than a to-do list, but hopefully, it got you excited. Recent history suggests a strong return for an elite reliever. The new marketplace of analytic ideas might have a new curveball in store for this year that I haven’t considered — indeed, if the Astros can get Ryan Pressly and turn him into an elite reliever after just one meeting, then I very likely am missing something — but Smith’s a sure thing, and in baseball trades, there are few sure things. But when there are, teams will pay for them.