Brewer Trade Value Rankings, Part the Third: Nos. 10-6

We're continuing our countdown of the Brewers with the greatest trade value.  On Tuesday, KL covered Nos. 40-21, and yesterday, Noah unveiled Nos. 20-11.  We're getting to the heart of the order now -- today, we reveal Nos. 10 to 6.  Without further ado:

(10) Lorenzo Cain.  He took over the CF spot late in 2010 after Carlos Gomez finally lost his spot, and LoCain showed he could handle it, hitting .306/.348/.415 while patrolling CF with a 9.3 UZR/150 (small sample size, though!).  He was working his way up as a top prospect, hitting .279/.356/.448 in the minors in 2008 before sustaining an injury and struggling to a horrid .218/.294/.330 line in 60 games in 2009.  He had a resurgence in 2010, though, hitting .317/.402/.432 between AA and AAA and basically forcing the Brewers to give him an extended look in the majors. 

Going into 2011, the center field job appears to be his to lose.  A well-above-average defensive center fielder who is also a pretty good hitter (as Cain projects to be) is immensely valuable.  In just 43 games and 147 AB last year, Cain already racked up 1.2 WAR.  If you project that to 600 AB, Cain is nearly a 5 WAR player.  I'm not saying he'll reach that level in 2011, but it's certainly possible that he approaches that number in his career sometime soon.  If a team wanted to trade for him, they would have to pay a pretty price.

(9) Alcides Escobar. Last year, shortstop Alcides Escobar likely would have made the top 5 of this list.  In 2009, Escobar put together a stellar year at AAA Nashville, batting .298 (with an OBP of .353) with 24 doubles, six triples, and 42 stolen bases.  When incumbent shortstop J.J. Hardy was demoted to Nashville in August 2009, Escobar took advantage of the opportunity, hitting .304 with a .333 OBP in 38 games with the Crew.  Combined with his reportedly fabulous defense, there was every reason to expect Escobar to handle the task when Hardy was traded for a bucket of balls in November 2009.

Unfortunately, 2010 proved to be a struggle for the Brewers' rookie shortstop.  He slumped badly in the second half of the season and cratered in September (.154 / .214 / .231), finishing with a .235 average and a Gomezian .288 on-base percentage for the year.  Worse, though he occasionally made an eyepopping play in the field, he wasn't a tremendous upgrade defensively; his UZR/150 was a mere 4.7 at shortstop in 2010. 

Despite those numbers, Escobar still holds quite a bit of value.  His BABIP in 2010 was a meager .268, he's got the speed to leg out infield hits, he's got incredible range in the field, and (fingers crossed) his overall numbers on defense should improve with a year under his belt.  Additionally, in contrast to Hardy, whose trade value was hurt by the fact that Escobar was ready to become an everyday MLB player, a team would have to pay a premium to swipe the Brewers' shortstop this year, since there's no one on deck to fill that critical role.  Add it all up, and that equals No. 9 on our list.

(8) Jake Odorizzi.  By a comfortable margin, the Brewers first-round draft pick from the 2008 amateur draft is the best minor league pitcher in the Brewers system.  Last year, the 20-year-old Over Easy made 20 starts at Class A Wisconsin, throwing 120 innings and accumulating an impressive 10.1 K/9 rate.  His ERA was 3.43, and his FIP was a Chuck Norris-healthy 2.93.  The year before, at Helena, Odorizzi's ERA was a touch high -- 4.40 -- but that was based on a preposterous and unsustainable BABIP of .367.  Again, his FIP was robust: 2.90.  At worst, he projects to be a middle of the rotation guy.  At best, he's a budding ace.

As things stand, Jake might be the top prospect in the Brewers system, and kids with top-of-the-rotation potential don't grow on trees -- especially in the Brewers farm system. With six years of team control (at the MLB level) to play with, Odorizzi's value is sky high -- and, in all likelihood, it's only going up from here.

(7) Corey Hart.  Here's a fun parlor game: where do you think Corey Hart would've ranked on this list last year, after he limped to a .260 / .335 / .418 season and managed only 12 homers in 115 games? Would he have made the top 20?  Considering how close Doug Melvin came to signing the Corpse of Jermaine Dye last spring, and considering that Jim Edmonds started in right field on opening day, I think the answer is probably "no."  Your mileage may vary.

ANYWAY, Hart changed all of that with an outstanding 2010 season.  After a miserable spring (and the aforementioned loss of his starting job on opening day), Hart responded in a big way, clubbing 31 homers and posting slash stats of .283 / .340 / .525, good for his best OPS since his fantastic 2007 season (.892 in '07, if you were wondering).  In fact, Hart's monster first half -- .288 / .349 / .569, with 21 homers -- caused widespread speculation that Hart would be dealt to an offense-starved team before the trade deadline.  But no trade came to pass (and we're now hearing word that a rumored Hart-for-Madison Bumgarner swap never came close to happening), and, instead, Hart was signed to a three-year, $26.5 million contract extension.

Perversely, signing Hart to that extension may have actually enhanced his trade value, as he's now a controlled cost for the next three years.  No, he's never going to net you a team's best pitching prospect (at least not on his own), but a 30-homer corner outfielder who makes $8 or $9 million a year is a nice asset, and it's the reason he's No. 7 on our list.

(6) Prince Fielder.  Since Fielder is probably the most interesting case in these rankings, let's break this down into the three-part novella it deserves:

The Good: his worst season, OPS-wise, was his rookie year, when he put together a .347 / .483 / .831 line.  Since then, all he's done is: become the youngest player in MLB history to club 50 taters in a season, and establish the Brewer franchise record for OPS twice -- 1.013 in 2007, and 1.014 in a sublime 2009 campaign. He's durable, having never played in fewer than 157 games (in his rookie year), and starting 331 out of a possible 332 games in the last two seasons.  He's made himself a serviceable first baseman.  He seems generally well-liked by his teammates, and he's one of the faces of the franchise.

The Bad: he's a bad-body guy, and, whether or not it will actually come to pass (see: above, re: durability), the perception that he might have health issues going forward will probably negatively impact his value.  While he's serviceable defensively, he's never going to be good defensively -- his UZR/150 numbers, by season: (-11.6), (-8.0), (-9.0), 1.8, and (-7.8).  In fact, as Prince gets older, he's only going to get worse defensively, and eventually he'll enter the dreaded DH Only realm.  He's also, um, kind of a hot head.

The Ugly: he's in his last year of arbitration, and he'll probably command a salary of around $15 million this year.  His agent is a notorious hardass who insists on letting his clients test the free agent market, and there have already been whispers than Prince is seeking a contract equal to or greater than the absurd contract Ryan Howard signed last year.  Finally, our enterprising GM's comments notwithstanding, it's clear to anyone that the Crew is motivated to move Fielder before the season starts.  Things aren't yet to the J.J. Hardy Memorial, "WILL TRADE FOR BACKUP OUTFIELDER" level, and thank God for that, because it's about all we've got left to hang onto.

Add it all together, and you've got a depressed trade value for the guy who should be our biggest chit.

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