Monthly Archives: November, 2014

Should The Tigers Trade A Starting Pitcher?

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

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.

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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.

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Thoughts On Nick Castellanos’ Future

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

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:

Screenshot 2014-11-28 at 4.14.32 PM

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.

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.

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