Three “Facts” Concerning The Tigers Farm System

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Most baseball blogs like to publish prospect rankings during the offseason because baseball nerds like rankings, hate the offseason, and love prognosticating about the future. New English D has never really been about the farm system or prospecting, and will continue that tradition, but the farm system in general deserves a little attention from time to time.

TigsTown is currently rolling out their rankings (I participated in those) and other prospect sites are doing the same this winter. Rankings will be right on average but almost always wrong on individual players. It’s the nature of the beast. Trying to order the future contributions of teenagers who are trying to hit a tiny little sphere is challenging.

To that end, I wanted to cover the farm in a slightly different way. I’m going to present the “facts” I think are most worth knowing about the Tigers farm system. I don’t really have a strong opinion about the 9th best prospect versus the 10th best and it doesn’t really matter. You can think of players in tiers, conditioned on their potential and their floor.

These views are the aggregation of things I’ve picked from speaking with other writers, material I’ve picked up second hand from lots of places, some discussions with people working in baseball, and my own observations. I’m going to kind of blend those things together so as to 1) avoid identifying anyone who may not have been able to go on the record and 2) protect content that is behind someone else’s paywall. It’s either “people I’ve talked to who I trust” or me, depending.

The Tigers System Is Very Bad

The consensus among people I spoke with agree with the conventional wisdom, the talent in the Tigers’ farm system is among the bottom 3-5 in all of baseball. I don’t really think there’s any way to argue with that belief. Sure, you could probably say that they might be the 6th worst instead of 3rd worst, but their best prospects are nowhere near elite status and the depth in pretty absent in the lower tiers.

This is not to say that the Tigers front office is bad at handling the farm, it just means that they utilize the pieces that they have in other ways. They frequently trade prospects and are pretty aggressive when it comes to promotions. It’s also a reflection of their success over the last decade and their efforts to sign top level free agents. They simply don’t get a lot of high draft picks and when they do, it’s not uncommon for them to trade them for more urgent upgrades.

The system is relatively empty, but that’s not really a story about bad drafting and development (that’s for someone with more inside knowledge to discuss). I didn’t speak with anyone who thought the team has a ton of minor league talent, but players are assets and the Tigers have generally found a way to get a lot of value from their farm system via trades.

Derek Hill Is The Team’s Best Prospect, And He’s Not A Great Prospect

While Baseball America’s rankings don’t agree, there was pretty clear consensus among the people I spoke with (myself included) that Derek Hill is the Tigers #1 prospect. There wasn’t really a question. No one made a case for anyone else. He can run and has the ability to be a quality defender in center field. Will he hit? That’s the question, of course, but there’s a sense that he should hit well enough to let the defense and wheels do the heavy lifting. Might he develop some power and become a force at the plate? Don’t rule it out, but the hitting ability he needs to be a regular seems entirely within the realm of possibilities, as far as prospect analysis goes.

But that doesn’t mean Hill is any kind of star like Kris Bryant or Addison Russell or Mookie Betts. There was a touch of disagreement on this point, but overall, the feeling was that Hill was right around fringes of a Top 100 prospects list. Some said Moya wasn’t far behind and some put a good amount of space between Hill and the second best guy (150-200 range). No one I talked to said Hill was certainly a Top 100 guy. Everyone sort of said, “he’s in that range but doesn’t have to be on a list.”

There are 30 MLB teams and the Tigers might not have a single prospect among the 100 best in the game. Not a death sentence, but a clear articulation of the situation. It’s not like the Tigers have a couple solid prospects and then nothing. Even their best guys aren’t very attractive.

Steven Moya Is A Controversial Figure

There will be prospect rankings that put Moya right behind Hill and ones that have him in the back half of the top 10. That doesn’t seem like a huge gulf, but remember that the Tigers farm system starts in the 100 overall range and falls off quickly. The difference between 2 and 8 in the Tigers system is probably like 140 and 340 (?). That’s pretty meaningful.

The question with Moya is going to be he ability to either cut down on strikeouts or maintain his ability to do damage with them as part of his game. For some, the potential is enough to push him to the top of the list. Frankly, there just isn’t enough competition in the system to beat a guy who has the ability to swat 35 bombs while playing a capable corner. Alternatively, there are a lot of people who don’t think he can actually get the power to show up in games at the MLB level.

It’s a critical question, but one we’re just not going to be able to answer until he’s tested there. Guys with this kind of strikeout problem don’t tend to survive, but those who do are able to do so because they destroy those pitches they touch. It’s just a question about which side of the distribution you think he’ll fall.

I’d personally vote him near the top because there’s really no one else in the system who has any real probability of being an impact player. Sure, Moya might flame out, but there’s some chance he turns into a really good player and a little more chance that he can be a really solid platoon player. He might bust, but almost everyone in the system is going to top out as org guys or role players.

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This isn’t an encouraging piece, but it’s also not worth crying over. The Tigers system is rough but it’s been rough for a long time and they keep making it work. When you can afford to spend the way they can spend, you don’t need to churn out as many top flight prospects. It’s better to have a good system than not, but it’s not a death sentence, it’s just an expensive way to live. And it can change very quickly if you’re willing to commit to a rebuild.

In other words, the system’s probably not going to get a ton better for a few years.

The Tigers Need Another Outfielder…Really

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

The Tigers starting outfield for 2015, if 2015 started today, would be Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, and J.D. Martinez. Together with the backups and such, they are slated for 4.8 WAR as a unit according to Steamer with a .312 wOBA. Throw in a park factor and the Tigers OF might hit 5% worse than the MLB average for all position players. Which wouldn’t be good. It would be one of the worst hitting outfielders of the decade and, so basically, Anthony Gose better be Willie Mays in centerfield.

Dave Dombrowski has hinted that the Tigers are looking around but are comfortable with who they have out there. Hopefully, that’s just good bargaining strategy because this is a clear weakness for the team and a place to upgrade.

They could target someone like Peter Bourjos, who features a great glove and a better-than-Gose bat, pushing Gose and Davis into a platoon. They can hunt bigger game and go after Melky Cabrera. They can sign Nick Markakis or Ichiro. They can target Yoenis Cespedes, now that they don’t need a CF exclusively. Matt Joyce is probably available. Ben Zobrist might be.

The Dodgers have too many outfielders. The Nationals might. The Red Sox certainly do. They should have ponied up for Heyward.

These suggestions have one big thing in common: None of these players are great, save maybe for Zobrist. This is a collection of average-ish to below average-ish players. Why should the Tigers target them?

Because the Tigers best case scenario right now isn’t pretty. You need four or five outfielders to get you through a season and the Tigers best outfielder is a guy who may or may not be able to maintain his breakout season. At best, J.D. Martinez could be a 3-4 win player but he’s probably more like a 2-2.5 win player. Davis is a platoon player getting too much playing time and Gose is a defensive replacement who is line up for 600 PA. Tyler Collins and Steven Moya have a future in Detroit, but neither is likely ready for prime time.

They need to do something. That something might be adding in an okay player to soak up 300 PA or take 500 PA and shrink the amount allotted to Davis and Gose. Adding +1 WAR anywhere nets you a win. It doesn’t have to feature a sexy name.

But there are two more options I want to dangle. It’s late November and there’s no news, so forgive me if these are are a bit off the wall. Let’s just kick them around.

A Big Trade?

The Reds are reportedly shopping Jay Bruce. Maybe that’s just rumor mill nonsense, but it makes a decent amount of sense for a club that needs to retool. He’s due $25.5 million over the next two years (with a club option), so he’s eating up a chunk of salary in Cincinnati and he’s coming off a very bad year. His power just vanished. The projections think it’s coming back and it seems like there were some injury issues last year that could have been a direct cause.

He’s no star in RF defensively, but he’s an upgrade from Hunter and no worse than Davis. Bruce could slug it out behind the Martinezes, camp out in RF and do so at a very reasonable price. They’ll have to send some talent to the Reds, but there are very few players in the system that aren’t expendable, if any. There’s actually a decent fit here if you’re buying a bounce back. Doesn’t have to be a star, just has to be solid.

An Early Switch?

There are going to be a couple people who will be upset at this suggestion, but the Tigers have a corner outfielder already on the payroll and just don’t know it: Nick Castellanos. He was dreadful at 3B in 2014 and while I suspect he will get a little better going forward, he’s never going to be an asset over there.

Move Castellanos to a corner OF spot and sign Chase Headley. He won’t cost Sandoval or Ramirez money but if you put his defense next to Iglesias and Kinsler, the Tigers would basically never let a ball roll to the outfield. To say nothing of Headley’s entirely above average bat. He’ll cost a few years and a dozen plus million per, but he’s be a very nice upgrade over what they have on the roster now.

Likely? No. Helpful, very.

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I don’t really expect the team to make a big splash but they need to locate some improvements. At the minimum they need some depth and insurance in the outfield because they’re playing with fire as it is. There are some interesting trade options, culminating with Bruce, but they could also get creative and send Castellanos back out to the grass.

There’s not a perfect solution and letting Dirks go on waivers makes it all look a lot more confusing. I’m not certain what the best track is, but they have to do something. There’s plenty of time, but this can’t be the Opening Day group.

Tigers Acquire Anthony Gose

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

It’s unclear what the end game is with respect to the newest Tiger, Anthony Gose. He can play a terrific center field and run the bases well, which is exactly the kind of player for which I’ve been pining all offseason, but he’s also a virtual zero at the plate.

He projects for an 81 wRC+ in 2015 to go with his career 75 wRC+. It’s a tiny MLB sample, but he hasn’t hit lefties and is considerably below average against righties. In the minors, he was passable against righties and worse than that against lefties. You can imagine a scenario in which his offense won’t be a disaster, but the upside isn’t there at all. If you’re dreaming of a league average bat, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

To some extent and if used properly, that’s okay. Gose could potentially be a +15 CF and a +5 base runner. With numbers like that, you can live with a wOBA in the .290 range, but that’s asking him to be one of the best defensive outfielders in the game while hitting at his career and projected line.

The scouting reports on his defense and base running are very positive but there’s simply no way for him to contribute as a starter if those things are anything short of superlative. Someone like Peter Bourjos (a player I’ve identified as a target) is a better hitter and has a longer track record of sterling defensive work, but you can’t get Bourjos for Gose prices.

In reality, if your choice is between Gose and Devon Travis, the player the Tigers dealt, for 2015, Gose is an easy call. He’s the better player right now, he’s healthy, and he plays a position the Tigers need. That part is easy. Would you rather have Travis long term? Perhaps, but he only stands out because of the barren farm system. Some people will hype his prospect status in the aftermath of the deal, but he’s just another middle infielder the Tigers can afford to lose.

The real concern with this trade is that it’s a half measure. Gose can pick it in center, but there’s not enough bat there to go into the regular season with Davis-Gose-Martinez. This outfield is still at least one man short, and it needs to be a man who can legitimately hit. If you’re going to run a NEW GUY-Gose-Martinez vs RHP and NEW GUY-Davis-Martinez vs LHP platoon, that might work, but the new guy needs to be a really strong player.

On balance, a fine move, but they didn’t acquire anything more than a fringe regular. There’s still a lot more work to be done.

Tigers, Martinez Stay Together For The Kids

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

The Tigers motto has been and should continue to be, “it’s too late to think about the future.” With that in mind, there’s really no reason for them not to re-sign Victor Martinez at four years and $68 million. They need him, he needs them, and it’s been a very happy marriage to date. It’s not a bargain contract or something that will win Dombrowski any sort of executive of the year honors, but it’s necessary and it’s done on November 12.

Martinez had his best offensive season this past year (166 wRC+) and projects to have a very good year in 2015 (136 wRC+). He was worth 4.4 fWAR this year and is in line for 2.4 WAR according to Steamer in 2015. At the most basic level, the Tigers probably bought 7-8 WAR for $68 million. That’s probably $15 million to $20 million more than you want to spend, but if he’s a little better than expected (~10 WAR) you’re in the black. On a very basic level, it’s close enough that you don’t really need to worry and you’re only going to really notice in 2018. And let’s face it, the payroll in 2018 might be post-apocalyptic.

This gives the Tigers a chance to win in 2015 and there weren’t really any other options in the short run. The 2015 wins matter a lot more than the wasted money three years later. The Astros or the Cubs shouldn’t make this deal but the Tigers are positioned to make this kind of offer, especially considering they lose a less valuable draft pick by re-signing him than other teams would by signing him.

They need the offensive production, he’s well regarded in the clubhouse, and he’s already acclimated to DHing, which is no small thing. He’s 36, but he’s also bottomed out on defense and on the bases. You are expecting the worst from those and still like him overall, so if his bat can match or beat his projection (which will occur 50% of the time), then you’re probably not too upset. While he hit for power this year, you also have to acknowledge his excellent contact skills, which should keep him from flaming out as he ages as well.

I wrote last offseason when the Tigers signed Cabrera to a contact that was too large, that the only reason to hate bad contracts for stars is if it prevents the team from doing something else that would lead to additional wins.

Well, we’re already over that bridge. There’s no way to mirror VMart for less money right now and Cabrera and Verlander are already eating up the long term. Either Illitch is going to shovel money into the engine or he’s not, but a couple extra million to Martinez won’t dramatically change the bottom line.

There’s really only one significant concern. I’m not bothered by the club risking $15-20 million. That’s the cost of doing business and they’re clearly going to run a very high payroll. The only concern is that this effectively commits Miguel Cabrera to 1B and blocks his move to DH. Maybe that won’t matter but as he ages, it becomes a more pressing question. Fortunately, that’s a question for the 2017 Tigers and we’ve already doomed them to fail.

If the team doesn’t want to rebuild, there’s really no path out of this offseason that doesn’t involve Martinez. He’s necessary and while he’s expensive, he’s not going to realistically alter the trajectory of the franchise’s finances.

They’ve made the choice to go for it before the chandeliers fall. This is what it looks like to go for it. There’s more work to be done, but this is the first step toward another October chase.

On The Pursuit Of Victor Martinez

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

To the surprise of no one, Victor Martinez officially rejected his qualifying offer today. Such an event would only have made news had he rejected the offer in person, wearing some sort of Halloween costume or decorative hat. It was a certainty that he’d reject it, he did, and now it’s time to think about the future.

Earlier this winter, I suggested that the ideal course of action includes re-signing Martinez with the acknowledgement that they’ll be overpaying to some degree. If they are looking to punt on 2015 and rebuild, then you let him walk and take the pick, but if they want to give it a run next year, he’s likely one of the key targets.

Martinez figures to net himself a deal worth somewhere between 3/$45MM and 4/$80MM. That looks like a big range, but it’s 3-4 years at $15 million to $20 million per season. At the low end, you need 6.5 to 7.0 wins over three years. That’s 2-3 wins a season and that’s right in line with what the projections anticipate. If you can sign him for 3/$45MM, you’ll be perfectly happy.

At 4/$80MM, you’d start to fret. You need something like 11-12 wins over four years to make that work and that’s more like 3-4 wins a season, which is pushing what he can provide as a DH. On balance, once you factor in the draft pick loss, Martinez is going to make more money than he’s worth over the next three or four seasons in all likelihood.

If you’re trading completely liquid and fungible assets, you’d let him walk. There’s just no reason to make a bet that’s almost sure to return less than you invest. But the market for baseball players is slightly more complicated. Yes, the Tigers will likely pay Martinez more per win than the average price of a win over his deal, but the Tigers are also very interested in the acquisition of wins, period. They don’t have the choice to do nothing and achieve their goals. They either have to pay Martinez at a loss or find some other way to approximate his value for less. They, presumably, are not interested in letting 3-4 wins walk off their roster. Especially with Cabrera’s April in jeopardy and almost no chance of a complete repeat from JD Martinez.

The Tigers need a player of Martinez’s caliber. Or they need production matching what he brings. Can they find it elsewhere, or must they take the plunge?

The team is in a rough place, as their current roster is projected for a roughly .500 record for 2015. This is of course coming prior to any offseason moves, but they need to find 8-10 wins of real value and some protection for injuries they’re likely to incur. They’re in a position to add an outfielder, a DH, and some relief pitching. The NED plan calls for Peter Bourjos, Nick Markakis, VMart, and a slew of unsexy relievers. That probably gets you to your 8-10 wins.

If the Tigers don’t get Martinez, can they find someone else to fill the DH role who can match the production he brings? The Tigers only real options, holding everything else equal, would be to acquire Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, or Chase Headley and shuffle the roster in order to fit them in. Maybe you could get close enough with Adam LaRoche, but that likely requires moving Cabrera to DH and he probably won’t be receptive to that idea.

If we’re talking free agents, the there just isn’t a way to fill Martinez’s void at a lower cost given the Tigers current roster. Allen Craig, Yoenis Cespedes, one of the Dodgers, or Evan Gattis could be had on the market, and Billy Butler could come via free agency, but there’s a talent cost to acquire those players via trade. There’s potential, but nothing very attractive given the various warts.

In reality, Martinez is the player the Tigers need. There are other players that get the Tigers the requisite wins, but not really any that are obviously cheaper than Martinez and none with the side benefits he brings to the table.

Additionally, the Tigers have a slight financial edge in that they would only lose the compensation pick if they sign him, rather than a first round pick. This probably offers the Tigers an advantage of somewhere between $3 million and $10 million depending on the teams they’re competing with. Which is another key point. Who is in on VMart?

We know the Mariners and Blue Jays are in. The White Sox are likely as well. Texas? Houston? Perhaps. But no one else really makes sense. There’s no fit in New York or Boston for sure. Baltimore is probably thinking Cruz or bust on the DH. Tampa can’t pay him. Cleveland and Kansas City probably can’t afford him. Minnesota doesn’t really have a reason.

The Angels could, but they’re more in need of pitching and have two big contracts out to aging players already. That only leaves Oakland, who probably can’t pay him or use him in their system. So that’s three others for sure and maybe five total. There’s no NL market.

I know everyone is talking about $75 million or more, but I’m not sure it gets there. Three of those clubs have protected picks, which matters, but I’m not convinced the bidding gets quite so high. Are the Astros really ready to invest in a 36 year old DH? Do the Rangers want to block Fielder and Choo from taking turns at DH?

The Tigers are going to have to pay a little more than they should to get Martinez, but there’s not an obvious path back to 90 wins without him that’s much cheaper. It’s always possible, but it would need to be very creative. The Tigers like their stars. They like sluggers and forgo defense. Martinez makes sense, even if there’s a tax for their lifestyle choices coming due.

I won’t go so far as to say they must sign him or that they will, but it makes plenty of sense and they’re the best fit on paper for each other. Martinez is a joy to watch and until the hot stove heats up, we’ll have to leave it at that.

Miguel Cabrera: A GIFGRAPHS Analysis

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Miguel Cabrera started his 2014 season in style by signing a massive contract extension that will keep him in Detroit through the end at least one additional presidential administration and millions of Hot-N-Ready’s. He was coming off back to back M”V”P awards and four straight 6+ win seasons. He probably wasn’t the best player in the game, but he was very close. He was also recovering from offseason surgery to repair what ailed him down the stretch in 2013, so there were some questions about his overall performance.

And we got some pretty weird answers through the year. While I don’t ever want to make too much of arbitrary end points or splits, I think carving his season into months is an easy way to demonstrate the year he had. Cabrera had two of his best offensive months as a big leaguer and a couple of his worst all in the same season.

image (1)

April and August were rough months for the slugger and May and September were among the very best. The June-July window was below average, but not to the degree that we would notice if not for the other extremes. You can take a look at his ten full seasons prior to 2014 and his monthly highs and lows in this chart to see exactly how he stacked up.

For such a consistent offensive performer, Cabrera had a wildly inconsistent season. We know that there were underlying injuries driving this train, but I do have to say that the final month is pretty interesting. You can look at the rest of the season and say, Cabrera got hurt in June and it really affected him into August. You’re not shocked by a comeback, but such a massive one is pretty odd. Probably just a touch of sample size and regression to the mean, but the recovery itself was awful fast.

Here’s how he looked in August:

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Now September:

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There’s no perfect way to visually compare the way a player was swinging over long periods of time, but I think these two swings represent the issues well enough. Watch each GIF three times. Watch his arms. Watch the rotation of his upper body. Watch his legs. Also, for fun, watch how long it takes him to get down the line the first time.

Cabrera is a gifted hitter, but he’s clearly vulnerable to injuries at this point in his career. You don’t have to worry much about him losing the gift next year, but you absolutely need to worry about his health.

Ian Kinsler: The GIFGRAPH Analysis

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Today we’re kicking off a new series for the offseason that allows us to look back a player’s 2014 season and then ahead at their 2015. The series is called GIFGRAPH, as it will feature one GIF and one GRAPH that captures the player’s season and their value to the team. The series will feature all players who will figure prominently on the 2014 and 2015 clubs.


It’s hard to say for sure whether the Prince Fielder or Doug Fister deal made bigger news last winter, but that’s a silly question to spend lots of time trying to answer. It’s clear that the Tigers came away massive winners in the first deal, at least as it pertains to 2014, and likely as it pertains to everything that will ever happen to the franchise forever and ever. “Won the trade,” is how the phrase goes.

But what was it that made Kinsler so useful to the club? Obviously, Fielder’s injury made it a decisive win, but let’s assume we live in a world in which Fielder performed as advertised and gave the Rangers 3-4 wins of value thanks to a powerful left-handed bat. How did Kinsler make such an impact?

Sure, he was a solid offensive performer (102 wRC+), but he’d been just about this good for the last couple of years and Prince would obviously have been better if healthy.  Two things stand out about Kinsler’s 2014 season. The first was his terrific base running (9.1 BsR), but the second, and our focus here, was his superb defense at the keystone.

Kinsler is an average hitter, but with some good base running chops and durability, you know you’re getting a solid major league player. What the Tigers didn’t count on, to this degree, was how his defense would vault him from good player that is cheaper than Fielder and allows Cabrera to play first to one of the most valuable players in the game. His defense was simply terrific.

He’s had these seasons before, with 3-4 great years by DRS and 2 great years by UZR entering the season, but you don’t always expect it to continue into a player’s thirties, especially once you get him around the defense allergic Tigers.

But he did. Kinsler posted a 13 UZR and 20 DRS at 2B, nearly winning the Fielding Bible award for the best glove at the position. He helped the Tigers pitchers worry less above ground balls, especially Porcello, and produced 1-2 wins of value for the Tigers above average at the position.

He did so by offering range at the position and solid glovework, something Infante was okay at and they couldn’t find in a post-Polanco world, otherwise.

It looked like this:

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Second angle!

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Most interestingly, one could argue that Kinsler had the best defensive season at the position for a Tiger in the modern statistical era (2003-present). There’s not a ton of great competition, but the Tigers brought in the best defender they’ve had at the position, potentially, since Dombrowski took over more than a decade ago.

KinslerGRAPH

Kinsler’s 5.5 WAR season was a big reason the Tigers made it to the post-season and while the projections don’t expect another dazzling defensive year, they like his skill set enough to expect 3.8 WAR for 2015.

The Tigers won the trade.

Tigers Breakup With Dirks Via Text Message, Basically

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Most of the Tigers news on Friday was expected and unsurprising. Soria got his option ($7.5 million). Scherzer and Martinez got their qualifying offers (1 year, $15 million). They sent Kelly and Reed to Toledo, reinstated the DL guys, let Pat McCoy disappear on waivers. It was all pretty routine except for two weird things.

First, they added Wyton Bernard to the 40 man roster because…well, who knows? Mark Anderson had this to say:

Second, and of more consequence, the Tigers let Dirks go to the Blue Jays on waivers. This move indicates that the Tigers’ preference was to option Dirks to Toledo to make room on the 40-man roster for the offseason, but that they preferred losing him rather than letting him clog up a roster spot. Which is kind of crazy considering the 40-man roster isn’t full and has plenty of less important names on it. The indication is clearly that the Tigers aren’t very excited about Dirks’ future.

If that’s because his back is bad shape and he might never play again, this is all academic. But if the doctors think he will recover, this is a very silly move of moderate consequence.

What’s weird about this move (or maybe not weird at all) is that Dirks is exactly the kind of player the Tigers needed in 2014. He’s a competent hitter with a solid glove in the outfield. You know how many solid gloves they had in the outfield once Jackson was gone? None. You know how many pinch hitters they had on the bench as capable as Dirks? None.

A month ago, a healthy Dirks would have had meaningful PAs in a playoff series and now he’s given away for nothing. I don’t mean to suggest Dirks is a star player or that losing him means the end of the 2015 World Series dream, but he’s the kind of depth the team needs desperately and they had him sitting right there.

In 1063 career PA he has a 103 wRC+ and 3.4 fWAR. He’s projected to hit right about that well in 2015 and his glove has been improving over his career.  Dirks is an average to slightly above average base runner with an average to above average glove in a corner who could potentially serve as a league average hitter without a massive platoon split. If healthy, this is an MLB starter and if somewhat banged up, he’s a super valuable bench player.

And the Tigers don’t want him. Maybe he’s badly hurt and the Blue Jays are just taking a low stakes gamble. But if he’s not, this is a silly decision. The Tigers need to be signing players like Dirks this winter, not purging their ranks of them. Literally, Ezequiel Carerra is still on the roster and Dirks is not.

Not devastating, but not exactly a good start.

Tigers Pitching Projections, 2014 and 2015

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

A little over a week ago, we took a look back at the 2014 Steamer Projections for the Tigers hitters and then took an early look ahead at 2015 for the same group. We learned that while individuals beat or failed to reach their individual expectations, the team performed exactly as expected at the plate. We also learned that the Martinez boys legitimately seem to have improved. Today, let’s look at the pitching crop.

This one is a bit more difficult because there’s more movement on the roster, so we’ll be looking at the significant pitches, either because of their name value or their innings. Let’s start by comparing the 2014 projections with their performance.

Player 2014 proj ERA 2014 ERA Diff
Blaine Hardy 5.03 2.54 -2.49
Al Alburquerque 3.36 2.51 -0.85
Kyle Lobstein 5.01 4.35 -0.66
Rick Porcello 3.95 3.43 -0.52
Joba Chamberlain 3.92 3.57 -0.35
Anibal Sanchez 3.62 3.43 -0.19
Max Scherzer 3.29 3.15 -0.14
Drew Smyly 3.92 3.93 0.01
Phil Coke 3.82 3.88 0.06
Evan Reed 4.09 4.18 0.09
David Price 3.19 3.59 0.40
Justin Verlander 3.46 4.54 1.08
Ian Krol 3.69 4.96 1.27
Joe Nathan 3.03 4.81 1.78
Robbie Ray 5.16 8.16 3.00

Take note of a couple of things. First of all, the ERA listed for Price is as a Tiger. His season ERA was 3.26. These are the pitchers who threw 30 innings with the club or more and their stats as Tigers. The Tigers got some nice ERA improvements and some disasters. Let’s peak at FIP:

Player 2014 proj FIP 2014 FIP Diff
Blaine Hardy 5.07 3.49 -1.58
Kyle Lobstein 4.98 3.82 -1.16
David Price 3.31 2.44 -0.87
Anibal Sanchez 3.51 2.71 -0.80
Joba Chamberlain 3.90 3.16 -0.74
Max Scherzer 3.45 2.85 -0.60
Evan Reed 4.07 3.72 -0.35
Rick Porcello 3.67 3.67 0.00
Robbie Ray 5.19 5.23 0.04
Justin Verlander 3.68 3.74 0.06
Drew Smyly 4.02 4.08 0.06
Phil Coke 3.88 3.98 0.10
Al Alburquerque 3.32 3.78 0.46
Joe Nathan 3.43 3.94 0.51
Ian Krol 3.97 5.18 1.21

Some players did very well, many did about as expected and about three really blew it. When we take these specific pitchers and project the total ERA and FIP, they were supposed to have a 3.70 ERA and 3.75 FIP and wound up with a 3.80 ERA and 3.49 FIP. In other words, the bad Tigers defense played a bit of a role in the overall pitching line. By strikeouts, walks, and home runs, they did better than expected. By earned runs, a bit worse.

None of this is terribly surprising, but let’s also take a peak at the 2014 projections next to the ones for 2015 to see who the system thinks improved the most in during the last year.

Player 2014 proj ERA 2015 proj ERA Diff
Blaine Hardy 5.03 3.83 -1.20
Anibal Sanchez 3.62 2.80 -0.82
Kyle Ryan 5.33 4.65 -0.68
Chad Smith 4.84 4.31 -0.53
Joakim Soria 3.61 3.26 -0.35
Melvin Mercedes 5.15 4.81 -0.34
Drew VerHagen 5.81 5.50 -0.31
Evan Reed 4.09 3.83 -0.26
Robbie Ray 5.16 5.09 -0.07
Kyle Lobstein 5.01 4.94 -0.07
Joba Chamberlain 3.92 3.89 -0.03
Phil Coke 3.82 3.80 -0.02
Max Scherzer 3.29 3.36 0.07
David Price 3.19 3.28 0.09
Ian Krol 3.69 3.78 0.09
Al Alburquerque 3.36 3.54 0.18
Rick Porcello 3.95 4.21 0.26
Luke Putkonen 4.12 4.46 0.34
Jim Johnson 3.40 4.03 0.63
Justin Verlander 3.46 4.11 0.65
Joe Nathan 3.03 3.69 0.66

There’s a pretty typical ERA spread, but Steamer doesn’t love the idea of Verlander or Nathan much at all. FIP?

Player 2014 proj FIP 2015 proj FIP Diff
Blaine Hardy 5.07 3.97 -1.10
Kyle Ryan 5.30 4.48 -0.82
Anibal Sanchez 3.51 2.81 -0.70
Chad Smith 4.89 4.35 -0.54
Melvin Mercedes 5.23 4.76 -0.47
Drew VerHagen 5.71 5.27 -0.44
Joakim Soria 3.82 3.45 -0.37
Evan Reed 4.07 3.71 -0.36
Kyle Lobstein 4.98 4.73 -0.25
Joba Chamberlain 3.90 3.72 -0.18
Phil Coke 3.88 3.70 -0.18
Robbie Ray 5.19 5.09 -0.10
David Price 3.31 3.22 -0.09
Max Scherzer 3.45 3.41 -0.04
Ian Krol 3.97 3.94 -0.03
Al Alburquerque 3.32 3.47 0.15
Rick Porcello 3.67 3.84 0.17
Luke Putkonen 4.04 4.33 0.29
Joe Nathan 3.43 3.84 0.41
Justin Verlander 3.68 4.17 0.49
Jim Johnson 3.36 3.88 0.52

Basically the same overall story.

The long and short? The Tigers pitchers performed below their expected ERA and above their expected FIP. For next year, there are some encouraging projections and some troublesome ones. There’s nothing super ground breaking here, but we now have a pretty good sense of the starting point for the club as we think about the offseason.

How The Tigers Could Rebuild

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Last week, we rolled out the official New English D endorsed plan for the Tigers offseason and it was a plan predicated on the fact that the Tigers want to contend again in 2015 without completely mortgaging hope for some success later in the decade. It wasn’t the sexiest plan, but I think it made the team better and was a realistic path to a quality roster that cost a reasonable sum of cash. But the assumption that they should try to contend in 2015 is debatable in the first place, so let’s try something else.

Let’s consider the alternative. What if the Tigers sat down, looked at the payroll, and decided there’s no room to go up and there’s no way to make it work at the current level for this year? There’s an opportunity to think about 2016 rather than 2015. What might that look like?

There are few obvious steps. First, you extend a qualifying offer to Victor Martinez and let him walk for anything more than a steal. Then you offer up Rick Porcello and David Price to the highest bidder. Price nabbed the Rays a solid return on July 31 and while there’s two fewer months of him to trade, the Tigers can also shop him to 20 clubs instead of 5. Porcello remains young and cheap as far as available starters go and it wouldn’t be that hard for a team to trade for him with the plan to extend him. He wouldn’t fetch Byron Buxton or anything, but a good team would deal a player with a quality MLB projection to pick up a mid rotation starter making ~$12 million at age 26.

Right there, you’re talking about a draft pick and three to four useful prospects that would arrive for the simple cost of punting on 2015. The Tigers could still sign Price or Porcello after next year if they really wanted to and they’d restock their system in a meaningful way. Again, we’re not expecting elite prospects, but getting 75% of Smyly-Franklin-Adames for Price would go a long way toward helping the future of the club.

Next, the Tigers should pick up Joakim Soria’s option and flip him to a team in need of relief help. Soria wasn’t great for the Tigers down the stretch but he has a good track record and it’s hard to find potentially ace relievers on one year deals. He won’t bring back a Thompson-Knebel combo, but if the Tigers ate a few million, he might get them half that.

While Joe Nathan didn’t really enhance his value in 2014, if the Tigers sit on the 2015 salary, they’ll find someone who will part with a talented prospect who needs a lot of work. Rajai Davis comes next. He’s not a star, but for $5 million he’s worth having and the Tigers could get something useful in return.

There aren’t any obvious pieces to sell off beyond those, but JD Martinez would present an interesting case. Certainly he won’t hit like Miguel Cabrera for the next three years, but if you can find a buyer who thinks he’ll be more like a .360 wOBA guy than a .340 wOBA guy, you might decide it’s a deal worth making. People are obsessed with right handed power and he has that in spades. It’s not a market I can read very well, but it’s one you have to explore.

So combine the unmentioned QO to Scherzer, QO to VMart, trade of Price, Porcello, Soria, Nathan, Davis, and JD Martinez and you could wind up with 5-6 actual prospects and a couple of potentially useful spare pieces. The Tigers could afford to eat some salary in exchange for better players and might wind up revamping their system in the span of a year. You aren’t going to net great players in any trades, but it only takes one or two good gambles to turn things around.

If given the choice, I’d prefer the smart approach to improving for 2015, but the team could be an interesting position to sell on 2015 if they wanted to take things in that direction. The fans would be upset, but Dombrowski (Fister aside) typically makes good trades and the team needs to start thinking about the long term at some point in the next couple of seasons.

This won’t happen, I suspect, because the owner won’t go for it and the fans wouldn’t like it. But there’s a decent case to be made that the Tigers could rebuild pretty quickly if they wanted to. It would hurt for a season, but it might also make sense in the long run.

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