One question that I (along with a ton of others) get is who the Braves should trade for. This is a very loaded question, because even if one comes up with a name that is even available on the trade market, the next questions are along the lines of “why haven’t they done that?” or “what would a trade package for him look like?” It isn’t that those questions don’t have answers... but instead that the answers are complicated. Some teams have different outlooks on their immediate future than outside observers, others value prospects more/less, and the Braves have their own sense of which players are in their immediate future which makes them more valuable and harder to move.
However, it is clear that the Braves are in the market to improve their roster... of this much we are certain. So far, though, the smart money seems to be that, at least until this offseason, the Braves will focus on less flashy trade acquisitions and improve the bullpen or kick the tires on some options at third base or the rotation that are not super-cost-prohibitive. However, one name that has come up recently as potentially available is a name the Braves should strongly consider.
From @dgoold: The most significant piece the #STLCards could sell would be Carlos Martinez. They also could move Gyorko and Jose Martinez. There's varying degrees of return for those guys. Bud Norris and Greg Holland would also be in play. Brett Cecil. Tuivailala.— Tim McKernan (@tmckernan) July 16, 2018
Look, we have had conversations about players like Carlos Martinez before. It seems like Chris Archer has been kinda, sorta available for a long time on the trade market as a guy with a bunch of team control (well, he did until the Rays decided to just hold on to him and watch his value decrease day by day). Archer is an interesting parallel to Martinez because he has a track record of productivity, a contract that keeps him under control for a while, and arguably most important... is going to be very costly to trade for (we will get back to that in a bit).
Martinez has a ton of things going for him. He is just 26 years old, has consistently put up 3+ fWAR seasons over the last three seasons and looks to be on track for another one this year, and he is under team control until at least 2021 (with two team option years for $17 million and $18 million respectfully tacked on at the end so, if the Braves wanted, he could stay a Brave through 2023). It helps that his annual rate until the option years kick in is a very reasonable $11.7 million per year so he wouldn’t torpedo the Braves’ payroll. (He also has a cool nickname that most players on this roster lack. No one on the roster has as cool a nickname as “Tsunami.” - Ivan)
However, although he has been productive, he isn’t necessarily a true ace type (at least not yet) and the cost to acquire him would be high... very high.
I asked Ivan to scratch together an idea of what Martinez’s trade value would be in the current marketplace and he came up with a rough figure of a little over $72 million of surplus value over the course of his contract (this factors in a bit of an upcharge due to the deal likely being a prospects-only deal).
(To clarify, I estimated Martinez at 3.1 fWAR/season going forward, which yielded about $66 million in surplus value over his remaining five full years, plus the remainder of this season. Because we generally see a bit of a devaluing of prospect-only packages, and because deals for non-niche players generally see an auction market bump-up that can get further emphasized at the Trade Deadline, when acquiring a player also means denying your competitors said player, I bumped up the $66 million by a 10 percent fudge factor to account for both of these things, or about $72 million. - Ivan)
That means, and again this is a rough approximation based on how we have judged prospects’ value, that to even realistically start a conversation with the Cardinals for Martinez... a package along the lines of Cristian Pache, Max Fried, and Bryse Wilson would be the starting point. I’m not saying that is what the package would end up being, but those are the general tiers we are talking about and its very possible if not likely that the end package would require a bit more.
(Again, as a clarification, the way I tend to think about prospect-for-player deals is that your headliner prospect needs to cover some large chunk of the returning player’s surplus value, and then lower-tier prospects can fill in the rest. One way to think about this is a Wright, Soroka, or Gohara-type that could constitute half of the required surplus value by himself; another, as Eric has indicated here, could be a starting point with two players worth a bit less, Pache and Fried, to constitute the bulk of the returning package’s surplus value. In my view, you’d need to throw in a couple of other players to the Pache-Fried-Wilson triad to finish the deal; if you did something like Wright, Fried, and Toussaint you’d get the bulk of the value in just three players. It’s all speculation though, anyway. These are just possible packages to hit that $66M-$72M figure. - Ivan)
Complicating this whole scenario is the Cardinals’ willingness to make a deal. While they certainly are not having a good season, they currently sit at 48-46 and are sort of hanging around in the NL Central and Wild Card races although the odds as of this moment are not great. As constituted, the Cardinals appear to be a flawed roster in a division that contains two of the National League’s best teams in the Cubs and Brewers and a middling at best farm system whose best prospect is out for the season again with yet another injury in Alex Reyes. The firing of Mike Matheny as their manager could do wonders for them, but could also be a sign that they are willing to punt 2018 as they get their house in order.
That said, the Cardinals do have talent on their roster and could potentially opt for a partial rebuild that would be jumpstarted greatly by the influx of talent that would come from dealing Martinez. It isn’t inconceivable that they could absorb the loss of Martinez well and return to contention relatively quickly even if 2018 isn’t their year.
However, despite those potential pitfalls, Carlos Martinez is exactly the kind of guy the Braves should look at acquiring even if he doesn’t end up being THE target. The coming weeks and months will tell if the Braves try to head down that path.