Thanks to a pair of team-friendly contracts, the Braves roster two of MLB’s most valuable players in terms of current and projected trade value. On Friday, FanGraphs concluded their annual trade value series, and the site’s top-ten group was highlighted by outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and second baseman Ozzie Albies, with RAJ ranking no. 1 in all of baseball.
Now before you freak out, this isn’t a case for trading the two young stars — that would be ridiculous. Just because their value is ultra-high obviously doesn’t mean they should be traded, and there would certainly be rioting in the streets of Atlanta if moving Acuna and Albies was even under consideration.
So no… that’s not the point of this post, and it’s not exactly the point of the more-than-a-decade-long series published by the guys at FanGraphs. This is simply a testament to just how great Acuna and Albies are talent-wise, while also considering the incredible value the two players provide when taking into account how cheap their services will be for many years to come.
The top spot… again
For the second-straight year, MLB’s most valuable trade piece is 22-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr. — the recipient of an 8-year, $100 million contract (with an additional two years worth of club options), signed in April of 2019. With seven more seasons of team control at a cost of just $98 million in guaranteed money — with a 5-year WAR projection of 30.3 fWAR — it’s easy to see why he’s MLB’s prized player; and believe me, we Braves’ fans appreciate him each and every day.
Only two other players — Mike Trout and Fernando Tatis Jr. — project to post more WAR going forward than Acuna, which is even more insane given he won’t crack $10 million in yearly salary until the 2022 season, when he’ll be paid just $15 million at the still-primed age of 24. Think about that: not counting the current season, Acuna will earn a combined $20 million over the next two years, compared to the nearly $71 million the Angels are on the hook for with Trout. Crazy.
As Craig Edwards explains in the trade Value series finale linked above, even if you believe Acuna is more of a top-five or top-ten player from here on out, and not one of the top-one or two, the sheer discount the Braves are getting from his contract makes him the most valuable player in MLB. Although I have a hard time saying Acuna’s value stems solely from his cheap deal. The kid slugged 41 home runs and stole 37 bases in 2019, all while posting a .280 AVG. That was good for 5.6 fWAR, a fifth-place finish in the NL MVP race, as well as a Silver Slugger and an All-Star bid; in just his first full MLB season!
Essentially, even if last season was just a fluke year for Acuna and the rest of his career features just average play, he’ll still be plenty worth it to the Braves. Not counting the 2020 season, Acuna has already accumulated 9.3 fWAR over parts of the last two seasons (just 267 games). Even if he only manages 50% of his 30.3-WAR projection for the next five years, that’s still 24.5 WAR in his first seven seasons overall — a solid average of 3.5 WAR and most likely a yearly All-Star (and remember, that’s him performing only half his ZiPS projections).
All-in-all, the ceiling AND floor is ridiculously high for Acuna. And once you combine his talent with his super-cheap contract, you easily have the makings of the game’s most valuable player.
Even more team-friendly?
If Acuna’s contract seems light, then Ozzie Albies — ranked sixth on FanGraphs‘ top-50 trade value series — is basically playing for free, as the Braves locked up the second baseman on a 7-year, $35 million pact (also two additional years in club options) last spring. Averaging just over 3.4 fWAR over the last three seasons, including 1.9 WAR in just 57 games in 2017, Albies will never earn a $10 million salary during his current deal. In fact, the switch-hitter will top out at just $7 million starting in 2023 (his age-26 season) — literally a drop in the bucket, given he’s expected to put up 27 more fWAR over the next five seasons. That’s a 5+ WAR player over that span set to earn just $29 million in guaranteed money!
Like Acuna, Albies’ contract alone instantly props his value up tremendously, almost to the point where any production at all from him is a bonus for the Braves. And the fact that he broke out in 2019 with a .295 AVG, 24 home runs and 15 stolen bases — equaling 4.6 fWAR — is just more icing on the cake.
However, 2020 hasn’t been as fun for Albies thus far. Currently out with a wrist injury, he has played in just 11 games, and his .159 AVG (22 wRC+) has him at minus-0.4 fWAR for the season. Still, though, it’s going to take an absolute disaster of a year to tarnish Albies’ trade value. Even if he can turn things around and post an average 2020 campaign, the ROI for the Braves will be insanely profitable. Hell, it already has been… and Albies is controlled for six more seasons.
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