The Tigers’ Buy/Sell Decision

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Three weeks from today, MLB teams have to decide if they’re in or out. That’s an oversimplification, but it’s essentially correct. The non-waiver deadline is the gut-check moment of the season, as it’s the last day you can make trades without the convoluted waiver process getting in the way. Three weeks from today, the Tigers have to decide how much they believe in their 2015 chances.

The topic is bubbling up now as we approach the halfway mark, so let’s consider the reality of the situation. This is a slightly above average club playing like an average one. They are on pace for 84 wins and projected for about 82. They’ve scored 4.54 R/G and allowed 4.58 R/G. The first is very good and the second is very bad. The projected difference is about the same. By BaseRuns, they should be scoring a touch more (double plays!) and allowing a touch more (very slightly). Basically, these are the Tigers. Offense = good, run prevention = bad.

This is the reality of the 2015 Tigers on July 10.

So what is the club to do? What are their options? They can do everything they can to win in 2015, they can admit 2015 is over and sell the pieces that won’t be back, or they can stand pat and hope for the best. I don’t have an opinion on the final decision because the next three weeks matter a whole lot. If they play very well, they’ll be close enough to go for it. If they play poorly, it’s over and they should sell. It’s that hazy middle ground that’s going to be the problem. If they win 10 of their next 15, they’re going to be buyers. If they lose 10 of their next 15, they’ll likely sell.

The decision in between those marks is based on a couple factors. First, the moves of other clubs. If the Royals find a way to get Hamels and Tulo (or something of a significant nature), then the Tigers should probably be less inclined to buy. They needs to add about 5-7 wins to their team over half a season to get into wild card territory and maybe a couple more to catch the Royals. That’s incredibly hard to do. Almost impossible if the Royals also put their foot on the gas.

Second, it depends on the nature of the market. Imagine everything about the AL is the same, but for some reason the NL Central teams go crazy trying to outbid each other for pitching and the value of David Price on the trade market shoots up. The Tigers should be more willing to sell, all else equal, if the value they can get back goes up. On the other side, if the market is flooded and the value of the trade goes down, they should be more likely to hold.

The corollary to this is how much the Tigers would have to spend to upgrade their team in a meaningful way. Let’s say they need 5 wins added to make the wild card game. If adding those wins is expensive, it decreases their desire to go for it.

A true talent 83 win Tigers team wants to add 5-6 wins, but they don’t do it in a vacuum. They compare the cost of those wins to the potential benefit and then they do the same for the cost-benefit for selling off Price, Cespedes, Soria, Simon(?), and Avila.

Buy = Probability of Success*Value of Success – Cost of Buying

Sell = Net Value of Sale 

Buy when Buy > Sell, Sell when Sell > Buy

You don’t decide to buy or sell and then chart a course, you compare all the possible courses and pick one.

Today, I’d sell, but a lot can change between now and July 31. The Tigers could play better or another key Royal could get hurt. Maybe Kershaw goes down and the Dodgers get extra desperate for a starter. There’s no reason to commit too early.

Additionally, people are wondering how much you can get for the pieces, especially Price, given that he’s a year removed from a seemingly comparable deadline year. Of course the return is lower for Price now, but the Tigers used him for a year and are now squeezing the remaining value out of him before free agency. Of course they aren’t going to replace the Smyly/Jackson/Adames value. That would be silly.

But the Red Sox got Cespedes for half a year and Porcello for a full one in exchange for two plus months of Jon Lester who is older and slightly worse. There is a lot of value in a David Price deal, especially if the Tigers go ahead and eat the salary.

I’m not saying they should sell, but you have to be honest with yourself about the probability that buying pays off. They would have to acquire a decent amount of talent in order to become a serious threat and there isn’t a lot of prospect talent to use to make those gains. It’s not unfeasible, but it’s a stretch. And it might not work. If you sell, you keep all the prospects and get some stuff back in return. Maybe those pieces don’t work out, but the odds that keeping Price and Cespedes get the Tigers to a World Series are very low and then they’re gone (although Price nets a pick).

You can’t win every year. There’s nothing wrong with punting in order to improve your field position for 2016. There’s three weeks of baseball left before the decision is forced, and the Tigers and their fans should be mentally prepared for the first sale in five years. If it happens, it won’t be because they made a bad decision in July, it’s because they made questionable ones last December.

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4 responses

  1. Nice article–thanks! Given the Royals appear to be the only legitimate ‘powerful’ team in the AL this year (I’m still not sold on the Astros), the playoffs really do seem up for grabs –thereby likely keeping the Tigers pat or buying? If there were several powerhouses, I imagine that would increase the chances of ‘selling’.

  2. “There’s no reason to commit too early…” What a shame that this didn’t occur to them when they re-upped Miggy with more than a season left on his contract. He hasn’t had a healthy season since.

    1. I said that very thing when they signed him!

  3. […] talked about the looming buy/sell decision, but I think it might be useful to reflect on the baseball we’ve seen so far. What do we know […]

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