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What Might Jose Reyes Return in a Trade?

Don't trade Reyes?
Don't trade Reyes?

There will only be about a million of these articles between now and the trade deadline. That's fine, even if Jose Reyes is about the most exciting player in baseball. What we will attempt to do here is find a more scientific approach to determining the return the Mets might receive if they decide to trade their fleet-of-foot shortstop.

The problem with merely surveying other rosters and minor league systems in order to identify possible trade partners and trade targets is that we have no access here. We have no idea if the Giants would trade Madison Bumgarner, or even Zack Wheeler. It's all conjecture. And everyone's been guilty of it on some level.

But, if we take a more reasoned approach, we can really narrow down what might be a reasonable package. First, we can determine how much value (and surplus value) Reyes has now. Then we can use that value to determine what sort of quality of prospect might be required to trade for a player of that value. Then we can actually find a few players that are that type of prospect in the organizations that are currently competitive and seeking an upgrade at shortstop. Then we can compare the possible return to the picks we would receive if Reyes were to walk.

Because right now, someone in the Mets organization has a pretty good idea if Reyes is returning or not. And judging from the owners' comments, the outlook is cloudy. If that die has been cast, we might as well think about the best way forward from here. Even if it's one of the more depressing things about this season.

In order to find Reyes' surplus value, we have to find his rest-of-season WAR and subtract his salary.

For those purposes, we will take his ZIPS rest-of-season wOBA, subtract out .315 for league average, divide by 1.15, and multiply by expected plate appearances. That will give us his offensive runs above average over the rest of the year.  For Reyes, FanGraphs has his RoS wOBA at .359. He's currently at .395, but that .359 number is not bad. It would be Reyes' third-best total of his career, and even using that as his RoS production, Reyes would end up with his career-best wOBA. Take .359, subtract .315, divide by 1.15 and multiply by another 400 plate appearances, and you get 15.30 batting runs above average.

Defense is tougher. Reyes is showing his best UZR/150 since 2006, but UZR has him at scratch. Three-year UZRs are the best way to use that statistic anyway, so let's call him a scratch defender at a tough position. Zero. There's defensive runs above average.

Then we add those two numbers together, and then add the projected position adjustment and a replacement level adjustment (+20 runs per 600 PA, so over ~400 PA, +13 runs), divide by 10, and bam, you have projected WAR. Check the FanGraphs library here for more on this if you like. Basiically, we have 15.3  + 0 + 4.86 (positional adjustment) + 13 (replacement level) = 33.16. That means Reyes is likely to pull in 3.3 WAR the rest of the way. If we want to create a range, let's say 3.0 to 3.5 depending on the value of his defense and his health.

Reyes is under contract for this season at $11 million. That mean's he's still owed $7.06 million for this year. At $4.5 million per WAR, he's 'worth' from $13.5 to $14.85 million over the rest of the season. So we have his surplus value - $6.44 to $7.79 million.

But we also have to add the expected value of the Type A free agent compensation picks. According to research by Victor Wang, those picks are worth $5.5 million. So even an enthusiastic trade partner would be looking at about $13.3 million in surplus value that they need to match.

Once again, Wang comes to the rescue. He valued a Baseball America top 51-75 hitter as being worth $14.2 million, and a top 26-50 pitcher as being worth about $15.9 million.

What prospects in those ranges belong to the Giants, Reds or Brewers? Those are the win-now teams with a most visible need at shortstop. Billy Hamilton, a speedy shortstop in the Reds organization, was ranked #50. Zach Wheeler, the Giants' best pitching prospect, came in at #55 on that same list. Devin Mesoraco, the Reds quality catching prospect, was rated #64. Yonder Alonso, their former first baseman turned outfielder, was #73. So it's true - the Brewers do not have the prospects to get Reyes.

There are some tasty names on this list nonetheless. They've been developed further, and have a better chance of succeeding, than the picks Jose Reyes would return in next year's draft if he were to leave. But they aren't elite prospects. And the Mets won't be getting multiple prospects of this quality, either. Pick one name.

Would you rather have Wheeler, and his double-digit strikeout rate in High-A? Or Billy Hamilton, the shortstop with 80 speed, no power, 8.8% walk rate and 28.3% strikeout rate in High-A? Both seem more likely to be centerpieces than Yonder Alonso, despite the outfielder's plate discipline (9.1% BB, 14.9% K in Triple-A) and modest power (.191 ISO), if only because the Mets have a reasonable crew of young outfielders coming up in the system. Devin Mesoraco has great patience (11.3% BB at Triple-A) and power (.223 ISO) but has a spotty history, and catching prospects seem to have the worst attrition rates.

And yet it still comes down to the question: will Jose Reyes be back? Because if he isn't going to be re-signed, $14 million of prospects is worth much more than $5.5 million in draft picks. That's the simplest math so far.

Thanks to DRaysBay for reminding me of Victor Wang's research.