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Thursday, June 30, 2022

When do the Tigers and Royals have to admit that ‘rebuilding’ has turned into plain old losing?

Detroit held on to the stars of its previous contenders too long — squeezing out minimal returns for Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez and others. Avila declined to trade pitchers Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer at the peak of their powers. Kansas City has played the same (losing) waiting game with Whit Merrifield.

What’s missing from the equations in Detroit and Kansas City are the opportunistic gains of churn. The Astros unearthed and polished Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel. The Cubs sanded away the rough edges of Jake Arrieta. Other teams like the Padres accumulated such a glut of appealing prospects they traded them for established stars like Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove to speed up their return to contention.

Who, in other words, have the Tigers and Royals made better during their lean periods? What payoff are they seeing from half a decade with virtually no opportunity costs discouraging them from trying to maximize every shred of talent they can get their hands on?

The Tigers spent on Baez and Rodriguez, certainly a good-faith effort, but they have been disappointing and injured, respectively, in their first season. The Royals have overseen a bounce back to form for Andrew Benintendi, but also clogged up innings and playing time with a string of declining veterans.

Even when things aren’t going as planned, more future-focused gains should be evident.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 30, 2022 at 01:27 AM | 26 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: royals, tigers

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   1. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: June 30, 2022 at 04:33 PM (#6084835)
Detroit held on to the stars of its previous contenders too long — squeezing out minimal returns for Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez and others.

It's astonishing how quickly the four-in-a-row divisional champions of 2011-14 turned into absolute horsesh!t in just a few years. It's like the entire roster went free agent, got hurt/old, or were traded for a handful of magic beans. It's the perfect storm of bad luck and utter incompetence.
   2. Walt Davis Posted: June 30, 2022 at 04:35 PM (#6084837)
I recall the consensus was they got really good return for one month of Verlander. Looking it up ... Franklin Perez was a 19-yo pitcher, already in the top 100 and holding his own at AA. Surprise -- he got hurt and has thrown just 32 innings in the last 5 years (still in the Tigers system it seems, now 24). Daz Cameron was in the top 100 at the start of the 2016 season but back out by the time the Tigers got close to him ... probably something like the Astros #6 prospect I'd guess. Jake Rogers was a recently drafted college C with power but not much of a hit tool. He made it into the 2019 Futures game. Cameron and Rogers both made the majors but no success yet.

And 20/20 hindsight. Verlander seemed to be on the decline. Starting with 2013 his ERA+ had gone 120, 85, 118, 140 and (at the time of the trade) 117. Maybe Hou had the fancy stats like spin rates or maybe they had better gooey stuff but nobody else was expecting this renaissance. But OK, coming off that 140, maybe the Tigers could have gotten even more if they'd traded him in the 2016-17 offseason; they probably would have been trading low if they'd done it any earlier than that.

JDM may be a legit point. But I can't think of any DHs getting moved in the middle of a contract nor do they generally get big return. But the Tigers really didn't get a lot although 2 of the 3 guys did make the majors, one of whom made the 2018 Futures game despite not having hit since 2016.

I'm not sure at what magical point they were supposed to trade Boyd -- came up at 24, had a couple of average-ish seasons at 27-28 (then the Tigers still had 3 years of control left), was terrible in 2020, got hurt last year when he was having his best season. Michael Fulmer was a big deal back in 2016-17 but that was also his first 1+ years of service time. He tailed off and then got hurt when the Tigers still had 4 years of control left. So the path to rebuild is to trade your controlled SPs after their first sign of success?

Rebuilding is hard. It requires a lot of luck too. And it can take a long time. Altuve and Keuchel are odd examples. Altuve signed with the Astros in 2007, Keuchel a college draftee in 2009, long before the Astros more recent braintrusts took over. Keuchel's first couple of seasons look a bit like Matthew Boyd. He broke out in 2014-15 ... the 2014 Astros won only 70 games so shouldn't they have traded Keuchel at the peak of his powers? They only won 86 in 2015 and 84 in 2016 ... had they now held onto Keuchel too long?

And perhaps most relevantly, the Astros were under 500 for 6 straight seasons, including 3 where they couldn't even crack 60 wins. They had 9 seasons without a playoff appearance and 13 years between 90-win teams. All while being the 5th-largest metro area so lots of revenue potential. Astros' payroll has been $160-$190 for the last 5 seasons. The Tigers were still carrying a $200 M payroll in 2017 (if you want something to aim at), dropped as low as $80 last year, on the way back up this year.

Not that I expect the Tigers' (or Royals' or Pirates') misery to end anytime soon.

   3. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 30, 2022 at 04:47 PM (#6084844)
FWIW, the Astros wanted to deal Keuchel in 2014, but the Marlins wouldn't take him and insisted on Jarred Cosart instead. So yea, it takes some luck.

I think the Royals did miss the boat on not trading Merrifield in 2018 or 2019. But aside from that I don't know that they've really had a ton of assets other teams would want. Salvy is the face of your franchise and catchers don't seem to net that much. They probably should have traded Soler when he was in his HR title season. They should really be aggressive about trading Benintendi, Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, and Brad Keller this year. They've really just been terrible at player development, that's their biggest sin.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: June 30, 2022 at 04:50 PM (#6084845)
#1: Somewhat ironically, the Tigers "should have" extended Verlander, JDM and Scherzer ... and not made the terrible, terrible, terrible trades of Eugenio Suarez for Alfredo Simon and Robbie Ray for Shane Greene (3-way trade with Didi to the Yanks). I mean either holding onto Ray or trading him for Didi would have worked, they found the option that didn't work. The Simon trade was just one of the dumber ones we've seen in the last decade -- not necessarily in WAR terms, just in "what were they thinking" terms. Dombrowski has been a very good GM generally but that 2014-15 offseson was just horrible. (at least the terrible Cabrera extension was signed in March 2014)
   5. JRVJ Posted: June 30, 2022 at 04:55 PM (#6084847)
As a Phillies fan (sigh), I'm pretty clear on two things: (1) That draft classes can be insanely good or lousy bad (e.g., 2016); and,

(2) That some organizations are just better than others at developing talent.

The Tigers and Royals may have been unlucky in that they picked high in drafts that perhaps weren't as good as all that (the prospects industry always talks up prospects, perhaps beyond what is reasonable for a specific class).

And they probably have lackluster player development organizations. Which somehow was not mentioned in the article.

And in the end, there's luck. Because injuries will rear their ugly head and because it has to s*ck to be on the down sloppiest part of your rebuild and then have a pandemic come around which meant your prospects lost a ton of precious development time.
   6. Nasty Nate Posted: June 30, 2022 at 05:02 PM (#6084850)
What's going on with Eduardo Rodriguez right now?
   7. Tom Nawrocki Posted: June 30, 2022 at 05:15 PM (#6084856)
Somewhat ironically, the Tigers "should have" extended Verlander, JDM and Scherzer


That's what struck me about the first sentence of the excerpt. He's saying the Tigers should have gotten rid of these guys sooner, but they're still really valuable players. They should have hung on to them!
   8. Zach Posted: June 30, 2022 at 06:10 PM (#6084868)
I have two problems with teardowns:

1) Prospects are overrated in today's game, to the point where the return for a midseason trade for, say, Whit Merrifield is not particularly impressive.
2) I've seen the Royals go into decade long slumps where every quality player gets traded away and it's impossible to build a winning culture.

Also, not a general problem, but an observation relevant to the Royals right now: the Royals actually have a lot of young talent in the pipeline, they're just suffering larger and longer growing pains than expected. Nicky Lopez, Bobby Witt, Emmanuel Rivera, MJ Melendez, Kyle Isbel, Edward Olivares, Vinnie Pasquantino on the hitting side. Kris Bubic, Brady Singer, Jackson Kower, Daniel Lynch, Jonathan Heasley, Carlos Hernandez, Dylan Coleman on the pitching side. (I'm probably forgetting some guys). All young and unestablished, with fluid roles due to the lack of quality players around them. Arguably the Royals are focusing too much on youth right now.
   9. Walt Davis Posted: June 30, 2022 at 06:15 PM (#6084873)
And that trade that Keuchel wasn't in was Cosart, a guy who never made the majors and some unknown 22-yo IF who'd never made a prospect list that turned out to be Kike Hernandez (16 WAR) for the solid Jake Marisnick (11 WAR), the arguably useful Colin Moran (0 WAR but 1700 PA and still in the majors) and a young reliever who got hurt.

The next offseason, in another seemingly meh but surprisingly noticeable and balanced trade, the Marlins flipped Hernandez, Austin Barnes (4 WAR), Andrew Heaney (6.5) and a 0-war reliever to the Dodgers for Miguel Rojas (12), Dee Strange-Gordon (8 WAR for the Marlins, a couple more since) and the surprisingly good last season of Dan Haren (2.2).

Huh, Strange-Gordon was in the majors this year, just released by the Nats ... who gave the 34-yo 11 starts at SS, a position he hadn't really played since 2013. He hit OK (92 OPS+) but (shocker!) the defense wasn't good. Seriously, what is going on in DC? Are they headed the way of the O's?
   10. Walt Davis Posted: June 30, 2022 at 06:36 PM (#6084888)
#8.1 -- I think it's an interesting conundrum. I agree that prospects are over-rated in today's game ... but the value of various mid-season trades tend to be over-rated by media and fans. The media (for hype reasons) and some fans (often for ignorant reasons) go with "OMG they traded Kris Bryant!!" (certainly not me) as opposed to "they traded two months of Kris Bryant." The receiving team gets 2-3 WAR plus, they hope, a good postseason -- those are supposed to be fairly critical WAR so, sure, the trading team "should" get more than 3 expected future WAR in return but no way should they get a top 10 prospect. And of every 10 Kris Bryant trades, there are probably 6-7 where the trading team ended up with nothing, 2-3 where it turned out "fair" and it's all about the one where the trading team stumbled into acquiring, say, Kike Hernandez. Both sides should know it's a gamble.

By the way, I should know better than to trust my memory and should check these things -- Verlander stilll had another 2 years to go plus a vestin option on his Tigers contract when he was traded. There was still $60 M left and the Tigers ate $17 of that ... so yeah, that was not enough return.

I don't recall now -- that vesting option should have vested, giving the Astros Verlander for a mere $22 M. Instead they signed him for 2/$66 which is a marginal cost of $44 which is too much even for Verlander. Did it "vest" as a player option? It was a weird vesting option -- he'd get the additional 1/$22 if he finished top 5 in CYA voting (he won it) ... a top 5 CYA season is usually worth a lot more than $22 the next season, usually will get you more than one year. An option based on a good CYA finish should be a lot more costly.
   11. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: June 30, 2022 at 07:21 PM (#6084902)
1) Prospects are overrated in today's game, to the point where the return for a midseason trade for, say, Whit Merrifield is not particularly impressive.
I don’t think it’s so much that prospects are overrated, per se. It’s that teams have rightly realized that half a season of a Whit Merrifield just doesn’t move the needle that much.

Edit: Should have read Walt’s post first. Coke to him.
   12. Zach Posted: June 30, 2022 at 07:46 PM (#6084908)
Well sure, but if there's no return I'd rather keep a guy who can put together a professional at bat. It makes the team easier to watch, it helps the youngsters see what's required to have success, and it provides some stability so that the young players can have fixed roles with reasonable expectations.
   13. The Honorable Ardo Posted: June 30, 2022 at 09:53 PM (#6084940)
Rebuilding always involves a great deal of good fortune. On an NBA blog, someone pointed out today that the three best players in the world - Steph, Giannis, and Jokic - were, respectively, the #7, #15, and #41 picks.
   14. Up2Drew Posted: July 01, 2022 at 03:10 PM (#6085207)
... some fans (often for ignorant reasons) go with "OMG they traded Kris Bryant!!" (certainly not me) as opposed to "they traded two months of Kris Bryant."

Great comment.

Often a Kris Bryant-type trade is often coupled with the comment, "But the Cubs can always re-sign him in the offseason as a free agent". (Thus, in concept, receiving value for a two-month rental of the Kris Bryant life-form and still retain him for future seasons.)

But this seems to almost never happen, does it? I can't think of an example, offhand.
   15. SoSH U at work Posted: July 01, 2022 at 03:18 PM (#6085209)
Chapman with the Yankees.
   16. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: July 01, 2022 at 04:42 PM (#6085249)
But this seems to almost never happen, does it? I can't think of an example, offhand.

I think the A's did it with Rickey! once.

Edit: Yup.

July 31, 1993: Traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later and Steve Karsay. The Toronto Blue Jays sent Jose Herrera (August 6, 1993) to the Oakland Athletics to complete the trade.

October 29, 1993: Granted Free Agency.

December 17, 1993: Signed as a Free Agent with the Oakland Athletics.
   17. cardsfanboy Posted: July 01, 2022 at 05:00 PM (#6085255)
Isn't Rickey the exception to every rule. :)
   18. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: July 01, 2022 at 05:38 PM (#6085263)
I have two problems with teardowns:

1) Prospects are overrated in today's game, to the point where the return for a midseason trade for, say, Whit Merrifield is not particularly impressive.
2) I've seen the Royals go into decade long slumps where every quality player gets traded away and it's impossible to build a winning culture.


That's kinda where I am too on burning down the roster in scorched earth teardowns, assuming ownership is trying to field competitive teams instead of lining their pockets. While no one wants to be the GM who traded Jeff Bagwell to get Larry Andersen or John Smoltz to get Doyle Alexander, these deals are remembered precisely because "prospects" usually never amount to anything and non-contenders practically by definition don't have enough major league talent to trade for enough prospects to weather their high attrition rate. Then if you do luck into a couple of good draft classes or hit on a group of prospects, now you've got to build from being a 50 or 60-win team rather than a 75 or 80-win team meaning even more pieces have to come together in that short "window of opportunity." Not to mention having to rebuild a lot more fan engagement that gets turned off completely once every familiar name on the roster is sent packing.
   19. Hombre Brotani Posted: July 01, 2022 at 05:45 PM (#6085265)
Just another reason to ignore the "trade Mike Trout to rebuild" crowd.
   20. TJ Posted: July 01, 2022 at 07:29 PM (#6085295)
While no one wants to be the GM who traded Jeff Bagwell to get Larry Andersen or John Smoltz to get Doyle Alexander,


I have always found it ironic that these two deals are always cited as amongst the worst trades ever when in reality both Alexander and Andersen pitched very well for their new teams. The Detroit Tigers don’t make the postseason without Alexander, and Andersen was excellent in strengthening the Red Sox bullpen as they made it into the playoffs. Anyone who says they saw that Smoltz and Bagwell were future Hall of Famers at the time of those trades is simply lying…

Smoltz and Bagwell were good prospects, but not more highly regarded than others who have been dealt in similar fashion who flamed out in the majors.
   21. Ron J Posted: July 01, 2022 at 09:15 PM (#6085317)
True of Smoltz. Bagwell though was playing in an extreme pitcher's park. There was every reason to think Bagwell was ready to be a good major leaguer then.
   22. Howie Menckel Posted: July 01, 2022 at 09:37 PM (#6085320)
While no one wants to be the GM who traded Jeff Bagwell to get Larry Andersen or John Smoltz to get Doyle Alexander


well, Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 11 starts for the 1987 Tigers, who won the AL East and advanced to the ALCS. Smoltz was awful for the Braves in 1988. so it ended up bad, but not right away.

Andersen was an Aug. 30, 1990 acquisition who had a 1.23 ERA - but in only 22 IP and while the Red Sox also won the division, he had less impact. also Bagwell was ROY in 1991 - no waiting, like the Braves had to do.

EDIT: Coked twice!
   23. cHiEf iMpaCt oFfiCEr JE Posted: July 02, 2022 at 11:41 AM (#6085344)
But this seems to almost never happen, does it? I can't think of an example, offhand.
In addition to Chapman and Henderson, Mike Bordick was traded from the Orioles to the Mets close to the trade deadline in 2000 (Rey Ordonez was out for the year with an injury), then got re-signed by the Os in the offseason.
   24. Nasty Nate Posted: July 02, 2022 at 12:07 PM (#6085346)
The Brewers traded away Francisco Rodriguez then signed him back.
   25. TJ Posted: July 02, 2022 at 12:07 PM (#6085347)
True of Smoltz. Bagwell though was playing in an extreme pitcher's park. There was every reason to think Bagwell was ready to be a good major leaguer then.


I have always wondered what level of future production would a team be willing to surrender to improve their chances of winning it all. Say the GMs of the Tigers and Red Sox were asked, “Would you trade a future Hall of Famer to increase your legitimate chances of winning. The World Series?”, I would hope the answer would be “No”. But what if the question was “Would you trade a prospect you know will become a good MLB players the future- say a guy who will put up 20-30 career WAR, make an All Star team or two, and be a good starting first baseman or a solid #3 or borderline #2 starting pitcher to increase your legitimate chances of winning a World Series?”, how many GMs would still say “No”?
   26. SoSH U at work Posted: July 02, 2022 at 01:09 PM (#6085352)
I have always found it ironic that these two deals are always cited as amongst the worst trades ever when in reality both Alexander and Andersen pitched very well for their new teams.


The problem with the Sox deal was even if Andersen pitched as well as Andersen pitched, they were still giving up a prospect like Bagwell for two months of Larry Andersen. The ceiling was too low.

The one I object to is calling the Boddicker deal a bad one. Yes, the Sox gave up Schilling and Brady Anderson to get him, but it took both of them four years to become good, and Schilling

And Boddicker pitched well for Boston for two-plus years, helping them win two AL East titles.

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