Saving Detroit: Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp

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Last night, I provided my instant reaction to the trade that sent J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks for three modest infield prospects. In that post, I considered what many are calling a “very light” return for the slugging outfielder in the context of another star-for-prospects trade made just days ago between the two Chicago teams involving starting pitcher Jose Quintana and suggested that a lesser return for Martinez was appropriate in light of his contract status (expiring), age, injury history, and inconsistent defense. I further suggested that, with multiple transactions still to be made over the next two weeks, it is too early for a referendum on Detroit’s general manager, Al Avila.

Avila is a first-year GM, but he worked alongside previous Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski for many years and is an experienced and well-regarded talent evaluator, so the job isn’t exactly new to him. Yet, in some Tigers fan circles right now, Avila is being pilloried as an unqualified, incapable rookie, while Dombrowski has never been remembered more fondly.

As I wrote last night, even if this trade becomes a blemish on Avila’s resume (the more thorough analyses of the prospects involved in the trade out this morning paint a more detailed picture but don’t really contradict the experts’ immediate reactions), it’s much too soon to declare him unfit for his current position. In addition to the Quintana trade discussed last night, though, there is another trade we can look to as a rough comparison between Avila and Dombrowski: the 2015 Yoenis Cespedes trade.

With the non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approach, on July 31, 2015 Dombrowski traded Cespedes to the New York Mets for two pitching prospects: Luis Cessa and Michael Fulmer. That trade, along with two previous ones that sent David Price to Toronto (for lefty pitching prospects Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt) and Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh (for JaCoby Jones), surprised some Tigers fans, who were not necessarily soothed when Dombrowski described what looked to some like a sudden selloff as a mere “rebooting.” Not insignificantly, these trades immediately cost Dombrowski his job.

In isolation, the Cespedes trade– from Detroit’s standpoint– looks fairly similar to yesterday’s Martinez trade. Both players were on expiring contracts and thus guaranteed only to be rentals for the receiving teams (and an unusual clause in Cespedes’ contract actually made it less likely that the Mets would be able to sign him as a free agent, though Cespedes waived that provision and did remain in Queens). In the first half of 2015 (the split most readily available to me as a rough approximation of a snapshot at the trade deadline), Cespedes had a 121 wRC+ (45th among qualified hitters) and contributed 3.3 fWAR in 366 plate appearances. In the first half of 2017, Martinez posted a 156 wRC+ (would have been eighth among qualified hitters had he played enough to qualify) and contributed 1.4 fWAR in 215 plate appearances.

Cespedes memorably caught fire at the plate upon moving to New York, but he had been a lesser hitter than Martinez was over the same stretch– both in terms of a direct comparison and relative to his in-season peers– in 2017. Without a more detailed and complex analysis of the different trade markets in the different seasons, it’s difficult to say more about the two players’ relative value in this space.

The return for Cespedes– Cessa and Fulmer– was more lauded both at the time and now, in retrospect, than the return for Martinez. Fulmer immediately was highlighted as a significant prospect, and he turned in a full-season performance the following season that earned him rookie-of-the-year honors and some Cy Young votes, and he was named to his first All-Star team this season. (Cessa never played for the Tigers, who shipped him to the Yankees that offseason as part of a package that returned Justin Wilson, the team’s current closer and valuable trade chip.)

We don’t have two years of hindsight from which to assess the future development of Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King, but, from my review of the assessments of these players by experienced prospect writers, it’s hard to see a Fulmer-caliber player among them. It remains too early to render significant judgments about Avila’s capabilities as a front-office leader, and Lugo, Alcantara, and King may have been the best available return for Martinez on the current market. To the extent Dombrowski’s 2015 Cespedes trade is an adequate comp for Avila’s 2017 Martinez trade, though, it’s not one that– in isolation– reflects especially well on Avila.   Continue reading

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Catching Fire: Is Brad Ausmus Evolving?, Or, Evidence That Brad Ausmus Definitely Reads ALDLAND

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Although it did not happen precisely as I predicted, the Tigers scored enough runs off new Red Sox pitcher Drew Pomeranz to allow rejuvenated starter Justin Verlander to depart after the sixth inning with a 2-1 Detroit lead. The offense added insurance runs in the seventh and eighth, but, with Justin Wilson on to take care of the power portion of the Boston batting order in the bottom of the eighth, the situation quickly became dicey:

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Those skyrocketing green leverage index bars right before the red ones are what pop up when you load the bases before you get any outs. Not good if you’re on defense. Wilson secured the first out by way of a strikeout, but the next batter singled, driving in a run and narrowing Detroit’s lead to two, with the bases loaded and only one out. That will earn you your first red leverage index bar of the night.

Wilson always looks a bit fidgety on the mound, and with the home crowd mockingly chanting his name like they would that of a visiting hockey goalie who appeared to be cracking under pressure, Wilson mustered his second strikeout of the inning. The reliever appeared, if not relieved, then not unhappy when manager Brad Ausmus came out to fetch him, surrendering the ball without protest. The team’s closer, Francisco Rodriguez, would be coming in to attempt a four-out save.

Not three weeks ago, a nearly identical situation presented itself to Ausmus and the Tigers. They were on the road in Toronto– another team they’re chasing in the AL Wild Card race– that night, and Verlander left in the sixth inning with Detroit up one. That favorable margin held through the top of the eighth inning, and Wilson was back out to handle the bottom of the eighth. He quickly got himself in trouble, putting two men on base. The next two batters made outs, but Wilson walked the third, leaving himself with bases loaded, two outs, and the slimmest of leads to protect. Last night, Ausmus went to his surest option, Rodriguez, in that spot, but on that night in Toronto, he turned to Alex Wilson, a decidedly less sure option, who immediately proved as such by surrendering the lead for good.

At the time, I criticized Ausmus for the decision to bring in Alex Wilson instead of Rodriguez, as well as for his stated reason for making that decision:   Continue reading

Catching Fire: Brad Ausmus is not saying, he’s just saying

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The Detroit Tigers were winning last night, but then they lost. This is not a new narrative for this team, for which unrecoverable, late-inning blown leads are a recurring symptom of an unstable bullpen that’s as much a part of this era’s Detroit baseball identity as Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander.

Incidentally, it was Verlander who started last night’s game, the first of a road series against the Blue Jays. He did well to hold Toronto to two runs, but he had to exit in the sixth inning, having thrown 103 pitches. At that point, the Tigers led 3-2. They extended the lead to 4-2 in the next inning, thanks to an Ian Kinsler RBI GDIP.

When Shane Greene allowed a run in the bottom of the seventh, Justin Wilson relieved him, getting two key outs and preserving what then was a 4-3 Detroit lead.

After newish Toronto reliever Jason Grilli made disappointingly light work of the meat of the Tigers lineup, Wilson came back out to pitch the bottom of the eighth. Allowing two quick hits that gave the Blue Jays men on first and third with nobody out, Wilson suddenly found himself in an extremely tight position. He did very well to strike out the always-dangerous Edwin Encarnacion for the first out of the inning, and a well-handled grounder by Cabrera allowed James McCann to employ a nice bit of pickle strategy to nab the runner on third, who had attempted to score, for the second out.

Two outs, but still, two on base. Make that three on base, after Wilson walked the next batter on five pitches. “Time for a new pitcher,” one person in our residence said. The other agreed, as did Brad Ausmus, who pulled Wilson for…Alex Wilson. That Wilson promptly allowed a two-RBI single, providing the Jays a 5-4 lead they would not surrender.

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Some immediately wondered why Ausmus turned to Alex Wilson in what, as illustrated above, was the highest leverage moment of the game (7.88 LI), rather than Francisco Rodriguez, who is the team’s nominal closer. K-Rod was very well-rested and has been performing very well in recent weeks. To all but the most rigid of old-school managers, this seemed like a fairly obvious move. Ausmus addressed the subject in his post-game media conference:   Continue reading

Feel like they never tell you the story of the Gose?

Last night, the Detroit Tigers’ 2016 season finally got underway in Miami, where the team opened a two-game series against the Marlins. I’m perhaps over-eager to employ this concept, but if Detroit’s 8-7 win in eleven innings wasn’t a microcosm of a Tigers season, I’m not sure what was. This game had pretty much everything:   Continue reading