Why I’m Disappointed The Tigers Didn’t Sign Drew

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Given the responses I’ve had on Twitter today, and in the past when I’ve discussed the topic, I figured I’d use more than 140 characters to explain my view. It’s moot, now that Stephen Drew is going back to Boston on a one year deal, but it’s worth putting a bow on.

The Tigers window is now. Cabrera is going to get worse. Verlander is going to get worse. Scherzer is probably leaving. This core is never going to be in a better position to win a title. You have a few franchise caliber players, plus other good players like Martinez, Jackson, Kinsler, Sanchez, and Porcello. You have Avila and Castellanos. The division isn’t good. The time to strike is now. They’ve won three straight divisions and came up short in October three times.

Iglesias is out for the year, almost certainly. Currently, the Tigers are playing Andrew Romine and Danny Worth. Collectively, Tigers shortstops have a 29 wRC+. That’s the worst offense from SS since 2002, at least. Bringing in Drew isn’t just a small upgrade over a below average player. Bringing in Drew installs a slightly above average shortstop in place of the worst shortstop tandem in baseball.

Over the course of the regular season, the Tigers probably don’t need Drew. They probably win the division without him. Probably. But this isn’t about winning a division title, it’s about fielding the best possible team in October. The postseason is a crapshoot, but the 1927 Yankees beat the 2009 Twins most of the time in a short series. The best team doesn’t always win, but you’d still rather be the better team.

Ideally, the Tigers probably would have preferred to hold down the fort until after the draft and get him for only the salary and not the draft pick. If they were going to give up the draft pick, they would have done it in March when they could have gotten Drew on the field for a full season.

So the choice was this:

  1. Sign Drew in March, $14 million/Draft Pick
  2. Sign Drew in June, $8 million
  3. Do something else

The variables are this:

  1. Salary
  2. Value of Draft Pick
  3. Drew’s value
  4. Replacement’s value

The salary is pretty well understood, so we don’t have to argue about that. The value of the pick is probably in the $7-10 million range. Drew is somewhere between 2.5 and 3 wins over a full season. Romine and Worth are probably 0.5 WAR if we’re being generous. So the Tigers are buying two wins for about $20 million in condition #1. In condition #2, you’re getting one win for $8 million. In condition #3, you’re getting 0.5 wins for $1 million. Obviously, #2 is the best option. You want his value during a half season and October for only a few million. The question is about paying the premium or doing nothing.

Of course going with the replacements is a better value, but not everything is about good value. I don’t care if the Tigers are getting the best bang for their buck. I care if they win more than the rest of the league and that the dollars they spend now don’t cost them and keep them from making upgrades in the future. You don’t win a title for having the best $/WAR. Having a good $/WAR helps you win a title. You can’t be a slave to every million.

Drew makes them better, period. Drew is more expensive than Romine/Worth, period. It’s a question of how much you care about the wins today compared to the wins you care about four years from now. I don’t know if the Tigers are going to be good four years from now, but I’m positive that they are good right now. The draft pick is an asset, but the draft pick isn’t a blue chip, can’t miss prospect. The average 23rd pick usually doesn’t have a big major league impact. Drew could push the Tigers over the top this year.

He’s a very good player and they are currently using very bad shortstops. It would be costly to upgrade, but the cost isn’t that crazy. You’re probably paying $9 to $10 million per win if you sign Drew, compared to the current league average of $6-7 million. So what? That improvement from Romine to Drew could be the difference between a championship and another October disappointment. We can’t predict the future very well, but I’d rather not play the A’s in the ALCS with an automatic out in the lineup just because we didn’t want to lose a draft pick.

Young players are important, but the Tigers don’t have an awesome history developing their own talent. Either the players fade or they trade them for big league talent. That’s what this is. You’re trading a prospect you’ve never met for an upgrade right now.

I understand the other side of the argument. You shouldn’t ignore the long term costs of your decisions. I just think this is a good time to weigh the present more heavily than the future. Maybe Suarez comes up and makes up the difference. Maybe they make a clever trade. Not trading for Drew isn’t a mistake in and of itself. The mistake would be to do nothing at all. I’m perfectly fine with trading a mid-level prospect for Jimmy Rollins. But you can’t play Romine for 450 at bats, and especially not in October. Drew was the easiest way to upgrade a position that needs to be upgraded. Now is the time to go for it.

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