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The Rays are interested in Joe Jimenez, but trading him would be a bad idea

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It would be very hard for the Tigers to get proper value in a Jimenez trade.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With the Detroit Tigers surely selling at this year’s trade deadline, opposing teams have started to show strong interest in the Tigers’ three biggest trade chips. Matthew Boyd and Shane Greene have drawn looks from multiple clubs so far, but Nicholas Castellanos’ market has been all but silent.

No, the Tigers’ third trade chip is Joe Jimenez, it seems. Jimenez has already drawn interest from the New York Mets, and is also an attractive trade target for the Tampa Bay Rays, according to Mark Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. In fact, the Rays, always looking to find players with plenty of years of club control remaining, are more interested in Jimenez than in Greene, according to Topkin’s report.

On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. The Rays’ farm system is stacked — they have five prospects listed on Baseball Prospectus’ midseason top 50 list — and they are in a tight three-team race in the American League East, one not necessarily guaranteed to deliver two Wild Card teams thanks to Cleveland’s recent resurgence. Jimenez is under club control for four more seasons, which should make for incredible trade value.

However, Jimenez’s remaining years of team control may actually be an impediment here.

With four-plus seasons remaining until he is eligible for free agency, Jimenez is going to generate a healthy amount of surplus value. But, given how prospects are valued these days, it’s hard to see the Tigers receiving a proper return for Jimenez, a player the Rays (and others) are probably hoping to get at a discount because of his high ERA.

First, let’s do the math. Jimenez is projected by ZiPS to produce 2.9 WAR across the next three seasons, or basically 1.0 fWAR per year. If we extend that out across his remaining four seasons of club control, that makes 4.0 fWAR. Assuming a relatively conservative dollar amount per win (let’s go with $8 million/WAR), that makes for $32 million in total value.

To calculate surplus value, we need to subtract Jimenez’s total value from his salary earned. He will make the league minimum (or close to it) again in 2020, followed by three seasons of arbitration. Salary comparisons for above-average relievers through arbitration are somewhat difficult to come by given how fungible most non-elite relief arms are, but two decent comps (with Tigers ties, as fate would have it) are Justin Wilson and Shane Greene. Wilson made roughly $8.5 million in his three years of arbitration, while Greene has made nearly $6 million through his first two years of eligibility.

If we use Wilson’s salary as a model, Jimenez will make $9 million ($8.5 million in arbitration plus the $500,000 or so he will get in 2020) over the course of the next four seasons. Subtract that from his total value, and you end up with $23 million in surplus value.

What does that get us?

If we reference FanGraphs’ prospect valuation table again, we see that the No. 75 prospect in baseball (the Angels’ Jahmai Jones, in this case) is worth $23 million in value. The closest Rays prospect in either direction is infielder Brandon Lowe — who many would argue is now worth a lot more than the $25 million value he is listed at in the link above. Other comparables in the Rays system are infielder Vidal Brujan ($29 million), lefthander Matthew Liberatore (then $15 million, now the No. 37 prospect in baseball), and righthander Shane Baz (same deal as Liberatore, basically).

I asked our friends at DRaysBay if they would trade Liberatore or Baz for Joe Jimenez at this year’s deadline. I was... politely rejected, to say the least.

Baz for Jimenez whew

I think if you got him for a guy like Nick Solak it could make sense. He’s a good prospect that the Rays could let go, and the Rays would be paying up from what he is right now.

Solak, 24, is a borderline top-100 infielder who is having a nice season at Triple-A Durham. He is somewhat blocked in Tampa, but would be the best second baseman in Detroit’s organization the moment he arrived.

Not bad, right? Here’s the thing...

In that same conversation with our Rays friends, I asked whether they would be happy if trading Solak netted them Shane Greene instead. This is far from the most scientific way of going about this, of course, but we’ll get to more practical methods in a second. Our DRaysBay brethren preferred to receive Jimenez in this hypothetical — three extra years of team control will do that — but were open to the idea of a Solak-for-Greene deal. As one writer put it, the Baseball Trade Simulator (our more scientific method) thought Solak-for-Greene was a fair deal.

This is a roundabout way of suggesting that trading Jimenez now would be selling low on his potential. He was highly regarded as a relief prospect, and his peripheral numbers are solid — his 3.99 xFIP and 3.28 SIERA are in line with what Greene has produced this year, in fact. Those extra years of team control for Jimenez don’t seem to hold the same value that the one extra season does for Greene. If the Tigers could hold onto Jimenez for another year or two, and then trade him (if necessary) for a similar return, this would be a better use of one of their top trade pieces.

Or maybe a Solak-for-Greene trade happens, the Tigers start to contend earlier than expected, and Jimenez is working the ninth in meaningful games in October. Either way, his values lies in Detroit, not on the trade market.