Trade tracker: Winter Meeting edition
Amidst all the noise about big-ticket free agent signings, a few trades happened at the recent Winter Meetings as well. Let’s break them down:
Rangers trade Nomar Mazara [-0.8] to the White Sox for Steele Walker [0.4]
Despite the obvious overpay, we’re going to take partial credit for calling the light return on this one. Our model had Mazara’s value at zero — which means we see no surplus value — because after four seasons of below-average performance, he is now getting pricier in arbitration costs, which means he’s going to have to step it up just to match his salary over the remaining two years of his control.
We know he was a much-hyped prospect, and for that reason Rangers fans and most journalists kept persisting in the belief that he’d bring back a “haul” in trade. He did not. (Here’s one example from the Athletic, where they predicted he would net Joey Lucchesi from the Padres, which turned out to be way off.)
In our view, four years is more than enough time to paint a picture of a player. Yes, we know he’s only 24, so it’s possible there’s some upside there just because he hasn’t peaked yet. That’s the only reason the White Sox traded a middling prospect for him. But at this point, it’s more likely that he is what he is — and now, it’s coming out that the Rangers agreed, and that they were disappointed in his development.
Angels trade  and Will Wilson [0.8] to the Giants for Garrett Williams [0.1]
Although the headliner here is Cozart, it shouldn’t be. The Giants took on his contract in order to acquire Wilson, who was the Angels’ first-round draft pick this past summer. (Suggested alternative headline: Giants buy first-round draft pick from Angels.)
This was a pure dead-money move, and a smart one for the Giants, who are in a rebuilding phase, and have the resources to buy prospects like this. Farhan Zaidi might just do more of this to quicken the pace of the rebuild. For the Angels, they got a minor prospect, but more importantly, they cleared money and a roster spot, which, as it turns out, helped them land Anthony Rendon.
This one was accepted as fair by our system as well, so we’ll consider it a win for the model.
There was one more minor trade, where the Athletics sent undisclosed cash to the Phillies for Rule 5 pick Vimael Machin  .
With that, here are the updated trade tracking numbers for this offseason:
Total trades so far: 21
Accepted by our model: 16
Acceptance rate: 76.2%
Variance: +/- 5.4
Without Padres trades (see previous article about A.J. Preller’s motivations):
Total trades so far: 19
Accepted by our model: 16
Acceptance rate: 84.2%
Variance: +/- 2.4
Meanwhile, most of the hubbub at the winter meetings was around free agents. As deals were announced, we updated our numbers and, based on our model, found the following:
- We suspect the Yankees overpaid for Gerrit Cole [33.9] by about $22M. All things considered, it was a good get for them.
- We think the Nationals overpaid more significantly for Stephen Strasburg [-124.7] , by almost $47M. Given his World Series heroics, we think this was a case of buying high on the Nats’ part. They love him, so they paid more with their heart than their head. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
- In yet another overpay, we believe the Angels overpaid for Anthony Rendon [-117.4] by $24M.
These are not surprises. On the one hand, by “overpay” we mean the amount that exceeds what the average team would pay. On the other hand, the market follows an auction model, so whoever “wins” the auction sets the market price. In that sense, it’s not really an overpay, because someone actually paid it.
Further, as we all know, the teams paying those prices believe it’s in their best interests to do so — the Yankees, because they need an ace to get them over the hump and win another World Series; the Nats, to lock in their co-ace to try to win another World Series; and the Angels, who are feeling pressure to be competitive during Mike Trout’s peak years.
The question now is, are those overpays setting the market prices for everybody? Is it a rising tide that is going to lift the rest of the boats? Will we see a new normal for dollar-per-WAR, such that everyone has to now pay that going rate for every player, whether it be in free agent salary costs or trade capital?
Or are these isolated cases, where teams are overpaying just for these guys, based on the high quality of the players and the individual teams’ needs?
It’s too early to tell. So far, the prices being paid on lesser free agents, such as  ,  , and Didi Gregorius [-0.8] , seem reasonable — in our model, they’re all very close to zero surplus, which means the salaries committed match the expected risk-adjusted production. But if we see more data points that are higher than what seem normal, it likely means that prices overall are going up, and we’ll need to adjust our model. But if we see more normal prices going forward, either in free agency or trade value, it probably means those big free agent signings were isolated cases.