Byron Buxton, Jose Quintana, and Trade Value

Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins

By Gabe Isaacson

Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron is one of baseball’s best writers. One of his most popular pieces – and a personal favorite of mine – is the trade value column(s). He ranks the top-50 trade assets in baseball, considering age, team control, and obviously talent. Released in groups of ten, each small group leads to fascinating discussions. If a player is 35th, for instance, then his team would likely not want to trade him for any player ranked 36th or below.
Cameron began with players 50-41 on July 13. While there will be many fascinating rankings, I would posit that Byron Buxton’s ranking – especially in relation to Jose Quintana – will be among the most discussed.
Byron Buxton came in at 42nd. Cameron said “If Buxton could stay healthy, he’d likely be ranked significantly higher than this… But as the injuries continue to pile up, it’s becoming fair to question how the lost development time will affect him.” This is a reasonable criticism, as injuries have derailed much of Buxton’s last few seasons. However, little of the luster associated with Buxton dissipated after these fluke injuries at ages 20 and 21. Keith Law had Buxton ranked as the second best prospect in baseball in both January and April, bumping Buxton to third in June. Each member of the consensus top-three – Buxton, Kris Bryant, and Carlos Correa – have since been promoted. Buxton’s development may be slowed somewhat by injuries, but the talent is undeniable and the excitement has not waned.
Jose Quintana ranked 41st on Cameron’s list. He described Quintana as “akin to someone like Doug Fister… There isn’t necessarily star potential here, but he’s a very good pitcher at very good prices, and every team in baseball would love to have Quintana in their rotation.” This is completely accurate. On a production per dollar basis, Quintana has to be among the best values in baseball. His cost-certainty is extremely appealing, even if he has nowhere near top-of-the-rotation stuff. Quintana is a major asset, and it would be a fascinating exercise to imagine what he could get on the trade market. To me, personally, I would be shocked if he could fetch a Buxton-level return.

Player 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Byron Buxton Contract Originally Purchased Renewable at League Minimum Renewable at League Minimum Renewable at League Minimum Arbitration Arbitration Arbitration
Jose Quintana $3.4 MM $5.4 MM $7.0 MM $8.85 MM $10.5 MM ($1 MM Buyout) $11.5 MM ($1 MM Buyout) Free Agent

There are many annual calculations about how much one “win,” in terms of wins above replacement, costs to acquire. Recent estimates have pegged the cost of a win at around $7 MM annually. This is a sliding scale and certainly an imperfect figure, but it works for most calculations. Jose Quintana was worth 5.4 bWAR in 2013, 3.5 bWAR in 2014, and 2.0 bWAR thus far in 2015. In theoretical dollars, he’s been worth over $20 MM per season. The cost savings that the White Sox have already enjoyed are dramatic. A further evaluation of Quintana is necessary to evaluate if he will continue to improve and outpace his contract by a similarly extreme margin, and it would be a fascinating evaluation. Of the 18 pitchers with at least 8.75 WAR since the start of the 2013 season, Jose Quintana’s .692 OPS allowed ranks the highest. His strikeout-to-walk rate and overall Strike% are among the lowest. A lot of Quintana’s value is tied up in volume. WAR is a cumulative stat, and performing more helps you to accrue more value. Quintana is tied for sixth among all pitchers with 83 starts since the start of 2013, and you needn’t look a lot further for an explanation of his value.
With pitcher injury risk being what it is, is Quintana really that valuable if his best skill is durability? As the bar for quality run-prevention is becoming higher and higher and teams are becoming that much more creative with reliever usage, the actual bar above replacement of Quintana’s performance may not be as high as it seems.
Would you give up a consensus top prospect for a durable, cost-controlled, but far-from-elite starting pitcher? I sure would not. At Cameron outlined, there is substantial downside risk with Buxton. The injury problems could continue, or they could stagnate his development just enough that the Twins can’t realize enough production throughout his six cheap years of team control. However, Quintana comes with substantial downside risk as well. He is guaranteed $23.25 MM, and he is certainly not immune to the seemingly random elbow injuries that are pervasive across baseball. Quintana’s cost-certainty will be a lot less appealing if you’re paying him $10 MM to miss an entire season. There are no certainties here, of course, but the upside of Buxton is hard to resist. The value of the bonus win(s), thinking the value of a player who is worth over 5 WAR, is difficult to ascertain, but Buxton’s upside to be an MVP quality player is going to be crucial in a division that figures to be tight for many years to come.

Whether you agree or disagree, Gabe Isaacson wants your feedback. You can find him on twitter @GabeIsaacson, join in the conversation @CTBPod,on our Facebook page or download the Fandings app and debate him today!

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