DISCLAIMER: I started writing this article early on Wednesday evening before the Cole Hamels deal went down and before the Carlos Gomez trade happened...and then didn't. I don't think it impacts anything I said; I just wanted to take a moment to appreciate how insane Wednesday was in the baseball world. Gotta love those Mets.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In addition to the focus on the Tigers, feel free to use this as a trade discussion thread in general. We'll have a generic deadline post here Friday morning.
Ah, the beauty of late July. Every team has to make a choice on where they see their season ending. For those who see a viable path to October, it's a wonderfully expensive flea market. For those without sufficient hope, the deadline becomes a way to improve next year's roster at the expense of the current club.
For some teams, this decision is easy. The Royals, Dodgers, and Nationals want the strongest clubs possible for October games, the Astros want to load up for a big push, and the Reds and Rockies are ready to sell off all of their older, more expensive parts as they undertake the process of developing a new core.
For others, the decision is tough. Most teams within striking distance of a postseason push will at least sit tight, the likely course of action for the Pirates and Cardinals, whereas others will make an aggressive push like the Blue Jays did in acquiring Troy Tulowitzki.
Then we have the Tigers. Within the last week, smoke signals out of Detroit have alternatingly indicated that the club would buy, then sell, then buy, then sell, etc. Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, general manager Dave Dombrowski admitted that the club will "reboot," electing to sell off their expiring contracts in an effort to mitigate the sting of the coming years.
Personally, as a Michigan native with plenty of affection for the Tigers, I think they're making the wrong call, even if it is plenty defensible. Unless owner Mike Ilitch is going to push the payroll north of $200 million in the coming years, Detroit is heading for some lean times. The Tigers owe $97 million next year to Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, Prince Fielder, and Joe Nathan. Now, to be fair:
- Cabrera is still a spectacular bat when he's healthy;
- Verlander has been red-hot;
- Martinez was a monster with the bat last year;
- Sanchez was spectacular in the recent past;
- Fielder was an All-Star this year; and
- Nathan is only owed a $1 million buyout.
- injuries have begun to impact Cabrera;
- Verlander looked horrendous for his first month-plus and missed two months with a triceps issue (gulp);
- Martinez has been all kinds of terrible this year in his mid-30s;
- Sanchez can't stop allowing homers and comes with health problems of his own; and
- Fielder was an All-Star...for the Rangers.
When we add in Ian Kinsler ($16 million), J.D. Martinez ($8 million arbitration estimate), and Jose Iglesias ($3 million arbitration estimate), the Tigers are at $124 million for seven players: two starting pitchers, a first baseman, a designated hitter, a second baseman, a shortstop, and a right fielder. That leaves them needing three starting pitchers, a couple of outfielders, a third baseman, a catcher, and an entire bullpen. Although some of those solutions will be internal -- like Anthony Gose in center, Nick Castellanos at third base, and perhaps Kyle Lobstein in the rotation -- to make matters worse, the Tigers have sold off basically their entire farm system. 2015 appeared to be their last chance to eke another playoff push out of the existing core.
And now that dream has died.
That said, if the Tigers manage the massive sell-off that they are reportedly considering, they could rebuild in a hurry.
The Trade Assets
The Tigers' expiring contracts hitting the market changes the supply in a meaningful way.
Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes immediately becomes the top power bat -- and quite possibly the top hitter, period -- available.
Catcher Alex Avila is hardly a star, but for a contender with a problem behind the dish like the Twins, he could represent a stabilizing force at a meager price.
Outfielder Rajai Davis brings tremendous speed, a usable bat, and an adequate glove. He could start in a pinch and would be a real asset off the bench.
Closer Joakim Soria is struggling through the worst season of his career as he can't keep the ball in the ballpark, yet his solid walk and home run rates combined with a miniscule BABIP and a 94.7% strand rate have led to a successful season in some respects. His pedigree will keep clubs interested as will his strong velocity readings.
Rather incredibly, starting pitcher Alfredo Simon has sustained much of last year's BABIP-fueled success despite the inevitable BABIP jump by largely avoiding the long ball, increasing his strikeouts, and eating lots of innings. He's far from great, but he's a viable fifth starter for some contender.
And then there's the guy. Ace David Price remains one of the best dozen or so starting pitchers in the game. His 3.5 WAR ranks 11th among starters, and his 3.00 FIP is tied with Jon Lester for 19th. He is allowing lots of fly balls, but they're not being hit any harder than before (read: weakly) and his velocity is as strong as ever.
All of these players are free agents at season's end, yet all of them could play genuinely important roles for a contender down the stretch.
Based on their 2015 performance and expected production over the season's final two months, none of Avila, Davis, Soria, or Simon figure to command much in return, perhaps a low-level projectable guy or two. I'd be very surprised if any of those guys could require, say, a top-15 prospect from a system like the Cubs'.
Cespedes is different. He absolutely cannot draw a walk, but he continues to hit for a strong enough average than his on-base skills are adequate. His defense is plus with a huge arm complemented by improved fielding. And then there's the power: Cespedes is a legitimate power bat who fits perfectly in the fifth spot of any lineup in the game. He is on pace for a career-best 5.5 WAR this season, so he could be a two-win upgrade for a buyer. I imagine that two months of Cespedes would cost a top-ten prospect from a system plus another piece; he could very well cost a back-end top-100 overall prospect at this point.
And then there's Price. Sticking a price tag on him is very difficult. Yes, it's only nine or ten starts in the regular season, but good gracious, the man is an ace. He's on pace for approximately 5.3 WAR this season, so like Cespedes, he could be a two-win upgrade. Price comes with the added benefit that he has been a true ace for every full season of his career.
His price could go three different ways from my vantage point:
1. A single top-50 prospect plus a low-level flyer;
2. A pair of top-100 prospects in the 51-100 range; or
3. A single top-100 prospect in the 51-100 range and at least two additional prospects in the 101-200 group (probably three).
That probably seems like a really hefty price tag, and it should. Thing is, for a team like the Cubs, Giants, Mets, or Blue Jays, those two wins could very well mean the difference between playing in October and imagining what could have been. And Price fits into any playoff rotation in baseball, bringing the added benefit of a pitcher's increased importance and impact in a postseason series.
(I wrote the preceding paragraph before the Hamels blockbuster. Hamels and Price are very different commodities given Hamels' control and Price's impending free agency. Suffice it to say that Ruben Amaro, Jr. procured an incredible haul for Hamels and I'd expect that Dombrowski will do better for Price that most of us would anticipate.)
For the Cubs, while they'd have to get there first, the ability to throw Price, Arrieta, and Lester in a series is extremely appealing.
There are almost too many to mention here. I can't imagine that the Cubs would pursue Avila or Soria, and Davis seems like a bit of a stretch. For my own convenience, I won't make packages for those three.
That leaves Price, Cespedes, and Simon. Some of these sticker prices will be much more palatable than others. Brace yourselves.
Proposal #1: Tigers trade SP David Price to Cubs for OF Billy McKinney and SS Gleyber Torres
This deal basically takes what Price cost last year and subtracts the approximate value of (i) one year of the 1.3 years of control he had remaining at that time and (ii) the compensation draft pick that won't be acquired if he bolts from the Cubs this winter. It's a high price for 10 starts.
Proposal #2: Tigers trade SP David Price to Cubs for SS Javier Baez and OF Jacob Hannemann
This one just kills me. I don't want to talk about it.
Proposal #3: Tigers trade LF Yoenis Cespedes to Cubs for LF Chris Coghlan and RP C.J. Edwards
If the Tigers really have an eye on 2016, Coghlan makes plenty of sense as a solid starting-caliber corner outfielder to replace Cespedes on the cheap. Edwards is basically a necessity as a bullpen asset.
Proposal #4: Tigers trade SP Alfredo Simon to Cubs for SP Jonathan Martinez and SP Daury Torrez
A couple of interesting arms, neither of whom projects to have a meaningful career, for a ho-hum starter for two months. Sounds about right.
Proposal #5: Tigers trade SP David Price and LF Yoenis Cespedes to Cubs for SP Duane Underwood, RF Eloy Jimenez, LF Billy McKinney, and LF Chris Coghlan
Theo? Jed? If you guys are reading, please oh please don't actually consider this kind of blockbuster, OK? OK, good. Thanks.
Look, I love David Price. I think he'd make a superb Cub and I very much look forward to the opportunity to make a Price addition a reality...in November.
His price tag is going to be exorbitant. The acquiring team reaps some tiny benefit for getting the first crack at signing him to an extension, but he's so close to free agency that it's very difficult to imagine him giving that away at this juncture, especially with the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and others looking so needy.
I wouldn't make a single one of these trades. I love Price, but I don't want to pay the market price for a rental. It's just that simple. Unless there's a massive bargain to be found, let's stay away.