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What would it have taken to acquire Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez?

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Opinions diverged greatly, so let’s go back to basics with a fundamental surplus value calculation.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Note: I was about a thousand words into this piece a week before the Angels acquired Ian Kinsler. In lieu of deleting the article entirely it appears below, slightly modified.

There had been copious discourse within the community regarding an appropriate trade package for Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez, with several going as far as to say an Angels offseason lacking a Hernandez acquisition would be unsatisfactory. Dang it, Fletch! With takes ranging anywhere from multiple starting pitchers plus ancillary pieces to a single starter or top prospect, here is a more methodical approach to finding the trade value of the speedy, switch-hitting leadoff hitter and what a return may have looked like.

In order to understand how much Hernandez is worth, it must be found how much more he is worth than he is being paid. In other words? The surplus value.

Calculating the surplus value of Cesar Hernandez

Year Age WAR $/WAR (millions) Value Salary Surplus Value
Year Age WAR $/WAR (millions) Value Salary Surplus Value
2018 27 4 9 $36M $4.7M $31.3M
2019 28 4 9.45 $37.8M $8M* $29.8M
2020 29 4 9.92 $39.68M $11M* $29.68M
Total 12 $113.48M $23.7M $89.78M
Assumptions: $/WAR in free agency = $9M with 5% inflation; A standard aging curve [+0.25 WAR/yr (18-24), 0 WAR/yr (25-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (>37)] applies. *This is a conservative arbitration estimate.

Hernandez as a four-win player from here on out makes sense and is right in line with how he has performed over the past two years. He did get injured in 2017 but was still producing at a 4-win pace had he played the same number of games he did the previous year. His oblique is concerning but not expected to be a lingering issue.

At a conservative estimate of 3.5 WAR per year, Hernandez would have $75M in surplus value. Even a 3-win player in this situation would have $61M in surplus value. While the timing for such a trade would be incredibly poor due to the wealth of available options, there is no denying that Hernandez is an incredibly valuable asset.

To assist in putting a dollar value on prospects a conversion is necessary, which is where the data comes in.

Research found this to be the value of prospects; based on the 20-80 scale where 50 is a future MLB average regular.
Fangraphs

Some prospects will end up more valuable than predicted, some less, but this is a nice average to use in a calculation such as this. All else equal, prospects are less valuable than major-league players because of their volatility, risk, and proximity to the majors. Not all prospects make it, after all. Remember this?

Though team prospect lists will not come out until January, it can be inferred both the Angels top prospects, Jahmai Jones (.282/.348/.446 with 14 home runs across A and high-A) and Jo Adell (.325/.376/.532, hitting thirty-one percent above league average across AZL and Rookie-Orem), have upped their stock to a 55. Both made very encouraging developmental progress despite being several years younger than the average for their affiliate levels. That would place each at a $38M value, which together would still not be enough to meet the asking price for Cesar Hernandez, let alone the surplus value.

However, a glance at Philadelphia’s individual pitching performances from this past season shows there is more than enough reason to believe the Phillies prefer MLB-ready starting pitching. Aaron Nola is a burgeoning frontline starter, but beyond that there are no guarantees. Vince Velasquez shows promise but inconsistency and injury, Jerad Eickhoff dealt with nerve irritation, and Jake Thompson has still not established himself. Other notable Phillies starting pitching prospects are in the minors, with the top one (Sixto Sanchez) just in A-ball. Other than that, it’s mostly a myriad of miscellaneous pitchability arms, many of which are prone to the long ball.

In addition, they have no outfield need, as I have written previously. And that does not even mention Dylan Cozens or Roman Quinn, two close-to-the-bigs outfield prospects.

...Recall that the Phillies have two core outfielders in addition to two high outfield draft picks—Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Mickey Moniak, Adam Haseley, respectively—and their core first baseman, Rhys Hoskins, is capable of playing an outfield corner competently. A minor leaguer far from the big leagues would not pique the Phillies’ interest. Instead, they need quality MLB-ready starters in volume...

Note: Earlier last week, two days after the Kinsler move, Philadelphia dealt Freddy Galvis to free up space for prospects J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery as well as signed 1b Carlos Santana, relegating Rhys Hoskins to left field. As you can imagine, this further reduced their need for an outfielder.

That’s simple enough to understand, but valuing Angels starting pitchers objectively presents a greater challenge. Health and projections are the main factor here.

While Tommy John is no longer the death knell it once was, there’s no denying any history of arm trouble depresses a player’s trade value compared to what it otherwise would be. That goes for Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, and J.C. Ramirez, all starting pitchers with three or more years of control. Pitchability prospects are common and even though Parker Bridwell and Jaime Barria had successful years, an overabundance of such player archetypes renders these two less valuable, not to mention the very real risk that this past season may have been a matter of temporary overperformance.

Let’s take a look at Tyler Skaggs, for example.

Calculating Tyler Skaggs' surplus value

Year Age WAR $/WAR (millions) Value Salary Surplus Value
Year Age WAR $/WAR (millions) Value Salary Surplus Value
2018 26 1.5 9 $13.5M $1.9M $11.6M
2019 27 1.5 9.45 $14.2M $5M $9.2M
2020 28 1.5 9.92 $14.9M $8M $6.9M
Total 4.5 $42.6M $14.9M $27.7M
Assumptions: $/WAR in free agency = $9M with 5% inflation; A standard aging curve [+0.25 WAR/yr (18-24), 0 WAR/yr (25-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (>37)] applies.

If Skaggs recorded 1.5 WAR per year—a realistic estimate given health—he would have a $28M surplus value. At a two win pace, however, that figure would jump up to $42M. I have no predetermined conclusion to prove, but everything comes back to health.

Everything comes back to health.

There’s no way of knowing how healthy Skaggs will stay, with the same going for Heaney and Tropeano. The range of outcomes is enormous here. The best that can be done is hedging bets by reducing their number of starts per year, and therefore their annual contributions. Which, in turn, lowers their surplus value. In that regard, 1.5 wins is a reasonable estimate not just for Skaggs but for the other two as well.

But while the Phillies covet cost and control of younger pitchers, Anaheim’s ‘younger’, pre-arbitration starters in the pipeline (Bridwell, Barria, and Jesus Castillo) simply are not as talented as its more advanced starting arms (Skaggs, Heaney). For this reason, it may be difficult to find a good fit between the two teams.

Years of team control remaining

Starting pitcher Years of control Number of pre-arb years remaining
Starting pitcher Years of control Number of pre-arb years remaining
Tyler Skaggs 3 0
Andrew Heaney 4 0 (Super Two)
J.C. Ramirez 4 0 (Super Two)
Nick Tropeano 5 2
Alex Meyer 5 2
Parker Bridwell 6 3
Jaime Barria 6 3

In any deal, one of the Angels’ left-handed starting pitchers would be a definitive starting point due to the Phillies’ overabundance of righties. At least one more major piece would have to be included—whether that is another starter or top prospect—to even be close to a deal. Even then, the conservative Skaggs estimate in the table and a 55-grade prospect would leave the team with an approximate $20M difference.

Keep in mind that this does not factor in the concept of supply and demand in the second base market this offseason. The plethora of options means buyers’ willingness to pay is lower than what it otherwise would be, making demand more inelastic and lowering the market equilibrium. And while the timing could not be worse for the Phillies, they may not have a choice—Scott Kingery, a second base prospect in their system, tore up the minors last year and will inevitably force Klentak’s hand. Kingery would be cheaper, present more years of control, offers similar performance, and fit the Phillies’ window of contention better than Hernandez.

It will be interesting to see whether the Angels and Phillies can come to an agreement or if the plethora of viable alternatives and Phillies’ asking price leads Billy Eppler to look elsewhere.

Update: They did not.