The past week was one of the quietest in recent memory for Tigers fans. The Tigers did nothing noteworthy, and the trade rumors were even few and far between. The action is bound to heat up in the coming weeks, so until then let's dive into this week's mailbag! Be sure to send us questions on Facebook, on Twitter, or via email at email@example.com!
@blessyouboys If we DO trade, say, Porcello for Cespedes, who fills his rotation spot and who the heck hits at the top of the lineup?— Joel-umbo (@Spockmaster) November 26, 2014
Like a man in his early 40s who woke up more sore than usual after a touch football game -- and the required beverage consumption afterward -- saber-friendly Tigers fans are finally resigning themselves to the idea that they will never see Alex Avila and his gaudy walk rate in the second spot of the Tigers' lineup. Would the Tigers move J.D. Martinez in front of Miguel Cabrera with Cespedes in the fifth spot? Potentially, but it's more likely that J.D. slots behind La Potencia in the sixth slot.
If I'm pigeon-holed to a semi-reasonable option, I would move Nick Castellanos up. He would see a different mix of pitches than he did in 2014 and has way more potential to get on base at a .330 clip than the likes of Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, or Jose Iglesias. There is no perfect answer in this scenario whether Cespedes is involved or not, and I imagine it's a question we will revisit several times between now and March.
If this trade actually goes down -- personally, I think the rumor is baseless -- I'd make a big push for Brandon McCarthy. He seems like the sexy pick for a lot of people due to that excellent second half in New York, but his numbers while playing in Oakland for two years were very similar. He took a step back when he got to Arizona, but between the brutal pitching conditions and the rumored tweaks to his arsenal, I'm not sure whether we should trust those numbers. He's a bit older than some others, but his command has never been an issue. He's one that could stay effective into his mid 30s, provided he stays healthy.
I've been really struck by the amount of interest that the Tigers fan base (on Twitter at least) has with guys who I see as power hitters instead of obvious top-of-the-order hitters. I'd rather get a guy who gets on base by hook or by crook even if he doesn't hit many home runs. Then, we'll have Miggy and V-Mart drive them home. (Heck, I'd rather have more than just two of those guys so Miggy/V-Mart/JD are batting 4/5/6 instead, but that's just me.) Am I seeing guys like Cespedes and Melky Cabrera wrong? Are true leadoff guys not available?
I think the concept of a "top of the order" hitter is completely outdated and overrated. Power matters in this game, and a 5'9" guy who never strikes out and draws a lot of walks only has so much value. There's a reason why you don't see many "traditional leadoff hitters" in baseball anymore, and it's because advanced statistics have proven that these guys aren't very productive if they can't hit for power. Drawing walks and getting on base is important -- I'm not trying to knock on-base percentage as a stat -- but it has to come with something else, or you're looking at a below average player.
In fact, there is basically just one guy that fits this antiquated description: Nori Aoki. The soon-to-be 33 year old Aoki strikes out in eight percent of his at-bats and has a career on-base percentage of .353. However, he had an OPS+ of 98 last season and only has one MLB season above league average. wRC+ is a little more favorable at 106, but that still indicates he's only six percent better than the league average hitter. Add in the questions about his baserunning and defense -- at a non-premium position, remember -- and you see why I'm not ecstatic about the idea of signing him.
If money were no option, Melky Cabrera is the perfect guy to add to the Tigers' outfield. He has proven to be an excellent hitter over the past four years, with a 124 OPS+ and a .351 on-base percentage, nearly identical to Aoki's. His defense isn't quite as good, but Cabrera hits for way more power. They have both been worth 6.2 WAR over the past three seasons, but Cabrera was worth -0.9 WAR in 2013 when he had a knee issue and a tumor removed. Three of his past four seasons have been at 2.6 WAR or better. Aoki has never topped 2.3 WAR, and he's almost three years older.
That said, the Tigers probably won't sign either of these guys. Nearly every other outfielder on the market has multiple blemishes on his resume. Nate Schierholtz doesn't really hit well, and is a platoon bat at best. Mike Carp isn't much of a defender. Delmon Young probably shouldn't see the field before October. Finding a guy who gets on base would be nice, but at this point it might just better if the Tigers find someone.
Would Nick Markakis make any sense for the Tigers? Solid corner outfielder, consistent left-handed bat that plays every day, good speed, pretty expensive but would deplete an AL East opponent.
I like to consider Nick Markakis a "Jacoby Ellsbury Lite" player. Like Ellsbury, Markakis is getting paid way too much money for one spectacular season. Or, in Markakis' case, two. He hit .303/.384/.488 with a combined 43 home runs and 199 RBI in 2007 and 2008, but hasn't come very close to replicating those middle-of-the-order type numbers ever since. Over the past four years, Markakis has hit .281/.345/.399 with 52 home runs and 236 RBI.
Then there's the defense. Like his bat, Markakis' reputation as a good defender stems from his whale of a 2008 season. He was worth a whopping 22 defensive runs saved and 11.9 UZR that year. Ever since, he has been worth -25 defensive runs saved and a -26.1 UZR. Somehow, he won Gold Gloves in 2011 and 2014.
I have no problem with signing a player like Markakis, provided he gets paid what he is actually worth. But he won't. Markakis might end up being one of the most overpaid players on the free agent market this offseason. He only has one season with 2 WAR or more in the past four years, and hasn't topped 2.5 WAR since his 2008 campaign. Despite this middling production, MLB Trade Rumors projects that he will get a four year, $48 million contract. At that price, the Orioles can have him.
@blessyouboys if you could sign/keep one of the following and the rest go/trade away, who and why? Price, Scherzer, Melky, Miller.— PJK (@Tigerfan_PJK) December 2, 2014
Assuming I get to trade David Price for a useful piece or two in this scenario, I'd re-sign Scherzer. Seems a bit crazy, but here's my reasoning.
With both Price and Rick Porcello set to hit the open market after the 2015 season, I would want to get at least one starter locked up for more years. The idea of losing both of them and going into 2016 with only Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez atop your rotation is terrifying. I'd probably look to re-sign Rick Porcello before extending either Price or Scherzer simply because he's going to be younger and cheaper, but in the spirit of this question we're assuming he's gone after 2015. Trading Price nets you at least one useful player, presumably a decent corner outfielder.
Speaking of corner outfielders, they're generally easier to find than ace-caliber pitchers like Price or Scherzer. Even mediocre players like Rajai Davis can fake it for a few months with a hot BABIP stretch. While this is generally true for starting pitchers, regression is typically swifter and more severe.
We could also look at this in terms of WAR. Max Scherzer was 5.6 wins better than Robbie Ray last year, and 5.1 better than Kyle Lobstein. Meanwhile, Melky Cabrera was just 1.2 wins better than Rajai Davis, largely thanks to Cabrera's mediocre defense. That's three or four more wins by signing Scherzer in year one, and we're not even factoring in whether the Price trade nets someone better than Davis. Long story short, Scherzer provides more short term value than Cabrera would, and I'd take that with the current win-now roster over a slightly rosier outlook in 2018 and beyond.