Dontrelle plus 3

The Tigers and Dontrelle Willis agreed on a 3 year contract. The Tigers will pay Willis $7 million in 2008, $10 million in 2009, and $12 million in 2010.

It’s a very reasonable deal with limited downside. The surge in homers and walks last year was disturbing, but he should benefit from Comerica Park’s left field which is more favorable for fielding than Florida and may trap a few of those homers. Of course Willis is a ground ball pitcher and he’ll have better defense at short and second than he had in 2007.

Plus given his age there is a decent chance he rebounds and gets better. There’s also the chance he was overworked at a young age and the injury he said he battled in 2007 could simply be foreshadowing of larger problems.

Regardless, there is little not to like. Given the current market for starting pitchers, and even discounting that Willis isn’t on the open market, the contract appears to be a very fair valuation.

Danny Knobler has some notes from presser and came away impressed. And for those wondering Willis will wear 21 in honor of Deion Sanders.

Not so tender moment for Durbin, but Byrdak has that loving feeling

Chad Durbin’s stint as a Detroit Tiger came to an end today when the club made the decision to not tender him a contract. Durbin, who entered 2007 out of options made the team as a bullpen arm as the team broke spring training. But an injury to Kenny Rogers thrust Durbin into the starting rotation.

Durbin made 19 starts and appeared in 36 games in total. He did a decent job as a swing man, and when he was returned to the bullpen he even was given some critical innings.

But I think Durbin’s fate was sealed on September 11th. The Tigers were coming off their dramatic come from behind victory against the Blue Jays and had a double header against the Rangers as they tried to hang in the playoff race. Durbin started the first game and was rocked for 2 homers, a double, and 3 singles before being lifted in the 3rd inning.

Durbin didn’t make it into another game until September 25th when he pitched the 9th inning of an 8-0 game. That would be his last appearance of the season. It was clear that Durbin lost his manager’s trust during that September 11th game.

When you factor in the bullpen crunch the Tigers have with a number of players out of options (Cruceta, Bazardo) and another pitcher who can fill the same role (Zach Miner), it just didn’t add up for Durbin staying with the team.

The move also means the Tigers have a free spot on their roster.

All those other guys

Tim Byrdak on the other hand was inked to a one year deal. He’ll make $700,000 in 2008 which isn’t a bad price for a decent LOOGY. The question is whether Byrdak will be a decent LOOGY. His career was nondescript until last season and there aren’t a lot of guys who blossom at age 33. But Byrdak did add a new split finger pitch and did fan more than a batter per inning so I think he has a decent chance to be productive.

As for the other guys, they were all tendered contracts which wasn’t a big surprise. Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Bobby Seay, and Nate Robertson weren’t going anywhere. Marcus Thames has been the subject of trade talks, but the Tigers weren’t going to let him go for nothing. By tendering contracts it insures that the Tigers will be paying each of these players in 2008 and Cabrera and Robertson are particularly likely to get long term contracts. I’d suspect that they’d like to lock up Willis, who is fond of the idea, but want to see if he bounces back from a rough 2007 first.

If you’re wondering about the process, the players and teams can continue to negotiate. On January 18th the two sides will exchange figures. Then starting February 1st arbitration hearings will be held. The players and agents talk about how great they are, while the teams talk about all the flaws of the players and why they don’t deserve more money. An awkward situation to be sure, and one that Dombrowski has avoided historically. I’d be stunned if any of these cases made it to the hearing and expect contracts to be hammered out in January.

Rogers, Rumors, and the Winter Meetings

The Winter Meetings kicked off today. My fellow bloggers have already commented on how it will be a fairly quiet meetings for the Tigers. That’s what happens when you fill your biggest needs within a couple weeks of the end of the season.

Still, I don’t think the Tigers are done this offseason. While I don’t expect big moves from Detroit during the Winter Meetings, there is still work to be done. The Tigers still have a number of players to tender contracts to. There are currently only 16 members of the team who are signed, and likely to be on the 25 man roster. At least two of those players could be in for a substantial payday.

Curtis Granderson is entering his last year of indentured servitude. The Tigers could sign him for half a million and be done with it. However, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a 5 year deal which would buy him out of his arbitration years and first year of free agency. That would gain the team cost certainty through 2012 which also coincide with the years where he figures to be in his prime.
Continue reading Rogers, Rumors, and the Winter Meetings

As the elusive veteran pitcher world turns

There was quite a bit of drama for a Friday evening as Kenny Rogers fired Scott Boras. Rogers sent an email to all GM’s (wouldn’t that be a neat distribution list to have?) saying that he was now representing himself. This seems like great news for the Tigers who were hoping to resign Rogers. Kenny sent an email last night to Jason Beck saying that he still hopes to be a Tiger in 2008.

I do expect Rogers to sign by Monday at the latest, but am a little curious why he emailed all the GM’s. (**wild blog speculation ahead**) Perhaps he was just trying to confirm the discussions that Boras had had with various clubs and the various offers that had or hadn’t been made. Maybe Rogers distrusted Boras, or didn’t think he was accurately representing his wishes. Or maybe he’s just trying to understand his market for his own sake. (**end wild blog rumor mongering**) And it probably doesn’t matter. By his own admission Rogers wants to be hear, and the Tigers haven’t shown to be cheap when it comes to players they want.

Regardless, Jon Paul Morosi gives us yet another free agent pitcher name to consider in the form of Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda is from Japan, but is a free agent so there is no posting fee like the Red Sox incurred with Daisuke Matsuzaka. Kuroda is a 32 year old right hander who stands 6′ 1″

I honestly don’t know much about Kuroda, but did find 2 assessments. One is from MLB Trade Rumors which had this report

One number to remember here: 300, as in 300 feet to left and 300 feet to right. That’s the stadium Kuroda spent 10 years in, and still he managed to post a sub-2.00 ERA in 2006 and go 13-6. What could he do in Petco with 67 extra feet to left to play with? Tak says that at the least, he’s an innings eater.

Meanwhile Baseball Prospectus had him rated as a top tier Japanese free agent and had this to say:

He’s not Daisuke Matsuzaka, but Kuroda a very strong power pitcher with a low to mid-90s fastball and a wicked forkball. In addition, he features a plus shuuto, something like a screwball, as well as an effective change. Even if he only pans out as a third or fourth starter in the majors, he will give you innings, work deep into games, and he should be fairly consistent start to start.

For an asking price of $7-8 million over 3 years he certainly would rate as intriguing at this point.

I still think that the Tigers should look to add someone beyond Rogers and had been thinking of Bartolo Colon or Kerry Wood. A couple of risky guys with some upside who could be had for 1 year deals. Give said pitcher the last spot in the rotation. If it doesn’t work out you haven’t invested a lot and Andrew Miller is still waiting in the wings. It also means that if Miller isn’t ready, or Rogers can’t go a full season (both decent possibilities) it is another layer of depth.

Valuing Kenny Rogers

At the end of last season Kenny Rogers future involved one of two paths:  retiring or resigning with the Tigers. The quote was “It’s either here (Detroit) or nowhere.”  But last week despite Rogers’ decision to play again, Scott Boras said they were going to explore options.  Now it appears that the sides are having a tough time finding middle ground with Rogers/Boras rejecting two Tigers offers.  The question then becomes how high should the Tigers go to bring back Kenny?

How to estimate value

At The Book blog, there is a method for valuing players.  I encourage you to read all the comments, where various players and their recently signed/or prospective contracts are discussed.  The short of it though is that on the free agent market, one win above replacement  will cost $4.4 million. So how many wins above replacement would Rogers bring next year?

First let’s establish replacement level.  A replacement level player is someone who can be had for the league minimum.  Think a non roster invitee to spring training.  That level of performance using this method is described as a .380 pitcher.  But what does this mean?  Take for example a situation where on average 4.5 runs are allowed per game.  A pitcher that allowed less than that would have a winning percentage (using the pythagorean or pythanport equations), and a pitcher that allowed more would have a losing winning percentage.  In the case of a .380 pitcher in a 4.5 run environment, it would mean they’d allow 5.9 runs per game.

Using Bill James projections for 2008 Rogers’ FIP is 4.57.  Fielding Independent Pitching is calculated based on strike outs, walks, and homers – the things a pitcher has control over – and is a solid indicator of true talent level.  As a comparison, the AL FIP last year was 4.51 so for all intents and purposes Rogers projects to be an average pitcher (.500) next year.

The same projections have Rogers making 23 starts and amassing 145 innings which is the equivalent of 16.1 9 inning games.  As an average pitcher you’d expect him to win half of those games and so he’d be worth 8 wins to the team. (Note:  these wins are not the same totals as what you’d find in the traditional won-loss record.  This is looking at contribution to the team)  If the Tigers didn’t spend the money on Kenny, and went with the bare minimum the replacement level pitcher with his .380 winning percentage would account for 6 wins in that same playing time.

So Rogers is 2 wins above replacement.  If you stop there one could say that based on these projections Rogers should make $9.2 million next year(2 x 4.4  and .4 more for the league minimum).

Adjustments

The former was the scientific part, not it’s time for the non-scientific adjustments.  The first adjustment is for age.  Rogers is 43 and is coming off an injury filled season.  Should he be valued the same as a player in his mid thirties?  Probably not. Health and the ability to maintain performance are real and justified concerns. The typical age adjustment is to knock off a .5 win.  That would put his value at $7 million.

Another way to guard against this, is to add performance incentives.  If Rogers is healthy and productive for a full season, I think he should be rewarded.  The projection has him at 23 starts.  If you put in a kicker for 30 starts, how much should it be?  If you assume 6.3 innings per start, and he makes 7 more starts, that would be 44.1 more innings.  That works out to an additional .6 wins over a replacement pitcher.  And the cost of .6 wins is 2.6 million.

But at the same time the Tigers probably value Rogers more than most other teams.  Right or wrong, Dombrowski & Leyland like the familiar.  There is a comfort level with Rogers on the staff.  The other pitchers seem to respond to having Rogers around.  Valuing this contribution is difficult.  While personally I think this type of thing tends to be overblown among fans and the media, I do think some of this effect exists and don’t want to discount it.

Bottom Line

When the news came out about Boras testing the market I called it posturing and at the time made a guess that I just pulled out of nowhere:  1 year – 7.5 million, 1 million bonus for 20 starts, 1.5 million bonus for 30 starts.  That actually doesn’t look to bad right now and the only real difference is I’d give him a little more in incentives while keeping the base the same.

As a base salary Rogers should probably make $7-8 million after adjusting for age and giving him a bonus for the extra value he brings to the team.  If he makes 20 starts his total contract should go to $9 million.  If he makes 30 starts his total contract should go to $11.5-$12 million.

Jones’n a day late

The Tigers make 2 moves, and my internet connection flakes out that night. As such, I’ll just wrap the analysis into one post. Before getting into the individual evaluations I wanted to note that with the Todd Jones signing, the Tigers payroll has eclipsed the $100 million mark. I have it pegged at $102 right now (not counting the relief the Cubs are sending in the Jacque Jones deal.

Todd Jones

I can definitely see some merit in this signing. It’s a one year deal and at $7 million it is certainly palatable – even if it’s over market value. With a healthy Zumaya, this deal makes all kinds of sense. The veteran comes back for one more year to help transition to the young gun. Trouble is, we don’t know now if that gun will be firing bullets or blanks or anything.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding Zumaya, I feel the Tigers should have gone after Francisco Cordero. The Tigers very well may end up in a situation where they will be looking for a free agent closer next year anyways if Zumaya can’t comeback or isn’t ready to assume closing responsibilities. In a year that the Tigers were clearly in “go for it” mode, getting a top shelf closer would have fit the bill. If Zumaya does come back, you have a pretty solid bullpen – especially as Fernando Rodney becomes a free agent in 2010.

Bill James projects Cordero to throw 61 innings with a FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 3.15. Assuming a league average FIP of 4.43 that would make Cordero worth about one more win than Todd Jones. Jones projects to a 3.77 FIP.

Still, Cordero isn’t a sure thing. He had a bad year in 2006 when he blew 11 saves. It’s probably an anomaly, but it’s out there. Also, Cordero would have wanted to come to the Tigers. It isn’t the laughable proposition it was 3 years ago, but there are no guarantees.

There is value in the Tigers moving quickly to fill a need. Plus Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland have a penchant for the familiar making them comfortable with Todd Jones. As for the $7 million, the Tigers probably overpaid. Jones is about one win above replacement level. Assuming a win in the free agent market is worth $4.4 million then Jones salary should be about $4.8 million (you need to add the major league minimum to the base).

As long as Todd Jones can continue to keep his slugging against south of .400, and if he can limit the walks, the should be okay in 2008.

Jacque Jones for Omar Infante

My initial reaction to this trade was that I liked it, and that has held up over the last day. I like Infante, and at age 25 there is a still a chance he could be a productive major league player. But it was clear that isn’t wasn’t going to happen for him here in Detroit. Plus he’ll be in his second year of arbitration. Plus, the Tigers have a couple players who could fill the utility role for cheap. So even though Infante may have some value to some club, he didn’t have a lot of value to the Tigers. That they got a real major leaguer in return is a coup.

That major leaguer of course is Jacque Jones. The stuff to like about Jones is that he is a solid defender who can play all 3 outfield positions. But his arm has him better suited to center of left. He’s also left handed, which is helpful for the Tigers.

If the Tigers deploy him as part of a platoon, they have the makings of an acceptable offensive outfield. Jones against righties has hit 294/342/483. Meanwhile Marcus Thames against lefties is 263/333/512. For a total cost of $5 million or so a combined 280/335/490 line would fit nicely in this lineup.

The concern with Jones of course is that his slugging fell off the map last year when he only hit 5 homers. It was a Sean Casey-ish year, but it wasn’t nearly as conspicuous as he played a large chunk in centerfield. Whether it was an anomaly or aging remains to be seen. It’s also worth noting that Jones posted the best walk to strikeout ratio of his career last year. For what it’s worth James projects a 278/332/433 line but without facing lefties he has a chance to better that.

So I give the trade a thumbs up. Still, I’ll miss Infante’s salsa at-bat music this season.

Other stuff

  • Craig Monroe is now a Minnesota Twin. Best of luck to Craig. He always has mashed in the Metrodome where he’s hit 305/351/520 for his career so this could be a good fit.
  • The Tigers completed the Roman Colon trade by acquiring Danny Christensen from the Royals. Christensen is left handed and 24. The former appears to be his most dominant trait. He struggled in AA last year as he gave up a ton of hits, 23 of them for homers in 140 innings.

Tiger sign Todd Jones

The Tigers inked Todd Jones to a 1 year deal. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 2 Joneses today. I’ll have more tonight. In the meantime here is a post looking at Jones’ 2007 season.

Conference Call Notes

  • People are happy. Todd is happy. Dave is happy.
  • Jones’ kids are excited because they are friends with the other Tigers’ kids.
  • Dombrowski on getting other relievers: number one priority is getting a starting pitcher right now. He’s not forgetting about the bullpen, but feels that with Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney the pen is solid. (He also cited the experience that Zach Miner and Jason Grilli got last year). My take: it depends how much they spend on a starting pitcher as to what they’ll do with the pen.
  • Gotta run and will update with other notes later tonight

UPDATE: Flaky internet connection killed any updates last night. I’ll analyze both Jones transactions tonight.

GM Meeting Wrap

More great stuff from Jon Paul Morosi in the Freep today as he catches up with Dave Dombrowski at the conclusion of the GM meetings.

The cliff notes are:

  • The Tigers made an offer to Kenny Rogers and are waiting on Scott Boras at this point
  • The Tigers have contacted agents of Mariano Rivera and Francisco Cordero
  • The Tigers contacted the Astros about Brad Lidge, but talks were never serious.
  • On the possibility of being close to making a deal Dombrowski said ““I don’t know. We’ll find out. We’ve had a lot of discussions.”
  • Dombrowski was talking up left handed outfielders Matt Joyce and Clete Thomas.  I don’t know if this is because the Tigers think Joyce/Thomas could help at some point this year, or if they are trying to downplay their interest in left handed hitting outfielders, or if they are trying to boost the stock of their own prospects for a trade.
  • Maybin is now healthy but won’t play the last week of the AFL season.

Dombrowski has inklings of deals but no inkings

One more thing

This doesn’t deserve a post because I know you the reader probably don’t really care, but this is just a quick follow up to the McCosky article. He hasn’t responded to email attempts to reach him (one sent Saturday, another sent Monday), nor has the Detroit News sports editor (an email was sent Monday). He also hasn’t identified which blogs were having a field day speculating. Those are the facts. I’m done with it now.

Tigers on pace for club record payroll

I did some long overdue updates to the payroll information. And already the Tigers have $90 million committed to next season, and that’s with only 15 players under contract.

My total is a tad under the $90 million mark, but I don’t have the data for Cameron Maybin’s contract which has to be in the vicinity of one million.

I’ve also tried to do my best to update the players’ status. When players are under club control I had to estimate when there arbitration years would kick in, so that is subject to change.

The Tigers have a number of players eligible for arbitration this year. Nate Robertson is a lock to be back, and at least one of Bobby Seay or Tim Byrdak (I’m thinking both) will be retained as well. I’m also inclined to believe the chances of the Tigers keeping Marcus Thames are pretty strong as well. So to resign those 4 players will probably require $10 million, give or take 2 million. At that point the club is at $100 million.

A veteran pitcher will be inked, either Kenny Rogers or someone else meaning the Tigers will commit another $8 million or so. And then there is the Todd Jones question, and whether or not the Tigers retain Jones, stay inside, or sign an established reliever on the open market. I think they’ll probably be spending $6 million or so to answer that question.

That raises the Tigers payroll over the $110 million mark. A utility infielder should be cheap, and relievers Joel Zumaya and Zach Miner should also be cheap. But Curtis Granderson is another matter. I still need to do some analysis on Grandy, but I think it is a given that it is in the Tigers best interest to lock him up for the next 5 years. While the big bump would come later in the contract, Granderson is still due to make double what he made last year. (also worth noting it would make Grandy the only player signed in 2012).

Aready the Tigers are poised to shatter their previous record payroll that was set this year. And that is without the club spending for a left fielder or left handed bat which is still a strong possibility.

As for when the free agent shopping starts, and arbitration decisions are made, we still have some time. The complete calendar of important dates is available from MLB.com.

The above spreadsheet is kept fairly up-to-date and can always be found on the Payroll page.

Bang for the buck

Net Win Shares Value is Dave Studeman’s attempt to assess the value of a player and their contract.  He released some of his findings today, and there are several Tigers items worth pointing out.

Net Win Shares Value looks at the 3 different classes of players (not eligible for arbitration, arbitration eligible, and free agents) and compares the win shares above bench (the number of win shares that an average bench player would accrue given the playing time) to a player’s salary above the minimum.

The Best

As to the Tiger related items, Detroit had 2 of the top 10 best values in 2007.  Not surprisingly Curtis Granderson made the list at 9th as he turned in a season that has landed him on many MVP ballots at just a hair over the minimum salary.  What is more surprising, at least to me, is that Magglio Ordonez was the 5th best value on the list.  Ordonez season was outstanding, but he also made $15 million last year.  For him to “overcome” his salary to be that much of a value is a testament to how truly amazing his performance was.

Also of note on the top 10 best values list, there were 3 Cleveland Indians:  Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore, and Victor Martinez.  So it’s easy to see why the Indians had the success they had even with a smaller payroll.  It also means that half of the top 10 best values in 2007 came from the AL Central.

The Worst

The Tigers had 2 guys on the list of the 10 worst values as well.  Can you guess them?  No, one of them isn’t Brandon Inge.  Craig Monroe and Mike Maroth finished 7th and 8th on the list.  Neither was paid a whole lot this past season, they were just that bad.  Maroth though did a lot of his damage with the Cardinals as he went from “not good” in the AL to “really, really bad” in the National League. 

Now there is one area where this method fails to capture the worst values.  If a player is injured, he doesn’t really show up as a poor value for not playing.  So a Kenny Rogers who missed most of the year, doesn’t show up as a bad value because when he did play, he played well.  So a Carl Pavano is actually a worse value than many other players, but he wouldn’t show up on this list.

Getting their money’s worth

Dave also posted a table that highlights the teams that got the most and the least from their free agents. The Tigers finished 3rd best, which doesn’t really surprise because their free agent class players were mostly productive. In addition to Ordonez, the Tigers got great value in Placido Polanco who turned in a very good season – and cheaply. Carlos Guillen was good as usual, and in the last year of his old deal he was still cheap. And Todd Jones probably contributed more than Jose Mesa detracted
2007 Net Win Shares Value — The Hardball Times

Tigers pick up Pudge’s option

The Tigers announced that they have picked up Pudge Rodriguez’s $13 million option for the 2008 season. That’s one less question mark out there.

I already wrote up my thoughts on the matter.

Pudge speculation and innuendo

We’ve now heard from all the relevant players involved in the should we exercise Pudge’s option discussion. Mike Ilitch weighed in on Pudge last night:

“Pudge did a big thing for us, putting a face on the franchise,” Ilitch told The Associated Press on Wednesday night. “He’s made a lot of contributions.
“I don’t think it’ll be a tough call, but we’ll see.”

And Pudge’s agent Scott Boras made his statement yesterday as well:

“In this marketplace, if they no longer wanted Pudge, that would surprise me, knowing what Pudge has done for the organization and knowing the loyalty the Ilitch family has for their players,” Boras said.

Boras of course speaks agent, so make of it what you will. He also cited that since Pudge had made the club so much money that he thought it would lead to the “fulfillment of his contract” which of course will be fulfilled either through the buyout or the option. Nevermind that Pudge made a lot of money playing for the club, way more than anyone else was offering at the time and the Tigers essentially bailed out Boras and Pudge.

Dave Dombrowski of course chimed in on Monday with the media and in typical Dombrowski fashion didn’t indicate which way the club was leaning.

And the then final player in this drama, Pudge, spoke of his time in Detroit in the past tense. Of course he was asked to reflect on his time in Detroit, or essentially he was asked to reflect on the past, so I don’t see the use of the past tense as peculiar.

“It was a good roll here. It was very nice. Very good four years.”

So put the pieces together the way you want. I still think he’s coming back, either via the option or an extension.