There has been considerable speculation about the Tigers financial state. The payroll will be high, and there are continued questions about revenue potential. Mike Ilitch saw less advertising revenue. Attendance was relatively strong, but the Tigers missed out on any postseason gate receipts despite adding payroll midseason. Now Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi are reporting that Dave Dombrowski is listening to offers on Edwin Jackson.
Jackson will likely command a salary of about $5 million in 2010 as he enters his 2nd of 3 years of arbitration eligibility and so a trade would seemingly be at least a year early. The salary wouldn’t appear to be prohibitive for a player that was 3.5 WAR last year and 1.5 WAR each of the previous 2 years. In other words, Jackson will have surplus value next year even he reverts closer to his 2007-8 numbers than his 2009 campaign. Of course value or not, cash is cash and if the Tigers don’t have the money they don’t have the money regardless of the value.
Aside from money, or perhaps in addition to it, are there are reasons why trading Jackson may be desirable?
The Sell High theory
Why this makes sense: Jackson is coming off legitimately the best season of his career. His 3.62 ERA was stellar, but he pitched into some luck without a remarkable strike out rate. His FIP ERA was 4.28. Definitely above average, but not eye-popping. Jackson faded down the stretch – badly. Perhaps the Tigers think Jackson hit his ceiling and they don’t think he can replicate or build upon his 2009 season. They know that Jim Leyland rode him pretty hard and they’re worried about his health or stamina going forward.
Bill James predicts his FIP to balloon back to 4.72 for the 2010 season. If the Tigers can parlay his 2009 season into younger/cheaper talent it may make sense to move now.
Why this doesn’t make sense: As mentioned earlier, Jackson is still a good bet to be a good value as long as he remains under club control. Plus, opposing GM’s have access to all these same stats and circumstances. Also, the Tigers would need to replace over 200 innings of above league average production and it’s doubtful that talent exists currently in the organization. This leads us to…
Freeing up money for a big move theory
Why this makes sense: The Tigers were reported to meet with Aroldis Chapman who will command big money. Perhaps the Tigers think they have a shot at Chapman and that he could step right into the rotation. I don’t know how Chapman’s contract would be structured, but it seems reasonable that he would make comparable money (or perhaps a little less) than Jackson in 2010. The upshot is the team gets younger without adding payroll in the coming season – and they get some prospects.
Why this doesn’t make sense: Lots of teams want Chapman and that would be a lot of eggs to put in a basket that may be full of holes.
Pitcher X is ready theory
Why this makes sense: Andy Oliver, the Tigers 2009 second round pick was aggressively sent to the Arizona Fall League where he’s had some success after getting roughed up in his first outing. Are the Tigers looking at a rotation of Verlander/Porcello/Bonderman/Oliver/Robertson in 2010? The Tigers are paying Bonderman and Robertson (and Willis) no matter what so they might as well try and extract something from them. They aren’t movable but Jackson is. Plus the Tigers have been aggressive in their promotions in the past.
You could also make the case that the Tigers think they have found something in Scot Drucker. He’s also been strong in the AFL and he could find himself in the mix as well come April 2010.
Why this doesn’t make sense: Oliver is very talented and could prove to be a great pick in the second round. But he has 12 professional inning at this point and a 13:8 K:BB ratio. I’m not saying that Oliver couldn’t make starts at some point in 2010 – or even break camp in the rotation – but to pencil him in 3 months before spring training starts would be kind of crazy.
Drucker is probably a more legitimate candidate for this spot, but I don’t think he’s at the point where the Tigers would be freeing up a rotation spot for him.
Playing for beyond 2010
Why this makes sense: As challenged as the Tigers will be with payroll in 2010, things get better in 2011. Robertson, Bonderman’s, Inge’s, and Willis’ contracts all come off the books and because of Ordonez’s limited playing time in 2009 he isn’t a sure bet to vest for 2011. Maybe the Tigers bite the bullet in 2010 knowing that things will be better in the future with a core of Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and hopefully developing youngsters Scott Sizemore, Alex Avila, and Ryan Perry.
Conversely, they may view the division as so weak that even in a re-tooling season they could hang around enough in the AL Central to make things interesting.
If Jackson isn’t required under these scenarios, now might be the time to trade him because his value may not be appreciably higher after the 2010 season. If he can replicate 2009 next year it would further establish that 2009 was a break through rather than a fluke, but it would also take away a year of club control for the receiving team.
Why this doesn’t make sense: The Tigers will still have over a $100 million payroll without Jackson and that is too much for a re-tooling team. The Tigers are likely to be turning to a younger middle infield already, as well as a new closer most likely. If the payroll is too high for a non-competing team then the talent without Jackson probably isn’t sufficient for a middling team.
Putting it together
If the Tigers are serious about trading Jackson, there are probably facets of each of the above scenarios that come into play. Even then, the overarching motivation is probably money. The same Fox Sports article also mentioned that industry sources are saying that Gerald Laird is available as well further leading to the cash flow theory. But at the same time the Tigers are still talking about bringing Brandon Lyon back and he’ll command a salary similar to what Jackson would make.
As long as Mike Ilitch is mum on the payroll fans are left to speculate as to how Dombrowski will improve a team with many question marks on a tight budget. Unconventional moves like flipping Jackson may the only recourse to get through to the salary relief coming after 2010.