Prospects will break your heart, or so they say. For years, the Detroit Tigers have seen little heartbreak from their farm system, if only because their top prospects haven't had enough time in the system to falter. Former president and general manager Dave Dombrowski wheeled and dealed his way into contention, bringing with him arguably the most successful era in Tigers history.
New general manager Al Avila has vowed to rebuild the farm system and create a more sustainable model for success. Young arms like Daniel Norris and Michael Fulmer haven't been labeled "untouchable," but one would think they're toeing the line.
However, Avila has shown that he's not afraid to wade into the trade waters his predecessor frequented so often. He shipped second baseman Javier Betancourt off to Milwaukee in exchange for Francisco Rodriguez, and, earlier Wednesday, struck a deal for left-handed flamethrower Justin Wilson. The move cost him Luis Cessa, one of the two promising pitchers the Tigers received in the Yoenis Cespedes trade in July, but this deal is a calculated risk that adds an impact arm to their 2016 bullpen.
Wilson, a 28-year-old with a 97 mile-per-hour fastball and three years of club control remaining prior to free agency, can get both right and left-handed hitters out. He has logged at least 60 innings in each of the past three seasons, and he is coming off his best year as a pro. The Tigers haven't had a pitcher like this in years.
And he might be their "seventh inning guy."
Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson will serve as the team's set-up men, depending on the matchups, manager Brad Ausmus said.— anthony fenech (@anthonyfenech) December 10, 2015
There are two sides to every trade, though, and this deal isn't necessarily the home run it seems to be on paper. Cessa put up some stellar numbers in Double-A last season, and his command has been impeccable throughout his time in the minor leagues. As a former infielder, he is behind most pitchers his age developmentally, and scouting reports echo that when describing his offspeed pitches. However, he has the potential to be a solid starter one day, and the Yankees get six-plus years of him. The same could be said for Chad Green, but most would agree he's a longer shot at sticking on a major league roster -- let alone a starting rotation -- in the future.
Let it be said: this trade could look very bad one day. If Cessa figures out his offspeed pitches and turns into a productive, cost-controlled starter, the WAR numbers will tilt heavily in New York's favor, no matter how productive Wilson is. He was worth 1.5 fWAR last season, but is projected for only 0.5 WAR in 2016. Despite what the Kansas City Royals did this year, good starting pitchers will always be more valuable than relievers.
Present value is worth more than future value, though, and the Tigers are gambling on Wilson's ability to get outs in 2016. They would not have made this trade if they thought Cessa could hold opponents to a .602 OPS next year, or even the next three. Wilson is a win-now upgrade, and fills a major need for a club that could probably still benefit from adding just one more bullpen arm. There's definite egg-on-their-face potential down the road, but this is a savvy trade that provides less risk than one of the big-name arms on the free agent market.