December 5, 2007
BASEBALL: Back to Square One
A few thoughts on the big Marlins-Tigers trade of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo and minor league pitchers Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop:
1. Is This A Good Return For These Two?
It's a good package - Maybin and Miller are high-upside prospects; Rabelo seems like a typical backup catcher type who will hit .250-.270 but do little else. It's tough to get a read on Miller, who has thrown 74.1 innings in the majors and 83 in the minors after a storied college career, but he could easily be an ace in the making, and Maybin is just 20 and has tremendous tools and a fine minor league record. Trahern has thrown over 500 minor league innings striking out less than 5 men per 9, so he's a non-prospect. Badenhop seems to have great control, but really I don't know much more about him or De La Cruz.
Straight up for Cabrera, as huge as Cabrera's value is, this seems like a solid package of prospects. Still, it has to be a sign of how far Willis' market value has fallen that you couldn't get more by dealing them separately.
2. Is This A Good Deal For The Tigers?
Absolutely. They're a contending team and they surrendered no proven major leaguers and got one of the three or four best hitters in baseball in return, who is young and durable and still reasonably priced. Cabrera presents challenges given his weight and poor glove, but if Renteria holds up at short, they won't have the same problems the Marlins had of Cabrera's weaknesses being exposed by combination with Hanley Ramirez. And Detroit can move him to DH in a year or two if they have to. As for Willis, you have to think there's at least a chance that a change of scenery and better defensive support could help him, but I'd bet on him spending some quality time with Dr. Andrews before long; his downward spiral seems more likely the result of injuries leaching his effectiveness than just a funk.
3. Does The Marlins' Business Model Make Any Sense?
If you start with the assumption that you had to deal these guys because they were getting expensive and needed to get prospects in return, this trade makes some sense. But I question the underlying assumption that Florida can't bring in enough revenue to afford keeping a home-grown superstar like Cabrera - an assumption that also implies that three or four years from now, they will be dealing Maybin and Miller as well (in fact, if that's your business model, Maybin being 20 years old is a minus, since it means he'll be free agent ready before he hits his prime). Granted, the Marlins have managed to win two championships, but the frustration of these continual firesales probably costs them more in fan loyalty than it saves in salary. It's not like South Florida is a sparsely populated area or filled with people unfamiliar with baseball, after all; a commitment to building a consistently competitive team that hangs on to its players would stand a fair chance of being rewarded. With the death of the Expos, the Marlins have become the prime example of what Joe Sheehan has called anti-marketing, i.e., a franchise that is more interested in convincing the fans that they can't afford to compete - so as to panhandle for a new ballpark - than in doing the contrary to put fans in the seats.
Trahern had the 2nd best groundball to flyball ratio in AA last year, so even with the terrible strikeout rate, he's a little more than a non-prospect.
It would seem this gives them this line-up
That is a pretty potent 9 if a) they stay healthy as only 2 of the guys are under 30 and 2 are over 35 (not counting Renteria who could be older than Livan for all we know) b) Renteria hits like he plays in the NL and Guillen hits a bit better at first than at short (which seems somewhat likely) c) Sheffield is healthy. They were 2nd in runs last year w/ Sean Casey and Brandon Inge getting regular ABs. There are a whole lot of .300 hitters in that line-up and if Sheff is healthy that is a pretty wicked 1-5.
I agree, I think Willis was/is hurt. He is still young and only a couple years removed from talk (on this board no less) of him winning 30 (he won 21)! That does give them though only Verlander as any sort of sure thing in the rotation as Robertson, Bonderman and Maroth are already big question marks. The Tigers now sort of resmeble last year's Yankees team. Incredible offense and suspect starting pitching with the exception of 1 guy.
The Tigers ditched Maroth early last season. The rotation will be:
not necessarily in that order. If healthy, that's a devastating rotation. Bonderman wasn't a question mark last year, he just got hurt. He was pitching VERY well before he got injured.
To add more fuel to the hot-stove fire, some outlets are proposing that the Tigers might deal Willis and Pudge to the Mets... the Tigers would need a catcher and some relief help back, but it would be significantly cheaper than Santana or Haren.
re: De La Cruz (aka FuneralOnAShip)-
He's got a good fastball (touched 100 a few times last year) and pretty good control. The Tigers couldn't figure out what to do with him (starter or reliever). Of the 2nd-tier guys, he's the one they'll miss most (at least initially).
I wouldn't call that devastating. Rogers is ancient and was injured all of last year. Can you count on him for better than 12-9 and 170 innings? Doubtful. Bonderman has historically fallen apart in the second half of the year (Crank did a piece on this earlier this year), Willis was well under .500 with an ERA well over 5 (in the NL) and has injury speculations and Robertson was 9-13 with an ERA close to 5 last year. That's not devastating. Their line-up is as good as there is in baseball, their starting pitching is mediocre at best and Todd Jones is, well, maybe as bad a closer as there is in baseball.
Trahern is a sinkerballer, his numbers aren't going to wow anyone but he has experience with innings-heavy seasons. He's the third best player Florida got in this swap.
The business model is a more interesting issue to discuss to me. Baseball has operated under four basic models for the last century:
Model One: Own the team and stadium. Build a good team by scouting out great players and signing them.
The Anson Colts/Cubs and then the Mack A's were great examples of that.
Model Two: Build a farm system, which Branch Rickey invented (really his biggest accomplishment, not Robinson-wow). Attract fans and depend upon your revenue from the gate, concessions and any ancillary stadium expenses you get. For this you needed a competitive team and a community interested in supporting it. An example of successful franchises under those guidelines were:
A. The Cleveland Indians up to the 1950s (when the model changed and they started to stink)
B. The LA Dodgers, the best example. When O'Malley moved them, he cut that great stadium deal, packed the house, and had a great team.
Bad franchises under that model:
A. Both Philadelphia franchises.
B. The NY Giants. Also the Brooklyn Dodgers. For all the hoopla of how Brooklyn had its heart torn out, the Yankees drew them in; the Dodgers didn't.
Model Three: Make more money on media rights, and having a good team meant larger shares of local rights. This gave the Yankees a leg up. Although rights started to be sold from the late 40s to the early 70s, big TV money started coming in the mid to late 70s. Thank you Pete Rozelle. Plus independent cable started coming in as well. Thank you Charles Dolan.
3A. Make a lot of money off network TV. Get a larger share by winning. THe A's and Reds understood that. Amazing what a good GM and having Reggie and Joe Morgan can do.
3B. Cable rights and national private deals. Like the Cubs SuperStation and TBS.
Model Four: The real reason George Steinbrenner belongs in the Hall of Fame (for real). He invented the idea of the team owned independent network, and you then sell the time back. You need a winning team to make this work, but since your revenues can octuple, with intelligent management, you can not only build a team, but you can maintain it. The Yankees and Red Sox are there year after year.
The Marlins are trying to run under Model two. Well of course they can't compete. Baseball is PLAYED in South Florida. It isn't WATCHED. Hell, the Dolphins rarely sell out, even when they kept winning, and the NFL is like British Soccer--nothing even close to anything can touch it. They have to run under Model Four, but like everything else evolution touches, it's adapt or die. Billy Beane adapts; the Royals are adapting. The Marlins are not.
Devastating is probably an overstatement, but they're solid. They got to the WS two years ago with the same rotation, only they've replaced Mike Maroth with a guy who nearly won the Cy Young two years ago. Plus, their lineup is greatly improved. I think they'll be in good shape.
Yeah, but 43 year old Kenny Rogers is not going to go 17-8 and ptich 205 innings. He could easily pitch 50 innings and go 2-5. Any team with a guy like Verlander as an anchor needs to be reckoned with for sure. He is a legitimate Top 5 stud. After that you are hoping Bonderman reaches his potential and is capable of pitching effectively after game 81, that Willis' 11-17 season won't translate to either a total train wreck in the AL or an extended stay on the DL, that Rogers isn't toast and that Robertson can pitch better than .500 ball with an ERA at leat 1/2 a run lower than he came up with in 2007. If all those things break the Tigers way, well, they are going to be monsters. It's baseball, 100% of things a team needs to go it's way rarely ever happen.
I think the Tigers rotation is promising but laden with issues. The Sox were sort of in the same position going into last year; was Beckett going to learn to pitch rather than throw (check), was Dice-K going to be capable of pitching effectively and pitch 200 innings (check), would Schilling be OK (eh, but once he came back off the DL he was very solid), would Wakefield still be effective (giant check) and would they be able to piece together a 5th starter with rookies, Tavarez, cast offs and eventually Lester (check). If the Tigers get the breaks in the rotation the Sox got they will be tough to reckon with.
The lineup by itself and the rotation by itself don't matter. Neither operates in a vaccuum. If the lineup consistently puts up 6+ runs, the starters records (even w/ 4.50 era) will look good. They'll have to win a bunch of 8-6 games, but they are still wins.
If the pitchers (including the bullpen - and without Zumaya they may have problems) consisently give up 6+ runs, the lineup won't seem sufficient. They could score over 900 runs, but not have a great record.
The question is whether this is the right way to build a team. I don't think so. The lineup is great. But hitters are rarely consisent over a whole season, and lineups can't be counted on to outslug opponents day in and day out. There will be plenty of days when they score 8 or more runs, take pressure off the pitchers, and win easy. But there could be plenty of days where they give up that many runs, and put tons of pressure on the lineup. I'd rather have more then one known quantity in the rotation.
Which is why, as a Mets fan, I'm not that comfortable right now...