Robertson traded

Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis have secured the final two spots in the Tigers rotation, and Nate Robertson secured a spot with the Marlins. The Tigers today traded Robertson and $9.6 million of his $10 million contract for Marlins left handed prospect Jay Voss. For my thoughts on the trade, well, just look back a couple days.

Robertson outpitched his two competitors not only this spring, but last year as well. The stats say that Robertson should be in the rotation. It has to be a tough pill for Robertson to swallow.*

But, it is important not to make too much of spring stats, or even last year’s stats due to the limited sample sizes in play. Scouting reports should play a role as well and the Tigers are encouraged by the stuff that Willis and Bonderman have shown this spring.

On Willis Dombrowski said:

He’s throwing strikes. His ball has had quality movement. He looks more confident on the mound.

And on Bonderman:

He’s come back. He’s continued to progress. His arm strength is average to a tick above. It looks like he’s sinking the ball well. His slider has been good. He continues to work on his change — he’s thrown some good ones. I don’t want to say he’s got exactly the same stuff, because he used to throw 96-97 m.p.h. But it’s solid, major league stuff. He’s aggressive. You can tell he feels confident.

I’d have more faith in the Willis report if we hadn’t heard this before, like before the extension was signed prior to the 2008 season.

It would be one thing if there was salary relief in play today, but the only difference between cutting Robertson and the trade is Jay Voss (no disrespect intended Mr. Voss). They could have just cut any of the three really.

Eddie Bonine, Alfredo Figaro, Phil Coke, and Zach Miner all just became more important with today’s transaction.

*This isn’t really analysis, but Robertson is one of the Tigers I’ve had a chance to talk with. I’ll gloss over the “he’s a good guy” part because it’s cliche (but it’s also true). But Robertson did appreciate being a Tiger. He identified the Tigers as his team. He knows about the history and the places that legends such as Ernie Harwell and Al Kaline hold in our hearts. In that regard it makes me sad he’s leaving. Yes it is a business and he’s getting paid handsomely, but he’s also a person.

39 Comments

  1. Mat

    March 30, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Good post Billfer. As a fan who attends games regularly and develops attachments to players more readily than I, you often have a different take than I do. But you usually back it up with logic and facts. I enjoying reading, even when I disagree.

    I can’t say I understand the move, but I’m not too bent out of shape about losing our 6th starter when Bonine or Galarraga (or maybe a young prospect) can be adequate replacements. But as you said in the other post, any small difference can hurt if the playoff chase gets close.

    I’m still happy enough about this team improving over the offseason (I realize its debatable, but in my eyes they dropped off only a little for this season while improving their future prospects), that I’m not going to fret over small stuff like this.

    For most people this deal is more about giving Willis another chance, when he hasn’t really earned it. I’m OK with that, based on his upside.

    I think Nate’s far better off and its a great deal for the Marlins. Once the Tigers decided Dontrelle and Bondo were the 4/5, thats the big story here.

    • billfer

      March 30, 2010 at 6:59 pm

      Thanks Mat. I probably do get to attached to certain players, but I try to separate the analysis from the fan view, and then present both. And with kids, if a player is nice to one of my kids I’ll have a soft spot for him and wish him well, even if I understand the baseball reasons why he has to be moved.

      I don’t view this is a dramatic miscarriage of justice, just another in a line of curious moves.

      • TSE

        March 30, 2010 at 7:16 pm

        I really didn’t think much of this move on account that I don’t have all the inside info on Robertson that the Tigers have and I know nothing about Voss. But when I heard the buyout was 9.6M, it was a bit of a head scratcher.

        This is the TYPE of move that I wanted to see, something where we pay a huge portion of money along with our discards, but I didn’t want to use up any of our chips for anything other than an upgrade over Everett or Laird, or Inge as the 3rd weakest link. Not to say I won’t settle for an upgrade at any of the offensive positions, but those are some big ones. I just don’t have as super high of a priority to trade Inge, he still has a decent credible chance to perform. And it’s not like I’m suggesting we could have got an upgrade for Nate alone, we just need to get all of our discardable players together in a pile, throw in a huge bundle of cash, and start telling teams to coordinate and figure out the proper redistribution of those items. We just gotta get these losers out of here, and by losers I don’t mean losers in life or anything personal, just that they are losers as considerations for being a future member of this team.

  2. Vince in MN

    March 30, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Not much of a surprise, you could smell this one coming. Well, maybe Voss will turn out to be the reincarnation of John Smoltz and this deal will go down in history as a steal by the Tigers, but I doubt it. In the end it is more likely that they will have dumped the wrong guy. Frankly, with the exception of the Cabrera deal (and remember we got stuck with Willis there too), I haven’t been particularly impressed with Dombrowski’s wheeling and dealing the last few years. Poor trades and bad contracts dominate his record. One has to wonder if the “Wonder Boy” reputation he got early in his career wasn’t due more to luck than anything else.

    Check out Mike Rogers analysis at Bless You Boys for an in depth angle on it.

    http://www.blessyouboys.com/20.....s-erred-in

    • Mat

      March 30, 2010 at 7:10 pm

      I don’t want to get into the foofaraw that is over there, but that post is pretty weak, (regardless of what you think) and filled with strange logical contortions. Anything that talks about how much Robertson makes should be removed from the discussion. His contract is irrelevant – essentially a sunk cost – reflected in the fact that the Tigers willing to pay the entire thing for the Marlins.

      You can make an argument that selecting Willis for the 5th spot was the wrong decision. You can also make an argument that giving away an insurance policy (Robertson) isn’t a wise move. But conflating these issues while randomly throwing in raw conjecture and salary info is as silly as me saying “An expensive 6th starter was traded for a cheaper and younger player.” Billfer’s take was way better.

  3. Keith (Mr. X)

    March 30, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    If we released Nate he would of been free to go to any team. Moving Nate out of the American League was the smartest thing to do. We couldn’t just keep him as insurance because we don’t need another Lefty in the pen, especially a lefty that has a fastball that tops out at 87-89 MPH. We’ll eventually need this roster spot for Weinhardt or Satterwhite anyway.
    The 5th starter slot wouldn’t of looked any brighter with Nate the Great in there. It’s not going to look good until we make the big call-up. Jacob Turner in June is what I’m hoping for.

    • billfer

      March 30, 2010 at 6:55 pm

      If Nate is so inconsequential then why worry if he stayed in the AL? Why not drop Willis instead of Robertson. Really, who has the better odds of being a positive contributor this year?

      And no, Jacob Turner is not coming up in June.

      • Mat

        March 30, 2010 at 7:16 pm

        Unless they really value Voss (hard to believe) it seems clear that the Tigers determined that Robertson wasn’t the best choice as the replacement starter they’ll undoubtedly need at some point this season.

        I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bonine, Miner, or the other guys mentioned, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the younger higher profile prospects thrust into the role. It may not be Turner but the it could be someone else.

        I think they saw Robertson as having little to no upside and determined that taking a shot at someone else was a better bet. For now, they’re all-in with D-Train. If he falters they have other options. Yeah, that puts more pressure on Dontrelle and those other guys become more important…maybe thats not a bad thing.

      • Keith (Mr. X)

        March 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm

        “who has the better odds of being a positive contributor this year?”

        I’d go with what’s behind curtain #3. I know Nate isn’t going to help us win a division. I don’t have much faith in Willis either. I’d like to see what Zach Miner can do once he gets healthy. I also wouldn’t mind seeing what Phil Coke could do as a starter.

        It’s a golden rule not to trade within your own division, and even better with-in your own league.

        • TSE

          March 30, 2010 at 8:42 pm

          Actually it’s BETTER to trade within your division. If you make a trade you should do it because you believe you NET in it. Thus on average, there are less spoils left over for the rest of MLB that they must logically NET less than you.

          Therefore, if you trade correctly, you gain a + to the other team’s – on the average trade. So if that’s the case and you get a + from a trade, then you want the – to specifically go to the team IN YOUR DIVISION. It gives you more statistical edge relative to them.

          You can’t make the argument that they also get better, because they could also get better with other trades with other teams. And those trades, ON AVERAGE, will produce a better expectation FOR THEM than if they deal WITH US.

          So in-division trades are EXACTLY what you want, IF you believe that you are smarter than the other guy. This phony bologna idea that it is somehow a curse or bad is an IRRATIONAL FEAR, and the other team has that same fear back at you, so it perfectly neutralizes anyhow, and the only thing left is…duh…duh….duh…..LOGIC, and using your brain to figure out what’s really going on so that you can have CLARITY as to the path of logical righteousness.

          That’s just a fancy way for saying that you win the most amount of baseball games possible in the long-run.

          • Jeff Molby

            March 31, 2010 at 3:56 am

            Actually it’s BETTER to trade within your division. If you make a trade you should do it because you believe you NET in it.

            Do you really believe someone makes a trade without thinking that they will profit by it? GMs hesitate to make interdivisional trades because they understand they are fallible and they know that mistakes on such trades can burn you twice. Sure, go ahead and offer a trade if you’re very confident you can swindle your neighbor, but odds are he’s not going to trust you enough to make the deal. He’ll probably nix the deal even if he thinks it favors him a bit. Why? Because the risk of being wrong outweighs whatever profit he thinks he could make.

            Therefore, if you trade correctly, you gain a + to the other team’s – on the average trade. So if that’s the case and you get a + from a trade, then you want the – to specifically go to the team IN YOUR DIVISION. It gives you more statistical edge relative to them.

            Typical TSE. You just sit there and assume you can consistently out-trade everyone. Heck, even if you can, it’s only a matter of time before everyone catches on to your prowess. When they do they’ll either demand a premium from you (because they’ll assume you know something they don’t) or they’ll just blacklist you and trade only with teams they think they can outmaneuver. See Houston’s fondness for trading with Randy Smith.

          • billfer

            March 31, 2010 at 5:48 am

            It’s not just a matter of being smarter than the other guy though. A trade could be a net positive for you and a net positive for the other team as well. It isn’t always a matter of taking advantage of another team. It is usually two teams who have different needs and surpluses coming together to exchange goods. That could be by position, salary, philosophy, etc. It’s not usually about a winner and loser.

        • Dr. Detroit

          March 30, 2010 at 10:53 pm

          I like Coke. If not at as a starter, I would like to see Coke settle in as a middle-reliever like Mike Stanton was for the Yankees back in the late 90′s.

  4. kathy

    March 30, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    When Nate did pitch good, he very seldom got good run support. I used to feel like he wore a bad luck charm on his chest.

    • David Raz

      March 30, 2010 at 9:50 pm

      Yeah I remember both those games from the last 4 years, weren’t they in spring training though?

  5. Slashpyne

    March 30, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    I agree with Matt. I think that the Tigers thought that Bonderman and Willis had some possible upside, but Nate was on the decline. I can’t believe they found somebody to take that much of his contract!

    • Steve

      March 30, 2010 at 8:14 pm

      They did not, the Tigers are paying the freight, someone above mentioned 9.6 of 10 mil. Not bad if thats the case for the Marlins

      • Dave T.

        March 31, 2010 at 9:28 am

        Would have been the same if they released him and someone signed him

  6. Steve

    March 30, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Maybe the thought process was, the up side to Dontrell was higher than Nates, the down side Could have been Dontrell would be lower (worse) than Nates and if that was the case then either one of them would be gone and Mystery #5 guy would be inserted. If this is the way DD and Jim thought it through, then they are banking on Dontrell being back or somewhat back and if it doesn’t work then it doesn’t matter as Nate or Dontrell both could not have been kept up. I know that is not very articulate but hopefully you can see my reasoning.

    Bottom line, I liked Nate, at times he was a good innings eater and seemingly a good guy with no baggage or other things to point a finger at, I think he tried hard and did the best his talent allowed him to do. I wish him nothing but the best. He is making 10 mil a year for a number 4-5 guy and it was said above good money regardless of the angle you look at it. He will be set for life money wise with a non remarkable career.

    I’m ready for the opener Monday with K/C. I want to look back and see how many times in the last 5 years we have started with them, it seems like a lot.

    Steve

    • Steve

      March 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm

      Update on openers:
      2009: Toronto
      2008: K/C
      2007: Toronto
      2006: K/C
      2005: K/C
      2004: Toronto
      2003: Minn
      2002: Tampa Bay
      2001: Minn
      2000: Oakland
      1999: Texas

      So including this year it is K/C 4 out of the last 12 years, I really thought it was more, it really felt like more. The bad news is this year they dont stink as much as they used to. But hey either do we like the year 2003. We may need more hitters but we will make a solid run at the division.

      Bilfer glad to see you are back, we really love the site here at my house. We are really getting stoked for baseball to start this this year.

      Steve

  7. Scott

    March 30, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    I’m a little nervous about relying on Willis, too. But, as much as I liked Nate, I think he’s pretty much a journeyman pitcher at this point.

  8. TSE

    March 30, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Well it wouldn’t be the first time that a pitcher in his 30s turned his career around and had a better second half to his career than the first. Nate showed some early promise and seemed to be the kind of guy that would just have a chip on his shoulder and an itch to get back into the groove where he gets to be the guy getting patted on that butt a little more often than having to always be the guy to pat somebody else. For a low profile prospect I just don’t see the reason to rush. But that’s because I’m not going to freak out about our roster limits and I will find a way to take care of that problem to buy some time to give Nate a frakking shot. Oh well, maybe this prospect is really interesting. But now that we burned one pitcher, I say to hell with it, burn some more. We will be better off if we can exchange a few more pitchers, cause eventually we should stumble upon getting infield help in return.

  9. Tim D

    March 30, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Nobody is going to touch Willis. Assuming he sucks, he will be gone by June. They need Galarraga to find it again. Hopefully Jacob Turner grows up as quickly as Porcello did.

  10. scotsw

    March 30, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    I confess I don’t understand this trade at all, unless the Tigers’ scouts have a real love affair with this Voss guy. I know nothing about him, but hear that he’s a decent left-handed prospect who did OK in AA ball last year.

    Given that the Tigers are going to pay Nate’s salary, and given that all are agreed that he is an established major-league caliber player, and given that the Tigers have two huge question marks in the rotation, and given that we all KNOW the Tigers are going to need another starter at some point this season (because that’s true EVERY season, for one reason or another) I don’t understand why they didn’t keep him. So Nate’s wet dream isn’t to be in the pen — so what? Bye bye, Brad Thomas. Enjoy Toledo. Piece of cake.

    The trade doesn’t make the team better and doesn’t save them any money, really. And frankly, it doesn’t sound like they got the sort of prospect they really need, given the Dombrowski’s claim of having 10-15 “major league ready arms” in the system.

    This trade is ONLY better than releasing Nate. Seems like they had better options.

  11. Longball111

    March 31, 2010 at 7:32 am

    I don’t get it.

    The Tigers move Robertson for a pitcher none of us could pick out of a police lineup and get virtually no relief on salary. To me, it’s throwing Robertson away. They must really have wanted him off the team.

    And, they did it in favor of two pitchers who don’t exactly overwhelm me. What I’ve seen in the spring hasn’t given me confidence in Bondo’s ability to get outs or Dontrelles ability to throw strikes. Now, if any of the starters falters or is injured there’s not much in the bottom of the barrel.

    I guess DD gets the big $ to make hard decisions but the logic of this is not obvious.

  12. Dave T.

    March 31, 2010 at 9:14 am

    The marlins wanted Nate b/c they needed a lefty in their rotation.

    Note: Andrew Miller is no where to be seen.

    ROTATION:

    1. RHP Josh Johnson

    2. RHP Ricky Nolasco

    3. RHP Anibal Sanchez

    4. RHP Chris Volstad

    5. LHP Nate Robertson

    Maybe we should have asked for him back?

  13. Nick D

    March 31, 2010 at 9:17 am

    As a fan of the Tigers I get attached to the players that bring personality and energy to the team. Does anyone else remember Nate Robertson’s rally bubble gum days? That energy is what I’ll miss.
    As far as a business move I think that it’s close to a statistical push between Willis and Robertson. When one considers that Willis’ issues are mental and that he’s put up decent numbers in front of docile spring training crowds and not in the anxiety-producing regular season I begin to worry.

    • TSE

      March 31, 2010 at 10:36 am

      So what’s the over/under on how many starts Willis gets before he’s yanked from the rotation? 2?

      • Mark in Chicago

        March 31, 2010 at 11:56 am

        I’ll take the over on that, but I don’t think you’re far off. I would give it maybe 5-6 starts. I think DD and JL be willing to give him a lot of rope (they have already) and wouldn’t want to look foolish so early on in the experiment.

        If your question is how many starts before he DESERVES to come out of the rotation, 2-3 is probably a good number.

        • Keith (Mr. X)

          March 31, 2010 at 12:27 pm

          If it’s not for money, I’ll go against the odds and take the over. My gut tells me that he gets hurt after 4 or 5 starts and he’s done for year, but my heart tells me that he really deserves this chance and that he’ll be the comeback player of the year.

          • TSE

            March 31, 2010 at 1:00 pm

            Well actually my dad set the over/under and asked me the question and it was in regards to when Leyland would actually yank him, that’s what made me think to post it cause it was kind of an interesting conversation. He wanted me to pick, and he made it very clear he’s taking the under, cause he is just about the world’s biggest Dontrelle skeptic. He was basically hoping I would take the over so that when he flops early he can say he beat me on that. But to his surprise I also took the under which really ribbed him because he just assumed I would jump for the over and that he had a sure fire winner. I mean I really don’t have anything to go on, a guy like that is impossible to evaluate or predict if you can’t see what’s going on up close and with all the information. Pitchers like that I’m pretty much unequipped to state a certain position on. But nevertheless he sold me on the skeptical things such as his previous arm injury, and statistically pitchers just don’t recover from those type of injuries and perform well. The odds say that he is doomed. Only question left is does Dontrelle have what it takes to avoid becoming another statistic, or can he become the anomaly?

            • TSE

              March 31, 2010 at 1:06 pm

              Sorry, to be more accurate, the claim he made is that he will never see his 3rd start in the normal rotation. So technically the over under is 2.5, if he makes it to the 3rd start, that’s when you win.

    • Kathy

      March 31, 2010 at 2:53 pm

      Loved Gum Time. I think Nate wanted to go full throttle with it, but then the Tigers seemed to put the kabosh on it. What I remember most is that it worked!

  14. Joey in Portland OR

    March 31, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Times are tough, the Tigers are cutting back on gum in the dugout. Hence, Nate had to go.

  15. BigMax

    March 31, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Won’t someone think of Big League Chew? No more free promos…

    I hope Nate does well in a low-stress atmosphere in the easier league. If they weren’t going to start him, the Tigers did him a favor.

    If he does well, he gets flipped back to the American League for a prospect at the trade deadline…

    At $400k/year, if he can be healthy and maintain a 3.8-4.2 ERA, he’ll be very attractive to someone at the deadline.

    • TSE

      March 31, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      Hey maybe that can be us!

  16. Scott

    March 31, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    nobody can predict the future, but based on past history I think I can make a few observations:
    Nate has, at most, been a ‘marginal’ pitcher at best. I have no qualms about seeing him go. With all the LHP the Tigers have, I didn’t see a need for Nate anyway. However, Dontrelle has to prove himself to me; until I see him able to be a major league pitcher…he’s not. This means he’s gotta be able to THROW STRIKES consistently. As far as I’m concerned, the Tigers have given him too much rope already; he should’ve been cut loose last year. This boy has to get it together NOW. I mean immediately. We have too many other LH’ders now to deal with his wildness crap. If he can’t throw strikes or deal with life, then get him outta here. Nobody would sign him anyway; who needs a pitcher who can’t throw strikes? And the only time I saw Bonderman this spring, Toronto hammered him for 6 runs in 1/3 of an inning; I was “less than impressed.” It was the only time I saw him all spring, however. [I live down here full-time now, so I attend spring training games when I can.] I think the Tigers’ pitching did quite well this spring; other than Bondo, everyone else I saw pitched pretty damn well. From what I saw, I like Schlereth; he’ll be ok. I suspect he’ll be back up. But the best performance I saw was Zoom-Zoom’s v Yankees last Saturday. Tiges lost 2-1, but Z came in…faced 3 batters [Grandy first]….struck out all 3 on 10 pitches. He threw one ball, and two or three at 100+ mph. It was excellent; if he can consistently do that during the season, then things will definitely be looking up. All in all, Tiger pitching looked quite good this spring, if it continues into the season, the Tigers will make a serious run. Hopefully it will…….GO TIGERS!!

    • Keith (Mr. X)

      March 31, 2010 at 9:51 pm

      I probably won’t care if Willis gives up a ton of walks. I just don’t want him to give up a ton of runs. He can probably get away with walking 4 or 5 hitters per game, just as long as he’s not giving up many big hits with men on base.

      I wouldn’t weight his performance with K/BB ratio’s or FIP either because control is his major weakness, obviously. His strengths are getting quick outs and keeping everyone off-balanced. So I’m more concerned with the bottom line, and that’s how many runs he gives up. If he can keep his ERA below 5, then I’d stick with him, but any higher he should be replaced. Sabermetrics be damned.

  17. Dave B

    April 1, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Anyone who rates Willis’s chances of having a succesful season higher than 50:50 is a drunk gambler. With Eddie the only current reliable insurance piece and Miner injured, I would have started both lefties, Eddie stretched out as a starter in Toledo and Bondo doing the long relief to allow work on his third pitch in a less pressure situation to starting.
    Nate being shipped for minimum salary is a steal and management must have worried about upsetting the new found team chemistry given the way he pouted last year in the bullpen.
    Nate led ST in strikeouts, a 3.6 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. He should have started with Willis or only offloaded if a team is willing to pay $3-5m of his salary to give some payroll flexibility into the season.