Thursday, August 20, 2009

Not a Fan of Consolation Prizes

I’m going to lead off this post by saying something that I’ve never said before: I think the Tigers should’ve traded for Adam Dunn. Shocking, I know. You might remember a post from two months ago that I titled, “Five Prescriptions for an Anemic Offense.” At the time, it appeared as though the Tigers would need to add a major bat to stave off the White Sox and Twins for the Central Division Title. The goal of that post was to identify players who the Tigers had a legitimate chance of acquiring. Trading isn’t easy. In the NBA, the Lakers can say to the Grizzlies, “I’ll give you nothing for Pau Gasol” and get "sounds great!" as a response. That doesn’t work in MLB. A number of factors need to be present to make a trade without getting abused by an opportunistic GM. First, you have to trade with a team that has no chance of making the playoffs. Second, the salary has to be reasonable. Third, the contract should preferably expire within the next 1.5 years. Fourth, the player should be on the back nine of his prime. Those aren’t stone cold rules to follow; but, for the most part, they are the characteristics of a fair, mid-season trade. From that criteria, I came up with five names. If you’ve read anything that I’ve written in the past two months, I don’t have to tell you who #1 was. Number two was Matt Holliday who the Tigers made a run at only to be outbid by the Cardinals. Number three was—drumroll, please—Aubrey Huff.

If the Tigers move Joel Zumaya to the starting rotation, I’m going to have to consider the possibility that Dave Dombrowski is one of my four readers. Three years ago, I wrote that the Tigers should trade for Sean Casey and, for better or worse, it happened. A little less than three years ago I suggested that the Tigers consider Gary Sheffield and they did. This time we agreed on Aubrey Huff. That isn’t to say that I’m happy the Tigers got Huff. Clearly, there is a huge cutoff between the booming bats of Dunn and Holliday and the solid but inconsistent stick that Huff carries around. Not getting either Dunn or Holliday was failure, in my opinion. I have feared all season that whether the Tigers make the playoffs or not relies solely on DD’s ability to bring an elite bat to Detroit. Knowing the opportunity for both Dunn and Holliday was there, not getting either was akin to being OK with missing the playoffs. To be fair, you can fail with a 59 or you can fail with a zero. In my opinion, Huff was the equivalent of failing with a 59. Don't get me wrong, the Huff acquisition on its own merit deserves a much better score--I'd say at least an 80--but I am grading on a heavy curve based on what the Tigers could've gotten had they understood how fickle the value of "top prospects" are.

Since my opinion on Huff is the same now as it was two months ago, I’ll just quote myself:

“Huff has “Renteria Syndrome” which is a condition that spawns rapid fluctuations of inconsistency. Huff was a superstar last season with Baltimore when he hammered the American League—not the least of which was the Tigers—for 32 home runs and 108 RBIs. He makes just $8 million and he is in the last year of his contract. The Orioles have no chance in the stacked AL East. Huff has struggled this year with an OPS+ of 94 through 62 games. However, he would come cheap and he would give Miguel Cabrera some protection. Part of the gamble on Huff would be the hope that he would regain some of his ’08 form. If he could put up anything close to that, the Tigers would likely see a vast improvement in offensive production. Huff also has the added bonus of being a left-handed bat which is something the Tigers have needed since 1842—or thereabouts. “

So, yeah. Huff won’t bring a World Series to Detroit. However, it’s not crazy to think that—in a race as tightly contested as the AL Central has been all season—Huff could (triple special emphasis on "could") bring a Central Division Title to Detroit. If the Tigers weren’t going to make a trade before the trade deadline, then I think grabbing Huff was about the best they could’ve done. Anyone worth a damn would’ve been claimed on waivers (see; Alex Rios). Like Jarrod Washburn, Huff has two months left on his contract and came at a cheap price. Brett Jacobson—the lefty reliever the Tigers parted with to get Huff—was among the top 15 prospects in the organization according to me but he was stuck behind eleventy hundred other relievers who have equal to or greater potential. Huff basically cost nothing. It’s interesting to think you can get Aubrey Huff for next to nothing but can’t get Adam Dunn for a totally reasonable group of prospects. Nonetheless, DD made the best move he could’ve made after the deadline and deserves credit for that. Considering the Tigers inked three pivotal prospects from their 2009 draft just before the deadline to sign expired, this has to be considered a good week for the organization. The three signees—Jacob Turner, Andrew Oliver, and Daniel Fields—won’t help the Tigers this season but they will immediately bolster the credibility of the farm system and, thus, give the Tigers more ammunition to make a Miguel Cabrera-type addition down the road. In the meantime, Aubrey Huff is the only help the team is getting. Early returns aren't favorable but I think there is a perfectly good explanation for that. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't feel a lot better if he grew his goatee back. Unfortunately, Baseball-Reference doesn’t have player splits for different types of facial hair but, from what I’ve noticed, Huff is a much better hitter with a goatee.

Bottom line: Having an adequate lefty bat in the middle of the lineup is a welcome addition. The AL Central is almost certainly going down to the wire and the Tigers chances of hanging on are better now, than they were four days ago. The good news is that the Tigers are still 1.5 games ahead of the White Sox. The bad news is that the Tigers are only 1.5 games ahead of the White Sox. Giddy up!


Michael C said...

Sheesh, they call themselves a reputable baseball statistics site and they don't even have facial hair splits?!
You said you'd be excited if we got Giambi, your 5th option, and implied you'd be a lot more excited if we got Huff. Now it seems like you don't think he'll be enough?
Personally I think it was enough to put us over the top and I see us as the clear favorites in the division. I don't see us competing well with the Red Sox or Yankees in a playoff series, but then again when you're rolling out Verlander, Jackson, Washburn, or Porcello every night upsets can happen.

Jake said...

Michael C.,

A couple clarifications are in order…

I was happy to hear that we acquired Huff. It was a good move. He makes the Tigers better for sure. However, knowing how bad (and brittle) the offense is and that at some point the Tigers will need to bring in an elite bat, I can’t be happy that they missed out on Dunn or even Holliday. The playoffs aren’t an every year luxury for the Tigers. This is the second realistic chance they’ve had at making the playoffs since 1987. It would’ve been nice to see DD make a move that makes the Tigers a big-time playa in this thing. That’s why I don’t sound thrilled with the Huff acquisition. It was a very good move considering the trade deadline had passed.

As for Giambi, he would’ve been free. Even before the A’s released him, we could’ve gotten him for a pile of scrap metal and four doughnuts. At the time, he was still drawing walks with consistency and would’ve been a left-handed bat. The entire argument for him was that it would’ve cost nothing and he could’ve been released if/when he stunk. The difference between Huff and Giambi is—and was at the time—the difference between Amy Winehouse and Megan Fox. In other words, there’s no comparison. So, yeah, in that respect it’s a huge addition.

I hope you’re right about Huff being the difference in the Division. I agree that there’s a pretty good chance that he might be. My problem is that Huff does nothing to address the vast differences between the Tigers and the Yankees, Angels, and Red Sox. I just don’t understand holding on to prospects when the discrepancy is obviously substantial. We could’ve released Mags, traded Casey Crosby and a few prospects for Dunn. The monetary difference would be a net of $3 million dollars so that move actually would’ve helped the Tigers financially. It’s just a frustrating subject for me which is probably why I’m only doing basic tumbles over the Huff trade instead of backflips.

Michael C said...

Yeah, but you really don't know what it would've taken to get Dunn. You speculated on the price and then kind of bashed Dombrowski for not making the trade, but you really don't know if the deal was there to do.

Maybe Huff was the best we could do. At least we got a pretty good option (and one that can even spell Inge).

Jake said...

We must have different definitions of "bash." Dunn plays for a terrible franchise that is/was in a front office flux. They won't be winning anything this year or next year (when Dunn's contract expires). He will never be worth more than he was at the trade deadline. It would've been borderline negligent for the Nats to pass up a Crosby, Perry, Wilkin Ramirez offer or something like that.

Of course, I wasn't in the meetings or privy to the negotiations so I don't know for sure but nobody ever knows anything for sure. If that was the litmus test for having an opinion, then nobody would ever be able to have an opinion because we're never privy to the negotiations. I get the feeling that not wanting to part with Casey Crosby and Ryan Perry cost the Tigers a shot at Dunn or Holliday. That's not fact but it's an educated guess.

If the Nats said, "I don't care if you offer us the ghosts of Ty Cobb an Hank Greenberg, we're not trading Dunn" and the Cards said something similar, then Huff was probably the best we could've done. He was #3 on my "feasible acquisitions list" for a reason. I guess I would feel a lot better if I knew why Dunn or Holliday isn't in a Tigers uniform as they try to make the playoffs for the 2nd time in 22 years. If there was ever a time to pay the price for a bona fide bat, now is it. Take care!

Michael C said...

Just saying, the Nationals said Dunn wasn't available. Maybe they said they needed Porcello. Or yes, maybe they insisted on Perry, Crosby, and Ramirez and Dombrowski didn't want to send our prospect system back to the Randy Smith days for a 30 year old guy with 1 year left on his contract.

Prospects are high risk, yes, but if you keep getting rid of all of your top prospects you'll never develop anyone good. That works for the mega-rich Yankees (kinda at least ... been a while since they've won a World Series), but I think cheap highly likely to succeed high ceiling guys like Porcello and Perry are priceless to the Tigers. Plus on the occasion that the top prospects do hit you get a lot more production out of the 20 year old star than the older free agent signees that may just give you 2-3 years of top notch production and then be vastly overpaid (ala Magglio), if that (ala Renteria / Juan Gonzalez).

We may be able to sign an elite bat in the off-season without blowing all of our top prospects, and as I said I think we're easily the favorite to win the Central with Huff (and probably were even before the trade as I think the other teams in this division are more flawed), so I don't think its fair to say that not getting Dunn or Holliday is akin to being OK with missing the playoffs, nor do I think Dombrowski deserves a failing grade when he got your third best option for relatively little. Those were the "kind of bashing" comments I referred to.

By the way, I think its another matter entirely when you unload the farm for a young superstar like we did for Cabrera or like Boston did for Beckett. Even with how little you think of prospects value, you can see that maybe we'd be able to get a younger elite player for that type of package of our top prospects. Perry, Crosby, and Ramirez would near what we got Cabrera for and you can't compare Dunn's value at 30 years old to Cabrera's at 24.

Jake said...

In the last 25 years, how many above average hitters have the Tigers produced through the farm system? The answer is one: Curtis Granderson. If the Tigers want an elite bat, let alone an above average one, they have to pay for one. Dave Dombrowski knows this which is why his strategy is to load the farm system with pitching prospects to be able to trade for big league hitters. Obviously, you can’t trade all of your pitching prospects. However, the Tigers have a top three rotation of JV, E-Jax, and Porcello. They are 26, 25, and 20. Now they’ve got Jacob Turner and Andrew Oliver entering the system. They drafted a boatload of power relievers in the ’08 draft and many are thriving. If there is one thing the Tigers are not short on, it’s pitching prospects. That is by design.

Let’s look at that package that I threw out their in my last comment that included Casey Crosby, Ryan Perry, and Wilkin Ramirez.

Wilkin Ramirez—Given the propensity—or lack thereof—of hitting prospects panning out, the Tigers should try to cash in on Ramirez like yesterday. Something has to go very wrong for him to have a future in Detroit. The Tigers have a horrible offense because the lineup is full of guys who don’t get on base. Miguel Cabrera is the only regular with an OBP above .345. This team needs patient hitters who can hit for power and get on base. The opposite of that is Wilkin Ramirez. His career OBP in the minors is .319!

Ryan Perry—The last thing the Tigers need is a pitcher with command problems. Perry has a lot of tools but locating is not one of them. If I’m a GM, my goal is to funnel out of the organization highly rated prospects who a). have command problems and b). don’t get on base. I’m pretty sure DD subscribes to that theory as well. It is very rare that a baseball player develops either command or plate discipline past his early 20’s. If you don’t have it, you’re not going to get it. That’s why Joel Zumaya continues to struggle. That’s why Matt Anderson—the #1 pick in the entire draft—never progressed beyond horrible. That’s why Curtis Granderson hasn’t taken the next step. Guys who have command and plate discipline, for the most part, have always had it. Perry will be a pretty good closer some day but even if he reaches his potential, the best case scenario is a closer with control issues. If Fernando Rodney or Todd Jones can be effective closers then losing Perry’s potential isn’t going to endanger the organization especially with guys like Robbie Weinhardt, Cody Satterwhite, Scott Green, Brayan Villareal, Tyler Stohr, and Anthony Shawler flourishing in the system.


Jake said...

Casey Crosby—The Tigers don’t lose anything by trading W. Ramirez. In fact, his only value right now, in my opinion, is as trade bait. Ryan Perry is a future closer. He’s unlikely to be a Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, or Jonathan Papelbon type closer because of his control. Plus, closers are nowhere near as important as top of the rotation starters or high OBP power hitters. Losing Perry wouldn’t be a huge deal. Losing Crosby, however, is big. He has electric stuff. He’s a big, power lefty. He is unquestionably an elite prospect. However, to get, you have to give. The Tigers got M. Cabrera for Cameron Maybin (low OBP guy) and Andrew Miller (command problem guy). That is a deal the Tigers should make ten out of ten times.

It is rare for the Tigers to be in a position to make the playoffs. It doesn’t happen very often. They need a major (I can’t emphasize major enough here) upgrade in the lineup. They need someone with off-the chart production. Otherwise, they have no chance of winning the World Series and just over a 50/50 chance of winning the division. This is the time, above all else, where you take your “top prospects” and their ridiculously small chance of panning out, and trade them for what you need. In my opinion, this really comes down to trading Casey Crosby for Adam Dunn. Considering the Tigers have a horrible offense, Dunn has an unbelievably reasonable salary, the Tigers are in a pennant race right now and not three years from now, the likelihood that the odds are against Crosby reaching his potential, and the rarity that is the Tigers challenging for a playoff spot in September, making that move is a no-brainer.

This strikes a chord with me because of how much an impact this move would’ve made for the Tigers not just this year but down the road. Even if Dunn didn't re-sign, he'd be on board for potentially two postseasons. However, I think the Tigers would have no problem re-signing him. With clueless GMs out there like J.P. Ricciardi sullying Dunn’s reputation, the market for him isn’t what you’d think for a top shelf player. He has never played for a playoff team in his life. He would relish the chance to play for a baseball city like Detroit with a contending team and a superstar like M. Cabrera to protect him. Dunn is a longterm solution. He’s only 29. Jim Thome will be 39 next week and he’s still toting around an .884 OPS. Dunn is the type of hitter who has a long shelf-life. The Tigers are set in the rotation for the foreseeable future. The combination of Miggy and Dunn to go with JV, E-Jax, and Porcello would be championship-caliber for quite a few years. I am frustrated because all of that was passed up because the Tigers didn’t want to part with Casey Crosby. The move also would’ve given DD a great excuse to send Mags to the curb. Instead, the Tigers will be on the hook for his $18 (net $15 million with buyout) next season. They have nothing coming off the payroll this year (the money saved by losing Polanco and Sheff’s contract will go to resigning JV and E-Jax) so they won’t be able to do anything noteworthy in the off-season. The offense will be a year older and a year worse next season. The Tigers were in perfect position to make a move. I don’t know what they’re waiting for. DD, if you’re out there and the Nats said it was Porcello or bust, please let me know so I can sleep easy at night!

Anyhow, I’ve written way too much here but I think this decision was franchise-shaping. It was a chance for the Tigers to take a step up the rung into the elite level of teams. I guess the good news is that we’ll probably be having a similar conversation about Dunn next season and then the following winter. Maybe he’ll eventually make his way to Detroit. Take it easy, Michael C.


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