Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The GM of infinite mastery strikes again

I have been waiting 28 years for a trade like the one the Tigers made on Tuesday. Nabbing Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis without giving up a single contributing piece for next season is just one of the things that makes this trade the biggest one in Detroit sports in my lifetime. I can’t think of another trade that brought in two All-Stars—one of which is a 25-year old lefty who already has 68 career wins and the other is a 24-year old third baseman whose similarity score most resembles Hank Aaron—who haven’t even entered the prime of their careers, yet. The way things generally work in MLB is that you trade talented youth for accomplished veterans. In this instance, the Tigers managed to trade talented youth for even more talented, accomplished youth.

The Tigers may have gotten a great combination of players but they certainly didn’t get them for cheap. Back in June, I put together a list of the 40 best prospects in the Tigers minor league system. In this trade alone, the Tigers gave up the #1, #2, #3, and #5 prospects along with Burke Badenhop (#24 and rising fast) and Mike Rabelo who would’ve made the list but started the season in Detroit because of Vance Wilson’s injury. Combine that with the Edgar Renteria trade and the Tigers have traded their top five prospects and six of the top seven prospects in the last month alone. It’s extraordinary to think that Dave Dombrowski spent four years re-tooling the Tigers moribund farm system and--in just one month--all of that hard work and patience got cashed in in two moves. This is exactly how the Yankees and Red Sox have been doing business for years. It’s great to be on the ecstatic side of one of these deals for once. To look at things incredibly bluntly and simplistically, the minors are for cheapskates and losers. The Tigers are neither anymore.

There are a number of fascinating elements to this trade. For starters, the arrival of Cabrera mercifully spells the end of Brandon Inge’s bat from the third base position. Third base is generally a position that is expected to contribute respectable offensive numbers and Inge wasn’t doing that. However, with Pudge possibly on his way out after this season, Inge could again become a factor at catcher. This is just speculation on my part but the Tigers could do a lot worse than having Inge’s bat coming from the catcher-position. In the intermediate, Inge could be a valuable utility guy in the infield. Look for him to not only spell Cabrera at third base but possibly get in at shortstop and second base as well if he stays which gets more and more unlikely by the day. Seeing Inge at 2B would certainly take some time to get used to from a visual perspective.

Something else to think about is the impressive bat of Dontrelle Willis. In 2007, he hit .286 with an impressive OPS+ of 121. Just to compare, that was better than Pudge, Sean Casey, Brandon Inge, Craig Monroe, and Marcus Thames; none had an OPS+ greater than 100. Before I get too carried away, it’s important to note that ’07 was by far Willis’ best season with the bat. The rest of his career has been decent for a pitcher but certainly less than spectacular for an everyday hitter. However, if Willis’ performance in ’07 is a sign that his hitting skills are on the rise, his arrival to the American League adds some versatility to the Tigers lineup. All the more interesting is the fact that Willis bats left-handed which is something the Tigers are short on. It’ll be interesting to see if the Tigers plan on using him at all as a pinch-hitter or in any hitting capacity.

Incredibly, the Tigers now have six players in the lineup who were All-Stars in 2007. Throw in Gary Sheffield and Curtis Granderson—who were two of the biggest snubs in All-Star history—and the Tigers trot out eight All-Star caliber hitters on any given night. As if that isn’t impressive enough, the addition of Jacque Jones now allows the Tigers to platoon him with Marcus Thames in the ninth spot to create a virtual All-Star-caliber hitter. Marcus Thames hit .310 against lefties with a 128 OPS+--or a .927 OPS—in 2007 and Jacque Jones’ career OPS+ is 110—or an .825 OPS—against righties. This offense—if it can stay healthy—should be as good as any offense in our lifetime. Much of the expected offensive fireworks hinges on Gary Sheffield’s health. However, the addition of Cabrera will give the Tigers a powerful lineup regardless. Bill from the Detroit Tigers Weblog ran a simulation and discovered that this offense should generate around 5.8 runs per game. If everyone stays healthy--and most importantly if Sheff's shoulder is fully recovered--I think there's a pretty good chance it could be even more than that.

This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime deal. The Tigers may have issues with the bullpen but no team in MLB has a better lineup and few can touch the depth of the rotation. Dave Dombrowski is the best GM in baseball just ahead of Randy Smith everyone else. It’s one thing to run a baseball team when an unlimited payroll or a loaded farm system is waiting for you the day you take the job like the Yankees or Red Sox. It’s something entirely different—and with a degree of difficulty vastly more impressive—to take over an organization with neither and turn it into one of the two or three best organizations in baseball in just four years.

The addition of Cabrera and Willis brings the total number of Latinos in the starting lineup to six. So, —just as a bit of advice—the next time you visit South America you may want to wear an Old English D cap. It may just be a “get out of kidnapping free” card.


Anonymous said...

I've been doing some thinking about this trade and how the next few months should go.

My first impression was "CABRERA!!!!" shortly followed by "Boy that was a lot to give up!"

After looking it over I keep coming back to the idea that it was a good deal. Sure some hinges on Cabrera (eventually) signing long-term and everyone has concerns following a sharp decline in stats for Dontrelle.

Still, maybe Detroit fans are not yet far enough removed from the decade long belief that the only thing good with Tiger baseball was the prospects and hope for tomorrow. Not long ago that was all there was. Drumright to Drews, to Greisenger, Alvarez, Kapler, Encarnacion, Casanova and Weaver. I can rattle off more Tiger prospect names from the last 10 years than I can name the actual Tigers. Only in 2004 did things change. In such a short time everything changed.

Cabrera is only 4 years older than Maybin and Willis 3 years to Miller. As the list of previous Tiger prospects show, they are anything but a certainty for greatness. When you consider that the 4 names most associated to Cabrera seem to be A-Rod, Pujols, Manny and Hammerin' Hank, you have to realize that we are talking about 4 of the best names EVER. Maybin could be the next great thing, but there is always a next great thing and that is because the previous one ended up not being the next great thing. So all we did was advance the process by 4 years and guaranteed that we got the guaranteed real deal.

So often we have seen lefties touted as being the golden boys of pitching. You clearly don't have to be as good of a pitcher as a right hander. With that said, even with declining stats, there are only a handful of LHP out there that you can say with any certainty will be better than Willis. If he bounces back to form, which is not that unlikely with finally having a mentor in Rogers and minus the pressure of being the ace, there are likely few other than perhaps Santana or Bedard that would outperform him. In the end DD just advanced a few years and got a proven commodity.

The thing is, this wasn't a mortgage of the future. By advancing a few years in the process of maturation and experience we still find ourselves on the right side of that magic 27 year old baseball age when you are declared entering your prime!!

What remains to be seen is the Brandon Inge Saga. Part of me would like to see him and his 6 million dollar salary. While relatively low for a starter, quite substantial for a utility player. While I still expect him to be traded, I'm starting to find myself on the notion of keeping him. Granted, his mental state might be rattled by being replaced and he may not be emotionally stable to get 200 abs off the bench. Still, while we may not have mortgaged the future, we certainly don't have a great injury insurance policy. If someone goes down with an injury, this team instantly has a hole. The surrounding lineup will stay afloat, though Inge by himself could play every position. He could take the spot of 2 bench guys, for the same money, and leave an extra spot for a relief pitcher.

All in all, I'm already gearing up for walking around in a new Cabrera Old English D jersey!

Anonymous said...

One other factor to consider is that if Dontrelle walks after next year the Tigers will likely receive two first round picks as compensation.

I think they need to sign Cabrera long-term but I think it's best to do it after this coming season. The Tigers lose a boatload of payroll after this year and next and they can lock up Cabreara, granderson, and Verlander in the coming years and still have a great core.

trading the prospects is tough and especially in Maybin's case but I think we need to wish them well. If they succeed it is a good representation of the Tigers drafting and development. The final grade on this trade is in this coming October. If Cabrera and Willis put them over the top and they win the World Series, then it was worth it regardless. If they preform well and there are other things that happen to prevent Detroit from winning the World Series then that's the way it goes. I think this was a great trade because you give 6 players up with only two being certain MLB regulars for two established players. One of them is one of the best hitters in the game already at just 25.


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