Value Ranking the Rangers

Each year, Bill Simmons (ESPN) presents a ranked list of whom he considers to be the Top 40 or so players in the NBA.  His ranking is based on what he believes to be the relative trade-value for each player which takes into account factors like performance, salary, length of contract, and age.  I decided to go through the same exercise with the Rangers Top 57 (don’t ask) players.  As noted in the table below, I used a combination of the player’s major league level performance (“Perf” column using a ratio of predicted 2009 performance/performance ceiling), estimated 2009 salary (“Salary” column), and years under club control (“Years” column) to rank the Rangers.  The final column labeled “40” presents the year that I predict the player will be added to the 40-man roster.  I didn’t use the 40-man roster information for the ranking exercise but used it to make a couple of points in the comments section below. 

Regarding the performance metric (labeled “Perf”), the second value (ceiling) is self-explanatory; the first value (actual) is the performance that I would predict for the player if they played in the major leagues in 2009.  The minor league players on the list have relatively low “actual” performance numbers not because they have not performed well in the minors, but because I would not expect them to perform well in the major leagues right now.  I used the “actual” performance numbers to estimate the probability that a player will reach his ceiling.  For instance, Font received a “ceiling” of 10 but wasn’t ranked among the other 10’s due to his “actual” ranking of 1, which reflects the relatively high probability that he will fail to reach his ceiling.  An explanation of what the various performance numbers correspond to is captured in the key at the bottom of the table. 

One other note, the ranking is highly subjective and intended to stimulate discussion.  Hopefully, you will feel compelled to point out problems with the list and explain the rationale for your disagreement.  An exercise that I found to be useful in producing the ranking was to ask, “Would I trade player X for player Y if I were trying to build a team that will contend for the next 3-5 years?” 

Rank    Player (pos)     Years     Salary    Perf      40
  (1)      Hamilton (OF)      4         $1-6M      9/10    2009
  (2)      Kinsler (2B)        4-5         $3M        9/10    2009
  (3)      Davis (1B)             6         $400K     7/10    2009
  (4)      Feliz (SP)              6+        $400K     6/9      2010
  (5)      Holland (SP)        6+        $400K     6/9      2010
  (6)      Andrus (SS)         6+        $400K      6/9     2010
  (7)      Salt... (C)               5          $450K      7/9     2009
  (8)      Ramirez (C)         6          $400K      6/9     2009
  (9)      Smoak (1B)         6+        $400K      5/9     2010
 (10)     Main (SP)             6+        $400K      4/9     2012
 (11)     McCarthy (SP)      3         $600K      7/8     2009
 (12)     Beavan (SP)        6+        $400K      4/9     2012
 (13)     Bradley (DH)        0          $10M        9/9    2009
 (14)     Feldman (SP)      4          $600K      7/7    2009
 (15)     Hurley (SP)           6          $400K      5/7+  2009
 (16)     Teagarden (C)     6          $400K      5/8    2009
 (17)     Borbon (CF)        6+         $400K      5/8    2009
 (18)     Harrison (SP)      6           $400K      5/7    2009
 (19)     Hunter (SP)          6           $400K     5/7     2009
 (20)     Kiker (SP)            6+         $400K      4/8     2011
 (21)     Poveda (SP)        6+         $400K      4/8     2009
 (22)     Beltre (OF)           6+         $400K      2/9     2012
 (23)     Font (SP)              6+         $400K      1/9    2012
 (24)     Madrigal (RP)      6           $400K      5/8     2009
 (25)     Young (SS)          5           $13M        8/8     2009
 (26)     Padilla (SP)       1-2         $12M        7/8     2009
 (27)     Wilson (RP)        3           $1M           6/8     2009
 (28)     Francisco (RP)   2           $1.25M     6/8     2009
 (29)     Laird (C)              2           $2.5M        7/7     2009
 (30)     Boscan (SP)      6+          $400K       3/8     2012
 (31)     Ramirez (SP)     6+          $400K      3/8      2012
 (32)     Perez (SP)          6+          $400K      2/8      2013
 (33)     Murphy (OF)        5            $400K      6/7      2009
 (34)     Boggs (OF)         6            $400K      5/7      2009
 (35)     Duran (2B)          6            $400K      5/7      2009
 (36)     Blalock (1B)        1            $6.2M      6/8      2009
 (37)     Rupe (RP)           4            $400K     5/7      2009
 (38)     Vallejo (2B)         6+          $400K     4/7      2009
 (39)     Ross (SP)           6+          $400K     1/7+    2013
 (40)     Murphy (SP)        6+          $400K     3/7      2012
 (41)     Benoit (RP)          1           $3.5M      6/7      2009
 (42)     Diamond (SP)    6+          $400K     4/7      2009
 (43)     Arias (SS)            5            $400K     4/7      2009
 (44)     Millwood (SP)    1-2          $11M       7/7      2009
 (45)     Cruz (OF)             5            $400K     6/7      2009
 (46)     Byrd (OF)             1             $2.5M      7/7     2009
 (47)     Mayberry (OF)     6+          $400K     4/7      2009
 (48)     Mendoza (SP)     6            $400K     4/6      2009
 (49)     Nippert (SP)        5            $400K     4/7      2009
 (50)     Gabbard (SP)     4             $500K    4/5      2009
 (51)     Mathis (SP)         6            $400K     3/5      2009
 (52)     Murray (RP)         6           $400K      3/4      2009
 (53)  Rheinecker (RP)  4            $400K      3/4      2009
 (54)     Littleton (RP)      5            $400K      3/4      2009
 (55)     Loe (RP)             4            $400K      3/4      2009
 (56)     Metcalf (3B)        5            $400K      4/6      2009
 (57) Catalanotto (DH) 1-2            $4M        5/5      2009

 5  =  back-up position player, middle reliever
 7  =  avg position player, #3-#5 starter, late inning reliever
 9  =  all-star position player, top-of-the-rotation starter
10 =  superstar

I included Milton Bradley with an estimated salary of $10M on the list even though he will not be on the roster at the conclusion of the season.  I did this to get a sense of where he ranks among the players who are under team control in 2009.  I am in the camp that believes that the Rangers will re-sign him.  If that happens, then 43 of the 57 players on the list will need to be on the 40-man roster this winter.  Though you hate to lose major league talent, there are more than two players at the bottom of the list who could be removed without causing me to lose any sleep.

Do the Rangers have the talent to compete for a championship?
Most perennial championship contenders have 2-4 superstar-level players (10’s on this list), several more all-star caliber players (9’s), and then fill out their rosters with average to above average players (7’s and 8’s).  In my opinion, Hamilton, Kinsler, and Davis will be the superstar-caliber players around which the Rangers can build a contender within the next two years.  There are 16 players in AA or higher with ceilings of 8 or 9, plus Justin Smoak who is expected to develop rapidly.  Assuming the minor league and young major league players with these ceilings continue to progress, it is conceivable that by the end of 2010 the Rangers could have a 25-man roster stocked almost completely with players with above-average talent.  That is not to suggest that the Rangers are likely to be World Championship contenders in 2010, but they could very well have the talent necessary to compete for championships once the major league seasoning process has taken effect.

When can we realistically expect this group of players to contend for a World Series title?
2011.  Andrus, Feliz, Holland, Borbon, and Smoak will likely graduate to the majors in 2010.  Assuming all goes well, all five players could make significant contributions to the 2011 club.  By then, McCarthy, Feldman, Hurley, Harrison, and Hunter will hopefully have established themselves as average to above-average starting pitchers and a combination of Hamilton, Kinsler, Davis, Bradley, Young, and Saltalamacchia, Ramirez, or Teagarden should be major contributors to the most feared line-up in baseball.  Also in 2011, Wilson, Madrigal, and Rupe should be anchoring a bullpen that might also feature Francisco, Diamond, Murray, and whatever pitchers on the roster prove to be effective in short bursts.  2011 could also see an influx of pitching talent with the likely promotions of Kiker and Poveda.

Whom should the Rangers trade and when?
In my opinion, there are only four reasons to seek a trade:
(1) You have so much talent on the 40 man roster that you must trade a few of your less valuable players for one talented major league player or one or more prospects that need not be protected on the 40.  In my opinion, this was why Boston did the Gagne for Murphy/Gabbard/Beltre trade.
(2) You need to provide a spot on the major league team for a more talented young player.  Example – Soriano to the Nationals to make way for Kinsler.
(3) Another team is willing to trade to you one or more players that you value more than the player that you are being asked to give up in trade. Example – Texeira/Mahay to the Braves for Andrus, Feliz, et al.
(4) You are one or two pieces away from becoming one of the best teams in the league.
 If you ask me, only #2 and perhaps #3 could apply to the Rangers this off-season.  For #2, the excess of major league-ready catchers necessitates a move with Laird the most likely to go given that the Rangers only control him for two more years.  As for #3, you can never predict when another team will covet one of your players, though if someone starts asking about Catalanotto, Millwood, Byrd, Murphy, or Benoit, I hope that JD listens.

Should the Rangers trade for pitching?
Only if they receive a pitcher whose predicted performance and years of team control meet or exceed the player that you are trading.  In my opinion, the suggestions that one or more of Hamilton, Kinsler, Davis, or Andrus plus Feliz, Holland, Hurley, or Harrison be traded is insane given how few pitchers are likely to be available that have the requisite performance rating and years of team control needed to meet the young talent that the Rangers would be giving up. 

When will management of the 40-man roster become a problem?
As noted above, at least three players on the list will need to be removed from the 40-man roster this winter.  Assuming the Rangers fail to swap a catcher or another player on the 40-man roster for players who are not yet required to be on the roster, then they risk losing some combination of Catalanatto, Metcalf, Loe, Littleton, Rheinecker, Murray, Cruz, and Arias.  I'm okay with that.  Andrus, Smoak, Feliz, and Holland have a realistic shot at being added to the 40-man roster next year.  With only Blalock (if he's still on the team), Byrd, and Millwood (assuming he doesn't reach 180 IP) scheduled to come off the 40, at least two and perhaps three players among what are currently conidered to be the team's top50 players will need to be dropped.  Adding free agent talent in this environment will make the decisions inceasingly difficult.  Given the alternative, I'll gladly accept rooting for a team whose talent pool is so deep that you have to occasionally give up a guy with major league talent.

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