CLEVELAND -- One big bit of Hot Stove hubbub surrounding the Indians this week was a tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale reporting that the Indians are "much more inclined to trade Trevor Bauer than Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco."The reason, Nightengale explained, is that Bauer -- who has two
CLEVELAND -- One big bit of Hot Stove hubbub surrounding the Indians this week was a tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale reporting that the Indians are "much more inclined to trade Trevor Bauer than Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco."
The reason, Nightengale explained, is that Bauer -- who has two rounds of arbitration remaining before free agency -- carries less cost certainty than Carrasco and Kluber, who are already signed to locked-in extensions (Carrasco through 2020, Kluber through '21). Because the budget-conscious Indians don't know exactly how high Bauer's salary could escalate by '20, it might make sense to prioritize moving him.
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Well, one baseball analyst thinks trading Bauer right now is a terrible idea: Bauer.
No, it's not a sentimental situation in which Bauer is too emotionally tied to the Tribe to be rational. On the contrary: Bauer, true to form, breaks down his own trade value in a cold, calculated and unusually detached manner.
"There's a lot of reasons I think that [the Indians should not trade me]," Bauer said on MLB Network's "Hot Stove" show Thursday. "Ultimately, I think the surplus value on me this year is just way too high. Even with an arbitration raise, you're probably talking about $15 to $20 million of surplus value."
What is Bauer talking about here?
Surplus value is the backbone of baseball trades in our increasingly analytical era. Every team has its own proprietary means of calculating surplus value, but we can do our own quick and dirty math right here.
Bauer was worth 6.1 Wins Above Replacement in 2018, according to the FanGraphs calculation -- even though his innings were limited to 175 1/3 by the stress fracture in his right leg after he was struck by a comebacker in August. Bauer made $6.525 million.
To calculate surplus value, you've got to ascribe some sort of dollar value to a "win." A reasonable estimate in the current marketplace is $9 million (even if it's too high, all that matters is that it is used as a constant for all players being analyzed to keep the playing field level). If we multiply Bauer's 6.1 WAR by 9, we guesstimate that he was worth $54.9 million to the Indians in 2018. Subtract his actual earnings from that total, and you have a calculation of what he was worth over and above what the Indians paid for him -- his surplus value.
With that in mind, here are the surplus values for the three starters in question in 2018:
Bauer (6.1 WAR, $6.525M salary): $48.375M (Bauer's estimate of his own worth may have been on the shallow side)
Kluber (5.9 WAR, $10.7M salary): $42.4M
Carrasco (5.3 WAR, $8M salary): $39.7M
"I think of the starters that they were talking about trading -- Kluber, Carrasco and me -- I think all of us bring a tremendous return," Bauer said. "So I think you can get a very similar package of players in return in a trade. But I think me and Carrasco have the largest surplus value going into this year."
We're not smart enough to know how any of these pitchers will perform in 2019, and Bauer's salary is not yet settled. But just for the sake of discussion, let's use MLB Trade Rumors' best guess at Bauer's salary and last year's WAR numbers for a frame of reference. This is what the 2019 surplus values would look like:
Bauer (6.1WAR, $11.6M salary): $43.3M
Kluber (5.9 WAR, $17M salary): $36.1M
Carrasco (5.3 WAR, $9.75M salary): $37.95M
That backs up Bauer's point. Most players will see a decline in surplus value as their salaries escalate, but, as you can see, the decline could be steepest with Kluber, who gets a big raise in 2019 as a result of Cy Young Award-voting escalators that were built into his contract (his club options for '20 and '21 are worth $17.5M and $18M, respectively).
And when taking a stab at the 2019 WAR estimates, keep in mind that Bauer is entering his age-28 season, has pitched 904 regular-season innings in the big leagues and nearly cut his ERA in half from 2017 to '18. So his arrow would appear to be pointed upward, while Carrasco (age 32, 1,094 1/3 innings) and Kluber (age 33, 1,306 innings) are less likely to have an uptick in performance.
Of course, if Bauer does replicate or even improve upon his 6.1 WAR from 2018 in the coming year, his price tag for 2020 -- his final arbitration season before free agency -- will be substantial. And Bauer has already made it known publicly that he intends to sign one-year contracts in free agency at max value, which means there is very little chance of him remaining with the Indians in '21.
"In 2020," said Bauer, "when my salary raises up to like the $20 million range, then the surplus value isn't nearly as much. And they're most likely not going to be able to sign me in free agency, even on one-year deals. So it would make sense to trade me and get some prospects in return."
So Bauer actually provided very good reasons why the Indians should and shouldn't trade him.
They shouldn't trade Bauer because in 2019 -- on a team that still expects to be built to win -- he likely represents the most upside and the best performance-to-paycheck ratio of the three most established members of the starting staff.
They should trade Bauer because -- unlike Carrasco and Kluber -- the cost of doing business in 2020 (by which point, it must be noted, the competitive field in the AL Central could evolve substantially) is an unknown, and the current upside and projected surplus value make him arguably the best trade chip of the three. Plus, he's gone in two years, no matter what they do in the trade market.
The Indians' needle-threading situation -- trying to pare payroll while injecting a built-to-win ballclub with younger, cost-controlled players -- is fascinating, and the decision whether to actually pull the trigger on a trade involving one of these three starters will be the most pivotal one made by Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff and Co. this winter.
That one of the three is weighing in on the situation with such casual lucidity adds value -- maybe even surplus value -- to the conversation.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.