The report this morning that the Reds have talked with Cleveland about a trade for Francisco Lindor has sent Reds fans into a frenzy discussing what kind of package would the Reds have to give up for two years of Lindor’s service. Reminder: Francisco Lindor is a Gold Glove shortstop who hits for power and steals bases. He’s projected to produce about 12 WAR over the next two seasons at a cost of $42 million in payroll. We assessed Lindor’s value in an earlier post.
Two Trade Parallels
It’s hard to pinpoint what the trade would look like from the Reds side. There are a couple different ways it could go, depending on what Cleveland is looking for. Further, there haven’t been many trades like this one, where a team is letting go a superstar player with more than a year of team control left.
Chris Sale to Boston
One parallel (hat tip to Matt Wilkes with this suggestion) might be when the Chicago White Sox traded left-handed pitcher Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in December 2016. Sale was coming off five dominant years with the White Sox, when he averaged 5-WAR per season. His contract status at the time gave Boston one year of service, plus two team option years. Sale’s total salary would be $38 million over those three seasons. That’s nearly $80 million in surplus value.
Yes, there are differences. Sale is a pitcher, a left-handed pitcher. Sale was available for three years instead of two for Lindor. Lindor is a 6-WAR player while Sale was 5-WAR. But not only do those dissimilarities sort of cancel out, but Lindor plays shortstop, itself an important position of scarcity. Two years of 6-WAR Lindor vs. three years of 5-WAR Sale is as close as we’ll get to a guide.
So what did the Red Sox send to the White Sox for Chris Sale? Four prospects: Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz. Moncada was a 21-year-old second baseman right on the cusp of breaking into the major leagues. He was the #1 ranked prospect in baseball. Kopech was a flame-thrower starting pitcher who drew comparisons to a young Noah Syndergaard. He made it to the Top 10-20 in many MLB rankings. Basabe was a CF who ranked #8 in the Red Sox system. Diaz was a reliever ranked #28 in Boston’s system.
Mat Latos to Cincinnati
One similar trade from Reds history is the 2011 deal with the Padres for Mat Latos. The Reds traded four players (Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Brad Boxberger and Yonder Alonso) for Latos. Latos had put up two 4-WAR seasons for the Padres, so he wasn’t as good relative to the league as Lindor is. But Latos had four years of team control remaining, not just two. Again, it’s a rough comparison.
Volquez was a good starting pitcher in his own right. He had served a 50-game PED suspension the previous season and made only 12 starts for the Reds. Boxberger was a 23-year-old decent prospect as a reliever. Alonso and Grandal were former #1 picks for the Reds and considered top prospects. They were top-50 MLB prospects, ranked #3 and #4 in the Reds system heading into 2012 (Devin Mesoraco was #1 and Billy Hamilton #2).
So in both the Sale and Latos trades, the return was four players. The Sale trade was four prospects, albeit a couple close to the major leagues. The Latos trade included an established major league pitcher and three close-to-MLB minor leaguers.
Drawing on those templates, what would a realistic Reds package be for Francisco Lindor.
What the Reds have to Offer Cleveland
Prospect lists are like noses, everybody has one. Let’s start with the FanGraphs list for the Reds since it not only ranks the players but rates their relative strengths. They have these players at the top of their 2019 (not yet updated for 2020) list:
- Nick Senzel (60)
- Jonathan India (50)
- Nick Lodolo (50)
- Tyler Stephenson (50)
- Hunter Greene (50)
- Tony Santillan (50)
- Jose Siri (45+)
- Vlad Gutierrez (45)
- Mike Siani (45)
Here is how FanGraphs describes each numerical category on their 20-80 system:
So they had Nick Senzel as an All-Star player; India, Lodolo, Stephenson, Greene and Santillan as average everyday major league players and so forth. Again, these ratings have not been updated based on the 2019 season.
A couple ranking systems have three Reds in the Top 100 of MLB, but in the bottom half. John Sickels of The Athletic (subscription) has Hunter Greene #52, Nick Lodolo #78 and Jonathan India #93. MLB Pipeline is in agreement, with those three players ranked #49, #56 and #93 respectively. CBS Sports has a Top-50 and Nick Lodolo sneaks in at #45. Bleacher Report has Greene at #44 and Tony Santillan in the bottom 50 of their Top-100.
You get the idea. The Reds don’t have a Top-40 prospect to headline the trade for Lindor. So any package that starts with Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Jonathan India won’t cut it.
That means the headliner of a Chris Sale-style return has to be Nick Senzel.
What is Nick Senzel’s Value?
2020 will be Nick Senzel’s age-25 season. Senzel is a recent graduate of Top-10 prospect lists everywhere.
To say that the Reds have moved Senzel around the field would be an understatement. He played 3B all of 2016 and 2017 through the AA level. In his injury shortened 2018 at AAA, he played 28 games at 2B, 14 games at 3B and even 1 game at SS. In 2019, the Reds made Senzel a centerfielder, which he played in 8 AAA games before his promotion to the Reds.
Senzel has earned 150 days of major league service time, which means he has six full seasons of team control remaining. Given how early in the 2019 season he debuted, Senzel will certainly qualify for Super Two arbitration status. That means he’ll play the next two seasons at league minimum salary and four years with the right to arbitration.
As a rookie last year, in 414 plate appearances, he hit .256/.315/.427 with 12 home runs and 14 stolen bases. His run production was 90 (wRC+) which means a rate of 10% below league average. FanGraphs put his WAR at 0.7 and Baseball-Reference at 0.6. If you combine the Steamer-Fangraphs and Marcel-Baseball Reference projections for 2020 and peg it to 550 plate appearances, you get .260/.324/.439 with 17 home runs, 14 stolen bases and run production (wRC+) of 95.
How do players like Nick Senzel project in out years? Craig Edwards of FanGraphs studied players in Top-100 rankings over the years and figured out their average WAR production, their bust-rate and rate of becoming a star player. He found that the average player in Senzel’s current FanGraphs category (60) will earn 6.1 WAR, have a 32% bust-rate and a 27% chance of becoming a star. The folks at Driveline did their own analysis, with slightly higher estimates of WAR value and found basically the same results as Edwards. That’s for an average player in the category, not Nick Senzel in particular. Senzel’s injury history and position switching creates added uncertainty.
Where Does That Leave Us?
Two clear conclusions:
- Nick Senzel has to be at the top of any prospects-based package for Lindor
- Nick Senzel is nowhere near enough to bring back Lindor
Yesterday, writers at MLB.com suggested the Reds could offer Senzel, Freddy Galvis, Jonathan India and Tony Santillan for Lindor and CF Delino DeShields. Their thinking in adding DeShields to the deal was with Senzel going to Cleveland, the Reds would need a centerfielder. They concluded this wouldn’t be enough for Cleveland. That seems right. Hunter Greene or Nick Lodolo would have to be the second player.
A Senzel-Lodolo or Senzel-Greene package would fall short of what the Red Sox paid for Chris Sale, but Sale had considerably more surplus value, albeit spread over three seasons, than Lindor.
Proposal: Nick Senzel, Nick Lodolo, Freddy Galvis and another lower prospect for Francisco Lindor.
What say you?
There are other types of offers the Reds might assemble for Lindor, including an emphasis on current major league players. We’ll look at those ideas in an upcoming post.
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[Featured Lindor image: https://twitter.com/Indians/status/1110969441418969088/photo/2]
[Feature Senzel image: https://twitter.com/Reds/status/1124332311712083969/photo/1]