Dave Dombrowski was a busy man on the last day of the 2014 Winter Meetings. Doing his best Andrew Freidman impression, Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers pulled off two trades in the early hours of Thursday morning, acquiring Yoenis Cespedes from the Boston Red Sox and Alfredo Simon from the Cincinnati Reds.
There was a lot of questioning around the Tigers being as dormant for as long as they had been during the Winter Meetings with glaring holes in their outfield and bullpen. But on Thursday, the Tigers get both better, and somehow a little worse.
Let’s start with the Yoenis Cespedes trade.
I don’t want to say I am the equivalent of Nostradamus, but after the Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, I started to suggest that the Tigers should consider trading Rick Porcello for Cespedes. Just as recent as a week ago, I went on Baseball Essential’s YouTube channel campaigning for the move to happen.
This trade has brought mixed reviews. The detractors are saying that Porcello was worth more then just Cespedes because of Porcello’s break out 2014 season and that he is still just a few weeks away from his 26th birthday. They’re also stating that Cespedes inflated strikeout numbers and low OBP will not help the Tigers as much as keeping the 25-year-old right hander. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
After not deciding to bring back Torii Hunter, the Tigers outfield had a glaring hole that had lackluster options to fill it. Looking at their depth pre-Cespedes trade, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus would have to write in Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, and J.D. Martinez names in the starting nine everyday. Which could have been disastrous. Davis had a good year in 2014, but showed no ability to hit right handed pitching. Putting up a .247/.290/.327 slash against right handers. Not to forget to mention that Davis is a complete defensive liability in the outfield. Davis consistently takes bad and awkward routes to the ball, and his defensive metrics — which aren’t pretty to begin with (-11 DRS, -8.0 UZR, -11, -8.9 UZR/150 in 2014) — would look even worse if not for his speed.
Gose was brought over in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays last month, but is not a plausible option to start in centerfield everyday due to his inconsistent ability to make contact and get on base. In 202 big league games, Gose has only managed to put up a .235/.302/.332 slash and has struggled mighty against left handed pitching. Gose, unlike Davis, is an outstanding outfielder which gives him enough value to start against right handers.
J.D. Martinez had a career season in 2014, and if you’re the Tigers you have to hope he can replicate anything close to his 2014 season when Martinez hit over 30 home runs between Triple-A and the big league level, and boasted an OPS of over .900. But it is likely that there will be some regression.
The addition of Cespedes now gives the Tigers the option to platoon Gose and Davis in centerfield, and takes a little pressure of Martinez to have to post a career season to make up for the loss of Hunter. It also gives the Tigers a much needed upgraded in outfield defense. Hunter, last year, was one of the worst defensive players in all of baseball. Martinez was blow average and Davis’ defensive inabilities have already be noted. Cespedes brings over his cannon of an arm that produced 16 outfield assists in 2014. One being the famous throw that Cespedes threw from the left field corner, nearly at the foul pole, that nailed then Angels second basemen, Howie Kendrick, at the plate in Anaheim last season. Cespedes also saved 11 runs in the outfield and put up a respectable 8.4 UZR and 11.4 UZR/150.
Getting Alex Wilson, who, Dombrowski, said will have a shot at competing for a bullpen spot in Spring Training, and Gabe Speier along with Cespedes, making this a 3-for-1 trade for a player who’s contract is expiring at the end of the 2015 season, means the Tigers cleaned up with this trade.
Porcello did have his best season since his rookie year, but he is a pitcher that’s never thrown more innings then hits given up, a career WHIP of 1.359, and his K/9 fell nearly two strikeouts from 2013. Meaning that yes Porcello did have a good year, but looking at the sample size of last year compared to the previous four when he had an ERA over 4.60 to go along with 806 hits in just 698 innings pitched, there’s a good chance that Porcello’s numbers regress some from last year.
Cespedes defensive value, ability to hit in the middle of the order and replace Hunter, and getting two young long term team controlled pitchers to go along with him, makes this a no-brainer trade for the Tigers.
Now a look at the Simon deal.
This trade does not look nearly as good as the Porcello for Cespedes swap. Simon is essentially the short term replacement for Porcello. Simon, who is a free agent at the of the 2015 season, made his first All Star team last year and enjoyed career lows in ERA as a starter (3.44) while putting up career highs in innings (196) and wins (15) last season.
There’s only one small problem… Simon has regression written all over him. In fact, it already began last season.
In the first half of 2014, Simon was 12-3 with a 2.70 ERA in his first 18 starts. Then regression set in. In the second half Simon was not nearly as impressive. In his last 14 starts Simon was 3-7 with a pedestrian 4.52 ERA. His WHIP inflated from 1.046 to 1.444 in his last 14 starts. Simon had 28 walks and 75 strikeouts in his first 18 starts. In his last 14 he had 28 walks but the strikeouts fell from 75 to 52. The troubling statistic being that he walked just as many hitters as he did in his first 116 innings as he did in his last 79, while hitters started making more contact and getting on base at a much higher pace.
Simon is a pitcher that doesn’t strikeout many guys and relies on a lot on getting hitters off balance and making weak contact by utilizing his change up. With hitters already making apparent adjustments last season and inflating statistics showing that his potential flukish hot start could be something he might not repeat, this might not be the best replacement for Porcello.
What makes this deal even worse is the price the Tigers paid to get a free agent to be who had a terrible second half last season. The Tigers sent over Eugenio Suarez and top pitching prospect Jonathon Crawford to acquire Simon.
Suarez had some spurts of success in 2014, but his overall numbers were not that impressive. Suarez possess a good glove and range, but his glove at times was suspect and his lack of big league experience really showed. Suarez will probably never be an All Star, but could be a nice bench piece for the Reds for years to come.
Crawford was the Tigers first round pick in 2013 and was ranked as their current top pitching prospect in a thin farm system. In 31 career minor league starts, Crawford has amassed a 2.73 ERA in 142 innings pitched. A lot has been made of the young right handers inconsistent command, but the young 6’2″ hard throwing righty could be a potential backend of the rotation starter for the Reds in the next three years.
It’s not that the talent the Tigers gave up was All Star quality. It’s the fact that they gave up two long-term team controlled guys for a starter that has primarily used out of the bullpen the last few seasons and was already beginning to decline from a brief period of success.
Overall it was a good day for the Tigers. They get a much needed outfield bat while obtaining two young pitchers. But they also take a risk by using Simon as a replacement for Porcello. Hoping that he can be more like the All Star pitcher he was in the first half of the 2014 season. They got better offensively and defensively, but their rotation may have taken a step back.