Trading Torres for Scherzer: A Thought Experiment

Following the posting of yesterday’s Weekly Mailbag, a spirited discussion took place in the comments section regarding who the Yankees should shield in any trade talks for Max Scherzer.  In a short comment within the Mailbag, I expressed my opinion that Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Gleyber Torres are the only players that I consider off-limits in trade discussions should Scherzer hit the market.  Longtime reader, Fuster, asked me to explain why I would not include Torres in talks for an ace like Scherzer.  While I answered the question in short-form in the comments section, I think that this topic is worth further discussion since the Yankees will be on the prowl for a top-end rotation arm to add to the roster via trade prior to the trade deadline in July.

Before I get into it, I want to make one thing clear: personally, I do not believe that Scherzer will hit the market this summer.  The Nationals still have a chance to come back in the NL East race, and this may be the last season of their window of contention.  Anthony Rendon is a Free Agent this offseason, Scherzer and Strasburg, as good as they are, are getting older, and there is not enough young talent in the National’s prospect pipeline to keep the team in contention without high-end veterans.  I just have a hard time believing that the Nationals will sell at the deadline unless they do something horrific like lose 15 of their next 20 games.  Could it happen?  Sure, which will make this article relevant.  If the Nats sell, it is going to take some serious offers to grab Scherzer.

There are valid reasons on both sides of the argument for and against building a trade offer around Gleyber Torres in pursuit of Max Scherzer.  If I were Brian Cashman, and I had a trade offer centered around Torres that I knew would be accepted by the Nationals, assuming money and prospects were agreed upon, I would be rendered an anxious, sleepless wreck.  But in the end, much as I really do believe that Scherzer is the best pitcher in baseball, I would not be willing to trade Torres in any deal for Max Scherzer.  Let’s dig into it.

How Valuable is Scherzer, and How Valuable Will He Be?

Max Scherzer has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since he was traded to the Detroit Tigers in 2010 (fun fact: the Yankees had something to do with that trade, as Scherzer was the main return for the Tigers in the deal that sent Granderson to the Yankees and Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks…I think the Diamondbacks want a do-over).  Scherzer struggled some with his control early in his career, but those concerns were minimized once he became a Tiger, and since 2013, Scherzer has been a no-doubt ace.  To-date, Scherzer has accumulated 57.6 bWAR and 56.4 fWAR, and he is in the midst of what may be his best season.  Through roughly half a season’s worth of innings, both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs agree that Scherzer has been worth 4.7 WAR.  If Scherzer continues at this pace, he will finish the year with 9+ WAR.

Very few pitchers are capable of the type of performance that Scherzer is capable of.  Scherzer’s K/9 rate has gone up every year since 2013, and he has limited his walk rate to manageable levels, bringing it all the way down to 4.8%, it’s lowest mark since his first year with the Nationals in 2015.  Based on his ability to limit balls in play, Scherzer’s FiP is 2.13 through half a season.  Scherzer would make every team in baseball better.  The Yankees in particular should be nearly all-in should he hit the market just based on his performance this year alone, given their lack of rotation depth at the moment.  Scherzer is capable of performances like this:

It’s fun to imagine Scherzer in pinstripes in October.  Scherzer would be the immediate ace, and would help solidify the Yanks’ status as a favorite to win the World Series this year.

As great as all of that sounds, trading for Scherzer is not without its drawbacks.  After this season, Scherzer has two years remaining on his backloaded 7-year, $210 million contract.  Scherzer is owed more than $42 million in 2020 and 2021, while his luxury tax hit is roughly $30 million.  While those figures are fair for a pitcher of his caliber, they are numbers that would push the Yankees well into the last luxury tax tier, something they have (frustratingly) been unwilling to do to this point.

The other elephant in the room is Scherzer’s age.  Scherzer is 34, and is signed through his age-36 season.  While Scherzer has already defied a typical aging curve, pitchers break or can lose effectiveness with no warning.  The Yankees have even seen this firsthand this year with 36-year-old JA Happ.  Even prior to Happ, the Yankees lived through three horrendous years with CC Sabathia before his reinvention took hold.  CC’s reinvention was miraculous, and can’t be expected or assumed.  While Scherzer is in a class by himself right now, and if anyone can defy father time for a bit longer, Scherzer can, I still would be wary that Scherzer’s contract would turn into an albatross for a year or two if the least positive outcome occurs.

Even with the aforementioned concerns, Scherzer is likely the most valuable pitching commodity, as far as veteran pitchers are concerned, in baseball.  He is an ace, and would help any staff this year.  A pitcher of his caliber will likely experience a more gentle aging curve, and if that regression occurs in the next two years, it will likely just mean that Scherzer is merely average or slightly above average rather than other-worldly.  Or, he could break (as pitchers are wont to do)

Have We Underrated Torres?

Somehow, Gleyber Torres has managed to fly under the radar to some extent this season.  Part of that is due to the fact that the story of the first half has been the sheer volume of injuries the Yankees have sustained, and the strong performance of the guys who replaced them.  Other than some arguments about his long-term position, there has been little discussion about Torres, probably because he is one of the few regulars who has been healthy all season.  Below is a chart I’ve compiled with some basic statistics for every hitter that has had an at-bat with the Yankees this year.  Guess which one is Gleyber Torres (no cheating!).

Torres is Player 4.  Torres gets on base, hits for power, and has kept his strikeout and walk numbers in good standing.  In short, Torres has performed like one of the 3 or 4 best hitters on the Yankees this season.  An important point to keep in mind – Torres is just 22 years old!  22 years old, and he has the ability to play both SS and 2B!  I know that we are living through the age of Shortstops right now, but guys like Torres do not just fall off of trees.  Torres was an above-average Major Leaguer at 21 years old last year, and he has made the jump to being an All-Star caliber player this year.  On the year, Torres has compiled 2.5 bWAR and 2.4 fWAR.  By year’s end, it is likely that Torres will have put together a 5+ WAR season.  That is an inner-circle level of performance for that age.  Add in the fact that Torres’ (improving!) defense is at least average at both SS and 2B by most measurements, and you have a cornerstone player.

Gleyber’s appeal only grows when we look at his contract situation.  Barring a major change to baseball’s Free Agency set-up, Gleyber Torres is not even eligible for arbitration until 2023, and he cannot become a Free Agent until 2025.  Torres will likely be good and cheap for years to come.

How good will Torres be?  Aging curves are fun to dream about with players like Torres.  Multiple studies regarding aging curves exist (I highly recommend Neil Weinberg’s piece from a few years ago at Fangraphs – it’s a good start), such that we have a rough idea that a player’s prime seasons with regards to production typically occur between age 26 and 29.  However, that aging curve looks different for phenoms who perform like Gleyber has prior to the age of 23.  The old hypothesis was that players who come up to the Majors young and perform at a young age experience their peak earlier, and thusly decline earlier.  That has largely been disproven.  Players who perform well at a young age merely continue their growth, and extend their peaks.

This bodes well for Gleyber Torres’ career.  Torres is already a 5 WAR player at 22 years old.  Assuming some continued progression on both sides of the diamond, you don’t have to squint very hard to see a superstar.  Here is what Glyeber’s progression could look like through 2025:

Obviously, progression is not linear – a lot can happen over the next few years, but if we just think about what an aging curve for a phenom looks like, I think that this chart could be a reasonable representation of what Torres can do during the years that the Yankees have control over Torres.  We are watching the maturation of a guy who may be a Hall-of-Famer.  AND WE HAVEN’T EVEN BEEN TALKING ABOUT HIM!!!

How To Replace Gleyber

Let’s say the Yankees were to trade Gleyber Torres for Max Scherzer.  Yes, the Yankees may have a better shot at winning the World Series this year, as the Yankees have enough offense in the near term (probably, not definitely) to sustain the loss of Torres if the Yankees gain an ace like Scherzer.  But the long-term loss is staggering.

Longtime readers know that I love Didi and DJ LeMahieu has been great!  But neither has the kind of ceiling that Gleyber has shown he can reach.  Gregorius’ best seasons probably equal the value of what Torres is doing this year, and he is a Free Agent after this year.  LeMahieu is in the same boat from a performance perspective, and only has one more year on his deal.  Didi is 29 years old LeMahieu is 30.  Both are at the tail end of their primes, and will likely begin to regress soon.

Again: neither player is as good as Gleyber is today!  The loss of Torres will be felt for years beyond a deal. 

Conclusion

Max Scherzer is one of my favorite pitchers, he is the best pitcher in baseball, and he is likely a Hall-of-Famer.  I’ve always hoped to see him in pinstripes.  I would trade anyone on the roster except for Judge, Sanchez, and Torres to acquire him.  While some might disagree with the fact that I include Torres on the list of untouchables, I think that it is very possible that we are witnessing the beginning of a Hall of Fame career.  The Yankees can gain the advantage of playing Torres during his prime, at bottom-of-the-market prices.  The Yankees do not have anyone on the roster or on the farm that could possibly replace Torres’ performance.  As tempting as it would be to include Torres in a deal to get Scherzer, I’d have to pass.