That didn't take long. Dan Uggla was traded from Florida to Atlanta for Omar Infante and a relief pitcher. That leaves the Tigers looking back to the free agent market -- or whatever they've got up their sleeves in the trading market that they aren't talking about -- to fill their needs this offseason.
So now we can turn our heads to valuing Carl Crawford, Victor Martinez, Adam Dunn or others that Detroit may pursue this offseason. As before, I'll try to compare the value of the new addition to the value the Tigers would otherwise receive. In looking at the trade, however, we were trying to find the surplus value of Uggla. That's the great thing about players already under contract.. You have he possibility of capturing surplus value. When you're buying a player on the free agent market, you have to expect the market value will be close to the player's value. So you're not going to get much, if any, surplus.
So really here, what we're looking for is the biggest bang for your buck. You're not going to try to upgrade Miguel Cabrera because, 1) you can't! 2) he's already good. It's going to cost a lot to get more production. But maybe you can upgrade your poor-hitting catcher or your (essentially) empty hole in the corner outfield.
So let's look at a guy who should be a great upgrade there: Carl Crawford.
Defense: Crawford, as know you, was recently named a Gold Glove outfielder. He was ranked 18.5 runs above average as corner outfielder by Ultimate Zone Rating.In past years he was 17.5 and 15.8. So he's consistently way above average.
Offense: For the most part, he's been 20 runs or so above average. He was 32 last season but as a 30-year-old in 2011 I think it would be dangerous to call him a 30 again. I'll say he's worth 22 runs better than average.
Adjustments: Due to playing time and the position he plays, he's worth about 15 or so runs.
Add it all up: I'd expect him to be worth 50-55 runs, or about 5 WAR next season. This is on the conservative side, of course compared to the 6.9 last year and 5.7 the year before. That still should rank him around top 10 in the outfield.
Projected cost: At 4M per WAR, he should be worth about $20 million at the start of his contract and 12 by the end of a five-year deal. So I'd guess a value over five years of $83 million or $94 over six. Because of his skill set, it's possible his value will degrade even faster. Because of his rarity right now, he will be valued higher than a normal player.
By the way, Fangraphs did a Contract Crowdsource to predict the value of the contract Crawford would receive. The results were 5.5 years and $16.4 million on average, or 5 years and 17 million for the median. So a contract of 5 years for $80 million to 6 years for $100 million, basically. I'd guess toward the middle to be safe. Maybe he'll get the nine-figure contract he seeks, but given the limited number of rich clubs I'm not certain of that.
Nothing against Casper Wells. You might recall I like Casper Wells. But it would probably take him a couple of seasons to reach a total of 5.0 WAR. Ceding one corner outfield spot to Ryan Raburn, Wells or Brennan Boesch are currently the top candidates for the other one.
Obviously no one doubts the Tigers must look outside the organization for a corner outfielder.
Jayson Werth is the only corner outfielder on the market who you might be able to compare Crawford to. Their games are dissimilar, but among available players they are the corner outfielders who bring the most. I plan an entire post about him, but my estimate is a WAR of 4.25 or so for the beginning number. He does not field as well, however he is above average. He bats slightly better, but you must adjust him downward for age and changing to the American League.
The big idea that fans often forget about or pretend doesn't matter is opportunity cost. I know Mike Ilitch is a billionaire. But guess what? The Tigers still operate under a budget. If that wasn't true they'd be spending $200 million a year like the Yankees. Whether you're under a salary cap or a budget, you have to spend your money wisely because you only have so much of it and can't undo mistakes. If you're thinking one offseason at a time, you're probably not going to be able to field a division contender year in and year out. The way team executives approach the offseason simply cannot be the simplified way fans and the media lay it out. The Tigers can't solve all their long term plans this offseason, but they can certainly destroy their ability to in the future.
I'm not going to tell you I have the answers for what plan puts the Tigers in the best position to compete in 2011 and beyond. I am not privy to enough information. Having a farm system that constantly injects talent that you'd have to pay for in free agency otherwise is the best way to avoid that problem, and Detroit is fighting an uphill battle in that right now. They'll have major-league caliber players but some might take awhile, and few who are going to provide a lot of surplus value when they arrive. The team also has a rough sketch of what they could expect the budget to be, and I don't. We can imagine it's $100 million. But can they stick around in the $130 range again? Impossible for us to say. If they can do that, it makes being able to sign Crawford as well as some others a lot easier. If they are going through payroll deduction, Crawford makes a lot less sense.
The Tigers have $66m committed to eight players in 2011. In 2012 $53 million is committed to five players with a couple of arbitration eligibles to think about -- Max Scherzer being the key. Ten million comes off the budget in 2013, but so does the entire left side of the infield and Rick Porcello is no longer nearly as affordable. Tying up almost $60 million for three players -- no matter how good they are -- means the Tigers may struggle to keep both Porcello and Scherzer around if the players develop into their projections of frontline starters. A lot of work would be required by the Tigers farm to be able to step in and fill all the open positions to allow that kind of money to be invested.
And so far, we've just talked about offense. The Tigers have problems on the run prevent side of the ball where they need to spend some money, too. Signing Crawford cuts into flexibility while filling only one hole of many.
Bottom line time:
Don't get me wrong, I'd really like to see Crawford in Detroit. However I just cannot see how a deal of more than $100 million could be justified given the state of the farm system and the questions of just where the budget will be the next several years. Even then, I have serious questions. There's paying premiums, and there's paying premiums. The cost difference between Crawford and the next best free agents leaves enough money to fill another need with a fairly decent player. Given Detroit has so many needs, it might be smarter to find a lesser corner outfielder as well as a DH on a short-term contract. When everyone is turning their ideas to the five highest-hyped players, the best values may be found a bit lower in the pecking order. When you have so many holes, that's probably where area you want to operate in.
In any case, I doubt Crawford to Detroit is going to happen.