Okay, so first off I want to give a disclaimer: I am not an expert on prospects, or what I affectionately call prospect economics. All of the information that I am including in this post was obtained from Fangraphs.com and Keith Law.
With this post, I want to illustrate how teams value prospects versus how they value major league players during trades. It occurred to me while reading the rosterbation posts (and getting in a friendly debate with biggentleben about Joe Benson) that we as a fanbase might be undervaluing our major league players, and over-valuing other teams' prospects. Now, I'm not writing this to prove biggentleben wrong, or to declare that I'm right. This is a mere exploration of the value of Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson based on last year's performances. I will concede right off the bat that Ben probably has forgotten more about each of the prospects that I am about to discuss than I care to know, but I wanted to see for myself how similar pitchers and players were valued in five recent trades.
Trevor Cahill: 2.5 WAR, 207.2 IP, 6.37 K/9, 4.16 ERA, 4.10 FIP
Craig Breslow: 0.4 WAR, 59.1 IP, 6.67 K/9, 3.79 ERA, 3.58 FIP
Jarrod Parker (AA): 130.2 IP, 7.71 K/9, 3.79 ERA, 3.70 FIP
Ryan Cook (AAA): 17 IP, 6.35 K/9, 2.12 ERA, 3.38 FIP
Collin Cowgill: 0.3 WAR, 37 games played, .239/.300/.304, 8 R, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 4 SB
The total WAR between Cahill and Breslow last year with Oakland was 2.9. For 2.9 WAR, the Diamondbacks gave up the #31 ranked prospect in Keith Law's top 100, a relief pitching prospect, and an outfielder with some upside (but not a guy anyone thinks will be a stud). Cahill is now the D-Backs' third starter in their rotation, and Breslow is a solid bullpen arm. Meanwhile, the A's got a guy who is now their top prospect, a solid arm to bolster their (fairly crummy outside of one or two arms) bullpen, and outfield depth.
Gio Gonzalez: 3.5 WAR, 202 IP, 8.78 K/9, 3.12 ERA, 3.64 FIP
Brad Peacock (AA): 98.2 IP, 11.77 K/9, 2.01 ERA, 1.87 FIP
Tom Milone (AAA): 148.1 IP, 9.4 K/9, 3.22 ERA, 2.24 FIP
A.J. Cole (A): 89 IP, 10.92 K/9, 4.04 ERA, 2.53 FIP
Derek Norris (AA): 104 games played, .210/.367/.446, 75 R, 20 HR, 46 RBI, 13 SB
Gio Gonzalez is a good pitcher, but he led the AL in BB/9. Despite this he put up a very solid season. As compensation, the Nationals gave up Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, A.J. Cole, and Derek Norris. A.J. Cole is ranked #33 and Derek Norris is #93 in Keith Law's top 100. Brad Peacock is somewhat of a surprise in some baseball circles, but he has been a very pleasant one. He put up an extraordinary season in AA last year. Tom Milone is currently starting in the A's' rotation.
Ubaldo Jimenez: 3.5 WAR, 188.1 IP, 8.6 K/9, 4.68 ERA, 3.67 FIP
Drew Pomeranz (A+): 77 IP, 11.1 K/9, 1.87 ERA, 2.36 FIP
Alex White: -0.8 WAR, 51.1 IP, 6.49 K/9, 7.01 ERA, 7.08 FIP
Joe Gardner (AA): 97.1 IP, 5.55 K/9, 4.99 ERA, 4.56 FIP
Matt McBride (AA): 84 games played, .297/.359/.529, 50 R, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 3 SB
The Rockies sold their best starting pitcher ever for four of the Indians prospects. The real prize is Pomeranz (#45 in Keith Law's top 100). He is currently pitching at the back of the rotation, but the Rockies expect much more from him. They think they have found an ace of the future. Alex White is another starting pitcher with some talent, but needs a little work at AAA. Joe Gardner and Matt McBride are nice pieces, but neither is exteremely highly regarded.
Hunter Pence: 4.7 WAR, 154 games played, .314/.370/.502, 84 R, 22 HR, 97 RBI, 8 SB
Jonathan Singleton (A+): 92 games played, .282/.385/.411, 48 R, 9 HR, 47 RBI, 2 SB
Jarred Cosart (A+): 108 IP, 6.58 K/9, 3.92 ERA, 4.00 FIP
Josh Zeid (AA): 63.2 IP, 7.92 K/9, 5.65 ERA, 4.69 FIP
Domingo Santana (A): 96 games played, .269/.345/.434, 45 R, 7 HR, 32 RBI, 4 SB
The Phillies gave up two top prospects in this deal. Singleton (#46) and Cosart (#78) have very high projections. The Astros scored big, as these were widely regarded as the Phillies' top 2 prospects at the time. The other two prospects were just throw ins. Pence is a good right fielder (an All-Star in 2011), but he's hardly worth giving away your top 2 prospects and decimating your farm system over.
Michael Bourn: 4.2 WAR, 158 games played, .294/.349/.386, 94 R, 2 HR, 50 RBI, 61 SB
Jordan Schafer: 0.7 WAR, 82 games played, .242/.309/.315, 46 R, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 22 SB
Juan Abreu (AAA): 48 IP, 12.75 K/9, 2.25 ERA, 3.53 FIP
Paul Clemens (AA): 108.2 IP, 7.7 K/9, 3.73 ERA, 3.80 FIP
Brett Oberholtzer (AA): 127.2 IP, 6.56 K/9, 3.74 ERA, 3.36 FIP
Quite frankly, I think the Astros got fleeced in this one. The Braves didn't give up a single top prospect (unless you count Schafer of years past), but got a gold glove, lead-off man in return.
So after looking over these trades, I seem to see a theme of teams over-paying in prospects for MLB talents. Some of it is out of necessity, and some of it is out of ignorance. The winners and losers of each of these trades is up for debate, but it looks to me like the A's made out pretty well, and the Astros and Rockies got a ton of talent to stock their farm systems. Typically multiple prospects are traded in any deal for Major League talent, but in these deals in particular (except for the Braves savvy deal with the Astros) top prospects were moved for non-elite major leaguers.
Now, we have to figure out the value of Jurrjens and Hanson. Here are last years stats:
Jair Jurrjens: 1.5 WAR, 152 IP, 5.33 K/9, 2.96 ERA, 3.99 FIP
Tommy Hanson: 1.8 WAR, 130 IP, 9.83 K/9, 3.60 ERA, 3.67 FIP
Both of these pitchers' value is down from last year because of injuries, but their WAR numbers are not truly representative of what they are capable of. Jurrjens has two years of WAR in the 3s when he was healthy. Hanson had a WAR of 2.6 his rookie year, and 4.3 the year after. Adjusting their value due to injuries, these traded pitchers were the closest comparisons I could think of in recent history. On the low end (Cahill at 2.5 WAR), we should be due at least one top prospect in return. At the higher end (Pence, Jimenez, Gonzalez) multiple top prospects should be expected as compensation.
Now, back to my original thought process. I suggested Joe Benson as compensation for Jair Jurrjens in a trade with the Twins. It was pointed out to me that Benson is a very highly thought of prospect, and therefore, we would have to include something else in the trade. By looking at the five trades above, I would beg to differ. Jurrjens is not Zack Greinke, but he could certainly be Trevor Cahill. If Cahill could bring back a top 100 prospect, Jurrjens should certainly garner a similar return.
***Note: biggentleben, thank you for spurring the thought process to write this article. I hope that you in no way take this as a shot at you or anyone else on this site. I'm know that I left out certain details of each trade (contracts, etc.), but I wanted to focus on pure numbers as best as I could.