Max Scherzer is “mad”, apparently. “Mad” in the insane sense, for turning down the six-year, $144 million contract Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers offered to him before the season; for betting on himself to turn in an even better performance than his Cy Young showing in 2013, and get an even bigger payday in free agency this offseason; for doing so in an era when a new pitcher every week seems to need Tommy John surgery, and a year in which he’ll turn 30. More traditionally “mad” – angry, really – because Sports Illustrated brought up the topic of his contact in a recent cover story on him, “Mad Max’s $144 million bet,” a piece which they subtitled with the question “did he make a dumb wager on his future?”
“Mad” in another respect too though. “Mad” like the New York slang meaning – a term defined by the always-reputable Urban Dictionary as “an appropriate replacement for Northern California’s “hella” and Boston’s “wicked”. In the common vernacular, it translates into “a lot” or “extremely.” In that regard, Max Scherzer is most certainly “mad”; “mad” good.
We all know the events that occurred between Scherzer, his (super-)agent Scott Boras, and the Tigers organization during the winter/Spring Training period. Offered that aforementioned six-year, $144 million contract, a deal which would have put him on the same pay scale as Cole Hamels, but perhaps-crucially not as much as Detroit teammate Justin Verlander, Scherzer declined, dismissed the possibility of talks during the year, and thus seemed to clearly announce he would test the waters of free agency after 2014. At this point, things got a bit sour publicly between Boras, his client, and Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, as rumors about ‘who offered what exactly’ and mutual hurt feelings led to some sniping back and forth through the media. Meanwhile, several commentators panned Scherzer’s decision to turn down the money ($144 million!), figuring his value would never be higher. Matters weren’t helped by Miguel Cabrera receiving a massive extension the following week – presumably tying up Detroit’s future payroll.
You couldn’t exactly blame the doubters; since being selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the University of Missouri product had been solid, if unspectacular, as a starter prior to 2013. His 108 ERA+ between 2010 and 2012 (and 9.2 K/9 rate over that same span) certainly made him a quality option on the bump for the Tigers, but he wasn’t dominant. His award-winning 2013 then, looked a tad out-of-place; while his superficial stats (2.90 ERA and league-leading 0.97 WHIP) made him worthy of Cy Young consideration, other pitchers were arguably better (both Yu Darvish and Anibal Sanchez had higher ERA+ marks, while Felix Hernandez also had a strong case). Scherzer’s case was almost certainly helped by an incredible amount of run support, a factor which propelled him to a 21-3 win/loss record. Whether he’d get such help again while simultaneously proving his improvement wasn’t a fluke and staying healthy, meant betting on himself during 2014 was a risky proposition.
So far though, Max Scherzer’s “$144 million bet” is looking good to pay out, and do so in a big way. After starting well in 2013 (he had a 13-1 record at the All-Star break), the 29-year-old has been hot out of the gate once again, compiling a 1.72 ERA through his first seven starts. More than simply that crude measure of performance though, Scherzer has either improved his peripherals further from their 2013 spike, or simply maintained their excellency – the difficulty in doing so being the very reason why many prognosticators (myself included) expected regression. A quick overview; his K/9 rate is up from 10.08 in 2013, to 11.49 this year; his walk rate has improved too, falling from 2.35 BB/9 to 2.30; mixing in his curveball just as much as last season, his opponent’s average allowed has effectively remained the same, currently resting at .195. After getting a little lucky with his FB/HR% a year ago, his rate has stabilized back to league average in 2014, which in addition to an increased ground ball rate has led to a career-best xFIP (2.43).
By every measure, be it tERA (2.75), SIERA (2.36), or the simple eye test, Scherzer has been even better in 2014 than when he won the Cy. With every start then, each outing being one less in which he could possibly incur injury, and a further reminder that he is a legitimate ace, his price tag is going up. Now it’s unlikely he challenges Clayton Kershaw‘s record a.a.v (Kershaw is three years younger after all, and has an even-better track record), but what would Scherzer command on the open market should he win two Cy Young awards in a row?
Scherzer’s future might not be in Detroit, but one thing’s looking certain about the righty this winter; that $144 million figure will undoubtedly be put in the rearview mirror – offers beyond $200 million will be the new benchmark. All he has to do is get there in one piece – the performance is no longer in question – and he’ll be getting paid, big-time.
Not a bad outcome for such a “dumb wager”.
We’re three-plus weeks into the Fantasy Baseball season, and aside from Alexei Ramirez, Charlie Blackmon, and Chris Colabello, no one, it seems, is hitting. Fine, that’s a tad of an overstatement – but perusing the ESPN Player Rater in search of some trade targets, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of highly-thought-of first basemen who are s-t-ruggling so far in 2014. Given their propensity, darn near every owner must currently have a flailing first bagger – the question is, should they be panicking, or remaining patient?
It’s probably best to address the elephant in the room first; Miguel Cabrera – who if not first overall, was drafted only behind Mike Trout – is currently 376th on the Player Rater, the closest hitter to him thus far being… Lonnie Chisenhall?! After inking his mammoth extension with Detroit, the 31-year-old has scuffled his way to a .235-4-2-10-0 fantasy line and struggled to make hard contact consistently; as Tristan Cockcroft pointed out in an excellent piece yesterday, Cabrera’s .159 well-hit average falls well below the average .307 mark he hit during 2011-13. Furthermore, there are concerns over the lingering effects of offseason core surgery – the Venezuela native last week admitting he’s still working towards full strength. Miggy owners shouldn’t push the panic button on their high-price investment yet however; Cabrera did yesterday produce his first game with two extra-base hits (and just his third multi-hit game of the season), hinting that he might return to his planet-eating, healthy self soon. Furthermore, he has experienced slumps before – in the same article, Cockcroft cited a 16-game stretch in 2012 (y’know, when he won the Triple Crown), during which he scraped a 219/.296/.406 line, mostly thanks to some horrible peripheral stats (.266 WHAV, 22.8 Miss%, 59.3 GB%). His slow start is almost certainly just a momentary blip in his excellency, and definitely has nothing to do with a lack of ‘lineup protection’ now that Prince Fielder has been sent packing.
Speaking of which… I’m guessing the Rangers are searching for the receipt on that one. Acquired in exchange for Ian Kinsler, the hefty Fielder has got off to a uninspired start in Texas, barely hitting above the Mendoza line after typically being drafted just outside the first round (13.1 ADP). More than simply his .208 average though, despite being known for his tremendous power and the move to the home run-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington, the first baseman has so far only hit two long balls. He has shown some recent signs of awakening (he’s now 8-for-26 over his last eight games, with two home runs, three doubles and eight walks), but the decline in his numbers seen during the last couple of years are looking more and more than simply an aberration, and likely the beginning of an ungraceful fall. Throw the injury-ravaged Texas lineup into the equation too, which may well limit his counting stats, and Fielder owners are likely to be underwhelmed this season. Not that too many other slugging 1B out there are faring too well either…
Drafted just ahead of Fielder (11.1 ADP), Toronto 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion has similarly struggled out the gate – ranking 28oth on the Player Rater after finally hitting his first home run of the season against the Orioles yesterday. Though offseason surgery on his left wrist can’t yet be completely ruled out in factoring into his struggles, Encarnacion’s early-season impatience is likely at the heart of his problems; by his recent standards (10% in 2013, 14.5% and 14.6% the two years prior), he has unusually high K% (22.9) so far, suggesting that it’s his pitch selectivity undermining his production rather than any issues with the wrist. Given his consistency over the past couple of years, I’d expect to see him circling the bases (parrot and all) more frequently in the imminent future.
The same optimistic outlook can’t be applied to Billy Butler. After finishing just 152nd on the Player Rater in 2013*, the 28-year-old has continued to underwhelm fantasy owners who perhaps thought he was a buy-low candidate entering 2014 – currently sitting at 567 on the Player Rater. Not only has Butler failed to hit for average (.217), but his power seems to have evaporated; from its .197 peak in 2012, Butler’s ISO mark fell to .124 last year, and is a paltry .029 (!) so far in 2014. Billy Hamilton, for comparison’s sake, has a mark of .058, twice as high as Butler. The loss of power is only part of a worrying trend in peripherals for Butler however; always a groundball guy (he has a career rate of 48.4%), Butler has taken his worm-burning to a ridiculous level thus far in 2014, hitting grounders at a 63.2% clip (as David Temple proposed on Fangraphs, a swing change might be to blame). Not too drastic a problem if you’re the aforementioned speedy Hamilton, who stands a fair chance at gaining routine infield singles, but at 6-1, 240lbs, a significant one for the plodding Butler. Now at 72.3% ownership, Butler has been one of the most dropped players in leagues thus far; if you’re not one of the growing number already, join the bandwagon and cut Butler.
Continuing the trend of light-hitting Royals – which isn’t very specific, continuing the whole team is making Dee Gordon look like Barry Bonds in terms of power at the moment – Eric Hosmer has unfortunately failed to continue the power surge he exhibited at the end of the 2013 season. There’s no problem with his average (.311), but his blank in the home run column and lack of counting stats (S/O to the anemic Kansas City offense!) have Hosmer languishing at 351st on the Player Rater (only 2 spots ahead of B.J Upton!) after achieving an ADP of 52.7. He’s still not doing quite as badly as Allen Craig though, who after roping line drives instead of homers through most of 2013, has continued the same approach in 2014 – except minus all the line drives. Drafted just six spots after Hosmer (58.5 ADP), the oft-injured Cardinal has just one jack and a horrid .184 average three weeks in. Given his spot in the potent St. Louis lineup however, he probably stands a better shot than Hosmer at accruing some solid counting stats by the end of the year; without any health problems reported, and no trade value, Craig is worth hanging with and waiting on for his bat to heat up.
God only knows my team could do with Craig doing so. And don’t get me started on his fellow 1B-eligible struggler, Carlos Santana (I own him and his 136 BA on 2 teams). It can’t be just me feeling aggrieved however; what with all the high-profile names mentioned, if you’re getting production from your first baseman (hello to all the surprised Albert Pujols owners out there), you’re one of a lucky few.
* I’m assuming the fact that his DH-only eligibility contributed more to his 2014 ADP of 121.5 than his disappointing performance the previous year.
With Opening Day II only one sleep away, it’s time to bid adieu to Spring Training. As always it started out a pleasure, then dragged on for what seemed like an eternity, but we’ve made finally it; only today’s slate remains before we can settle down for the halcyon days of an 162-game summer. Continuing on from Part I yesterday, let us send off Spring Training in style, and celebrate the good, the bad, and the downright ridiculous, in the manner I have arbitrarily deemed best – a GIF review.
Picking up where Part I left off, the 2014 edition of Spring Training provided the accustomed quota of oddities. If it wasn’t Hank the dog signing a contract with Milwaukee (and scoring his own bobblehead night), it was mascots gobbling up foul balls.
Bartolo Colon was seen hustling up to first base to score a hit in his first at-bat as a Met. A bee attack halted a Red Sox vs Yankees match-up – providing some excellent reaction shots. Jake Peavy nearly cut his finger off in a fishing knife accident. Los Angeles Angels infielder Ian Stewart was forced to sit out after his four-year-old daughter innocently head butted him while they were playing. Absurdity was everywhere!
Unfortunately, not every pre-season moment was so amusingly wacky. If this spring will be remembered for anything, it will be the rash of serious pitching injuries which occurred; Texas will be missing their three top starters come Opening Day (Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Yu Darvish), though they are all expected to return sooner rather than later. The same can’t be said for Jarrod Parker and Patrick Corbin, two young staff anchors who will be out for the year after both undergoing Tommy John surgery. And spare a thought for Braves pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen, who went down within days of each other – both will be hitting the operating table for a second time, and are out for the season (Medlen’s post-injury interview was particularly saddening).
The hits just kept on coming elsewhere too – and in horrifying fashion. After protective caps for pitchers were widely panned before Spring Training opened, in a sickening incident, Aroldis Chapman caught a Salvador Perez line drive with his face. The Cincinnati closer had a metal plate inserted after sustaining multiple facial fractures, his ordeal catching the attention of several fellow throwers, José Fernández in particular. Thankfully the Cuban Missile should be okay, and has been tentatively scheduled to return at some point in late May/early June.
On a more positive injury-related note, Grady Sizemore has managed to stay healthy for over a month! Lured to the reigning champion Red Sox by a one year, $750,000 major league deal, the 31-year-old Sizemore has officially beaten out Jackie Bradley Jr. for Boston’s Opening Day center field role on the back of his eye-opening spring display; tomorrow he’ll be making his first appearance in an MLB game since Sept. 22, 2011.
If the healthy return of Sizemore was one of the biggest surprises of the spring, Giancarlo Stanton’s continued crushing of baseballs was altogether predictable. That he will start the season on yet another crappy Marlins team – despite the optimism of some scouts – doesn’t make the biggest power in the game any less entertaining; here’s to hoping we have a full season of ludicrous Stanton bombs ahead, even if a change in zip codes is part of it.
Going nowhere for the foreseeable future, Miguel Cabrera punished pre-season pitching as if it were any regular June game – his .352/.439/.611 spring line pretty much in line with his pre-injury pace of 2013. Miggy’s signing of an 8 year, $248 million extension topped off a pretty wonky offseason for Detroit, but if the crushing that he laid on poor Aaron Harang a few days back is anything to go by, the Tigers are primed for another long postseason run on the back of their newly-minted superstar.
And finally, as the game’s brightest stars should always do during spring (unless you’re Clayton Kershaw that is), Mike Trout shone. My baseball crush did nothing but, well… crush, laying waste to anyone who dared pitch him; on his way to a .407/.458/.796 triple slash line, no. 27 on the Angels led AL players in HRs (5), including smashing a grand slam the day after signing his one-year, $1 million record contract.
Of course, Trout has since (last night actually) agreed to an extension of his own, buying out his first three years of arbitration eligibility and the following three of his free agency; he’ll now be an Angel through 2020, and will hit the market again before his age-30 season. For now though, let’s just enjoy his astounding talents and not worry about the money – not everyone can so casually drill a ball over a hedge after all. Bring on the regular season, and meaningful baseball brilliance!
With Opening Day II right around the corner, it’s finally time to bid adieu to Spring Training. As always it started out a pleasure, then dragged on for what seemed like an eternity, but we’ve made it through the slog nonetheless; only two more rounds of meaningless games (including today’s slate) remain before we can settle down for the halcyon days of an 162-game summer. So on that note, let us send off Spring Training in style, and celebrate the good, the bad, and the downright ridiculous, in the manner I have arbitrarily deemed best – a two-part GIF review.
One of the most exciting aspects of Spring Training every year – without fail – is the first time you see the winter’s big free-agent signings with their new teams. It still seems weird to watch Robinson Cano rope his first hit for the Mariners, but $240 million apparently quickly erases any loyalty to certain laundry. Cano has had an impressive spring, cranking an .435/.480/.522 line, his squad compiling a 17-11 record – but as we all know, Spring Training stats aren’t especially indicative of regular season success.
Seeing Curtis Granderson wearing Mets blue and orange rather than pinstripes wasn’t especially strange; seeing him get hands on with the Cardinals’ first baseman Scott Moore on the other hand… pretty disturbing (though it should be noted they were once teammates in the minor leagues with the Tigers, so perhaps it was just an overly-friendly renewal of acquaintances).
With David Price quietly staying put in Tampa, Masahira Tanaka was the most wildly talked about pitcher of the offseason. The Yankees landed him from his Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, thanks to a huge 7 year, $175 million offer (including posting fee), only for Brian Cashman to dub him “a really solid, consistent No. 3 starter.” Judging from his outings this spring, it now seems safe to say the Yankees GM was simply downplaying the ace up his sleeve.
Not everything went so smoothly for the Evil Empire during their spring tune-up however. Their infield is approximately 300 years old – not that Cashman noticed – and apparently, they still have a ton of work to do in regards to the simple tenets of fielding – lest more fantastically amusing collisions occur when the games actually count. Here’s a starting tip: don’t throw your mask down the third base line when going for straightforward pop-ups Brian McCann!
Of course, there were also plenty of moments of fielding brilliance to counter the Yanks’ ineptitude. Josh Reddick – a prime bounce back candidate after a 2013 marred by wrist injuries – bagged himself a pair of home run robberies early on, both at the expense of new Giant Michael Morse. (Only one GIF is necessary, seeing as they were nearly identical Spiderman grabs).
Even Daniel Murphy, legitimately one of the worst defensive second basemen in the Majors, managed one instance of amazing work, somehow throwing out the PED-free Bryce Harper with a throw from between his legs. Don’t hold your breath hoping for more of the same Mets fans, Murphy is significantly more likely to end up at first base once Ike Davis and Lucas Duda inevitably fail than to produce a play like this again.
Finally (for today at least), it wouldn’t be Spring Training without a couple of embarrassing incidents occurring on the grassy knolls that serve as outfield bleachers. Hey, anytime you can let your child careen down an incline while you chase after a baseball, to steal a joke from Bill Simmons, you have to do it! I mean, you’re not seriously there solely to watch the Marlins play right?
At least our father of the year didn’t make a complete fool of himself though, unlike this guy below. I’m not sure which is worse, falling over so pathetically, or the beer-toting bro in the Paul Konerko jersey prancing off prize in hand while the desperate kids look on.
That’ll do it for part I of my Spring Training GIF-cap, check back tomorrow for the second remembrance of the weird and wonderful. My thoughts on more serious matters, ie. the Miguel Cabrera extension, if they weren’t already apparent, can wait a while – Miggy isn’t going anywhere for a long time thanks to Dave Dombrowski’s ignorance of aging patterns.
Having signed Max Scherzer to a one-year, $15.525 million contract to avoid arbitration this past winter, long-term extension talks between the Detroit Tigers and reigning AL Cy Young winner – and Scott Boras client – have recently been scrapped. In reportedly turning down what Dave Dombrowski called “a very substantial offer that would place him among the highest-paid pitchers in the game,” (Fox Sports‘ Jon Morosi putting the deal at six years, $144 million, placing Scherzer on the same pay trajectory as Cole Hamels), the 29-year-old may well have done the Detroit Tigers a favor.
History tells us long-term extensions for aging top flight pitchers aren’t often fiscally prudent. In 2013 alone we witnessed the end for numerous such signees; Johan Santana’s 6 year, $137.5M deal finally ended with him recovering from shoulder surgery (again), the lefty having provided only 109 starts and 717 innings to the Mets during their pact. Barry Zito remained largely healthy over his 7/126 contract with the Giants, but he provided less than 2 cumulative WARP in the time, all while rocking a 4.47 ERA. Roy Halladay retired with a whimper and a 6.82 ERA in 2013, having battled injuries throughout his two final years in Philadelphia – both costing $20M apiece. Even C.C. Sabathia showed worrying signs of ineffectiveness last year, and he still has another $96 million owed to him by the Yankees over the next four years. With Justin Verlander (7 yr/$180M, plus a 22M option in 2020) and Anibal Sanchez (5 yr/$80M, plus a 2018 option) already locked up through their thirties, and considering the outlined inherent risk in doing so much, did the Tigers especially need to add another long-term extension to the already-dangerous mix?
Thankfully for the Tigers, the quandary has at least for now, resolved itself; Scherzer will let his 2014 performance dictate his market value next winter, risking potential injury or decline in his search for a better deal. If he comes close to his performance over the last two years (during which time he’s been worth 11 WAR, per Fangraphs, and at 2.99, had the seventh best FIP in the majors), he’ll be a very expensive 30-year-old, a commodity that some team – unlikely to be the Tigers it seems – will happily overpay. Detroit will by then have another extension to worry about anyway.
With Scherzer – and presumably the money they cleared for him in trading away Prince Fielder and Doug Fister – off the table, Detroit management must now focus on what to do about Miguel Cabrera (and apparently already has). Set to make $22 million in each of the next two seasons, the twice-defending AL MVP will be a free agent after his age-32 season in 2015 should the Tigers not re-sign him before then – a decision which, mostly because of Albert Pujols, isn’t quite the slam-dunk you’d think.
It can’t be denied, the 30-year-old has been the best hitter in baseball over the last couple of seasons (though he’s been a huge negative both in the field and on the basepaths, hence why Mike Trout is technically more valuable). He’s beloved by the fans in Detroit, his presence in the lineup instantly elevating their team’s offense into elite territory. But he’s also bound to command a massive payday, potentially a problem – as ESPN writer Dan Szymborski pointed out back in November:
The next team to sign Cabrera, whether it’s the Tigers or another team, doesn’t get to purchase his previous six seasons, they get the right to his next six seasons. All good things come to an end… and Cabrera’s star is no exception. From stars to scrubs, the after-age-30 stories tend to be one of decline… The lessons of previous superstars should not go unlearned.
The “previous superstars” reference could hardly be less veiled – the respective career trajectories of Cabrera and Albert Pujols are eerily similar, something Jason Catania noted:
Pujols is right-handed; so is Cabrera. Pujols was a highly rated prospect who broke into the major leagues playing third base and outfield before settling in at first base; ditto, Cabrera. And Pujols enjoyed immediate, overwhelming success in his first full season—at the tender age of 21—triggering a decade of incredible, consistent production in which he hit for both league-leading average and power… Same goes for Cabrera.
With the similarly hefty sort of frame that Cabrera currently boasts (he might actually have been in better shape), the decline began for Pujols in his age-31 season, his last with the Cardinals. He hit just (!) 299/.366/.541, a great season in a vacuum, but all career lows for Pujols – who averaged .328/.420/.617 with 40 homers, 41 doubles and an OPS+ of 170 in his time with the Cardinals. Of course, it was then, entering his age-32 season, that the Los Angeles Angels signed him to a 10 year, $240 million contract; since then Pujols’ production has been marred by injury, his two year triple slash line falling to .275/.338/.485 in addition to his underlying skills continuing to trend in the wrong directions (he’s had an increasing strikeout rate, a decreasing walk rate and worsening plate discipline for the past five seasons now).
Cabrera – if allowed to get there – will be hitting the free-agent market one year older than when Pujols did back in 2011/12. Though there’s been no offensive drop-off so far, injuries began to worryingly take their toll last year; by the end of the season, problems with his hip, abdomen, and groin had slowed his previously torrid output at the plate to such an extent that Cabrera managed only four extra-base hits over 32 games in September and October. With ten years of experience under his belt too, 2014 will mark the exact same point in his career as when Pujols began to decline in 2011 – the season prior to his mammoth new contract.
The Tigers are all in. But for all their big moves and expenditure over the past few years, they’ve only two ALCS losses and one World Series trip to show for it – a sweep at the hands of a Pablo Sandoval-powered Giants in 2012. With Scherzer unsigned, Dave Dombrowski may have dodged a bullet, but in the wake of such perceived failure, the pressure to lock up Cabrera will only increase. With two years left on his deal though, the Tigers would do well to observe history – like perhaps they did in not ponying up for Scherzer – and ride out the public outcry for a new contract. After all, as Szymborski wrote, “He’s not likely to get more expensive, given that he’s at the absolute peak of his game.” If the Pujols-like slide begins, tough as it might be to quit while they’re ahead and cut ties with their franchise player, Detroit would thus avoid the albatross contract currently weighing down the Angels and be able to earnestly rebuild.
The clock is ticking; Detroit’s championship window is still open, but it could soon be fast closing. Whether the Tigers will accept as much remains to be seen.
In theory, you’d think a team boasting the back-to-back AL MVP (not that Miguel Cabrera will win again this year, as I wrote yesterday) as well as the last two AL Cy Young winners wouldn’t especially feel the loss of a light-hitting shortstop. But even considering the trade of slugging first baseman Prince Fielder, and the still-confusing deal that sent away Doug Fister, the Detroit Tigers are very much in win-now mode, meaning the loss of Jose Iglesias for potentially the entire season is a big dent in their hopes of finally capturing that elusive World Series pennant. So while Iglesias – who only profiled as the Tigers’ no. 9 hitter, but would have been a Gold Glove caliber defender – is maintaining that he’ll return before the season is out, the Tigers would do well to find an similar, if slightly more able-bodied, replacement in the meantime.
No matter what Dave Dombrowski is currently saying, it’s becoming more and more apparent via Detroit’s enquiries elsewhere that the prospective replacement is not currently in the Tigers organization. Acquired in the Fister trade, 25-year-old Steve Lombardozzi, despite having the reputation of a utilityman, neither figures to fit defensively nor have the bat to make up for his glove (I’m still struggling comprehending that trade obviously). Having appeared in 115 major league games, including starting 24 games at shortstop as a rookie in 2010 before the team traded for Jhonny Peralta, the 28-year-old Danny Worth has some experience at least. Unfortunately, his time has not borne fruit, his ML line of .242/.307/.315 in 246 PAs, like Lombardozzi, not enough to atone for his mediocre glove. Hernan Perez, who was on the Tigers’ postseason roster last year as a pinch-runner, has played only at the keystone since 2010, and is a career .256 hitter in the minors – nor has done anything to justify a call this Spring. 22-year-old Eugenio Suarez fits most comfortably into the defense-first profile of Iglesias in his wielding of a solid glove at short, but hit only .253/.332/.387 in 2013 – which would be fine were it not for the fact that it was in Double-A; Suarez evidently still has some way to go yet before Dombrowski can justifiably use him as an everyday starter on a team with World Series aspirations.
With slim pickings available in house then, one readily-available free agent looms large over Detroit – Stephen Drew. Almost instantly connected to the Tigers as soon as word came down on Iglesias’ injury, signing Drew would almost certainly prove to be a mistake on the Tigers’ part, hence why it was refreshing to quickly hear Dombrowski quash such rumors, even if he iterated he would keep the search in house. Drew is not looking for a short-term deal, as evidenced by his turning down of Boston’s $14.1M qualifying offer this winter, meaning Detroit would most likely have to ink the Scott Boras client to an expensive multiyear contract. Such a move would not only impede Iglesias’ development upon his return, but additionally cost the Tigers a compensatory first round pick in one of the deeper amateur drafts of recent years. Though their selection will be in the latter part of the round, that pick will still be immensely valuable, and could even be used as a trade chip should Detroit need additional help in season. In short, it’s not an asset worth losing for the privilege of shelling out a large contract to an average 31 year old whose offensive numbers were decking before a season in cozy Fenway Park, especially when he might only fill in for a season at best.
With Drew (hopefully) out of the equation, the Tigers still have options via trade. Rumor has it that the Tigers made a quick call to Arizona regarding the availability of Chris Owings. Young, cost-controlled, and potentially a future star though, talks understandably didn’t progress very far – the Diamondbacks probably lukewarm on jettisoning the leading candidate for their Opening Day shortstop job, or Detroit lacking the pieces available for such a move. In shooting for the stars however, Dombrowski may have in the process hit upon on a cloud; Arizona certainly have a surplus at short, a bevy including not only Owings, but Nick Ahmed, Didi Gregorious and Cliff Pennington. Ahmed is still too far away to be a viable option, but his future presence certainly makes the latter pair expendable. Gregorious would fit almost perfectly the void left by Iglesias, but Detroit would then have two very similarly aged players upon their incumbent’s return. Pennington, somewhat of a forgotten man behind the youngsters in Arizona, would thus present the best option; with just one year at a very reasonable $2.75 million left on his contract, the soon to be 30-year-old could fill in capably for the year before moving on when Iglesias comes back. Though he wouldn’t hit much in the interim, his glove would be above average at short, a factor which would not only keep groundball-happy Rick Porcello happy (though I’m sure moving Cabrera off third has already done that), but put a solid fielder next to rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos, who will need help covering the left side of the infield by most accounts. If that weren’t enough, the ZiPS projection of Pennington’s eventual WAR value is almost the same as Drew’s.
If Arizona’s riches don’t suit Dombrowski’s tastes, there are other potential avenues to be explored; Nick Franklin of the Mariners seems to be eminently available, though he has little experience at short. The same goes for Darwin Barney of the Cubs, though he is an excellent defender at second base if that counts for anything in a potential transition. The big name out there, if nowhere near the force he once was, is Jimmy Rollins. Clashing horribly with new Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg already, Rollins is certainly available, but his 10/5 veto rights and remaining salary ($11 million this season and a guaranteed $11 million in 2015 if he reaches 434 PAs this season) would be a serious obstacle to any move.
Losing Iglesias is a certainly a pain in the proverbial for Detroit, but they aren’t completely backed into a corner and needing to lash out into the market. The small move might yet be the right one. After a questionable offseason so far, Dave Dombrowski can easily get this one right, just as long as he stays away from Stephen Drew.
Just putting it out there, but does anyone else find it slightly ridiculous that LeBron James will be paid $19,067,500 for his efforts during the 2013/14 NBA season? Many would say it’s way too much already, considering he plays a game for a living – plus he’s got endorsement deals to go on top of that base figure. Others – Bill Simmons for instance – think that James’ check should be significantly larger, say, in the $75M range. After all, he has been named the NBA’s MVP 4 times, won 2 titles, lost another 2, and been a 7-time All-NBA 1st Team selection – and even that’s cutting his career resumé very, very, short. Either way you look at it, overpaid or undervalued, one thing is clear however; compared to baseball’s salaries, one of the best players in basketball’s history has been truly shafted by his union’s negotiating skills (or lack of).
Let’s take James’ current 2013/14 salary, $19,067,500, and see where it would land him amongst baseball’s highest (total salary) earners in 2014; 22rd, behind not only top players like Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano, but the slightly less desirable likes of Ryan Howard ($25,000,000), Mark Teixeira ($23,125,000) Carl Crawford ($21,107,142). He’s barely ahead of Mark Buehrle ($19,000,000), and will likely fall further behind as soon as Mike Trout puts pen to paper. Now admittedly, LeBron famously took less money to sign with the SuperFriends in Miami, so is only tied for the 8th highest salary in his own sporting field (with teammate Chris Bosh as it happens; Dywane Wade is no. 10), but even the very top NBA earners are overwhelmed in number by their baseball-playing peers. In fact, Only Kobe Bryant’s (egregiously awful – I’m a Suns fan) $30,453,805 2014 salary would crack baseball’s top 11 for the current calendar year – Dirk Nowitzki, if anyone’s interested, would check in at no. 12 – just behind Felix Hernandez – if such a joint rich list formally existed.
Now I’m not saying that baseball players don’t deserve their money (well, maybe in the cases of Howard, Teixera, Crawford et. al), but when looking at the similar revenues generated from the two sports, one thing is drastically apparent; one union clanked iron at the negotiating table, and the other smashed their labor deal out of the park. If the puns didn’t make it apparent, the MLBPA might be the strongest professional sports union in existence, whereas the NBPA, well, it blows.
Since 2000, NBA revenue is up 120 percent, from about $2.5 billion to $5.5 billion, while MLB revenue has also seen a significant, but similarly proportioned boom; it has increased from about $3.4 billion in 2000 to about $8 billion in 2013, good for a 135 percent jump. But while the MLBPA have long fought off a salary cap on players earning power, the NBPA famously agreed to maximum thresholds for the sport’s top stars in order to end the 204 day lockout which nearly nixed the league’s 1999 season. And in doing so, they preserved basketball’s middle class, but screwed the big stars. In the word’s of super-agent Art Tellem, “They are really stealing from LeBron.”
Per Sports Business Journal, and spotrac.com, in 1999-2000, of the 20 players whose contracts had the highest average annual value, 11 were NBA players, led by Kevin Garnett at $21 million a year. Baseball made up the other 9, but Kevin Brown was the sport’s highest earner at only $15 million a year. By 2002-03 the distribution became a little more even; of the top 21 (three NBA players tied at No. 19 averaging $15 million a season), 11 were NBA and 10 were MLB, with Alex Rodriguez’s first 10-year deal significantly entering the fray. Fast forward to 2007-08, and the numbers had flipped – nine of the top 20 highest-paid players were in the NBA and 11 were in MLB, who in A-Rod and Johan Santana could boast sport’s top two highest earners. And finally, 2013, where of the top 21 highest-paid athletes in America (two players were tied for 20th place), 13 were MLB players, and only 6 NBA athletes (the other two were NFL quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Drew Brees). Furthermore, 8 of the top 10 deals belonged to baseball players – and this was all before Cano, Masahiro Tanaka, Clayton Kershaw or Jacoby Ellsbury signed new contracts this winter.
The discrepancy between the two sport’s top salaries really is remarkable, and even more so when you consider the proportional importance of individual players to each game; with only 5 players a side, a star in basketball can have much more impact than the one of the 9 players in a baseball lineup. Mike Trout being taken away from the Angels would cost them around 10 wins a season. When LeBron left Cleveland, the Cavs went from a league best 61 wins in 2009/10 to a conference-worst 19 the following season – a 42 win differential – and along the way also tied the longest losing streak in any American professional team sport (26). And you’re telling me Masahiro Tanaka, who has yet to throw a pitch in an MLB regular season game and will likely appear in 50 fewer games than James, will make $2,922,500 more than him in salary during 2014?
Seriously, well played MLBPA.