Yesterday, we started to look past the trades and into the future at the players who will be wearing the Old English D for the first time in 2015 as a result of the wheeling and dealing. First it was Yoenis Cespedes. Now it’s Alfredo Simon. Again, we aren’t going to talk much about the nature of the trade, which we covered in detail on Thursday. Instead, we’re just going to dig in on the new Tiger, cost be damned.
Simon, unlike Cespedes, isn’t a name brand player. If he hadn’t fallen backwards into an impressive and meaningless first half W/L record, hardly anyone would have noticed him period. He’s a 33 year old with 529.1 big league innings and not much to show for them. Even his minor league numbers aren’t very good.
So why did the Tigers acquire him at all? What’s his draw? He put together a nice ERA in 2014, especially in the first half and was coming off two decent enough seasons in the bullpen to boot. There’s nothing great on the resume, but there’s some decent run prevention over the last three seasons while in Cincinnati.
The Tigers are counting on him to repeat that at age 34 in the American League or this plan’s going to look a bit silly.
Let’s highlight his career in stages. Horrible reliever from 2008-2010 in about a season’s worth of innings. Below average to bad starter in 2011. Solid enough reliever in 2012-2013. Controversial 2014 season as a starter.
There’s basically nothing in Simon’s past prior to 2014 that makes him worth acquiring for two legitimate pieces in conjunction with losing Rick Porcello. Maybe the Tigers have always liked him, but without 2014 this isn’t happening. So let’s talk about 2014. Entering his age 33 he had no history of success as a starter and a little taste of good work in relief.
Then he posted a 3.44 ERA and 4.33 FIP in 196.1 innings. It was 2.70 in the first half with a 4.33 FIP. It was 4.52 in the second half with a 4.34 FIP.
I recognize that I’m a bigger FIP-believer than a lot of people who read this site but it was a .232 BABIP in the first half and a .309 BABIP in the second half. Sure, Simon has a .280 or so career BABIP, but I’m buying .309 more than I’m buying .232 going forward. I just don’t think his first half run prevention is something that’s going to continue. His LOB% in the first half was 85% compared to 70% in the second half.
We can’t ignore that first half, but a ground ball pitcher playing in front of Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips having a good stretch isn’t exactly the strangest thing that’s ever happened.
On the other hand, Simon shows almost no career platoon split (.001 wOBA for his career, 1129/1125 TBF on each side). The strikeouts and walks are a little better versus RHH but it’s not crazy and he balances it out by hitting three times as many RHH.
Realistically, Simon’s a good bet to be a 4.40 FIP type starter or a 3.90 FIP type reliever, give or take. Assume that some of the BABIP-beating is real and say he’s a 3.90 or 4.00 ERA starter getting the benefit of the doubt. In today’s run environment, maybe you can sell that as a 2 WAR starter if he tosses 200 innings, but it’s probably a 1-2 win arm. He doesn’t miss bats at an above average rate and gets a few more swings than average.
Steamer says 25 starter, 144 innings, and 0.4 WAR. It’s hard to know on the durability, but even at 200 innings that’s 0.5 or 0.6 WAR which is probably Kyle Lobstein without any trouble.
To believe in Simon as a meaningful addition you have to believe a lot in his ability to post low BABIP because of his own skill and there’s only so much evidence to support that. It’s .282 for his career and he only started beating it in 2013, carrying into 2014. If you want to look at 1200 TBF and say for sure you think he can be a .260 BABIP arm like Kershaw, go for it, but the odds aren’t on your side.
He comes at you with a sinker first and foremost and then uses a splitter, cutter, curve and four-seamer from there. There’s heat in the mid 90s and some decent movement, so you can imagine watching his stuff and his first half and dreaming, but he doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, he doesn’t limit walks, and he doesn’t suck the power out of the room.
He’s a major league arm, but you’re looking at his 2014 RA9-WAR of 3.1 as the ceiling, not the likely outcome. Best case scenario, he lives up to Porcello and worst case scenario you’re DFA-ing him by June. As a bullpen piece, you wouldn’t hate him, but as a starter he looks decidedly below average.
Part of that’s just a sign of the times. The rotation from hell couldn’t last forever and it’s not like the Tigers had an in house option that’s clearly better. The alternative was a different trade or a FA signing. And that’s before we get into his very troubling off-field issues.
From a baseball perspective, Simon’s better than the other contestants for the #5 slot but he’s not so much better that the club should ignore other opportunities to upgrade the rotation. Simon is a member of the Dombrowski blind spot. He has raw stuff but can’t get it to work in games. He’s Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby, Robbie Ray, etc but he’s right-handed and older (not saying similar pitchers, saying similar disconnect between what the pitch looks like and how effective it is).
Sometimes those players put it together at 33, but .232 BABIP is .232 BABIP. He’s a live body who won’t embarrass himself, but hoping for much more is a failure of expectations than of performance.
In the end, you’ve got to look at those balls in play and make a call. Here’s MLB average for 2014, Simon in parenthesis:
|GB||.239 (.192)||.020 (.007)|
|LD||.685 (.644)||.190 (.350)|
|FB||.207 (.162)||.378 (.410)|
Do you really think he’s giving up significantly weaker contact than average or did his defense just have his back for three months?
Now that the dust has settled on the 2014-15 Winter Meetings and we’ve begun to digest the degree to which MLB rosters have changed, we can start to look ahead at the players the Tigers acquired during the shakeup. In this case, let’s try to set aside the nature of the various trades and simply consider the players who will now be Tigers, starting with Yoenis Cespedes.
Cespedes is what I would call a “name player,” meaning that his reputation is that of a star player, regardless of his actual ability. This cuts both ways. Cabrera is a name player and a legitimate star, and someone like Matt Carpenter isn’t a name player but is a real star. Cespedes is name famous. You know him from his training videos, his bold personality, prodigious power, and awesome arm. Those are all good qualities, but they’re qualities that outrun the actual greatness.
Cespedes is a good player, but he’s not an MVP type player. He’s never hit or fielded like a superstar. That’s okay. You need those kinds of players. Bottom line up front: Cespedes will be a valuable and popular player but not a superstar.
Let’s run down what he offers as a player.
An Outstanding Arm
You’ve probably seen the highlight reel throws.
Obviously, anyone with that amount of raw ability is going to be fun to watch, but it’s not just about the raw ability (Matt Anderson could throw 101 but that didn’t make him good), it’s about the consistency and deadliness of the tool. In 2014, he saved between 11 and 14 runs above average with his arm alone according to UZR and DRS. In previous years, that number was more like 2-7, but it was also in fewer innings. Even if his arm is a +8, that’s outstanding.
His range was poor in his first season and has been closer to average in the two seasons since, with a pretty normal distribution of great plays and errors (not involving his arm). In other words, he seems like a pretty average corner outfielder otherwise, but one who has an incredible arm.
For his career, he’s been a slightly above average corner man, but that includes a very poor first year and a great 2014. We can probably split the difference and call him an above average corner defender all things considered.
But let’s talk a little more about his arm. I know a lot of people don’t love hearing about runs above average because they can’t internalize the meaning, so let’s talk in more concrete terms.
In 2014 (small number of CF opps excluded), a single was hit to Cespedes with a man on first 55 times and only six of those runners went to third base. With a man on second and a single hit, only 10 of 31 runners made it home with 8 of those other 21 others getting eliminated on the bases. 12 of 28 men on first during a double scored. Only one of 14 advanced to third from second on a fly out.
He held 68% of the base runners who had a chance to take an extra base (MLB average is 63%) in 2014 and he threw out another 10, meaning that his “kill%” was 7.5% (MLB average is 2.2%).
The dude has a great arm.
Cespedes is a feared hitter, without question, but when it comes to sizing up a pitch, he’s relatively aggressive. He has a 6.5% walk rate in his career after posting a 5.4% walk rate in 2014, both of which are well below average. He strikes out plenty, but he’s kept it right around league average (20.9% for his career). This lack of walks, average strikeout rate, and average BABIP-skill means he doesn’t run a high average or high OBP.
His career OBP is .316 and that’s lifted up by a .356 OBP in 2012. In the two years since, it’s been .294 and .302. He simply doesn’t get on base very often, at this isn’t just a little bad luck. He doesn’t walk and doesn’t hit for a high average. It’s always something that can get better as he ages, but he’s an aggressive hitter for better or worse.
His contact issues improved in 2014 (80% up from 73%, average is 79%), but he does swing at pitches outside the strikezone far more often than the average MLB hitter (37% compared to MLB average of 30%). He swings a lot, particularly outside the zone, and before 2014 didn’t make a ton of contact to offset this.
As far as how he does on pitches outside the zone, the MLB average batting average is .187 and average ISO is .069. Cespedes is .214 and .116 in his career. So while he’s chasing, he’s at least doing better than the average hitter when he does.
If we’re being honest, Cespedes is known for his pop. He dominated in the derby and swings out of his shoes. He has a career ISO just about .200 and has slugged above .460 during his career despite spending most of his time in the AL West. The power is real and it’s spectacular.
But power only takes you so far without any on-base skill. He’s 37th in ISO since 2012 among 223 players with at least 1000 PA. And he played in Oakland. Before considering his home park, his ISO is in the top 20% of the league, but his overall offense after adjusting for park (wRC+) ranks 74th (top 33%). His power is like Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Beltre, but his production is like Seth Smith and Andre Ethier.
Comerica Park plays better than Oakland for right-handed home runs, but not to the degree that you might expect. The big change will be the huge right-handed triples boost that Comerica offers. Cespedes has solid speed and his doubles could turn into triples. But it will also help to avoid Angels Stadium and Safeco Field in favor of US Cellular.
The park factors are important, but it’s not like moving from Oakland will help Cespedes a great deal more than it would help any player.
But Cespedes is going to hit some bombs. He’s a 20-30 HR guy with plenty of doubles and a batting average that’s right around average.
Good, Not Great
Let’s look at the whole package. He’s a career 115 wRC+ hitter who is projected to be at 118 by Steamer in 2015. That’s a nice improvement from 2014 but not quite at his 2012 levels. Let’s call it 120 to be both generous and keep things clean.
He’s had nagging injuries here and there but has between 540 and 650 PA in each of his seasons, so 600 PA seems perfectly fair. We think he’s above average as a corner outfielder, probably +5 to +10, making him a -2 to +3 defender after the positional adjustment. He’s a good base runner, but nothing special, so let’s call that +2.
That’s the mark of a 3-4 win player. A very nice addition, but nothing extraordinary. And it’s especially nice to see given the alternative being lots of Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, and Tyler Collins. If everything broke right and he had a career year, you could dream on 6 wins, but that’s asking him to elevate to being in the top ten in hitting which he’s never really come close to doing.
The great thing is that despite his on base skills you will see his decent speed, good arm, and good power make it hard for him to be much worse than a 2 win player.
The Tigers paid a lot to acquire him, but he should be a productive offensive weapon with an arm that can save a few games. Plus, we’re probably in for some sort of Miggy and Yoenis buddy-cop-movie friendship.
Gone: Rick Porcello, Eugenio Suarez, Jonathan Crawford
Arrived: Yoenis Cespedes, Alfredo Simon, Alex Wilson, Gabe Speier
That’s how Thursday morning ended. And it was pretty depressing. The Tigers dealt a 3 win pitcher, a good back up infielder, and a future setup man with some small chance to start for a 3 win outfielder, a 1 win starter, a potentially useful reliever, and a young flyer.
If you want to add that up, it’s not a horribly lopsided outcome. It’s not like the Tigers dealt Doug Fister for table scraps, but the team didn’t get demonstrably better. It’s probably a wash or maybe a minor downgrade for 2015 and is certainly a downgrade beyond that. They’ll wind up paying an extra $2 million or so as well for the privilege.
So what’s the point?
Their outfield got better and their rotation got worse and they certainly gave up more future value in Suarez and Crawford next to Wilson and Speier. If you want to flip some pitching for some outfield (Porcello for Cespedes), that works given the strengths of the two clubs, but to go ahead and spend somewhat useful assets on Simon doesn’t really make sense.
Do the Tigers think he’s good? Do they just not believe in Suarez and Crawford at all? Do they really like Simon more than a guy like Masterson or Brett Anderson that could be had for cash alone?
There’s essentially a way to spin this as a push and a way to spin this as foolish. None of it inspires confidence and that’s before you realize you’re being asked to cheer for Simon (who has some serious off the field issues).
Porcello is gone and the Tigers aren’t much better off, if at all, for it.
Is more coming? Perhaps, but I’d wager we’ll see a lefty reliever and call it an offseason. Which sounds pretty underwhelming, perhaps even disappointing, to me.
After shuffling the roster to add Cespedes, Wilson, and Speier for Porcello, the Tigers immediately filled Porcello’s spot with Alfredo Simon from the Reds. And that’s not a very encouraging move.
Here’s what we can say about Simon. If you’re a fan of runs allowed based numbers, he had a good 2014. If you’re not, he’s not very good at all. And even if you’re a runs allowed person, Simon only has one successful year as a starter under his belt. He had some solid seasons in relief with the Reds and a whole lot of nothing in his time with the Orioles. And he’s 33, so it’s not like he’s getting better.
If you like this add, you’re basing it on 196 innings of BABIP on a team with Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, and Billy Hamilton. He’s probably a little better than replacement level, but he’s a step down from Porcello and probably not much better than someone you could pull off the scrap heap like Justin Masterson.
He won’t cost much in his final year of arbitration, but that’s because he’s not that good. And they gave up Eugenio Suarez and Jonathan Crawford to get him too.
You’d be happy if it was Mike Leake coming back or pumped if it was Johnny Cueto. But Simon just isn’t much of an MLB starter, so the upgrade you get with Cespedes gets cancelled out by the drop off in the rotation, give or take. For a little extra cash, the Tigers will wind up being a pretty equal team compared to yesterday’s version.
And that’s before we get to Simon’s off the field issues, which include a manslaughter charge (for which he was acquitted) and a pretty gruesome sexual assault lawsuit which appears to still be pending (although I haven’t confirmed that). That doesn’t mean Simon’s a lesser player, but it certainly doesn’t make you feel any better.
The Tigers probably didn’t get better, they gave up a useful player in Suarez and one of their best young arms in Crawford, and the guy they did add might be a rapist.
This isn’t as bad as the Fister deal from a baseball perspective, but man does it look ugly.
I’d be the first one to tell you that I think highly of Rick Porcello. I can’t stop telling people, actually. Probably above and beyond what his skills suggest. Put it this way, his mother thinks I’m too high on her son’s ability. I’m a Porcello fan and believer. I have been since day one.
Porcello fits the mold of my favorite kind of pitcher. Low walks, high ground balls, tons of room to grow. And grow he did. He developed a better curve and really nice changeup. He learned to dial up with a four-seamer when he had to and found a way to finally throw a useful slider. He learned to handle the stretch and to get lefties and he did it all before a pitcher normally peaks.
Last year, he finally got the attention he deserved and my work was done. Porcello got Kinsler’s glove behind him, made a few extra tweaks, and got that ERA down to the point where no one could argue. I felt like a proud father, which is a weird thing to say, but whatever. I had been championing this guy forever and there was no one important left to convince.
Porcello debuted in the majors in April 2009. It was about about two weeks after I had a first date with the girl I would wind up marrying. He pitched on my wedding day. The first blog post I wrote that went viral was about him. Porcello’s hot stretch in 2013 catapulted New English D and if baseball blogging was subject to FEC regulations, we’d basically be a SuperPAC for Rick Porcello for President of Earth.
A good portion of my identity on the internet is as the “Porcello guy.” Go read my timeline and the number of people who made jokes about my impending sadness when the trade came down. I love Porcello as a pitcher and I staked my name on his rise.
And now he’s gone. I had come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t coming back to Detroit after 2015 given the lack of extension, but I didn’t know that our time together, watching Rick Porcello Night In America was over. Porcello was one of my favorites for a lot of reasons and it’s sad to see him go. I think he’ll have a great career in Boston, and wherever he winds up after.
This is one of those weird things about sports. We develop connections with players, but for the teams and players it’s really just a business. This doesn’t appear to be any sort of horrible baseball move and Cespedes certainly appears to be likable and such. There’s no great loss here, but it feels like a wake.
After spending 180 or so nights watching Porcello over the last six years, suddenly he’s the competition.
Two and a half weeks ago, I tempted fate.
And on the face of it, it does make sense. The Tigers have pitching depth and needed outfielders. The Red Sox needed pitching and have enough outfielders for two or three outfields. Porcello and Cespedes both have a year left, they’re both going to make $10M to $12M in 2015, and they’re both roughly 3 win players.
So there’s a logic to it. Cespedes doesn’t walk and his batting average is just okay. His calling card is his power and his excellent throwing arm. He’s a solid base runner. He’ll fit really well on the Tigers and if he was a free agent, I’d be pleased with the acquisition. Power, some savvy base running, and outfield defense. Sign me up.
But then you glance over at the cost of the move and it’s Rick Porcello. You might know him as the Patron Saint of New English D. He’s about to turn 26 and has six full seasons under his belt and 15 WAR. He’s been on the rise for a few years and his turned into an amazing number three starter or a really solid number two. He doesn’t walk anyone, he limits opponent’s power, and he’s durable.
Porcello isn’t quite an ace by the normal standards, but he’s a very good pitcher who is also very young and entering his prime. But it became clear after they didn’t do anything last Spring that the Tigers weren’t going to extend Porcello. For whatever reason, they decided they didn’t want to make a long term investment, or perhaps he didn’t want to settle for anything under the market price. With three other ace(ish) level starters and a nice compliment in Shane Greene, he became somewhat available.
The irony is that Porcello was always the guy fans wanted to trade because they didn’t think he was good enough, and now he’s the guy that gets dealt because he’s so good. The Sox are going to love him and maybe even extend him.
It’s hard to fully analyze this deal without knowing what the other shoe is going to be. There’s a minor league arm coming back and the Tigers are reportedly finalizing another deal to replace Porcello. Stay tuned for the whole “was this a good idea” post and the “please don’t leave me Rick” post.
Last week, the Tigers pulled of a three team deal that netted them RHP Shane Greene in exchange for Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba. It was a nice move by the club and while Greene doesn’t have a smashing minor league track record, a very solid stretch of 78.2 MLB innings certainly indicated ($) he has it in him to perform well in the show.
Many people have written about Greene from just about every angle. Let’s run down what we know:
- Greene wasn’t a high pick or a top prospect
- Green didn’t perform well in the minors until 2013
- Greene was quite good in 78.2 innings in 2014
- Greene has 6 years of team control left
- Greene is a “sinker-slider guy,” but also features a cutter (pretty good), four-seam (developing), and changeup (developing, but potentially very quickly)
- Greene owned the Tigers in 2014
That about covers the outline of the Greene narrative. He doesn’t have a killer pedigree, but he showed some promise last year and there are new pitches in his arsenal. On top of that, he has some legitimate velocity, so this isn’t an 89-90 guy who happened to have a good month or two.
My thinking on the matter is that Greene is certainly better than Ray and Leyba and is a cheaper version of many of the good depth signings I wanted for the rotation. The move is good. The scouting reports and numbers are tracking up. There are questions, but no one is complaining.
So let’s turn this on it’s head and look for pitchers like Greene over the last several seasons. Who did the Tigers get if we base this on the pitchers who were similar to the 2014 version of Greene?
Let’s start with 2014. Let’s take pitchers with an both ERA- and FIP- +/- of 5% of Greene’s 96s with at least 70 innings as a starter.
- de la Rosa
Those are pitchers from 2014 with 70 innings as a starter who had an ERA- and FIP- between 91 and 101. That’s no one’s idea of an all-star roster, but for the most part those are solid back end starters or a little better in some cases. It’s not the kind of group you aspire to be in when you’re seven, but it’s the kind of group that makes $8M to $12M a year for 3-4 year deals.
Now let’s try pitchers who struck out 21-25% of batters (23% for Greene) and walked 7-9% (8% for Greene). Same qualifications:
Now that’s some group! An ace or two. A bunch of number two types. Solid mid-rotation arms otherwise.
Now let’s try within two percent of his swing (45%) and contact rates (78%).
- de la Rosa
It’s a longer list and there are a range of names. Some great, some not great, but mostly pretty solid. If you do what Greene did last year, you’re among a very solid group of starting pitchers.
Let’s do two more things. First, let’s take this entire collection of pitchers and look at their 2012, 2013, and 2014 numbers:
- 2012: 4570.2 innings, 54.7 fWAR, 105 ERA-, 102 FIP-, 20.2 K%, 7.6 BB% (2.4 WAR/200 IP)
- 2013: 5432.2 innings, 65.1 fWAR, 99 ERA-, 100 FIP-, 19.6 K%, 7.8 BB% (2.4 WAR/200 IP)
- 2014: 7815.2 innings, 101.8 fWAR, 97 ERA-, 98 FIP-, 21 K%, 7.7 BB% (2.6 WAR/200 IP)
Finally, let’s take a look at how all of these pitchers performed in their age 25 (Greene in 2014), 26, and 27 seasons (some obviously aren’t that old).
- 25: 4302.2 innings, 63.7 fWAR, 94 ERA-, 96 FIP-, 20.2 K%, 8.2 BB% (3.0 WAR/200 IP)
- 26: 4547 innings, 62 fWAR, 97 ERA-, 98 FIP-, 20 K%, 7.7 BB% (2.7 WAR/200 IP)
- 27: 3963.2 innings, 62.7 fWAR, 94 ERA-, 92 FIP-, 20.9 K%, 7.8 BB% (3.2 WAR/200 IP)
Looking at those numbers isn’t that surprising. The pitchers who were like Greene in 2014 were also about average in 2012 and 2013 and they were all pretty consistent from ages 25-27. We don’t know that Greene is definitely going to look like they did, but if you had to wager, it seems like a decent bet.
There’s no way to know exactly what the Tigers have in Greene, but despite the poor early number in the minors, this is a valuable skill set that should continue to be valuable over the next few years. Is Greene going to track at the bottom, middle, or top of the group? No idea. But if you can make any judgments based on one’s MLB comparables, things look just fine.
The Tigers needed another starting pitcher for 2015 and Dave Dombrowski found him in Dave Dombrowski fashion. He didn’t back up the money truck, he picked him out of the bottom of someone else’s depth chart for a pair of players that probably won’t end up biting the club in the future. Shane Greene is a Tiger, Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba are Dbacks, and Did Gregorius will replace Jeter in New York. The Tigers, Yankees, and Snakes just love these December three team deals.
For the Tigers, this move makes all kinds of sense. They needed a fifth starter for 2015 and aren’t in a great position to spend big on someone like Scherzer or Lester, and even smaller deals might prevent them from acquiring an outfielder or relief help. Shane Greene isn’t a sexy name or a flashy guy, but he’s only 93 days into his MLB career and if it turns out that he’s as good as his 2014 numbers, the next six seasons will wind up being a steal
There’s plenty of reason to doubt Greene, however. He never shined in the minor leagues and looked destined to serve as some kind of bullpen depth or number six starter, and didn’t debut until he was 25. He’s a sinker-slider guy with a platoon split but he’s got some velocity and put a hurting on the Tigers twice last season.
Steamer’s early projections think he’ll fade back toward his minor league numbers and be something like a 1 WAR starter in 130 innings. His pro-rated numbers from 2014 amount to a 3 WAR starter over 200. The big change last year was an increase in his strikeout rate over about 80 innings. That’s not something you bet your life on, but strikeout rate is more stable than something like ERA, and you can glean a little more information in fewer innings.
Greene has the makings of a fine back end starting pitcher and he showed a little more in 2014. That’s a nice player to pick up, considering he has 6 years of team control left and likely 3 at league minimum prices. He’s better than Robbie Ray today and probably will be better for most of the next six seasons. The Tigers also lost Leyba in the deal, which isn’t nothing, but it’s not worth crying about. He’s 19, a second baseman, and will need to hit to carry himself into the show. He’s a prospect, but he’s not even a top ten guy in the Tigers system by most accounts.
The Tigers turned a future reliever and likely utility player into someone who might wind up being an average major league starting pitcher with plenty of team control. It might not end up working out, but this looks to be a terrific move by the Tigers to get better without getting more expensive. Losing Fister for Ray was rough, but getting value back by sending Ray west helps stem the tide.
Look for a full breakdown of Greene in a day or two.
Last December, the Tigers traded a starting pitcher because they had a lot of starting pitchers. As a simple matter of practice, that’s a perfectly fine strategy. They traded from a position of strength. We quibbled greatly with precisely what they got back in return, but the premise was fine. Have great starting pitching ~ trade pitching for other stuff!
The Tigers are in a similar position right now, sort of. Last year they had five starters and a Drew Smyly. This year, they have four starters and a bunch of replacement level guys. They’re two starting pitchers down from where they were twelve months ago, but they still have four very good starters and two of them are free agents after 2015. Should they deal one of them?
Let’s start with two basic points. First, the Tigers need to add pitching this offseason. You don’t want to rely on Ray, Lobstein, et al as your number five starter. So either you need to get a starter back or you need to sign an additional starter if you make a deal. So it’s stand pat and sign one starter or trade a starter and acquire two. Second, you only ever make a trade if you’re getting back equal or greater value. You don’t just trade a player because you can afford to lose them, you trade them to turn one asset into another asset. It’s always what you can get back.
So let’s consider the “trade value” of each Tigers starter and see where that leaves us.
Justin Verlander (5 years, $140 million)
Verlander has $140 million left on his contract. If you were to spend $140 million on the free agent market, you’d essentially want to get 20 WAR over the life of the deal (these are all estimates). Verlander projects for 2 WAR in 2015, which would make this contract a nightmare, leading no one to want it. If he’s a 2 WAR pitcher for the next five years, there’s negative $70 million in value. Let’s say he’s a 3.5 WAR pitcher and age him a half a win a year (a quick aging curve). That’s negative $52 million in value.
So, uh yeah, no one would give you anything good for Justin Verlander right now. Someone probably takes him for free because you might want to bet on the talent, but you’ve gotta believe he’s still a true talent 5 WAR pitcher right now to want this contract. Hard to imagine anyone thinks he’s better than that, at least.
Takeaway: No one is trading for him, ride it out, pray he’s able to rebound.
Anibal Sanchez (3 years, $53 million or 4 years, $64 million)
The Tigers have basically already assured that the Sanchez deal was a winner thanks to his excellent 2013 and very good 2014. He’s facing a pretty pessimistic 3 WAR projection from Steamer for 2015 and if you start at 3 WAR and age him normally his contract is basically perfect for the next three years, right at market value. The option can only work for a team, so there’s no real negative. If he’s starting to suck, you don’t pick it up. If he’s great, you get him for a good price.
But if he’s a 4 WAR pitcher, we’re talking about $20 million in surplus value. That’ll buy you something nice, although it will cost you something nice too. You would only want to deal Sanchez for a big league ready player with lots of team control. You’re not getting Mookie Betts for Sanchez, but someone like that. Young, controllable and ready to be good now.
Takeaway: Keep him, profit.
Rick Porcello (1 year, ~$12 million, right to make QO)
Porcello has been the trade rumor starter for years. He’s young and he’s good, and that’s a thing that many teams covet. He’s projected for roughly 3 WAR in 2015, so that’s about $20 million at market rates, leading to something like $8 million in surplus value. We can tack on a couple million for the qualifying offer and probably a couple more for the fact that you don’t have to make a long term commitment. Let’s call it $12 million in surplus.
That will buy you something nice, but not as much as you want it to. The best bet would be to swap him for another 3 WAR player with a similar deal at a different position. You could also get a good not great prospect or a slightly worse player with two years of control. Porcello’s valuable, but he’d be more useful to the Tigers as a trade chip if they were building for 2016 and beyond. You can get something back for him (~Cespedes) but you can’t do much to improve your overall roster because you’re subtracting a key player to get there. Porcello is a nice avenue to shuffle the club, not to dramatically improve it.
Takeaway: Deal him only if someone over-offers, work to extend him.
David Price (1 year, ~$18 million, right to make QO)
Using the same method we used on Porcello, we find Price projected for 4 WAR (let’s call it 4.5) and arrive at something like $17 million in surplus value. If you think he is actually blossoming into a true ace, call it $25 million. That’s quite a bundle of cash, but still not enough to get you an elite, game changing prospect. You can get a very good prospect or two years of a good player. Maybe one of an elite player.
There’s potential here, especially if you want to dump Price for young talent and use his salary to sign Scherzer long term.
Takeaway: Try to find an offer for an arbitration eligible bat, otherwise hold steady.
Two things stand out to me overall. First, the Tigers might have wanted to punt on 2015. Imagine selling off Porcello and Price, taking the pick from Victor, getting something for Davis, Soria, and Nathan. There’s a real opportunity to reload quickly there. Obviously, the directive isn’t to rebuild, it’s to win. So that’s moot.
Second, the Tigers have some valuable assets but the value is short term. In other words, teams that want the Tigers pitchers are going to be teams that aren’t going to want to subtract from their 2015 rosters very much, and the Tigers are going to only want to receive players that can help out in 2015. The math doesn’t really work here.
There are options, but none that are obvious win-win type deals. Realistically, the league is getting smarter and while Dombrowski has had tons of luck trading his prospects for big leaguers, he’s not in a position to do that. It probably makes sense to hold the starters, but it always depends on what everyone else is offering.
If Price is a hot commodity, pull the trigger. If not, go into the season with the four-headed monster. There are options, but nothing overwhelmingly obvious.
A couple of weeks ago, when discussing the Tigers need to upgrade in the outfield, I suggested that one option the Tigers have in front of them is to move Nick Castellanos to the outfield and sign 3B Chase Headley. I didn’t and still don’t consider that a likely option because the Tigers probably can’t afford to meet his price without increasing payroll and they typically only push the envelope for name value players. But I also got a little push back on my suggestion that Castellanos might need to move off third base, so let’s consider his future.
Nick’s entering his age 23 season in 2015, so he’s plenty young and is an extremely hard worker by all accounts. There’s tremendous potential there, because of the effort and the raw ability to bring the barrel to the baseball, but you cannot simply ignore his faults as signs of youth as if they are certain to reverse course.
Let’s play this out a little. At age 22 he posted a -0.5 fWAR and -1.5 rWAR. Those are both horrible numbers. That doesn’t make him a bad player, it just means he wasn’t a productive player in his rookie year. That’s fine. It happens. But it’s also important information and we can’t pretend it didn’t happen entirely.
Now let’s look at his 2015 Steamer projection. Steamer says 0.8 fWAR in 530 PA (~50 fewer than 2014). Let’s round it up to 1.0 WAR just to keep it clean. That’s a 1.5 WAR bump year to year, which is a big improvement. Some of that is the expectation that he’ll be a touch better on defense, a little better on the bases, and a little better at the plate.
In 2014 he had a .307 wOBA. He’s projected for a .323 wOBA in 2015. Steamer’s calling him something like a -15 fielder at 3B, which is 5 to 15 runs better than he was in 2014, depending if you prefer UZR or DRS. It’s not a good number either way.
A couple of things stand out. First of all, some people will try to tell you that Castellanos was fine defensively in 2014. They’re wrong. Perhaps you can argue he showed the ability to perform well in the future (i.e. flashed good enough tools), but his actual performance was extremely poor.
Twenty eight players had 700+ innings at 3B in 2014. He was last in DRS by an amount so high it’s essentially inappropriate to say out loud. He was last in UZR by a more reasonably 5 runs (-18.4 runs). Take away the “run values” and just take about plays made compared to balls in his zone and he’s dead last by a lot. To argue that Nick was fine at third base last year, well, I honestly don’t know how you could do that.
But that’s okay for two reasons. First, Nick’s a bat first guy. He’s never going to be Chase Headley or Adrian Beltre. Second, you’re going to cut him some slack for spending the last year and a half in the OF before shifting back to 3B. He was already stumbling through his defensive development when the shift to the OF came and then he was asked to play the position again with no real chance to get reps before Spring Training.
So let’s play a little game. We know he’s not a plus defender. No one’s ever seen that from him. Let’s say it’s somewhere between average at 3B (+2.5 positional adjustment plus fielding runs) and -15 runs. Let’s say he gets 600 PA. Let’s just say he’s a -1 base runner (he was -3 in 2014). What kind of offensive production would he need in order to put up various WAR levels? Hopefully the chart is clear enough:
The numbers are slightly rounded, so don’t treat anything as perfectly accurate to the decimal because we don’t know some of the precise constants for the 2015 season, but let’s call this accurate enough. This should give you a sense about Nick’s potential given a set of defensive constraints. If you think he’s a -15 defender at 3B then he’s maxing out at 2 WAR. If you think he might be average, he can maybe make it to 4 WAR with an awesome offensive leap too.
The green boxes reflect wOBA values at or below his projection, the yellow ones are close enough but above his projection and the red ones would indicate a massive breakout offensively. Realistically, he’s probably a 1-2 win player in 2015. And realistically, the best we can hope for defensively is -5. There just isn’t enough there for him to be much better.
For him to turn into an All-Star, he’s going to have to post .360 wOBAs or better. That’s a tall order. He has the raw talent to the point where I wouldn’t discount the possibility, but I think it’s important to put these expectations in front of you. There’s potential here, but he has to improve on two dimensions to get there.
The talent exists, but everything has to break right. The bat will grow but it has to grow an awful lot if the defense doesn’t rally. It might happen, but let’s not act as if a move to a corner outfield spot is out of the question in the next year or two.