Crash Bag Vol. 18: Trading Cesar
Thank you to Brad for doing this last week, and for being much funnier in the process than I am. It has been a really bad week of results for the major league club, so why not talk about trading their best player so far, and answer some other questions along the way as well.
For now the best place to ask questions is on Twitter, either @ me (@Matt_Winkelman or @CrashburnAlley). But you can also reply in the comments here and I will will have some sort of better way for future mailbags.
@mweintr: Should Cesar Hernandez be traded now, when his value is highest?
It has become trendy to to want teams to keep trading and churning players, always looking for value. This is not the worst strategy when you know you are going to be a non-contender for the remainder of a player’s contract. However, Cesar will turn 27 just over 2 weeks from now and still has 3 more years of control through arbitration. He is currently batting a BABIP influenced .336/.379/.517 with a career high strikeout rate and career low walk rate. History says his power should trend down, and his walk and strikeout rates should trend positively towards his career averages. He is on pace for a 6+ WAR season, which is probably unsustainable, but he should be able to repeat his 4 win season from a year ago, barring an unexpected collapse. That is a really good baseball player, and if you are going to trade someone of his caliber, with his level of remaining control, you are going to want a haul back.
Trading Cesar now would inhibit the team’s ability to contend over the next few year so I wouldn’t shop Cesar, but I would listen. The problem then becomes, who is calling to trade for Cesar. Here are last year’s playoff teams and their starting second baseman.
Red Sox – Dustin Pedroia
Indians – Jason Kipnis
Orioles – Jonathan Schoop
Blue Jays – Devon Travis
Rangers – Rougned Odor
Dodgers – Logan Forsythe
Nationals – Daniel Murphy
Giants – Joe Panik
Mets – Neil Walker
Cubs – Javier Baez
The only team that I see there with a need is the Blue Jays, but they are also currently 9-19 and out of it. So let’s go to other teams above .500 this year.
*Moncada isn’t in the majors right now, but he is the White Sox 2B of the future
I don’t see a lot of places of need for him here. This list is missing the Angels, but their farm does not have the pieces you would need to get back to move Cesar. So what you are really waiting for is an injury, and then for a team to pull the trigger on a big prospect package to lock Cesar in as their 2B for the next 3.5 years. I just don’t see that happening during the season. The earliest I could see the Phillies trading Cesar is this offseason, and if he comes anywhere close to his current pace, he might be too valuable a piece to be trading.
@dannmaal: Andrew Pullin doesn’t get much love on top 20/30 prospect lists but all he does is hit. Where should he rank and what is his upside?
I wrote a bit about Pullin’s journey earlier this week, but I didn’t entirely address how he fits into the farm system now. Coming into the year he was my #28 prospect overall and the the 8th outfield prospect in the system (behind Moniak, Williams, Quinn, Randolph, Cozens, Ortiz, and Tocci). If you just want to look at the outfielders, he has probably passed Tocci, but Tocci is also off to a hot start for Reading, so it is open for debate (Tocci is also almost 2 years younger than Pullin). So part of Pullin’s ranking in the 20-30 range has to do with the Phillies farm system just being really good. He probably is still in the 20-30 range for me, just more towards 20 than 30.
So what is his upside? He can flat out hit, and he has shown over the past year that he can also hit for power. Ultimately, I think his power probably settles into the 18-23 range with a decent amount of doubles. He is however limited in other areas of his game. He does not run on the bases at all. He doesn’t draw walks at a high rate, which will leave him with a poor OBP if his batting average trends down at all. He also is just an average defender in left field, and can’t handle any other position defensively. On a BABIP inflated year that might be a borderline All-Star, but more likely he is probably something close to an average left fielder as his ceiling.
@uublog: At what point do you start worrying about minor league stats, and how much does the level of prospect affect the level of concern?
When the stats match poor performance on the field. That is a copout answer because there is no magical cutoff point. The minor leagues for me are just a mashup of little small sample size runs, and I find the small sample size stats to be much more interesting. Going back to last year, what is the true talent of this player?
I am actually not sure of the answer. This is Nick Williams last year. The first split is his full year numbers. AT first glance, you would assume you have the most information. But we also know that the second number is Williams from August 1 to end of year, and the final number is the rest of his season. We can’t ignore August, but we also know that he was pressing and just a mess during that time. So if we include that into the full season we are expecting him to have huge stretches of just being a disaster at the plate. If we just take the beginning of year sample, we are ignoring that Williams has the ability to become unhinged.
As for level of prospect, it does play some into how I view their stats. Is it a top young prospect at a challenging level (think Arquimedez Gamboa last year)? That is going to be much less alarming to me if they struggle. If it is a player repeating or old for their level who is striking out a ton, that is certainly concerning. It is an objective process, and not one with any hard and fast rules.
Minor league stats are just one part of evaluation, and I find them to not be a terribly good one in isolation. The minor leagues are not the major leagues. Players may be working on developing skills that may not be best for short term winning, but will help them in the long term. There may be hitters that feast on the poor pitching that exists in the minors (below average fastballs, poor breaking balls, bad command), but cannot hit anything that actually translates to the majors. There may be pitchers dominating, because opposing hitters have never actually seen an above average changeup or a pitcher locate a curveball for a called strike. Without the context, you are taking a lot of variables on faith that may not actually be true.
@BobbyWright: I like Altherr and think he deserves to start more. But long term with all their OF prospects do you see him being a starting outfielder?
My philosophy with most of the questions of prospect vs major leaguer has been to side with the player in the majors until the prospect proves they are a better option. I talked about Cesar a bit earlier, but you can’t really argue that you need to move him to make room for say, Scott Kingery until either Cesar falls off or Kingery makes you confident he can be the 4 win player that Cesar was last year. Taking that same situation and translating it to Altherr, it means that Cozens, Quinn, Williams, and other prospects are going to have to prove that they are better than Altherr. That might not be particularly easy, especially if Altherr can keep up some of the positive bits of growth he has shown this year. It also is not as if Altherr lacks in prospect pedigree. He was a top 10 prospect in the system multiple times over the years. He graduated before being ranked after the 2015 season, but at age 24 he hit .293/.367/.487 across AA and AAA. Coming into last year, I had him 12th among the Phillies 25 and under players. He has the talent to be an everyday outfielder, and it is going to take someone proving they are probably a borderline all-star level talent for them to supplant him. Things could still go wrong for Altherr, his strikeout rate is at 26.5% and he is at 28.2% for his major league career. His BABIP is currently .436 so his batting average is likely to fall back into the .260-.270 range over a longer sample size. He could start to trend more towards a part time player if he can’t sustain things like his line drive rate and power production. For now he should be playing near everyday so the Phillies can make that determination of whether he is a long term piece of their future.