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

cespedes-crabs-660x330

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

Sports Law Roundup – 11/18/2016

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Baseball stadium netting: On Wednesday, the trial court dismissed a lawsuit seeking increased fan-safety measures in baseball stadiums, including expanded safety netting behind dugouts and along the foul lines, based on a lack of standing. I previously wrote about this case over at TechGraphs (see here, here, and here), generally discussing the ways in which it– despite the legal weaknesses in the plaintiffs’ position– already was effecting change. Although those legal weaknesses proved to be the downfall of this suit, the court’s ruling was not without its admonitions to Major League Baseball. For example, an early footnote contains this observation: “Why Major League Baseball, knowing of the risk [foul balls pose] to children in particular, does little to highlight this risk to parents remains a mystery.” The order also expressly suggests the possibility that future litigation along these lines may be more availing in other states, where the “Baseball Rule,” which makes it very difficult for fans to recover against baseball teams and leagues, has fallen under attack: “Thus, it is conceivable that, under the right set of circumstances, a plaintiff could obtain the type of relief that plaintiffs seek here. Given the changing nature of both the baseball game experience and the injuries at issue, which are far different from those in 1914, what is a ‘reasonable expectation’ on an ‘ordinary occasion’ is not a static concept.
  • Football painkillers: Attorneys for retired NFL players in a lawsuit against the league alleging that team doctors dispensed painkillers “‘as if they were candy’ regardless of long-term effects” are seeking permission to depose team owners Jerry Jones and Jim Irsay. Outside of football, Irsay, who inherited ownership of the Indianapolis Colts from his father, is known for collecting famous guitars– including Jerry Garcia’s Tiger, Les Paul’s Black Beauty, and Prince’s Yellow Cloud— and having a history of abusing painkillers. The plaintiffs also have amended their complaint to add a RICO claim, which, among other things, introduces the potential for tripling their financial recovery in the lawsuit.
  • NCAA transfer rules: Johnnie Vassar, a former Northwestern basketball player, filed a putative class-action lawsuit against the NCAA, alleging that the rule forcing transferring students to sit out of their sport for their first year at their new school violates antitrust laws. Vassar claims that he attempted to transfer from Northwestern but was unable to do so, because all of his target schools only would accept him if he could play immediately. In recent years, Northwestern has emerged as a cradle of anti-NCAA legal activity.
  • Triathlon death: A wrongful death claim brought in connection with the drowning death of a competitor in the 2010 Philadelphia Triathlon cannot proceed, a Pennsylvania appellate court ruled, concluding that the triathlete knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risk of participating in the event when, in the course of registering for it, he executed a detailed liability waiver.
  • Cuban baseball-player smuggling: In a federal criminal case against a sports agent accused of conspiracy to smuggle Cuban baseball players into the United States, the government has listed numerous professional players, including Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu, as trial witnesses. For more on this general subject, ESPN The Magazine’s feature on Yasiel Puig is a must-read.
  • Boxing fraud: The defendants– Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, HBO, Top Rank, and others– in twenty-six lawsuits alleging that they improperly concealed Pacquiao’s shoulder injury leading up to the fighters’ 2015 bout in order to boost pay-per-view sales admitted that the plaintiffs– fans and bars– had standing to pursue their claims, even as the defendants denied that those claims had any merit.
  • Gambling: West Virginia, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin are asking the United States Supreme Court to review a Third Circuit decision rejecting New Jersey’s attempt to open up sports gambling in its state. The five states, together, filed an amicus brief in support of New Jersey’s cert petition (formal request that the Supreme Court allow them to appeal the Third Circuit’s ruling), arguing that the manner in which Congress has regulated sports gambling is unconstitutional and threatens the balance of power between the federal and state governments. In an unrelated story, daily fantasy leaders FanDuel and DraftKings announced a merger agreement this morning.
  • Secondary football ticket market: Under pressure from state regulators, the NFL agreed to end its league-wide imposition of a price floor on game tickets sold on the secondary market that had prevented the resale of tickets at prices below face value. The agreement does not apply to tickets for the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, nor does it prevent teams from acting “unilaterally” to enforce price floors, meaning that the practice could continue.
  • Campus police records: The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s dismissal  of ESPN’s lawsuit seeking the University of Notre Dame Police Department’s incident reports involving student athletes, deciding that the ND Police Department is not a “public agency” and thus cannot be compelled to produce the requested materials under the state’s open records law.

Sports court is in recess.

2016 Detroit Tigers still in search of man out standing in (left) field

After a disappointing 2015 season, which included some odd maneuvering at the trade deadline, the Detroit Tigers entered the offseason with a significant to-do list. They’ve already made acquisitions designed to address needs in the bullpen and starting pitching rotation, but, with three months until opening day, the team still has one major hole to fill.   Continue reading

Another audible discussion of current baseball stories

While the ALDLAND Podcast‘s technical hiatus continues, I returned as a guest on this week’s episode of the Banished to the Pen podcast, where we discussed current baseball stories, including the latest Dave Dombrowski news, the status and outlook of frequent trading partners the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays, and issues surrounding the possible expansion of safety netting in MLB stadiums.

You can download or stream the entire podcast here.

Window Shopping: Step Back From the Window, or, Thank You Very Much, Mr. Rebooto

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline was an especially active period for the Detroit Tigers franchise, which made big moves both with player and front-office personnel.

Detroit traded three of the best players on its 2015 roster in the days and minutes prior to the trade deadline. The team’s biggest move, and arguably the biggest of one of the most active trade-deadline periods ever, was their decision to trade number-one starter David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays. They also sent closer Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh, and, in the final moments before the deadline, Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets.

The basic logic behind each of these moves is that, even prior to these trades, each of these players was, for all practical purposes, not going to be a member of the Detroit Tigers in 2016. That’s because each is in the final year of his current contract, meaning that each becomes a free agent at the end of this season. The Tigers would have no special ability to keep Price, Cespedes, or Soria in Detroit after the end of the 2015 season, and, given their individual successes, each is likely to fetch contract offers on the free market too rich even for Mike Ilitch’s blood. Rather than keep Price, Cespedes, and Soria for August and September on a team that’s unlikely to even make the playoffs, only to watch them walk away in the winter, the Tigers, with an eye on the post-2015 future, decided to cash in some of the value of these assets by trading them now. In doing so, Detroit converted these three expiring assets into six prospects, including five pitchers and one infielder.

Baseball analysts widely praised these transactions as beneficial to the Tigers, who, general manager Dave Dombrowski announced were “rebooting,” selling with the goal of remaining competitive in the near term, rather than undergoing a full rebuilding. The top return for Detroit was Daniel Norris, a now-former Blue Jay who lives in a van and shaves his beard with an ax. They also received Matt Boyd from Toronto, a younger starter who, in his recent Tigers’ debut, beat Johnny Cueto and the Royals.

Of course, the only real question for Detroit was not whom to trade but whether to trade. As July 31 approached, that question divided fans and, it later would be revealed, members of the team’s front office and ownership. As for the former group, most fans recognized the Tigers’ slim playoff odds and supported selling, although a minority that included this writer held out hope that the team could make one more postseason push before initiating a rebuild. Ultimately, Dombrowski’s “rebooting” seemed to satisfy both camps: Detroit would get close-to-ready prospects in exchange for their expiring assets. No long rebuilding process– a full surrender– was in store, just a quick retooling.

Two additional notes in the context of these trades: 1) one week before the trade deadline, Toronto, the biggest buyers, and Detroit, the biggest sellers, sat four and five games out of the last American League wild card position, respectively, and 2) while it isn’t at all likely that Price, Soria, or Cespedes will return to Detroit in the offseason, the effect of an unusual clause in Cespedes’ contract is that the Tigers actually increased whatever chance they have of resigning Cespedes by trading him.

_________________________________________

As the Tigers and their fans were settling into life without Price, Soria, and Cespedes, and enjoying their first trial run with Norris, who had a strong start on Sunday in Baltimore, unbeknownst to them, even more action was afoot behind the scenes.    Continue reading

Window Shopping: oY?

The notion of a “platoon split” refers to the fact that, on average, batters have more success against opposite-handed pitchers than they do against same-handed pitchers. Thus, right-handed batters generally fare better against left-handed pitching, and left-handed batters generally fare better against right-handed pitching. If you think this sounds like some Monty Hall voodoo, take a look at the numbers. It’s one of the oldest tricks in baseball.

Occasionally, however, a player will buck the trend and find himself with a reverse platoon split, meaning that he hits same-handed pitching better than opposite-handed pitching. Such appears to be the case this year for Detroit outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

The 2015 season is shaping up to be a career-best for Cespedes. Here are his current offensive numbers:

yo2015His 3.2 fWar is good for twenty-second overall, and his 120 wRC+ (a comprehensive measure of offensive value) is third-best on his team, behind only Miguel Cabrera and the sensational J.D. Martinez. Pretty good.

What’s lurking behind those numbers, though, is something seemingly odd and definitely obviously foreshadowed by the words in this post you’ve read so far: a reverse platoon split. Cespedes bats exclusively right-handed, but, contrary to the long-prevailing trend, he has much more success against right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers. These are his current splits:

yo2015splitThese numbers aren’t even close. Continue reading

Window Shopping: Tigers Roaring Out of the Gate

At one month old, the MLB season now has accrued a sufficient sample size of free time to permit me to compile the opening post of this site’s regular Detroit Tigers series for 2015, Window Shopping. Last year, I came out of the gate a bit too hot, burned out, and had to take the month of June off. This year finds your resident Tiger tracker more balanced and measured in his approach. This year’s Detroit Baseball Tigers have a more balanced look too.   Continue reading