The Pirates recently avoided arbitration with Garrett Jones by signing him to a 1 year, 4.5 million dollar contract but yet there remains rumors and some debate about whether the Pirates should consider trading him. This is a situation that isn’t quite as clear as many think it is. There are two relatively vocal groups in the blogosphere one who thinks the Pirates need to capitalize on his peak value and trade him and another who believes he is too valuable to this Pirates team to be dealt. In truth the answer as it almost always does lies somewhere in between.
First lets start by getting an idea of what Jones is and what value he may have. Jones ic going to spend most of the 2013 season as a 32 year old meaning he is most likely past his baseball prime and probably on the downside of his career. We can’t say this with certainty though as Jones got a late start and could still in theory have something left in the tank but it seems reasonable to suggest that his 2012 is likely the best full season of baseball he is likely to produce in his major league career. Exactly how good was Jones career year though. Well FanGraphs recently named him one of the most average-ish position players in baseball for 2012 and he managed to produce a 1.9 WAR. He also continued to struggle against lefties something he is well known to have issues with. So what we have here is a guy who at his peak was an average MLB player. That may not sound all that good but average can’t be dismissed so easily, it can be difficult to find average or even slightly below average in baseball.
So what is Jones trade value. Well conventional wisdom says a player is worth about 5-6 million per WAR he produces. Jones is under control for 3 more seasons and while his WAR has been erratic the past 3 seasons (0.3, 1.0, 1.9) I think a nice sound prediction is somewhere between 1.2-1.5 WAR per season. Let’s split the difference and say Jones will be worth 4.0 WAR over the next 3 seasons. As far as his salary is concerned Jones is set to earn in 2013 exactly double what he did in 2012 which is what you would in theory expect from a Super 2 player. So base on that his salary should be 4.5, 6.75 and 9 million over the next 3 years respectively (or 20.25 million total). Chances are a 34 year old Jones in 2015 isn’t going to be worth 9 million dollars. So lets cut that year off and let’s be optimistic and call him a 3.0 WAR player over the next seasons and assume his salary will be 11.25 million. Taking 5.5 million per WAR that give Jones approximately 5.25 million in value. So in terms of prospects according to all the research I have seen that would make him worth roughly a Grade B hitter not in the top 100 or a C+/B- pitching prospect. For the Pirates that would be a Josh Bell or a Tyler Glasnow.
If the Pirates could truly get that kind of value for Jones he should in my opinion be moved but in reality we are probably shooting high. The price I put on Jones is probably similar to how the Pirates value him but most teams probably won’t value Jones that highly. Chances are they will see his excess value at something closer to 3 million. That would mean probably something like a C+ prospect with a little upside but less impact potential. The Pirates have a plethora of those in the system and for them Jones is more valuable than a guy like that. On the other hand the Pirates have replacement options for Jones who they probably at least have to consider giving playing time to in Snider, Sands, Tabata and Sanchez.
All of this information leaves the Pirates in an odd situation. The Pirates have a player who is reasonably priced for this season and probably next who has a relatively high value to them but not such a high value to outside clubs. However despite the disparity in value the Pirates have two incentives to trade Jones, one is that he an older non-essential player at peak value and two is that they have younger higher upside players ready to be given a chance. It is really a conflicting situation. If the Pirates are only receiving low ball offers there is no reason to move Jones right now and if they are receiving offers equal to the value he currently has to the Pirates there is no reason not to move him right now but if as is usually always the case the situation is somewhere in between the Pirates face quite a predicament. Another possible situation is what if the Pirates can get a major league player for Jones that can help them at a position of need such as SS or SP then would it make it sense for the Pirates to make a deal and in trust the position to the other alternatives? I say yes but I see the case on either side.
The bottom line is that in my opinion the Pirates should keep an open mind to Jones and trade him only under two sets of circumstances: 1) They get equivalent prospect value to him to what his value is as a Pirate (Grade B hitter, Grade C+/B- pitcher) or 2) THey get a major league piece that immediately improves SS or SP.