With the Winter Meetings in full swing and trade rumors flying about, it might be interesting to speculate on the trade value of a couple of the Indians' players most likely to be traded, namely Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Let me first say that I'm no expert or serious analyst, and this will all be semi-educated guessing based on some reading that I've done online.
If Wins Above Replacement cost $5 million last year, and we assume 5% future inflation in the cost of WAR, then each Win would be worth $5.25 million this offseason. The rate may increase faster because of TV revenue (see this Fangraphs article), but I'll just go with 5.25 for next year, and 5.5125 for 2014.
Cabrera had 3.0 WAR last season according to Baseball Reference. In 2011, he had 4.6; two years before, he had 4.0. In 2011 he hit 25 home runs, which may or may not have been fluky, but he certainly has 15-20 home run power. His 2009 was partly BABIP-driven. But he's entering his prime in the next two seasons at age 27-28 and so could be expected to get a little better than he already is. At $5.25 M per Win, if he is valued at 3.5 Wins then he would be worth ~18.5 M next season. He'd be worth ~19.25 the next season, which adds up to 37.75 over the next two years. If he is a 4-win player, that makes him worth 43 million over the next two years.
He is owed $16.5 million through 2014, so that gives him a surplus value of $21.25-26.5 million.
Just to speculate on what that might bring in return, let's look at the Diamondbacks' system. They had 3 prospects on Baseball America's top 50 midseason: P Tyler Skaggs at #7, P Archie Bradley at #16, and 3B/1B Matt Davidson at #33; additionally, Trevor Bauer (already in the majors by midseason) was #9 on the preseason list. Piratesprospects.com posted an updated list of prospect trade values earlier this season. Top 10 pitchers are allegedly worth $26.7 million, 11-20 pitchers are worth $18.89, and 26-50 hitters are at $18.12.
That would make a Skaggs-for-Cabrera or Bauer-for-Cabrera trade seem like a pretty fair deal, straight up. But if that doesn't work (perhaps the Indians want more than just one player), then perhaps the deal would have to involve Davidson and a B-rated pitcher (according to Victor Wang in 2008, Grade B pitchers are worth $7.3 million). Or perhaps the Indians could go for quantity instead, getting LHP Patrick Corbin, who was a B prospect but had a solid major league debut at 22 and looks promising according to his minor-league stats (8.4 K/9, 3.64 K/BB in his minor league career) plus B prospects LHP David Holmberg, OF A.J. Pollock, and a C prospect of some sort.
If the value of Wins on the trade market is inflating much more quickly than 5%, then we might manage to make a deal for Bauer/Skaggs plus another decent prospect.
But it's very possible that a Cabrera trade will involve multiple teams, so in that case it's hard to say whose prospects we would be getting in return.
Shin-Soo Choo is only under contract for one more season. He's projected to receive $7.9 million in arbitration according to MLBTR. Choo is two seasons removed from his last 5+ WAR performance; he had 3.1 last year but only 1.5 in 2011 according to Baseball Reference. I'm guessing teams would compensate the Indians as if he's more like a 3-WAR player than a 5-WAR. Compensation for 3-3.5 WAR would put his total value somewhere between $15.75-18.375 million, making his surplus value 8-11 WAR. Something like that. That would suggest the Indians could get a top 50-100 prospect for him, if the PiratesProspects research is accurate.
On the other hand, an article last month at Fangraphs is more pessimistic about Choo, suggesting that he is declining and only has about $5 million in surplus value, and it is doubtful that he would even get a B-ranked prospect anymore. So you should probably consider that perspective. But if that's true, then it might be wise for the Indians to hold on to him until midseason, hoping to get a desperate GM to overpay when there are two dozen teams looking for upgrades from the half-dozen that have decided they can't sneak into the playoffs.
One more player to consider: the Rangers' Derek Holland, another player who has been mentioned in trade rumors (and mentioned as a possible target in comments here). The 25-year-old Holland had a 4.67 ERA last season, which looks risky, but The Ballpark in Arlington must have some pretty strong park effects as his ERA+ was still 97 and he had 1.7 WAR. (Compare that to Zach McAllister, who had a 4.24 ERA but only a 92 ERA+). He had a 112 ERA+ and 2.1 WAR in 2011. He's signed through 2018 - six seasons - for a total of $48.5 million.
If you project Holland to have 2 WAR per season - and he could possibly do better - and like I did with Cabrera, start with Wins being worth $5.25 MM and inflating by 5% annually, you get around 72-73 MM in total value, or ~24 MM in surplus value. If the cost of Wins inflates faster, or if Holland is worth more than 2 Wins/year, then obviously his value would be even higher. Droobs for Holland, straight up, may be a fair trade, but the Rangers aren't looking for infielders.