Now, for the second in a mini-series. Personally, I think the Tigers braintrust should be in a “selective sell mode” at the trading deadline this year, by which I mean that we should be actively shopping some of our older, more established players, but holding on to a good portion of the core of the team – young players who we won’t trade away, almost no matter the return (but only almost… There is always the possibility of being “bowled over”). The problem is that a number of the older players, particularly guys nearing the end of their contracts, just aren’t performing up to expectations, and will therefore not bring much in return. So my personal prediction is that the team will mostly stand pat. Last week, I took a look around the Tiger infield, and the comments wound up mostly talking about outfielders. I’ll try to do justice to that discussion in today’s column:
LF: Rondell White – Now, here is Exhibit A of Veterans That Should Be Traded. He is entering the final few months of a very reasonable contract (2 years/$6 million), and is considered a “professional hitter” by traditional baseball minds. Of course, what that term usually means is a guy who mostly hits, and probably is at least somewhat lacking in the plate discipline area of his game. I think I have mentioned that I recently unearthed my 1983 Bill James Baseball Abstract, and one of Bill James’ recurring lines was what percent of a hitter’s value is attributable to his batting average (in other words, stripped of all extra bases on his hits and also stripped of walks, hit by pitches and other minor events that work into OBP). Rondell is currently at a merely “OK” 5.64 Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC27), and if I’m doing my math correctly, 3.68 of that (or 65%) is coming straight from his .307 batting average. That 65% figure isn’t ridiculously high, but it isn’t low by any stretch of the imagination (for an extreme comparison, Barry Bonds in 2002 – that’s the year his batting average peaked at .370 – created 19.17 runs per 27 outs, and 5.86 of that was attributable to his batting average, or 31%). In addition to this, Rondell now has an aching shoulder. If he stays with the team through the end of the year, this may actually help us in that he will take away playing time and plate appearances from the horrifically slumping Dmitri Young by dragging DH duties away from him. While I would love to see what we could get from a trade of Rondell, if he saves us having to carry Dmitri on the roster for another year, it will have been well worth it.
CF: Nook Logan – While Nook’s 3.98 RC27 are anemic and possibly bordering on pathetic, he is one of the fastest players in baseball. Tigers brass feels that this gives their lineup a dimension that it wouldn’t otherwise have, and the thought is that with other traditionally defense-first positions (catcher, 2nd base and shortstop) featuring players who they feel can be among the best offensive players at these positions (Ivan Rodriguez (slumping and currently 8th among AL catchers in RC27… and behind Bengie Molina, to boot), Placido Polanco (currently 2nd among AL 2nd basemen in RC27), and Carlos Guillen (currently 5th among AL shortstops in RC27), respectively), they can afford to have a defense-first Logan patrolling the middle garden. However, he has recently botched some plays and called into question his defensive skills. On the other hand, his speed makes up for whatever mistakes he will make more often than not. And let’s not forget, for purposes of this column, that he debuted last year and won’t even be arbitration-eligible until at least after 2006. We’re not likely to be trading him until we at least get a better feel for his capabilities.
RF: Magglio Ordonez – We can argue this free agent signing some more, and I’m certain we will come 2011 and 2012, when we will likely still be paying Magglio like he’s a near-MVP caliber player, whether he actually is or not. Currently, he is still shaking off the rust from his lengthy lay-offs due to knee surgeries and a hernia surgery, and he’s already up to 6.21 RC27, 3rd-best on the team behind Chris Shelton (8.18) and Polanco (6.71). Again, for purposes of this column, the main item is that Magglio isn’t getting traded anywhere anytime soon.
Corner OF/Dabbles in CF: Craig Monroe – I’m counting him as a starter, because he wound up playing a lot of RF while Magglio was out, and he’s been getting playing time in LF now that Rondell White is having shoulder trouble. Here is a guy who is creating just 4.91 runs per 27 outs, we have a center fielder who we like much better defensively, and yet he’s still getting playing time with regularity. One wonders if we can’t attribute the offensive problems of this season largely to this fact: In RC27 among AL outfielders, Rondell is 12th, Monroe is 24th, and Nook Logan would slot in at 33rd (amazingly, that’s higher than Sammy Sosa), if he had enough times at bat to qualify. Along with Carlos Guillen not being in the lineup on an everday basis plus Dmitri Young’s prolonged slump, it’s little wonder we’re 4th-worst in the league in runs scored. Will Craig Monroe draw any interest from other teams, especially when he’s due to be arbitration-eligible for 2006? We’d be lucky if his rotting carcass drew flies at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get non-tendered (a la Robert Fick in the 2002-03 off-season) over the winter. And let’s make this clear: If Craig Monroe were a valuable commodity, he could really bring something on the trade market since his first season of free agency is still a couple of years away. Big-spending teams wouldn’t mind his arbitration-eligible-level salaries for a few years. However, smart big-spending teams aren’t interested in his level of production (or lack thereof).
Well, there’s Dmitri Young… Who we discussed last week as a 1B/DH and whose RC27 is at a woeful 4.81 for that position… And there’s Kevin Hooper, a minor league call-up that was almost completely indefensible… But, really, it’s been those 4 guys sharing the outfield duties for the most part, with the exception of Marcus Thames and other temporary help that came up from Toledo in mostly brief stints. Speaking of which…
Marcus Thames, who is 28 years old, but is absolutely killing AAA pitching. That OPS is 1349. That is not a misprint. RC27 numbers are not figured specifically at Minor League Baseball’s site, but my quick-and-dirty figuring puts Thames’ RC27 at a ridiculous 18.98. For purposes of trade talk, I would say that here is a guy that a team like the Pirates or the Rockies should be clamoring for. I’m not sure of his arbitration eligibility (my “eyeball” guess is that he won’t be eligible until 2007 at least), but a low-budget team should covet a bat that is doing that in Triple-A, even if he’s a bit old to be a prospect. However, that is looking at things as if the Tigers are in full “buy” mode. At 2 games under .500 with almost 100 games under our belts and with 7 teams between us and a playoff berth, I don’t really think we should be. Look, Justin Verlander is coming up for a double-header start Saturday against the Twins, and the Tigers say he’ll be going right back down after the game. Kevin Hooper will likely go down to Toledo to make room for Verlander, and we’ll need to pluck someone else from the minors when we send Verlander right back down. I say let’s bring up Thames, plunk his name in the lineup for at least a month solid in LF (most of his slumps have been when he was asked to suffer through merely intermittent duty), have Rondell White play DH until his shoulder gets better or he’s traded, have Craig Monroe and Nook Logan share CF duties, and sit Dmitri Young on the bench for a while (with intermittent “Rondell needs a rest” DH duties until Rondell gets traded).
Curtis Granderson, who is, by comparison, 24 years old (it occurs to me now that I haven’t mentioned the ages of the others – Rondell is 33, Logan is 25, Magglio is 31 and Monroe is 28) and who the Tigers hope can handle center field duties. Let’s take a look at his Toledo stats, shall we? That’s an OPS of 876, sort of in the good-not-great category. And my quick-and-dirty of RC27 comes out to 7.12, also in the good-not-great range. In the realm of “is he up for trade bait”, I would have to say no. He is more in the category of a player that low-budget teams would be interested in if the Tigers would make a “buy veteran talent to win now” trade. Again, I don’t think we’re in that position right now.