16 August 2018

Cup of jO's: Deadline Prospect Roundup

Just a short post.

Here are the values for the prospects acquired in the deadline deals as determined by MLB Pipeline, FanGraphs, and 2080 Baseball.  An absent value may not mean the player is lowly valued.  He may not be considered or simply not enough was known by the site when handing out grades.
Machado MLB FG 2080
Yusniel Diaz 55 45+ 55
Dean Kremer 45 40 45
Rylan Bannon 45 35
Zach Pop 45 40 50
Breyvic Valera 40
Fairly typical through these lists is that FanGraphs tends to grade down players 5 to 10.  I have talked to evaluators and they tend to generally like how FanGraphs rankings come together, but all seem to think that the values associated with players are overly conservative.  That said, Kiley McDaniel, who helps put together these values, was employed by MLB teams, so this might simply show a differences in scouting grade spectrum preference between organizations and it may be better to look at similar players grouped together.
Britton MLB FG 2080
Dillon Tate 50 40+ 50
Cody Carroll 45 40 45
Josh Rodgers 40
You get a similar playing out of grades as you do from the Machado trade.  FanGraphs tends to be a bit harsher.
Gausman/O'Day MLB FG 2080
Jean Carlos Encarnacion 45 40+ 50
Brett Cumberland 45 45+ 45
Bruce Zimmerman 35+
Evan Phillips 40 45
MLB and FanGraphs seem to be narrowing here.  Zimmerman and Phillips are considered as below the top 30 for the Orioles and more or less organizational filler.
Schoop MLB FG 2080
Luis Ortiz 50 45 50
Jean Carmona 45 40
Jonathan Villar
From 2080, I heard good things about Carmona, but I think he is such a young breakout player that they wanted to get more information on him before putting a grade on him.

15 August 2018

Prospect Rankings Are More Precise Than Prospect Values

One difficult aspect of assessing the value of prospects is trying to figure out just how much is one worth.  When I was reviewing the trades this past season or in years before, I have mainly relied on top 100 prospect lists and, sometimes, John Sickels B and C age based ratings for those who do not make the list.  However, recently FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, 2080 Baseball, and others have begun using the 20-80 scale to designate prospect values.

Fangraphs performed an exercise to determine value based on rankings and some peculiar associations came up.  The linearity of the values seemed off and I wanted to take a look by directly comparing them with top 100 rankings, which the methodology is a bit more robust than going back in time and retroactively applying grades.

I went ahead and looked at pitchers.  In the table below you see pitcher rankings in the first column, 2018 attributed value for those rankings, and in the third column is the averaged MLB pipeline scouting grade.
2018 Grade
Pi 1-10 73 64
Pi 11-25 46 58
Pi 26-50 32 55
Pi 51-75 20 55
Pi 76-100 15 55
If you apply the values derived from the FanGraphs venture, you would get a 62 MM value in the first ten, 34 MM in the 11 to 25 rankings, and 22 MM throughout the rest of the list.  However, we do find significant variation from 26-100 on this list.  Variation that the grades are unable to discern, but that the rankings do.

What this suggests to me is that using grade values for prospect worth is viable only after exhausting top 100 rankings.  Additionally, that value should be limited by the value associated with a prospect ranked on the backend of the top 100 list.

For instance, Dillon Tate and Luis Ortiz are rated as 50 prospects.  Using the FanGraphs value system, the associated value would be 14 MM (slightly more as this number is for 2017 and not adjusted for 2018 values).  The lowest value in the top 100 ranking is 15 MM for a pitcher, but those values (55s) would be considered 22 MM.  There is a good bit of contradictory information and potential issues with cross site evaluations.

What I would suggest is to value prospects off the top 100 in this way: in 2009, the initial study was to look at Baseball America rankings and fill in with Sickels' rankings for those player who did not appear on the top 100.  For pitchers, a quality pitcher who was not on the top 100 was considered worth 70% of what a backend top 100 prospect pitcher was worth.  A position prospect was worth about  just off the top 100 had an associated value about 45% of that backend value.  These kinds of players are what MLB pipeline would refer to as 50s.

For MLB pipeline 40/45 prospects, young pitchers (22 yo or below) would be worth about 21% of that backend value while those 23 and older would be worth about 16%.  For hitters, the younger bracket would be 6% and the older group 4%.

So let us go back and take a look at one of the deals.  The Gausman and O'Day deal brought back Jean Carlos Encarnacion (45, 20yo, 1.2 MM), Brett Cumberland (45, 23yo, 0.8 MM), Bruce Zimmerman (unrated), and Evan Phillips (unrated).  This provides a traumatically different view on the take than in my original column.  In that column, I put forward the notion that because a lot of handwaving occurred when putting together the final batch of the top 100 that the different in value between the ones on the list and just off it is not all that much.  

Maybe that still is true though.  Maybe guys like Encarnacion or Cumberland are, for some, in the conversation in that next batch.  And, maybe, 45 is a huge bucket where players fall.  When you look at the rankings, there are about 400 known prospects in baseball, according to MLB pipeline as 45s.  That is stunning and probably wrong.  A 45 generally means someone is good enough to sit on the bench and I doubt there are 400 players (ignoring the 200+ that are at 50 and above) that will eventually be dependable bench players.

This makes me think that just knowing that a player is a 45 is not very useful information.  We know that a 55 ranking in the top 100 has less resolution than the ranking, so the a generic 45 means fairly little as well.  This all means that while we have a good base to evaluating deals on a top 100 prospect basis that deeper dives into the prospect world are far more difficult to evaluate and require us to have strong scouting skills or to rely on those with strong scouting skills.

14 August 2018

Welcome to Baltimore, Cedric Mullins

There has not been a lot to look forward to during this Orioles season. What was supposed to be a competitive team wilted back in April. Since then, the team has traded away a handful of familiar faces with the promise of a brighter future. It's not always easy to see that future without some tangible evidence of his eventual arrival. The promotion of Cedric Mullins last week was the first proof that maybe there is, in fact, a light at the end of what may be a very long tunnel.

Mullins burst onto the major league scene with a three-hit debut. He showed all of the things that were promised: speed, on-base ability, a quick bat and some actual defense. Will he be a star in the bigs for a decade to come like his predecessor Adam Jones? That may be a bridge too far.

However, Mullins does make the Orioles a better team right now. Improving the defense in center field immediately makes life easier for everyone around him. Pitchers don't have to be quite as fine. The corner outfielders don't need to cover quite as much ground. And the middle infielders don't need to worry about reaching every bloop into the grass.

There is still a long way to go before the O's are officially back on the road to contention. Mullins might be a piece of the puzzle, but bigger pieces are coming, or at least they need to. A plus defender that can set the offensive table is nice, but the club still must build a competent infield and a middle of the order that can do more swing and miss.

The young players to come will be what makes this a team to pay attention to, just as long as you don't look too closely at the win-loss record. The Orioles are at their bottom as a franchise. It can't get much worse than this on the field. It will all be worth it if the pay off is as sweet as the dark days are sour.

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13 August 2018

Chris Davis: Orioles Contracts and Extensions that Did Not Work

Chris Davis is the summit in a lot of ways: he holds the most expensive and longest contract in the history of the Baltimore Orioles.  Although the deal was ill-advised at the time, it was certainly not outlandish. 

Peter Angelos desired to re-sign Davis after the 2015 season.  He noted it in late September of that year to the press, a rare public statement on a player by the owner.  Angelos noted it again after the Winter Meetings, further solidifying what we all kind of knew, which was Angelos would move heaven and earth to get Davis back on the club.  It was noted that the Orioles front office largely did not agree with this approach to the 2015/16 offseason.

What many fans forget though is that Davis has another suitor.  Tigers Illich thought Davis to be the missing piece in Detroit.  He was certain that Davis could spend a year or two out in right field, something that Boras was stressing to everyone within earshot, before existing contracts would open up first base and designated hitter later in the contract.  It was rumored, and widely reported, that the Tigers were discussing the parameters of a contract around 190 MM against the wishes of the Tigers' front office.

What wound up happening is that the Tigers front office convinced ownership to hand out a deal to Justin Upton instead for 132 MM (well below the parameters discussed with Davis).  Davis went back hard to the Orioles, with Yeonis Cespedes circling, and signed a 7/161 MM deal with much deferred (making it worth more like 126 MM) two days after Upton inked.  It seemed to be very similar to how Baltimore approached Ivan Rodriguez and Javy Lopez a decade earlier in offering them both the same deal, waiting until someone came back to them and said yes.  Cespedes then went back to the Mets the following week on a 3/75 (a deal he would opt out of after the year was over and sign a staggering 4/110 deal after the season).

The contract has not been kind.  Davis' first year was fine with a 3.3 bWAR, but for someone who had six more years left to go on a contract, you certainly wanted a bit more production because he was entering typical decline years.

Standard Batting
201813 (21).159.242.29749
11 Y280.239.321.476112
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/10/2018.

And decline he did.  Contact, walk rate, power, they have all declined.  In 2018, Davis is having one of the worst seasons in the history of the game.  At -2.2 bWAR, he would wind up around the 30th worst season ever out of 18,000 player seasons with more than 100 games played.

Under the terms of Davis' deal, that 126 MM should have translated into an expected return of about 12.7 bWAR.  Almost three full seasons in, Davis stands at a cumulative of 1 bWAR or 7.8% of what was expected.  This begs the question as to whether it truly was the worst contract extension or free agent signing in Orioles' history?  Let us cherry pick a few contracts and see how they shake out:
2016 $ xWAR bWAR %
J.J. Hardy 44 4.2 1.7 40
Brian Roberts 57 6.7 1.0 15
Albert Belle 310 30 4.0 13
Glenn Davis 73 7.2 0.7 9.7
Chris Davis 126 12.7 1.0 7.8
Scott Erickson 153 14.5 0.1 0.7
One thing to note is that Albert Belle is uniquely on this list.  Before insurance companies got wise, the Orioles were able to secure a ~1.7 MM premium on Belle's contract that would pay out 11.7 MM per year for every year that he was out due to a permanent injury.  So, you could argue that the Orioles really paid Belle 29.9 MM, which would be a xWAR of 13.6 and that he achieved 29% of  his expected performance.  

Scott Erickson either did not qualify for the insurance premium or the Orioles were unable to secure one for him.  And you can see how much the Orioles put into him with what would be around a 5/153 deal in 2016 free agent land.  Sometimes those dollar figures (5/32) look so quaint back then that you do not see how much the deal actually was in that market.  Nowadays, you would think of that being if someone forked over that deal to Ervin Santana when the Orioles were trying to nab him on a one year deal and pair him with Ubaldo Jimenez.  Yes, Erickson was coming off of two 4 bWAR season, but that is an exceptional deal for someone who really was not an elite pitcher.

Maybe a percentage base is not the right way to look at it.  Perhaps a better way to look at it is how much money was sunk.
Sunk $
J.J. Hardy 26.25
Brian Roberts 59.85
Glenn Davis 68.25
Albert Belle 100.8
Chris Davis 122.85
Scott Erickson 151.2
It does not change all that much.  Glenn Davis and Belle flip around. 

It should be noted though that Chris Davis' career is still active.  With another 1.2 bWAR, he will surpass Brian Roberts in % return.  With a couple more bWAR, he will move past Albert Belle in total sunk cost.  He certainly can make this contract become a slightly smaller albatross. 

However, given his -2.1 bWAR so far this year, he can sink lower.  A -1 bWAR moving forward would mean falling beneath Erickson in terms of percentage.  A -3 bWAR moving forward would put Davis as a sunk cost greater than Erickson.  Hopefully, that will not happen.


In case you want some further reading on the value of WAR.

09 August 2018

Re-Signing Adam Jones

Adam Jones is awesome.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote how Adam Jones really takes up opportunities that should be afforded to the Orioles minor league outfield prospects in their upper minors.  One of the major concerns I have heard about not re-signing Jones is that would leave the club in the hands of young players who have not earned a place in right field.  I think the following from that article answers that in part:
It is true that the beginning of the year may not present itself with a true outfield with MLB ready competency, but, again, a rebuilding club does not need to worry about that.  A rebuilding club does not need to worry about re-signing a Mark Trumbo because you question whether Trey Mancini can cut it.  A rebuilding club does not need to corner the market on well tread, but potentially viable bats when wins and losses quickly become unimportant.
I am also at a loss as to how Jones' presence is compatible with giving the young players the opportunity to earn their roles.  If opportunity is swallowed up by veterans, then you are shooting yourself in the foot if your goal is to find starting options among your youth.

That said, it goes without saying that Adam Jones is "The Franchise".  This Southern Californian has taken to Baltimore and acclimated himself to our dirty little port town.  His outgoing style was refreshingly in contrast to the type of franchise voices the organization has had in the past in the forms of the fairly quiet type like Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Mike Mussina, and Cal Ripken, Jr.  While they all were very meaningful to Baltimore, Jones truly took it up a notch and put himself out there, succeeding.

With that, he has earned a great deal of good will from the fan base, which you can see in the following poll:

To me, that is stunning.  I see zero reason why we would entertain making Jones the first player/manager since Pete Rose.  I think there is a great conflict of interest there and it erases a major go-between for the front office and the clubhouse.  What I take from it though is how warm we are to Jones and just how special he is.

Last December, I considered what exactly it would look like if the Orioles chose to re-sign Jones on an extension.  The BORAS model pegged him as a 2/23 signing, while a comp model pegged it as a 3/32 deal.  I made a major assumption to run the model, which was that Jones would perform in line with his ZiPS projection.  That assumption had an issue.

x2018 27 0.269 0.306 0.458 1.8
2018 12 (19) 0.281 0.31 0.43 0.5 (0.8)

ZiPS missed Jones power and that his defense would remain terrible.  ZiPS thought that Jones would regress to his career norm a bit going from -14 UZR/150 in 2017 to -4 UZR.  That did not happen.  This year, he remains on pace for a -15 UZR/150 season.  That differences of ten runs is reflected in his expect fWAR of 0.8 and makes up for his total loss in value in comparison to ZiPS.

With his performance this season, we have a bit more data and that impacts what BORAS comes up with.  If we consider only his performance (with adjusted for the rest of the season), then BORAS sees Jones as a 1.9 or 2/13 signing.  If we use the logic in the December post to translate Jones' player to right field, then we see a very slight bump with BORAS pegging Jones at 2/18.8.  One last wrinkle, you may have noticed that Jones is hitting the ball pretty well since the All Star breaking.  Well enough that it would add another win to his total.  That would settle him into a 2/23 or 2/24 deal.

Personally, it would be great to see Jones don the orange and black until he wishes to retire, but the way this team is set up I think that might work against the best wishes the franchise.

08 August 2018

Chris Davis Bounces Back to Replacement Level

Chris Davis has always seemed unique.  Early in his career, Davis was Cuban National Series Pedro Cerano in AAA and MLB Pedro Cerano without a proper sacrifice (see Major League).  In other words, once off speed pitching reached a certain level of precision and movement, Davis was dead in the water.  The difference between a solid .300 hitter and a sub .200 bat was an amazing study in how his contact tool was on a threshold with a deep dropoff.

Occupying that threshold contact performance always made him seem like a player who should not be completely depended on.  It was a signing I was fully against because the outcome seemed so likely to fail and fail spectacularly, but not like this.  His performance this year was foreseeable, but not so soon.  I ran a comp model a couple months before he signed when Peter Angelos made his second public remark about the need to re-sign Davis.  The model thought there was a 15% chance he would be worth less than 0.9 bWAR in 2018.  His -2.0 bWAR so far this year was not seen to be possible until around 2022.

In fact, no reasonable person or model would have thought that Davis' performance was possible.  From a historical sense, few players have been as terrible as he has this year.  On a practical sense, in situations where a player performed as poorly as Davis, said player would cease playing.  The Orioles keep trotting Davis out into the field and largely out of desperation with such a heavy salary on his shoulders.

Back in July, I wrote about Davis' undesirable quest to become the worst baseball player in history.  I put forward three potential second half outcomes:

  • Optimistic Outcome - 204/293/406, This level of performance is fairly poor and would net Davis a 0.1 fWAR outcome for the rest of the season.  This is replacement level.  This is not what you want from a player and definitely not what you want for a player who has four more seasons to go on his contract.
  • Davis 2.0 - 191/253/456, This is the line Davis put up once he got back from Buck's vacation from June 22nd to July 13th. That flip in OBP to SLG actually caused a significant decrease in fWAR.
  • Pre-June 22nd Davis - 150/227/227, Davis performing as he did in the first part of the season would have put him in contention for the worst season in the history of professional baseball in a major league.
In the time since the article, Davis has slashed 164/292/418.  This is the optimistic outcome, being a replacement level player.  If Davis is able to continue on this path, then he will no longer be in contention for the worst season ever.  Instead, he looks to settle in around -2 fWAR and have roughly the 30th worst 100 game or more season in a major league season out of about 18,000 seasons.

07 August 2018

The Orioles Did What They Had To

The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline was nearly a week ago, but many of us are just recovering from what took place. The Orioles are almost unrecognizable compared to the beginning of July. Gone are established stars Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Zach Britton. Sent away with them were familiar faces Kevin Gausman, Darren O'Day and Brad Brach. Things are going to be different in Birdland. It's sad. It hurts a little. And it had to be done.

This organization had stagnated. They did well to get a bunch of really talented players all at the same time. They rode many of those players to three playoff berths in five years. As a guy who grew up thinking of the Orioles as perennial also-rans, to see them even playing meaningful baseball deep into September was a dream come true. But as with all things, time catches up. Players that were in their prime start to regress. Young studs become expensive veterans. And eventually all of the trading away of prospects to paper over weaknesses eats away at a team's depth.

The O's were overdue for an overhaul. Did they get tremendous value for every player traded away in July? It depends how highly you regarded some of the up-and-comers they got in return. Even then, you are dealing with potential versus proven ability.

It is impossible to judge this team's success at the deadline right away. It will take two or three years before a "winner" of each swap can be determined. At the very least, the O's have picked a direction and they have clearly stated goals. Now, the hard work begins: Setting the wheels in motion and turning one of the worst teams in baseball into a contender once again.

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06 August 2018

Checking Your Expectations of Victor Victor Mesa

As you run through the knowledge of the fan base on Victor Victor Mesa, I think you find a wide range of knowledge on the prospect.  Some are delirious with expectations as FanGraphs and others note him to be the most exciting prospect in this year's international amateur bonus pool class.  Others try to cool everyone down and do so by misunderstanding how some media entities compile their lists:

It should be noted that while the handle is from a very good MiL photographer, he does not understand the prospect ranking methodology used by MLB Pipeline.  MLB Pipeline does not consider players who have yet to pass through the MLB approval process.  Another follower contacted me and worried about the Orioles signing Mesa because he thinks, and I paraphrase, that everyone considers Mesa to be a superstar in the making, that he is likely to fail, and will result in the fans and the front office swearing off international amateurs again.

This misinformation and misunderstanding made me wonder among our connections via Twitter, what do people actually think about Victor Victor Mesa.

In that poll, three quarters of the respondents think Mesa is ready for the minors with a quarter thinking he is ready for me.  I think that is a fairly good understand of where Mesa is at the moment.  The evaluators I talk to say that he is primed more for AA Bowie.  Though one thought Frederick might be a better place for him to get his feet under himself.

One of the concerns was that last year as a 21 year old, Mesa was part of a Cuban National Team that barnstormed Canada against teams that were often a good eight to ten years old than him made up of some talented former minor leaguers with one or two former MLBers who had brief stints.  Phillippe Aumont being the most well known of them.  Mesa had difficulty adapting to the heavy offspeed laden pitching approaches he faced.  That combined with a frustrating Cuban National Series, gives some cause for a slower, more deliberative approach.

While people probably do not know all the ins and outs with Mesa, I find the general expectation of where he is now to be largely accurate with only 1 in 4 being mistaken.  It may be that they hear reports noting that he could be a glove only replacement on the bench right now and it provides a halo to overshadow his developmental needs.

The second aspect to explore is what will Mesa become?
The poll fond 95% think Mesa will be a solid regular or star.  Yes, that is tough.  As we have noted before, Victor Victor Mesa is thought of as being a backend top 100 prospect talent.  Lets take a look at what that means by re-reading our post on success probability of prospects.  If that is too much of a task, the short of it is that backend positional prospects do not become solid starters 73% of the time.  The prudent response to this question would be that you should expect him to be a bench level talent.  That does not mean he cannot become more than that, but that is what the expectation should be.

What makes scouts excited about Mesa is that he is a true centerfielder.  He runs good routes. He has plus speed.  He has a plus arm.  Those are all very valuable.  A young Craig Gentry boasted all of the same.  Current model Craig Gentry still does to some extent.  The main developmental issue with Mesa is what exactly is his bat.  In the CNS, he profiled more as a line drive hitter with gap power.  He was more contact oriented and was rather average at drawing walks.

When you look at young Cubans who played in the CNS and then made big signings in the States, you generally see more aptitude for power.  Yasiel Puig, Rusney Castillo, Alex Guerrero, and Yasmany Tomas.  Now, of those only Puig has found success at the MLB level, but it goes to show that a major skill to show success is lacking so far in Mesa's skill set.  If it was there, you might have more of a projection here.  An excellent hit tool would conjure up visions of Andy Van Slyke or Eric Davis.

As is, Mesa is an excellent prospect that is considered worth far more than what he will be able to sign for with MLB's international bonus pool rules in effect.  However, keep your expectations in check.

03 August 2018

Can Victor Victor Mesa Gamble Himself into Big Money?

After the whirlwind of the July trading deadline, the Orioles sit with 8.25 MM in allotted international signing bonus money.  The only team with more than them in total are the Yankees with 8.75 MM, but the Yankees have dedicated roughly 4.5 MM of that in players they have already signed.  Additionally, the Yankees are chock full of outfielders and Victor Victor Mesa is AA ready and looking for a place to get real time and money as a Major League player.  As a nearly ready for prime time player, the Yankees do not represent that.

Another player with a great deal of open money is the Marlins.  They have about 4 MM free from their initial total.  Much of that was supposed to be dedicated to 16 year old Cuban Sandy Gaston, but, for whatever reason, his nearly 2 MM deal broke down and no one is exactly sure where they stand now.  That may mean that the Marlins are now in the running.

Back to the Orioles, today they are supposed to name a few international signings from Curacao, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic.  All of the big money prospects from these locations signed shortly after the July 2nd date when signings for this year are allowed by MLB (season ends around June 15th).  That means we should be surprised if any of these new signings surpass 500k in their bonuses.  The Orioles should be in prime position to offer Mesa four or five million dollars.

But lets say that Mesa feels squeezed by this.  Maybe he really does not want to go to the Orioles, but accepting a deal from two to four million from the Yankees or Marlins is not to his liking either.  What could he do?  He could, and this is a huge risk, declare residency in the United States and enter the draft.  Such a process would mean winter ball for him and starting up with an Independent league team to showcase his talent and get him into shape.

The first question we have to ask is where does Victor Victor Mesa sit right now, talent-wise.  Well, he profiles as a backend top 100 talent.  He has a strong arm and is fast, a genuine centerfielder, but with some question as to the impact of his bat.  If you look at draftees in the back end of the Top 100 prospects, you see:
Name Rank Drafted Bonus
Casey Mize 20 1 7.5
Nick Madrigal 32 4 6.4
Joey Bart 35 2 7
Alec Bohm 45 3 5.9
Jonathan India 55 5 5.3
Brady Singer 65 18 4.3
Matthew Liberatore 66 16 3.5
Jerred Kelenic 67 6 4.5
Travis Swaggerty 86 10 4.4
Cole Winn 97 15 3.2
Mesa seems to fit into that 3-4.5 MM range based on where evaluators think of him.  That is on par with what he might expect currently as an international free agent.  However, if he excels in his winter league and looks good in the Spring, he may be seen as a player would could contribute in 2019, if not 2020.  That level of projected certainty is likely to be quite valuable.  In that case, I think you could see Mesa moving past five million and maybe challenging for a lot more.

Of course, the 22 year old Mesa cannot threaten to go back to college like many valuable juniors can.  Similarly, there really is not much money in winter leaguers and no money in the indy summer leagues.  Any team that drafts Mesa would be able to hold his feet against that baseline and could potentially get him to agree to a deal far less than what a college junior of that talent and floor would earn.

Mesa's saving grace may well be though that he could simply jet off to Korea.  Assuming that a Korean team would want someone who is young and did well in international competition (I assume that would be a definitive yes), he would probably see something in the neighborhood of 500k per season.  The average KBO player makes around 240k with top end talent approaching 2 MM.  I figure Mesa would likely see something on the lower end until he establishes himself in the KBO after a year or two.

However, that may not be a saving grace as I am fairly certain that Mesa could be drafted every single year during that time frame.  To escape that draft eligibility, Mesa would need to go undrafted in the previous year.  I do not think playing in the KBO negates that, which could really hamper his eventual pay day.

The other option would be this: Mesa could declare residency in another country and then play in the KBO for three years to fulfill age limitation on being considered outside of the signing pool allocation.  His time in Cuban professional leagues should be sufficient to meet the requirements of being a professional.  If they do not, his three years of KBO action at that time would fall three years short.  Assuming he could be a free again in three years and that he excels in KBO play, he could be looking at a 6/70 MM deal by a team like the Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, or really almost anyone.

So, is Mesa a gambler or not?

02 August 2018

Brewers Paid for What They Thought Jonathan Schoop Could Be

In the weeks and months leading up to the July trade deadline, you likely read an idea that we repeated and repeated: if Jonathan Schoop would not be extended, then he needs to be dealt for players who would play more of a role in the Orioles future.  The morning of the trade deadline, I reiterated on Twitter that any serious attempt at rebuilding must include Schoop being dealt because arbitration would take away much of his value in the off-season.

Well, he was traded.  The Orioles were able to acquire from the Brewers, Jonathan Villar who is a different kind of player than is Schoop, but one who has arguably had a better season.  In addition to Villar, the Orioles acquired the once shiny Luis Ortiz and a very young shortstop, Jean Carmona.

Was this deal one that produced a fair value?

Jonathan Schoop surged back up into being a meaningful bat in the past couple weeks and put himself back on track for what was expected of his this season.  Moving forward, we would expect him to produce about 1 WAR this year and another 2.4 next year.  That is worth about 34 MM.  He has roughly 3.5 MM coming to him this season and is expected to almost double his salary for his walk year increasing it from 8.5 MM to 15.1 MM.  In other words, he costs about 18.6 MM.  That is a surplus of 15.4 MM.

The first player I will visit is Jonathan Villar.  Whereas Schoop has 1.5 years left on his control, Villar has an additional year to offer.  The Orioles are currently on the hook for 1 MM this year, about 3 MM next year, and somewhere between 5 and 10 MM in his walk year.  That difference comes from whether he continues his current spell or if he returns to his excellent 2016 season.  If, the expectation is that he continues his 2017 and 2018 puttering around, then he has about 0.5 WAR left this year, 1 next year, and 1 the year after that.  That is worth about 25 MM.  On the conservative end, that puts his value around 10.5 MM.

Why would the Brewers deal Villar and prospects for Schoop when Villar has similar and potentially more value than Schoop?  Two things.  One, Schoop concentrates that value into one player and into a third less games.  Two, Villar has not shown star level competence in two years.  For a team that needs a potent now this year and next, Villar probably was just too much of a gamble.  And, maybe, a gamble no one really puts much faith in.  In general though you would kind of expect a talent like Villar to be paired with a second tier prospect. Villar has value and is useful, so that should eat up a lot.  However, it really did not seem to do that.

The Orioles took a post-shine pitcher in Luis Ortiz.  Ortiz used to be a solid top 100 arm with the Rangers, but injuries and conditioning took him off that path.  AA ball has been a bit of a struggle for him.  This is his third year at that level after a taste in 2016, an uneven 2017, and now 2018.  He seems to have solved his issues there and is still quite young for the league, but is at a stage where his package appears to be what it is with only pitchability being what can improve.  As a starter he has a strong low 90s fastball with a little bit of life and a change up that pairs up very well with it.  His third pitch, a slider, is less impressive.  This is sort of a Kevin Gausman-lite kind of a deal.  Ortiz has a package that looks like a decent backend rotation arm with mid-rotation upside or, if he has trouble seeing the batting order more than once, looks like a potentially dominating closer as his fastball has ramped up to high 90s when he has seen time in relief.  Grades on Ortiz range from 45 to 50, so that is a value range of 10-15 MM.

Jean Carmona is the other prospect and, to some, is the prize of the deal.  However, there is a wide range of views on him.  FanGraphs evaluators peg him as a 40, MLB Pipeline puts him as a 45, and one of my scouting contacts who was floored by this deal has him as a 50+ (same scout put a 45 on Ortiz and that Villar was a fringe MLB player).  Carmona is 18 and fairly raw.  He possesses a strong arm and shows good reactions in the field.  He is projected to be a solid shortstop, but is thought to be able to slide to third if he thickens up too much.  Good runner, but just learning the nuances of the running game.  He shows strong gap power and, for his age, shows a good approach at the plate.  The 40 grade evaluators see him as just a raw player who likely will flame out.  The value then on him would range between 5-20 MM.

With all that in mind, if you take the middle road, you wind up with a 10 MM value for Villar, 10 MM value for Ortiz, and a 10 MM value for Carmona.  That is a 30 MM overall package for a 15 MM surplus player in Schoop.  If you think Schoop is truly a 3.5 WAR or a 4.5 WAR player, then you add another 10 to 20 MM on top of that.  My assessment is that the Brewers see Schoop as a true 3.5 WAR player and was willing to pay for him what they think he is rather than what he has shown himself to be over time.

This contrasts with the Gausman deal where he too has inconsistently shown an All Star level of play.  While Gausman returned to the Orioles a package on par with his mid-rotation performance to date, no one appears to have been willing to toss in an extra 20 MM in value that would have been more reflective of the ace-quality talent he shows from time to time.  Many evaluators think getting away from the Orioles will help tap into that, but no club banked on that.

Also different from the Gausman deal is that this one did have a trophy prospect in Luis Ortiz.  Although his reputation has been shaken a bit by those injuries and inconsistent play at AA, he still is considered a desirable arm to have in your system.  He really is the kind of player I expected the Orioles to get two or three of in the Gausman deal.  By pairing him with Carmona, the Orioles have mixed together a dependable high floor prospect with a much more exciting and volatile commodity.  And, somehow, Villar is there too.

I have no complaints.

01 August 2018

Orioles Went Fishing in the Kevin Gausman Trade

A few days ago, I established what I thought would likely be the market rate for Kevin Gausman: the Sonny Gray deal.  It made a lot of sense.  Gray and Gausman had similar career, had similar service time, and what Gausman lacked in notoriety among the fanbases, the front office knew he had performed better than Gray in their recent histories.  The Yankees got three fringe top 100 talents.  They were hit or miss top 100 guys.  Guys with name recognition.  They would be players one would be happy with if you went on a prospect trophy hunt.  Based on conversations, I know the Orioles literally asked for this.  As the deadline fell though, Gausman was traded, but not for a package that resembled Sonny Gray's.

What made the Sonny Gray deal so interesting was that value was concentrated into three players.  While Gray and Gausman both were about 50 MM players, the Gausman deal diversified the portfolio of talent that was coming back.  Instead of viable (yet injured) 50s the Yankees got with Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian, the Orioles acquired a couple 45s and a couple 40s with international money and the Darren O'Day money bomb splitting the difference.  In other words, the value exchanging hands in both deals was effectively the same, but the way in which that value came together was quite different and it comes down to philosophy.

First, though, lets visit each piece in the deal:

As noted above, I addressed Kevin Gausman's value in a previous post and pegged him at 50.2 MM.  To be brief, that number comes from his current salary and his projected cost in arbitration over the next two seasons against the value associated with his performance as expected over the next two and a half years based on wins above replacement.

Darren O'Day is the other player going to the Braves.  O'Day has three million or so left for this year and eight for next year.  After undergoing hamstring surgery, his three million this year is a loss.  Among scouts, there is concern that his hamstring issue is related to a more chronic issue with his back, so performance project varies between zero and ten million.  Split the differences and you come up with a general value of -5 MM for O'Day.

The total package comes to roughly 45 MM going from the Orioles to the Braves.  In a concentrated deal, you could expect three backend top 100 pitchers (15.1 MM value) concentrating that value in a vein similar to what was seen with Gray, but as noted before that was not the case.

Based on what scouts you listen to, the Orioles got two 45+ prospects in Jean Carlos Encarnacion and Brett Cumberland.  They could also be described as a 45 and a 40, too, depending on who you listen to.

First, lets discuss Jean Carlos Encarnacion.  Encarnacion was a minor signing in the Braves 2016 class, coming in at 10k.  He was largely overlooked for a couple years as he did not have skills or much strength.  The flyer the Braves took in 2016 paid off massively as Encarnacion has physically developed significantly and began showing some loud tools.  He shows sufficient reaction for third base, has a gun for an arm, and has great batting practice power.  That power has shown up in his game.  Still he is considered quite raw.  Scouts vary in their opinion on him.  Some see him as a raw player without much feel, having foolish errors in the field, and striking out once a game, and slap a 45 on him.  Others see him currently trending upward with a 45+ on him as he harnesses his power and begins to settle down.  I have heard him called an eventual Quad-A first baseman to a potential first division third baseman.

As a 45/45+, his value is somewhere in the 15-20 MM range.  That might seem strange that a player rated below a backend top 100 pitcher would be valued more than a position player.  There are two major reasons for that: (1) as a 3B, he can slide down the defensive spectrum to left field or first base and still provide some value as opposed to a pitcher providing value as he shifts into the pen and (2) pitchers get injured a lot, which lowers their absolute value.

Brett Cumberland is the other potential 45+, though he is also described as a 35.  Cumberland was taken out of Berkeley in the lottery portion of the second round of the 2016 draft, overslotting at 1.5 MM.  He was a player who was seen as having a good, polished bat with the potential of catching.  If you see that 45+, you see a player who might be more if the catching sticks, but whose bat is solid enough to carry a second division score at first base.  If you are like me, you see a poor defensive catcher and poor defensive catchers rarely ever become adequate behind the plate (see Chance Sisco).  Additionally, you see a player who has only shown off his bat in leagues where he is older than most of the other players and he still swings and misses a lot.

One thing that is important to note is rankings pre-season against in-season rankings.  Most public evaluators are using last year's rankings with this year's performance and a scout or two providing some newer information.  This means there is a significant data lag in the analysis, particularly for someone like me.  It may well be true that after this season is over, we find that the general view of Cumberland (and Encarnacion) have drastically improved.  That all said, the range of valuations on Cumberland fall between 5 and 20 MM.

The third piece in the Braves deal is Bruce Zimmerman.  He was selected in the fifth round in 2017 out of Mount Olive (formerly was with Towson University) as a senior signing who signed for 10k.  He does not seem to bring much except for polish as a lefthander.  This creates some red flags.  Polished lefties tend to struggle as they move up against more advanced hitting.  More advanced hitters do not get as flummoxed by platoons as younger or less talented hitters.  Plus, polish tends to mean a limited project, a limited range of possibilities to improve performance.  Grades on him are in the 35/40 range and he is worth about 5 MM, maybe 10 MM if you are really a believer.

Evan Phillips is the last piece in the deal and some are intrigued as he flirts with 100 mph heat.  Historically, he has had terrible control, which has led him into situations where he is quite predictable and is hit hard.  The Orioles certainly need more live arms in their system and Phillips qualifies as that, but he is the type of guy an organization should have a half dozen off throughout their organization.  I would put Phillips as a 35, which carries about a 5 MM value.

You can see where the pessimism comes from.  The worst case scenario for these four players is 15 for Encarnacion, 5 for Cumberland, 5 for Zimmerman, and 5 for Phillips for a 30 MM total.  If you are big on Cumberland only, then that winds up at a 45 MM value and the deal breaks even.  If you like Zimmerman as a starter or think Phillips is a true setup man it sets the value up where if you really like Encarnacion, the deal breaks even.

This leads us to the final part: 2.5 MM in international bonus pool money.  The Orioles now sit at 8.25 MM with only a bit of it dedicated to players right now.  Three big fish remain out there: Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa, Jr., and Sandy Gaston.  Their value is about 20, 10, and 10 MM and their expected cost is around 3.5, 1, and 2 MM.  The 2.5 MM could bring back another respectable prospect into the organization.

What this all leads back to is philosophy.  If you concern is value, then in a number of ways, it looks like the Orioles got their fair value.  The initial reports, however, indicated that they were trophy hunting similar to their other deals (i.e., Yusniel Diaz, Dillon Tate, Luis Ortiz).  They took a different direction and diversified their asset portfolio for a quantity of decent but not exceptional prospects.  Based on conversations, the return on Gausman/O'Day was seen as "light" to "genius".  I lean on the light side, but I may not be the best evaluator of that.  It may not be until the offseason when I have enough information to make a more certain conclusion.

As it is now, I think the Orioles went out with a big trophy or three on their minds and instead went fishing.

31 July 2018

Let's Get This Orioles Rebuild Started!

Dan Duquette and the Orioles brass are saying all of the right things. They are even doing the right things, so far. Expiring contracts that can be moved, have been. The club is collecting international signing money, and they have been credibly connected, in some way shape or form, to some of the top Latin players available. They even seem to be making an effort at being proactive by taking calls on the players that are under control beyond 2018. It's really something.

But the rebuild has not fully taken effect until those thoughts and words become tangible actions.

It's nice to be "interested" in a player like Victor Victor Mesa. It would be much better if he were signed to an Orioles contract. It's encouraging to know they are open to trading Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop and Mychal Givens. It would be glorious to see them negotiate a massive return of prospects for that trio that sets the team up for future success.

Things have been going well so far, but this has not be a flawless trade window. Maybe the deals won't there for the taking by July 31. That's fine. It's reasonable to extend the benefit of the doubt through the winter, but if the Spring Training 2019 roster looks a lot like the roster on the final day of the 2018 season, we have a huge problem on our hands.

*This episode of the podcast was recorded on Monday, July 30, prior to the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline.*

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Brad Brach Was Traded for the Equivalent of a 7th Rounder

Brad Brach was traded for permission, the permission to spend an extra 250k on international prospects.  No, this does not mean that the Braves sent the Orioles 250k to spend.  It means that the Braves reduced their allowed expenditure on foreign amateur talent under 23 years of age and the Orioles increased theirs.  This concept hopefully is familiar as the Orioles have discharged themselves of this permission to the tune of about 10 MM these past two years.

That leaves the question: What does 250k get you on the international market.  Back in the day (2011), I wrote a column for ESPN.  To save you the trouble of reading it, I was inspired to write it after thinking about how the Orioles under MacPhail explicitly noted that the market in Latin America was overpriced and was a foolish way to spend money.  Of course, that was a silly conclusion as available talent and access to that talent really meant that domestic amateurs were simply artificially compromised with their earning potential and that talent was less limited elsewhere.  Anyway, I came to the conclusion that 61 cents spent at home was equivalent to a dollar spent abroad.

So let us consider Miguel Sano from back then.  He signed for 3.15 MM.  My model conclusion would suggest that the same talent would be available then on the domestic front for 1.92 MM.  When Sano signed in 2009, selections were not assigned suggested values.  However if you extrapolate backwards from this current era of assigned value, you get Sano being worth about a mid first round pick.  Which is about what he was considered as at the time.

A comparison to now would be a player with the talent of Victor Victor Mesa.  He is considered being valuable in the same range, but his expected signing bonus is for 3.5 MM.  The cost per win during this last decade has more than doubled, suggesting that in a market without a bonus cap that Mesa should be looking for something in the neighborhood of 7 MM.  This evidences how much the cap has altered the landscape and that the 61 cent to one dollar comparison has narrow quite a bit.

In today's domestic draft, the level of talent we see in the draft that compares to Mesa may be as high as Travis Swaggerty (a 10th pick) or low as Trevor Larnach (a 20th pick), they came out as 4.4 and 2.5 MM respectively.  To expect Mesa to earn 3.5 MM, then we are expecting him to basically make what he would if he was in the draft.  A one to one comparison.

If that comparison holds true that somehow there is not much cost difference between domestic and international signing bonuses, then we might well assume that 250k would get the Orioles something on the level of a 7th round domestic pick talent.  Typically, that kind of prospect does not provide much return.  The last Oriole to see himself drafted there and making it to the big show is Caleb Joseph who was drafted back in 2008.  And, of course, the all time player the Orioles drafted in that round was Mike Flanagan in 1973.

All in all, it likely won't move the needle much, but it does help provide the Orioles with more opportunity to find a diamond in the rough.  After all, Jonathan Schoop cost less than 250k.

30 July 2018

The Value Of #4/#5 Starters Has Skyrocketed

Most fans hope for the best for their team. They hope that their major league players will show improvement from their past performance and that their top prospects (regardless of overall rank) will end up being successful in the majors. This divide between optimism and reality becomes clearer when looking at starting pitching. People hope that their top pitching prospects can become successful in the majors at the same time that starting pitching is becoming hard to find. As a result, fans undervalue legitimate backend starters and overvalue unranked pitching prospects. This came to light last week when Jon talked about the value of Kevin Gausman.

For starters, the performance of starting pitching has changed significantly recently. This chart shows the count of qualified pitchers, their average ERA (not waited by innings pitched), their average FIP and their average WAR.

It’s pretty simple, there are 30 teams in the majors and each team historically has five starters in the rotation, meaning there are 150 starters that have a shot to be qualified. From 2010-2014, roughly 90 starters threw over 160 innings, or on average each team had three qualified starters. In 2017 that dropped to 56 starters, or on average each team had only two qualified starters. However, despite the drop in qualified starting pitchers, their performance hasn’t improved. The average ERA and FIP have gotten worse over time, suggesting that finding qualified pitchers is harder in this new age. That’s one reason why only 25% of qualified starters were worth 2 WAR or less in 2017. Starters that can give their team 160 innings with a decent ERA and FIP have become much more valuable than they were even two years ago.

Unsurprisingly, the number of starters used in a year has gone from 273 in 2010 to 315 in 2017. Part of this is because teams received on average 970 innings from their starters in 2010 but only 890 innings from their starters in 2017. But part of it is that the average starter has gone from throwing 106 innings in 2010 to only 85 in 2017. As a result, teams have gone from using 9 starters on average to using 10.5 starters on average. As more starters are used, the average ERA and FIP has also gotten worse. Things are somewhat better this year, but not by much. According to TruMedia, there are 79 qualified starters in 2018 compared to 73 at this point in 2017. Expect a small increase of qualified pitchers from last year, but probably not a large one. Here's how the numbers look for all starters.

The value of backend starters that can give you a large amount of innings without having terrible results has skyrocketed due to their scarcity. Teams only have so much starting pitching depth. The more starters that they’re forced to use, the more likely that they’re going to get an atrocious performance from somebody. The teams with the best starting pitching are those like the Indians who made it through 2017 using just seven starting pitchers. Having guys like Bundy and Gausman on your roster helps keep the bullpen fresh and ensure teams don’t need to use their AAAA guys as starters.

It’s possible to use FIP to rank starting pitchers from 2010-2017. For each year, we know how many starters each team used on average, so it makes sense to put starters in groups based on the average number of starters used by a team. For example, in 2010, teams used 9.1 starters per year, so we can rank starters from 1 (best) to 10 (worst) based on their FIP. In 2017, teams used 10.5 starters per year, so we can rank starters from 1 (best) to 11 (worst).

When using this method, it becomes pretty clear that there’s a big difference between aces (average FIP of 2.59) and #2 starters (average FIP of 3.28), the second worst starters (average FIP of 5.27) and the worst starters (average FIP of 8.12) and the third worst starters (average FIP of 4.72) and the second worst starters. Aside from those groups there’s roughly a .2 or .3 FIP difference between ranks. Over 180 innings, this is equivalent to roughly 5 runs or half a win. A decent-sized distinction, but not a huge one. Here's how the groupings look.

Using this method, Kevin Gausman consistently (2015-2017) appears to be a #5-6 starter while Dylan Bundy looks to be an outright #6 or even worse. That stated, FIP probably isn’t particularly fair to Orioles starters. FIP presumes that pitchers are fully responsible for all home runs that they allow, but it’s a lot easier to hit a home run in Camden Yards than in the Oakland Coliseum. Fangraphs WAR uses a park factor to take this into account, but FIP does not. So, it probably makes sense to consider Gausman a #4-5 starter. Likewise, Sonny Gray was a 3-4 starter in 2014 and 2015 using this metric, while he dropped to a #8 starter in 2016. But due to pitching in a pitcher friendly stadium, it’s likely he should also have been treated as a #4-5 starter. In other words, these two pitchers are probably closer in value than just looking at their FIPs or ERAs would indicate.

At any given time, there are typically around 40 pitching prospects on top 100 prospect lists. Not all of these pitchers graduate in a given year, but if top prospects had a high success rate, then there would be a lot more than 60 qualified starters. The fact is that the likelihood of a top prospect being successful isn’t great, and therefore the value of a prospect that is successful is high. If top pitching prospects that are ranked struggle to be successful, then pitching prospects that aren’t ranked struggle even more often. It’s highly unlikely that unranked pitching prospects will be successful in the majors. They’ll get a shot because teams need to rely on their minor league system for starters, but they’re probably not going to succeed. Unfortunately, fans don’t remember failed prospects.

Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are likely going to be nothing more than #4-5 starters on the Orioles. It’s possible that another team could successfully develop them and turn them into top of the rotation pitchers. But even #4-5 starters that can pitch a full season have significant value. Their performance may not be great, but these guys can solidify a rotation, ensure that teams don’t need to rely on minor league pitchers with minimal talent and preserve a bullpen. The value of that has skyrocketed over the past few years.

27 July 2018

Kevin Gausman is Sonny Gray

Last winter, I was talking to an executive from another team.  I was noting that maybe Kevin Gausman, with his fastball/breaking ball mix, was better suited for the role of a closer.  I thought that perhaps his days starting should end and just emphasize what he really does well.  The executive chuckled and asked whether what I was saying was done without looking at what Gausman has actually done.  After a pause, he continued.  He said I was Wieters-ing Gausman.

What does it mean to Wieters someone?  It means that the expectations you have for someone are so great that when the player fails to meet those expectations, you are unable to appreciate what they have actually accomplished.  For those not all that long in the tooth on the local Orioles scene, you will remember the fierce debate over whether or not Matt Wieters was a bust.  The debate was frustrating because Matt Wieters had the third best bWAR in Orioles history as a catcher with 18.  Rick Dempsey and Chris Hoiles come in front of him with 21.2 and 23.5, respectively, but played slightly long than Wieters in an Orioles uniform.  So, yeah, perhaps he was not the best catcher in Orioles history, but he was quite good.

Gausman will not reach the third most bWAR for an Oriole starting pitcher, but it is actually possible.  The current third highet bWAR belongs to Dave McNally at 25.5.  Gausman sits at 10.3.  If you look at what he can do over the remaining 2.5 years of control, you are looking at something in the neighborhood of seven or eight more WAR, which would put him around 8th.  If he wound up signing long term with the Orioles, he probably would pass Dave McNally.  To consider such a pitcher a failure is downright foolish.

Of course, the Orioles are in a tailspin and it makes one wonder if Gausman should really be on the team any longer or if he should be dealt and his value turned into prospects.  What exactly would the prospect haul be.  Matt Perez visited this a few days ago, but I want to dive into this a bit more.

What kind of surplus value does Gausman have?
We are going to take a conservative route.  We will ignore the scarcity of talent on the starting pitching front at this deadline.  That scarcity probably would help a seller.  Additionally, we will ignore that many teams view the Orioles as poorly helping their pitchers and think that Gausman has a couple extra gears.  Instead, we will only look at what he has done and what that suggests for his future.

If you project Gausman forward, you can expect him to tack on about 1.2 bWar the rest of this year, 3.1 bWAR in 2019, and 2.8 bWAR (these projections are simply looking at past performance and how things look moving forward).  That is a total of 7.1 bWAR, which has a value of around 71.7 MM at 10.1 MM a win.  He has about 2.5 MM left in salary and is expected to see 8 MM in 2019 and 11 MM in 2020 for a total of 21.5 MM.  Split the difference and you see Gausman's surplus value at 50.2 MM, which is about what the Machado package was worth.

The Machado package include one strong prospect in Diaz and then a collection of interesting prospects of different values.  However, what if we concentrated that value into three players.  Based on historical value of prospects, that would be equal to one position prospect in the 75-100 range of baseball's top 100 prospects in addition to two pitchers in that range.  The total value of those players would come to 50.4 MM.

Now, if you follow my Twitter account, you know I mentioned this value the other day.  You will also probably know that people were astounded.  Gausman for three top 100 prospects seems extreme especially for a pitcher who often is compared with the struggles of Jake Arrieta (0.1 bWAR in his 3.5 years of service time for the Orioles) or Bud Norris (4.3 bWAR in his 3.5 years of service time for the Astros).  Remember, Gausman currently has 10.3 bWAR over those 3.5 years of service time.

Now, have we seen a pitcher of this level traded at the deadline recently?  Why, yes, of course. Last year, Sonny Grey was dealt to the Yankees.  You might be confused about that.  Sonny Gray is an elite starting pitcher and Kevin Gausman has his troubles.  Well, let us take a look.
3.5 yrs
As you can see, Gausman and Gray rate out fairly evenly.  Gray may have had one shining year early in his career, but by and large he has been a bit underwhelming.  Gausman on the other hand has been fairly consistently good.  This is true for bWAR (which says the pitcher is responsible for a lot of his runs), fWAR (which says the pitcher depends on his defense a lot), and WARP (which uses DRA to provide one of the more sophisticated ways to assess value in a pitcher).

How about near term value?
1.5 yrs
Gausman looks much stronger than Gray here.  It should be noted that Gausman has a 4.22 DRA this year, which is good for 1.4 WARP.  Gray, when he was traded, held a 4.26 DRA and a 1.4 WARP.  DRA tends to be the best measure of performance moving forward with a small sample size.  Anyway, we get very similar numbers for the immediate season, one and a half seasons, and for their entire first 3.5 years of control.  You may feel Gray is elite and you may feel Gausman is a struggling pitcher, but the numbers think you should re-explore your feelings.

So what did the Athletics get for Gray?
The Athletics got two position players and a pitcher.  In James Kaprielian, the Athletics got a pitcher who had begun 2017 as a top 100 prospect (87th Baseball America, 58th MLB Pipeline, 58th Baseball Prospectus), but who required Tommy John surgery before the trade.  That disrupted his value and caused him to fall off the top 100 list.  In a way, you could say this compares to someone like Hunter Harvey.  The Athletics also received Jorge Mateo who was a 2017 top 100 prospect (85th Baseball America, 47th MLB Pipeline, 43rd Baseball Prospectus) and a 2018 top 100 prospect (64th Baseball America, 72nd MLB Pipeline, 79th Baseball Prospectus) and an injured Dustin Fowler who was rising on prospect lists and made two top 100 lists in 2018 (88th Baseball America, 98th Baseball Prospectus).  The prospect value for someone like Kaprielian would be around 10 MM, Mateo would be 24 MM, and Fowler came in around, conservatively, at 15 MM.  That is a 49 MM deal for Sonny Gray.

Now that we have established Gausman's value and brought up a recent historical comparison for a trade that is also in agreement with a purely numerical evaluation of value, what kind of packages would be similar gets from other clubs?  For this, I will focus on three teams who have been most attached to Kevin Gausman: the Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies, and the Atlanta Braves.  If a player is a fringe top 100 prospect, I simply considered them a back end top 100, which inflates their value a bit.  In other words, this is a conservative estimate on the take.

The Milwaukee Brewers are a club that has checked in on all of the starting pitchers around the league that may be available, including Gausman.  They also have the prospects to acquire him without completely gutting their system.  Headlining the deal would be Corbin Burnes.  MLB Pipeline considers him to be the 53rd overall prospect in baseball which carries a 19.7 MM estimate value.  He has struggled this year at AAA and has done well in a few relief appearances for the MLB squad.  Burnes is the Brewers #2 prospect.  Behind him would be a choice between Corey Ray, an outfielder and fourth overall prospect, and Lucas Erceg, a thirdbaseman and sixth overall prospect.  Both players are fringe top 100 talents.  Ray has a bit of helium attached to him, but would crowd a currently crowded part of the Orioles minor league system.  Erceg makes a little more sense, but his competition comes from Ryan Mountcastle within the Orioles system. Erceg has also had his struggles this year, which has caused his perceived value to slip a bit.  As a backend top 100 talent (again they are not listed), they would represent 20.2 MM.  Finishing out the package is Luis Ortiz, a right handed pitcher who is Milwaukee's 7th best prospect, who before this season was a top 100 prospect, but whose struggles last year lost some of that shine.  Again, he is not in the top 100, but let us just assume back end value of 15.1 MM.  In his second trip through AA, he has gotten a little bit of hope back into his ceiling.  All in all, this package comes in around 55 MM.  Again, though, I think that is probably a shade too high, but lets go with that instead of what I think is more realistic (~45 MM).  The Brewers deal would provide the Orioles with a new number one prospect, dethroning Yusniel Diaz by a shade.  Corey Ray or Lucas Erceg would tussle with Austin Hays for fifth overall.  Luis Ortiz would be found around Grayson Rodriguez and Dillon Tate around seventh or eighth overall.

The Colorado Rockies have long been interested in Gausman.  Their people adore him and have coveted him since his amateur days.  The package here comes in at 50.4 MM.  Peter Lambert, RHSP, is the prize.  He is the Rockies' second best prospect and sits a bit further behind Burnes at 89th overall, which provides a value of 15.1 MM.  I would pair him with one of the darlings of Jeff Passan's the Arm, Riley Pint.  The right handed starting pitcher what the fourth overall selection in 2016, but has suffered a variety of arm and core injuries.  He has a top of the rotation ceiling, but high variability of what he actually becomes.  Pint is the Rockies fifth overall prospect and is a strong comparison to Hunter Harvey and James Kaprielien.  As a fringe top 100 talent, I assigned him a 15.1 MM value.  This package would be topped off with middle infielder Garrett Hampson who is the Rockies fourth overall prospect and is a fringe top 100 talent, so we will assume a 20.2 MM value.  This deal would give the Orioles a new number three in Lambert.  Pint and Hampson would be found around five or six in competition with Austin Hays.

The Atlanta Braves have the right pieces to make a strong deal.  The Orioles could take in several strong prospects without even touching the Braves' top five prospects.  Standing as the prize of the package is the kind of big bodied pitcher that the Orioles have been targeting in many of their low minors acquisitions.  In this case, the pitcher has a few uneasy MLB innings.  Luiz Gohara is a left handed pitcher with a strong fastball/slider mix.  He is the 63rd prospect in baseball (with a 19.7 value) and is the Braves 6th overall prospect.  Touki Toussaint, a right handed starting pitcher has often been more about expectations than actual performance as he learns how to pitch.  He is the 78th best prospect in baseball and worth 15.1 MM.  Finally, also coming in at 15.1 MM in value is left handed started pitcher Kolby Allard, who is the 93rd overall prospect and the 8th prospect in the Braves system.  He too like the other two is in AAA and doing fine.  The final total package value is 49.9 MM.  Unlike the other two deals, the values are direct values and not hedge ups.  This group would be a major improvement in the Orioles' pitching.  Gohara would become the Orioles second best prospect.  Toussaint and Allard would fall in behind Mountcastle to be the fourth and fifth best prospects in the organization.

One clear take away is that none of these deals depletes any of these systems.  The Brewers would lose their 2nd, 4th, and 6th prospects.  The Rockies would lose their 2nd, 4th, and 5th prospects.  The Braves would lose their 6th, 7th, and 8th.  Meanwhile, these deals would vastly improve the Orioles system with prospects who should be able to prove themselves soon.  Yes, backend top 100 prospects fail and fail often.  It is probable that any of these packages will not produce a starting pitcher as valuable as Gausman has been, but they delay the clock and give the Orioles more cheap, controllable talent that may be of consequence when the club finally rights itself.

Again, maybe this is all too much.  Maybe the Yankees, one of the most statistically inclined organizations in baseball, somehow got stars in their eyes and overpaid for Sonny Gray.  Maybe Sonny Gray's dominating year in his youth when he threw 3 mph harder means something.  Regardless, I think it is an apt comparison between Gray, the package he was dealt for, and Gausman.  Gausman and Gray had similar careers of similar worth at the same point in time.  And maybe New York thought they could unlock Gray again just like a lot of teams think they can reach a new level for Gausman by de-Oriole-ing him.