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July 30, 2015

Transaction Analysis

Oh, the Price You Pay

by R.J. Anderson, Christopher Crawford, Mike Gianella and Jeff Moore

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired LHPs Daniel Norris, Jairo Labourt, and Matt Boyd from the Blue Jays in exchange for LHP David Price. [7/30]

At first blush, the Tigers' decision to trade Price to a team just 1 1/2 games ahead of them in the Wild Card race is peculiar. But a deeper dig reveals this trade to be a sensible, if painful, move.

For starters, that 1 1/2-game deficit feels larger than it sounds. Two teams separated the Tigers and Blue Jays at the time of the trade, but that count could increase in the coming days as the upgraded Rangers push forward. While conditions were improving for both the Jays and Rangers thanks to recent trades, there were no indications that the same was true for the Tigers. Miguel Cabrera is still a ways from returning, meaning the Tigers wouldn't be at full strength for the final two months. Even if the Tigers were at full strength, it's not obvious that their bullpen would allow them to maximize their potential. Put simply, the playoffs were no longer a realistic pursuit for the Tigers, who entered Thursday with season-worst 12.2 percent playoff odds.

As such, Dave Dombrowski had good reason to start thinking about 2016. That meant first figuring out what to do with Price, whose pending free agency forced a quick decision: Would Dombrowski trade Price a year after acquiring him, would he let him walk at year's end and recoup a draft pick, or would he try to extend him to a market-value contract, like he did with Cabrera and Justin Verlander? In the end, Dombrowski chose to split the uprights between present and future value by adding multiple pitchers who, though below Price's talent level, could contribute in 2015 and beyond at a lesser cost.

It's never easy to trade a pitcher as good as Price, but the upshot here is that the Tigers don't have to fit another massive contract into their budget. Presuming Price will receive more than $25 million in future seasons, the Tigers could have had three players accounting for more than $80 million beginning in 2018. Even with an expanding payroll, it would've been difficult to make that work, especially with a weakened farm system that limited their ability to upgrade on the cheap.

The big question now that Price is gone is just how big a seller Dombrowski will become. The Tigers have a number of other pending free agents who should draw interest from contenders, namely Yoenis Cespedes, Joakim Soria, Alfredo Simon, Rajai Davis, and Alex Avila. Trading those five would bring additional young talent to an organization that could use it, either for developmental or, yes, trading purposes.

Of course it's possible this trade is the beginning of a bigger transition for the Tigers. Dombrowski is in the final year of his contract, and there's no telling whether he'll return or how his status affects Detroit's larger plans. At minimum, no one can accuse Dombrowski of making a reckless short-term play in order to suit his own situation. –R.J. Anderson

***

Norris was the Blue Jays' second round pick in the loaded 2011 draft, and after a somewhat inauspicious start to his professional career, he'd quickly developed into the Blue Jays’ best prospect, and ranked ninth in our midseason top 50.

In terms of pure stuff, few left-handers can match Norris' arsenal, as the southpaw has three plus pitches at his disposal. The fastball sits 92-94 mph—occasionally getting into the 96-97 range—and there's plenty of movement on the offering. The slider is an out pitch in the low-to-mid-80s that falls off the table with hard spin and depth, though it's very rarely in the strike zone. The change has been the biggest development for Norris, though, as a pitch that was very much in the "show me" range as a prep is now routinely plus; deception from Norris’ elite arm speed and some late fade make it a true swing-and-miss offering. He'll also show a fringe-average curveball that doesn't have the slider's depth but does give hitters another off-speed pitch to think about.

While the stuff makes Norris a potential ace, the command makes him much riskier. The fastball movement can work against him as the pitch will fall out of the strike zone, and though the delivery doesn't have a ton of moving parts, he doesn't always stay in it; Norris will go through stretches where he can't locate his secondary offerings at all. He's made some mechanical refinements, though, so what once looked like 40 command now is closer to the 45-50 range.

If Norris maxes out, he's a no. 1 starter who will pile up the strikeouts and give you 200-plus innings for several years, with dominant left-handed reliever a worst-case-scenario. –Christopher Crawford

***

Boyd was a senior signing out of Oregon State in 2013, but has been borderline spectacular in his time in the Jays’ system, posting a 1.10 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 73 innings in Double-A this year before earning a cup of coffee this spring. While it was only two starts, they showed that Boyd has a chance to become a functional member of a pitching staff. He works with an 88-90 mph fastball that he has to locate to be successful, and he generally does a solid job of keeping the pitch in the lower quadrant and on the corners. His best pitch is a change that will flash plus because of his feel, but he'll also show an average curveball and fringy slider to keep hitters guessing. He throws all four pitches for strikes, though the command is considerably behind the control, particularly with the secondary pitches.

Boyd isn't going to be more than a no. 4 on a good team, but cost-controlled southpaws certainly have their place in an organization, and he could be a part of the Tigers’ rotation as soon as this fall. –Christopher Crawford

***

Tall, lithe and lean, Jairo Labourt has the build that scouts love to dream. He’s more than just a body, though; he also has an extremely talented left arm attached to that frame, one that generates velocity and spin with ease.

Labourt features a fastball that sits 91-94 mph during starts and can touch 95. He pairs it with an 85-87 mph slider that features sharp two-plane break. It's a combination of potential plus pitches that gives him a high ceiling. Unfortunately, Labourt is a below-average athlete and struggles to repeat his delivery, leaving his fastball command well below average. His third pitch, a changeup, is also well below average, as he's much too firm with it, telegraphs it in his delivery, and shows little feel.

Essentially Labourt is a two-pitch pitcher, and while both have plus potential, that's not likely to be enough to remain a starter, which would require significant improvement in command. That leaves him as a bullpen pitcher, though he could be a very good one with the slider acting as a weapon against both lefties and righties and giving him a chance to be a late-inning option. He'll almost certainly have a long career getting lefties out, and if his fastball command takes incremental steps forward, he could end up pitching in higher-leverage situations. –Jeff Moore

Fantasy Impact
Daniel Norris
The Tigers aren’t wasting any time, putting Norris into Detroit’s rotation for Sunday’s start in Baltimore. He’s talented enough that he should make an immediate impact. Control is still an issue for the 22-year-old southpaw, but he could still hold his own at the back end of a major-league rotation. Norris is a matchup play for deeper mixed leagues, especially now that he is in a more favorable venue and division, and a must start in AL-only. –Mike Gianella

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired LHP David Price from the Tigers in exchange for LHPs Daniel Norris, Jairo Labourt, and Matt Boyd. [7/30]

Alex Anthopoulos lands a multiple-time All-Star for the second time this week, thus proving he has no interest in going halfway-in.

The main point of contention following the Troy Tulowitzki trade was how the Blue Jays were spending resources on hitters when they needed pitchers. It was a fair critique in a sense. After all, Toronto's offense continues to lead the majors in runs scored by a healthy margin (now 53 runs), while their rotation has been, well, not so good and their bullpen sits closer to average than elite. Mark Buehrle has been Toronto's best starter, with Marco Estrada serving as their second best and performing better than anyone expected. Otherwise, the Blue Jays have continued to wait for Drew Hutchison's ERA to match his peripherals while hoping for a little throwback magic from R.A. Dickey.

Altogether, the Jays' rotation entered Thursday ranked second to last in the American League in DRA, ahead of only the Royals. Consider that fitting in a way, since those are the two teams that have paid the requisite price this deadline to rent an ace.

In Price the Blue Jays are getting the combination of superlatives—durable, reliable, efficient, etc.—they hoped to get from Dickey. Price consistently works deep into games, having averaged seven innings per pop on the season. He lives in the strike zone with his mid-90s fastball and diverse collection of secondary pitches, including a circle-change, cutter, and spike-curve. He misses bats, throws quality strikes, and so on while earning rave reviews for his work as a teammate. Price is basically the ideal top-of-the-rotation starter.

Like most of his ilk, Price carries with him some additional value that might not be captured in his statistics. Consider, for instance, the cascading value Toronto gains by not having to work its bullpen as hard every fifth day. Or the potential upgrade the Blue Jays will get from moving one of their current starters to the bullpen. Then there's the obvious: The Jays, eight losses behind the Yankees, are probably going to play in the Wild Card game if they make the postseason. Having an elite starter, like Price, gives them a better chance of advancing then relying upon Buehrle or Estrada.

The biggest downside to Price is that he's a free agent in a few months, one whose services will be hotly pursued, perhaps to the point that it prices the Blue Jays out of the market. Even so, no one should accuse Anthopoulos of being myopic. Both of the Blue Jays' recent deals were borne from Anthopoulos' previous dealings, be it lifting Josh Donaldson without paying a king's ransom, or freeing funds by shipping Jose Reyes (and his contract) to Colorado. This is the first time Anthopoulos has made a big trade with an eye on 2015 and 2015 alone; the rest of his recent acquisitions—Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Russell Martin—will be in place moving forward.

And shoot, why not take a risk with Price given the core in place? The Blue Jays entered Thursday two games back of a Wild Card spot and with a number of pivotal series forthcoming. Everyone felt the Blue Jays needed rotation help to make good on this opportunity; in Price, they get just that. –R.J. Anderson

Fantasy Impact
David Price
Yes, Price loses when you take park factors into account. But he is an elite pitcher who could put up top-five numbers in any ballpark or situation he is thrust into, and the crucible of a Wild Card race in Toronto is no exception to this concept. If you want to nitpick and push him down a handful of slots because of the park and the division, feel free to do so, but aces have a way of putting the pedal to the metal in these situations, particularly when they are pitching for their next big contract. Price remains a no-brainer, top-of-the-staff arm in all formats. –Mike Gianella


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Christopher Crawford is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christopher's other articles. You can contact Christopher by clicking here
Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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