Trade Evaluation in the Time of COVID-19

Shortly after the Juan Soto news broke, I received a trade offer in my longest standing fantasy league.

Long-time readers of Points Above will remember way back when the site launched (about 3 hours ago), I had a post analyzing a trade between these same two teams, in which I sent Matt Boyd to the Gerbils for Adam Eaton and some cap space. So here is an offer to send him back, already.

One quick piece of context – the manager of Gerbils on Speed is both a good friend of mine and a smart, informed fantasy player, so this deal is neither him trying to take advantage of my Soto-sadness, nor is it a case of him not realizing what is happening.

How do I decide what to do here? I have no idea. There are so many moving parts here. Boyd and Acuña are healthy, Soto and Stroman are not. Stroman has a known injury but an unknown timeline (and who really wants to trust the Mets medical staff, ya know?); Soto has a positive COVID-19 test which could mean he misses days, pending two quick negatives, or weeks.

To start, let’s ignore the health implications. You quickly see why Gerbils wanted to offer this. Per Justin Vibber’s Surplus Calculator, whose default values are based on Depth Charts projections, Juan Soto is a $43 producer in 4×4 leagues and Acuña is a $35 value. Stroman is $15 in the calculator while Boyd is $11. So I am being asked to give up $58 in production at a cost of $43 for $46 in production for a cost of $43. I save no money, I give up $13 in projected production.

Of course, it is never that simple. While Boyd is an $11 value vs. $15 for Stroman, I think Boyd has more upside. If he can control his HR rate and take another step forward (and that K-rate certainly suggests he could), he could be a $20 pitcher, or more. Of course, he might not be. Stroman, on the other hand, sorta is what he is, I think. He has had four straight years of FIP between 3.71 and 3.91, his K-rate is unimpressive, but he is a solid all-around pitcher. His value in 4×4 is high relative to other formats ($12 in FanGraphs Points, for example) because he keeps the ball in the park and HR/9 is one of four categories in 4×4. So, for me, Stroman vs. Boyd is a question of ceiling vs. floor – do you take the $15 you can plug into your lineup, or risk Boyd being only okay in exchange for big upside?

Then you get to Soto vs. Acuña. If you listened to the OF preview episode of the Ottobot Podcast, you heard me balk at the idea that Acuña was overpriced and compare him to Soto…before realizing that maybe I am overthinking the super-fun NL East rivalry that is forming between them and not really looking at the numbers. So let’s look at the numbers.

2019 StatAcuñaSoto
ottoneu FanGraphs Pts/G7.157.39

wOBA and Pts/G don’t matter a ton in 4×4, but they do help to summarize the two players. Interestingly, when you account for HR and R, despite Soto being the better overall hitter, they split the two 4×4 categories last year. What if we look at projected stats for 2020?

2020 ProjectionAcuñaSoto
ottoneu FanGraphs Pts/G6.827.57

Soto closes the counting-stat gaps here, but keeps his rate leads. And that helps explain why Soto is valued at $43 in the Surplus Calculator vs. $35 for Acuña.

Let’s add back in the real world – Stroman and Boyd are likely close to a wash this year. Stroman may only miss one start but if he missed two, that would be 16% of his season, give or take, which would take a couple dollars off his value and make the gap this year only about $2 in production. If I can gamble on Boyd’s upside while only losing $2 of production, that makes sense to me.

Soto is a tougher call. He’s projected to be more than 20% more valuable than Acuña this year and there is no reason to think that won’t continue into the future. But, we have no idea how much time he misses. Maybe the positive was a false positive, he gets two negatives in the next two days and is in the lineup Saturday, in which case his value is almost unchanged. Maybe he starts to develop symptoms, has to be completely shut down, gets healthy in a couple weeks but needs to ramp up and basically misses July and August. If we split the difference, I can make a case that they are a wash for this year – Soto misses 13-15 games, loses that 20% advantage. Of course, that advantage returns next year.

Based on that, I could take some risk out of my 2020 by getting healthy immediately, bet on Boyd’s upside, and still have an elite (if not as elite) OF headlining my roster but the cost is that drop in OF talent next year and a decrease in pitching and OF production this year.

The other factor to weigh here is how much I even value 2020 production. On the one hand, flags fly forever and the prizes in this league don’t change just cause of the shortened season. On the other, the pride of winning this year might not be as big an ego boost as other years. And there is the risk things go completely sideways and this year gets cancelled, completing negating any advantage I got this year.

So what am I going to do? I have no idea. This offer came in like 20 minutes ago and I have made no decisions. But I would love your input.

Image of Juan Soto used courtesy of David B. King: FlickrBlogspot

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