Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | December 8, 2009

Thoughts On The Granderson/E. Jackson Trade

EDIT:

I wrote this piece prior to the existance of this blog. In order to maintain continuity of my writing and to get as much of it into one place as possible, I added this post at a later date and time stamped it to the date and approximate time that I originally wrote it. This is the reason why it appears before the “introduction” blog entry. It is because this piece actually predates the blog. What follows below is the original entry as written whenever I wrote it.

 
 
I fell asleep last night still absorbing news of a potential three way trade between Arizona, New York, and Detroit, and when I woke up this morning, I learned that the deal was declared dead at 8 AM and was re-energized around 10. By 2 o’ clock, it was essentially official. The deal concluded as follows:

DETROIT TIGERS RECEIVE: RHP Max Scherzer, from ARI
LHP Dan Schlereth, from ARI
LHP Phil Coke, from NYY
CF Austin Jackson, from NYY (AAA)

ARIZONA D’BACKS RECEIVE: RHP Edwin Jackson, from DET
RHP Ian Kennedy, from NYY

NEW YORK YANKEES RECEIVE: CF Curtis Granderson, from DET

It took a few hours to absorb this deal, for irrational, fan-based reasons that have nothing to do with the game of baseball or the product on the field. These reasons include:

1) Curtis Granderson is and always has been one of my favorite Tigers. Losing him, by itself, is painful and difficult to absorb.

2) In general, I have an attachment and preference for Tiger players that either were drafted by Detroit or were acquired as minor leaguers and made their major league debuts in Detroit. While my favorite Tiger was acquired via trade (Carlos Guillen), most of my “next” favorite Tiger players are all former draftees who have played for no other team. I often have trouble watching “our guys” go.

3) I have a personal issue with the fact that in addition to having the highest payroll, far beyond that of even the team with the second highest payroll, the Yankees also seem to routinely make trades in which they give up multiple players who are of little consequence to their future (or considerably lesser consequence) for players who will make a big impact for them. It’s bothered me for a long time, be it the deals they made for Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Randy Johnson, etc. In short, they not only seem to sign the best players, but they seem to be able to trade for the best players at a cost that is much lower than what it would cost other teams to acquire the same players. That bothers me.

4) I strongly dislike the Yankees.

5) Adding 1, 2, 3, & 4 together, seeing Curtis Granderson go to the Yankees in a deal where all of the players the Yankees surrendered (including the one that went to Arizona) were expendable relative to their long term needs (except maybe Jackson), was a tough pill to swallow.

So I took a few hours, read some opinions, did some research, and took a step back before commenting definitively on the matter. Having had an hour or five to stew on it, I now have alot to say about it.

First, is that the Tigers are going to get KILLED by the local media and fans for this deal, and they absolutely do not deserve to. Only the future can determine what the outcome of this trade will be, but as of December 8th, 2009, on paper, the Tigers did not lose this deal. Of course, they also did not win it. As of today, the Yankees were the clear winners. They got the best of the seven players in Granderson. He also is signed long-term to a reasonable contract and will be 29 next year. They gave up players that have value to the teams that acquire them but that the Yankees themselves would not have used to great effect. So they essentially turned nothing into something. A BIG something. Also, the Diamondbacks are the clear losers. Of the three players the Yankees gave away in the deal, Kennedy is the worst. He’s put up big numbers at AAA, but has fought injuries and has no major league success of which to speak, all the while being just 14 months younger than Edwin Jackson and 4 months younger than Scherzer. He still has potential, but considering all the pieces involved in this trade, its not a worthwhile risk. They also acquire Edwin Jackson, who is not as good as Scherzer and is older (by 9 months) and more expensive and closer to being a free agent (by 3 years!). Frankly, this deal makes absolutely no sense for the Diamondbacks. If I were an Arizona fan today, I’d be very upset………..that’s the team that deserves to get killed by its fanbase.

The Tigers are in the middle. I believe they’re closer to the Yankees than the Diamondbacks, but they aren’t particularly close to the Yankees. The Tigers got the second best player in the trade with Scherzer. One of the risks with him is that he has also had arm trouble, but unlike Kennedy, his arm trouble has not kept him out for a significant period of time. Last season he posted a 3.87 FIP in 170 innings (compared to Jackson’s 4.28 in 214). He also trumped Jackson in tRA (4.52 to 4.75). Most importantly, he’s done what I’ve been bemoaning Jackson’s failure to do for all of last year: He turned his top shelf stuff into quantifiably better pitching (as opposed to reliance on defense, as Jackson did). Scherzer posted a K/9 of 9.2 and a K/BB of 2.76 to go with his 1.34 WHIP. He did it with an AVERAGE fastball of 94 MPH, an 85 MPH slider, and an 84 MPH change. Virtually every defense independent measure concludes that Scherzer was better in 2009 than Jackson. Along with this upgrade, the Tigers also get a player who has yet to reach arbitration (read: much cheaper), will not be eligible for free agency until the 2014/15 off-season by which time he will be 30 years old and already pitched halfway through his prime, and is 9 months younger. This component of the trade is a total upgrade and I’m highly excited for the Scherzer era to begin in Detroit. Coupling him with Verlander and Porcello ought to be big to watch. Two things to watch for with him are the fact that he’s moving from the NL to the AL, which could depress his progress a bit, and his arm trouble. If he misses significant time, it would be a huge loss to the Tigers. For my many misgivings about Jackson, he seems to very legitly be a 200 inning per year pitcher.

The other major component of the trade for Detroit is Austin Jackson, and my opinion on him is far less optimistic. Jackson is considered a top 25 prospect in the league and I respect that billing, but the scouts are wrong on a few guys all the time, and Jackson seems as good of a suspect to be a bust as any. There are things to like here, but I’m not completely sold. He was a 22 year old at AAA, which in and of itself is impressive, and he held his own there. But he wasn’t *spectacular*. He posted a 300/354/405 line there, good for a wOBA of .348. That’s pretty good, but it doesn’t bowl me over. Considering that in trading Granderson the Tigers created a huge hole in their outfield, I’m not convinced that the 23 year old Jackson can step in and completely satisfy that loss, in 2010 or ever. For example, Jackson’s career minor league OBP of .356 is about 25 points shy of Granderson’s career minor league OBP. I see little reason to believe that this guy will ever be as good as Granderson, and as such, have a difficult time seeing him as a major component of the trade, as his billing would suggest. Defensively, he projects as roughly average, which makes him about equal to Granderson……..thus making the conversation almost entirely about offense. Jackson is considered a good baserunner, but so is Granderson. This is definitely the tough component of the trade to accept on the Tigers part. If Jackson starts the year in Detroit (which is not a given), he won’t be eligible for free agency until the 2015/16 off-season. If he starts the year in Toledo and moves to Detroit during the season then he won’t be eligible until 16/17. If he doesn’t play in Detroit at all until next season then the same rules apply, just add a year.

As for the other two players Detroit acquired, Schlereth and Coke, both could contribute — Perhaps in very key roles — To the 2010 Tigers. Both are relief pitchers and both are left-handed. Many sources have pointed out that Schlereth was right behind Ryan Perry on the Tigers draft board when they picked Perry — And I suspect his inclusion in the deal had something to do with that. He’s already made it to the majors, although he pitched rather poorly last season, and has had arm trouble much like Scherzer. Schlereth had an impressive 2.67 FIP at AA in ’09, and while he was at 4.02 in Arizona last year, he also walked nearly a batter an inning (15 in 18 1/3 innings). However, as a 24 year old reliever with an electric arm and high draft pedigree, I have confidence that he can improve in 2010 if he’s healthy. He’s not eligible for free agency until 2015/16, at which point he’ll be 30. Schlereth primarily throws a 93 MPH fastball and an 80 MPH curve. He VERY INFREQUENTLY mixes in a 77 MPH changeup

Coke has a World Series ring as the primary LOOGY for the ’09 Yankees. Last year was his first full season in the MLB, and he acquitted himself decently well in the pen, pitching 60 innings (in 72 games) with a K/9 of 7.4 and a FIP of 4.68. It’s worth noting that Coke came up through the minors as a starter and may be worth a look in that regard by the Tigers. I’m not certain if thats what they have in mind, but I think this is a much better trade if they at least try it. With Nate Robertson as their only remotely legit left-handed option in the rotation for 2010, Coke might be a good option to try out. He’s the oldest player the Tigers acquired — He’ll turn 28 next Summer — And is not eligible for free agency until the 2014/15 off-season, by which time he’ll be 33. I suspect he will not be on the Tigers that long, but the point is that the Tigers have the option of gaining all of Coke’s prime years on the cheap, and right now can decide if they want him to start, relieve, or play swingman. While Coke threw a fastball at 92, a slider at 82, and a change at 82 for the Yankees last year, if he were made a starter I would expect to see more changeups thrown and fewer MPH on those pitches, as relievers throw harder due to the reduced innings strain.

What does this all mean in the big picture? Well, I think the Tigers have taken a step back in 2010. They’ve upgraded both their rotation and their bullpen, but both places were positions of strength for the ’09 team. They’ve taken a dramatic step down on offense. Granderson, for his limitations, was a very valuable piece of the offense and it will be difficult to replace his production. In addition to this, one of the weaknesses that I’ve repeatedly cited (after it was pointed out to me by someone else) with the ’09 Tigers is that they were a team full of players who were good at hitting OR good at defense and not both. By removing Granderson, the only player the Tigers have who is now decidedly good at both is Miguel Cabrera, and that is a problem.

Yet, in spite of taking a step back for 2010, it isn’t a dramatic step back. This is probably a sub-.500 team as currently constructed, and if I had a gun to my head, I’d say a 76-79 win team that would finish in third place. That’s not what anyone wants to see, but when you statements like “step back in 2010” are made, I think its preferable to a completely horrible team. In addition, I believe this team has dramatically strengthened its organization and ability to compete in 2011 and beyond. They recognized that this core was unable to make a strong playoff push (they would’ve needed another year of a fully weak division to make it) and they’ve opted to retool in a smart fashion. They acquired four players who are all unlikely to be bad — Even as really only one is a better than 65% chance to be great. Three of them are likely to play big roles to the 2010 team, and all of them will probably play big roles by 2011, barring injury. None of them have even reached arbitration yet, and none will be free agents before 2015 unless the Tigers make the choice not to tender their contracts — Which won’t happen if they are productive. That all four could play roles on the 2010 and 2011 for $1.8m — Or put another way, half the money that they will pay Gerald Laird next year if they don’t trade him — Is outstanding resource management on the Tigers behalf. Also, for a team that will shed between $37-52m of payroll after 2010 in natural attrition (depending on whether or not Magglio’s option for 2011 vests), they’ve managed to take care of four roster spots for 2011 at an extremely low cost with good players who are likely to make good contributions. If they lower their payroll to a baseline of $90-100m (as opposed to the current ~130), that means they could extend Verlander, add two very legit players via either trade or free agency, and have a very strong team heading into 2011.

While many of the rumors that preceded this trade have labelled the Tigers as a team in “fire sale” or “salary dump” mode, I see this trade as neither. While the payroll flexibility to be gained with Scherzer/Schlereth/Jackson/Coke likely played a huge role in those specific players being added, the fact is that they aren’t just cheap players, but cheap players who are likely to make real contributions. And they will be inexpensive for a long time, even if their contributions are huge. This allows the Tigers to simultaneously lower their baseline payroll AND still use the money saved to acquire better players to put around them later. This was neither a fire sale, nor a salary dump, but a solid baseball move built on the realities of their current situation for 2010 and constructing a stronger organization moving forward. I’m not convinced by the trade that the Tigers are suddenly “going cheap”, and would not be surprised (though I’m not predicting) if they added a free agent yet, with the Winter meetings still going on and the off-season still in its early stages.

In fact, the Tigers make this trade significantly better simply by signing Mike Cameron to a 1-2 year deal. He’ll likely cost more than they would’ve paid Granderson and would likely produce less, but considering the four players Detroit acquired, it would be a worthwhile swap overall. The Tigers absolutely have to address the offense. They needed to do it before, but with Granderson out of the picture, it is now near the state of emergency.

The one strongly negative thing I have to say about this deal is that it still sticks in my craw that the Yankees were able to acquire Granderson without giving much that they absolutely needed, and I’m disappointed that the Tigers did not hold out for Philip Hughes in the deal. I almost would rather the deal not have happened than for the Tigers to have failed to acquire Hughes. That said, it is water under the bridge and I have to address the realities of today.

Time will tell how this move pans out for the Tigers — Injuries (or lack thereof) and player development will shape how it turns out. It has the potential to be bad or to be very good. However, with as young as the off-season is, even though I think THIS SPECIFIC TRADE on THIS SPECIFIC DATE makes this worse for 2010, doesn’t necessarily mean I think they will be worse in 2010. How they address the offense for the remainder of the off-season will play a role in how we should judge them heading into next season. I think they are still well positioned, with the right moves, to construct a team that could compete for the division title in 2010. As currently constructed however, I just don’t see it happening, even though it provides alot of positive hope for 2011 and beyond.

The Tigers also made a move of far lesser import today………so much lesser, that I can’t even get a confirmation from anyone — And it happened almost 4 hours ago — Whether or not the player was signed to a major league or minor league deal. Which is a pretty important detail given what it could mean for the 2010 Tigers. They signed Catcher Robinzon Diaz to a contract. Since I don’t know if it was an MLB deal or an MiLB deal, its hard to comment. If its the former, it could either mean that Gerald Laird — Due for a raise in arbitration — Is on the way out or Alex Avila could be ticketed for Toledo. If its the latter, it still could mean either of those things, but could just as easily mean that Diaz was acquired in case one of Laird or Avila gets hurt to avoid the nightmare of last year when the Tigers went much of the season without a legitimate major league backup catcher. Diaz will be 26 next year and has yet to spend a full season in the majors. He’s played 44 games (41 of them last season), and has a career 279/307/357 line, which is not greatly impressive but is okay for a backup catcher. He doesn’t seem to walk much but hits for decent contact and doubles power, trends that extend into his minor league track record as well. With Detroit he’s on his third organization in what has been an eight year pro career that has seen him post a 301/338/388 batting line in the minors. He threw out 23% of the 40 runners that tried to steal on him at Indianapolis last year, and 38% of the 39 runners that tried to steal on him in 2008 (with four teams at three different minor league class levels). Whether acquired to replace Laird, backup Laird, or as AAA injury protection, it seems like a solid if unspectacular signing by the Tigers.

I wrote this piece prior to the existance of this blog. In order to maintain continuity of my writing and to get as much of it into one place as possible, I added this post at a later date and time stamped it to the date and approximate time that I originally wrote it. This is the reason why it appears before the “introduction” blog entry. It is because this piece actually predates the blog. What follows below is the original entry as written whenever I wrote it.

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