Well, in the first week of free agency the Tigers have made a number of interesting moves!
First, I will start with the 40 man roster moves.
I’m not going to get into the Rule-5 Draft, suffice it to say that players that have been around for awhile without sniffing any major league experience are available for other teams to pluck during a draft called the Rule-5. To protect a team’s very valuable prospects that are not quite major league ready, there is the 40-man roster. 25 of these men have contracts owned by the major league club. The other 15 play somewhere else in the system. Everyone on the 40 man roster is protected from Rule-5 drafting.
So, the Tigers added three players to their 40 man roster. First, their number 1 prospect, Michael Fulmer who was the main piece in the Cespedes trade. And then two other pitchers, one of which, Labourt, was a piece in the Price trade. The Tigers now have 38 men on their 40 man roster (not unusual for this time of year, they can sign players or make trades and not have to cut players loose). The Rule-5 Draft is December 10th.
The Tigers made a major trade that most everyone believes was a steal by Avila. They traded a low-level mediocre pitcher for one of the best closers in the game who is not paid a lot of money. I’ll talk about that more in a bit, but first, that wasn’t the entire trade. There was a player to be named later moving from the Tigers to the Brewers. It is likely that we will find out who this player is on December 11th or 12th. Any idea why? The Brewers probably want the roster flexibility for the Rule-5 Draft. Odds are, the Tigers player getting moved in currently on the Tiger’s 40 man roster and the Brewers did not want to expose him, or another player to the draft. This is fairly common stuff, but I wanted to share some of the inside baseball stuff that I love.
So Frankie Rod, K-rod. I love it! Low-risk high reward trade. K-rod is older, 34, and his fastball is pretty much garbage (around 90mph but gets hit for an almost .400 average with power), and he hardly ever throws it anymore (21% of his pitches last year), and all of that scares me. But he still has the best change-up in the game, at least for a bullpen guy, and he is still really effective. He throws a lot of innings, he walks no one, he strikes out a lot of batters, and he doesn’t give up homers. Sounds like a closer.
He is set to earn $7.5M next year and has a $6M club option for 2017 with a $2M buyout. So this gets sticky a little bit if you want to keep a count of projected payroll, especially if you are worried luxury tax threshold of $189M which the Tigers could easily flirt with. Technically K-rod will be paid $5.5M this season. $2M is deferred until 2018. If he is great and they pick up his option, he will make $6M next year, and then the next year make $2M. However, If he is terrible this year and they buy him out next year, they will pay him $9.5M this year. And luxury tax works based on average annual value of a contract. So if the Tigers come up against the threshold, he will either be a $9.5M hit or a $6.75M ([7.5+6]/2). And it really matters. The difference in those AAV’s could cost the Tigers half a million dollars in luxury tax.
Anyway, I think it was a great pick up. They gave up nothing to get him. They are only committed to him for one year. If he is good they can have him affordably for two years, making the trade even better. He is established and proven. Practically no risk to this move.
Now the Tigers just yesterday made a really weird trade.
They traded Ian Krol and another LHP to the Braves for former #1 Tigers prospect, Cameron Maybin. I mentioned in last week’s post that the Tigers would be smart to pick up another centerfielder, but I wasn’t envisioning a guy who posted a -17 defensive runs saved last year. His defense profiles as a left fielder, which they do need. But he slugged .370 last year, well below the .650 you would expect from an average person in that position, and nowhere near the .850 you get from an all-star. His offensive production was 18th worst for major league outfielders with 450 at bats last year. And the other guys that were near him on that list, were all top defensive players or great baserunners. He posted a 1.0 WAR last year, he is making $8M next year (more later), which you would expect close to 2.0 WAR from. There is a slew of left fielders available that they could have gotten 1.0 WAR from and paid less (look no further than Rajai Davis who has been pretty damn good for this team for two years), and not also open up a bullpen spot that now needs to be filled.
Maybe he and Gose platoon CF, and Maybin gets some reps in LF as well. All indications are that is what will happen. But, Maybin cannot hit lefties, and neither can Gose. You can’t platoon two guys who hit the same type of pitching. You also cannot platoon him with Collins in LF, because they both hit righties! If he is just a bench guy and was picked up because he can play all three outfield spots, okay, I guess. But there has to be a lot of guys out there who can play better defense and not hit and aren’t making $8M next year.
Now, I should not exclude the fact that the Braves are sending $2.5M to the Tigers in this trade. So, the Tigers are only on the hook for $6.5M total ($5.5M salary this year and $1M buyout next year). But if they do pick him up next year they will pay him $9M. He better develop into a good player in a short time. Now, as with K-rod, that cash back from the Braves does not factor into the luxury tax. His salary will either count as $9M or $8.5M for this year and next if they pick him up.
Now, they gave up Ian Krol, who has been dreadful for the Tigers, even if he consistently dominates in Toledo. So I can’t complain too much about this trade. Even if Maybin doesn’t make the club out of Spring Training, they can probably move him and eat some salary and it doesn’t matter. But it is just confusing to me, why not keep Rajai (essentially who they replaced here) and sink resources into a starter? And then to hear Avila say that they are essentially done in the outfield, moving all focus to pitching. Well, alright. I think you could’ve done a lot better than this.
If anything, both of these moves have saved the Tigers money from last year’s payroll and I think that is very telling for the rest of the off-season. You might see some money spent on pitching, but nothing is going to blow us away.