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September 4, 2017

Transaction Analysis

Justin Time (Part 2)

by Bryan Grosnick, Victor Filoromo, Emmett Rosenbaum and Jeffrey Paternostro


IN THIS ISSUE

American League

DETROIT TIGERS
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Acquired RHP Franklin Perez, OF-R Daz Cameron, and C-R Jake Rogers from Houston Astros in exchange for RHP Justin Verlander, $16 million, and a player to be named later. [8/31]

Yes, we root for laundry when we root for baseball teams. The name on the front of the jersey will always be more important to most fans than the name on the back. But when you have a player who stays around, who spends six, seven, eight years with a team, that’s when the bond forms. When the player is part of a core that lifts you out of desperation and into the national spotlight, that’s when the bond deepens. When the player wins individual awards and cements a Hall of Fame legacy that will include that team’s cap on a plaque in Cooperstown, that’s when the bond seals tight. And when that player is dealt out of town in order to finish out his long and storied career, the bond may shiver, but doesn’t break. JV will have the rest of his life to represent the sporting successes of the motor city, but let’s see what he can do for Houston now.

Meanwhile, the major-league Tigers do not look to be very competitive in the foreseeable future, with a franchise that’s built around Miguel Cabrera’s suddenly floppy bat, Michael Fulmer’s silver arm, and whatever it is that Nick Castellanos is. They closely resemble the 2016Angels, save one major difference: this franchise has no Mike Trout. (They’ve got Mikie Mahtook instead. That’s not a very fair trade-off.) While the Angels were able to facilitate a quick turnaround with a few star-level players and no substantive farm system to speak of, the Tigers may not have that ability without a generational talent in a prime position. All signs point toward a slower, more painful rebuild from the ground up in Detroit. —Bryan Grosnick

Perez’s heavy fastball is his current calling card, sitting 91-93 mph with some arm-side run evident. He likes to bring the pitch up in the zone to change eye level and can touch 95 mph with it while displaying average command. It’s a potential plus-plus pitch with above-average command. But there’s an arsenal behind the fastball, including an 11-5 curveball which flashes above-average depth, and a changeup with above-average fade that’s tough for right-handed hitters to pick up on.

The slider is what could separate Perez from the pack and turn him from back-to-middle-of-the-rotation starter into a dominant guy. He’s focused on it more in 2017, and it’s a potential plus pitch with above-average two-plane break possible. It’s at best an inconsistent secondary at present, but the fastball, curveball, and changeup gives Perez plenty to work with against opposing hitters right now.

Perez spent most of the season at High-A Buies Creek, advancing to Double-A Corpus Christi in late July. His strikeout numbers have dipped slightly and his walk rate has ticked up a tiny bit since getting there, but Perez’s confidence on the mound is an asset, and a 19-year-old already in Double-A with an advanced feel on the mound is a force to be reckoned with. He has added muscle to an already strong 6-foot-3 frame, and his clean arm action and repeatable delivery stands out for someone his age. There’s a reason the Astros pushed him there, and there’s a reason the Tigers saw him as a future piece in a big-league rotation. —Victor Filoromo

Rogers, the Astros' third-round pick in last year’s draft, is a sure shot backstop with plus defensive tools. He’ll show plus raw power on the offensive side, but it comes with questions about how much his below-average hit tool will allow it to play. Rogers profiles best as a major-league backup catcher, and he's a reasonably safe bet to get there. But there’s a chance for more if his advanced approach allows the power to continue to get into games at higher levels. —Jeffrey Paternostro

A supplemental first rounder in 2015 and the son of Mike Cameron, Daz has spent the season repeating the Midwest League. His prospect stock began to fall a bit when he struggled out of the gates, but he has posted a .933 OPS since the beginning of June, and has been flashing the talent that made him one of the top draft prospects. Cameron is a bucket of tools, with nothing grading out to plus but almost everything sitting comfortably at 50 or 55.

To start, he's a true center fielder, possessing an ideal 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame and making up for his lack of speed with good instincts, solid routes, and an average arm. He’s an average runner and maybe a tick better underway, but he can be overaggressive at times and run into outs. That aggressiveness follows Cameron to the plate as well. He likes to take his hacks, which lead to weak contact and chases, a large part of his early struggles this year. However, his improved discipline of late has helped cut down his whiffs and allowed him to make better quality contact, which has resulted in his above-average raw power making its way into games more frequently. Overall, Cameron projects as an average major regular, with the hit tool ultimately deciding his fate. However, his broad skill set provides him with a solid floor of a fourth outfielder with some pop. —Emmett Rosenbaum

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Acquired RHP Justin Verlander, $16 million, and a player to be named later from Detroit Tigers in exchange for RHP Franklin Perez, OF-R Daz Cameron, and C-R Jake Rogers. [8/31]

Houston has recently been the site of a truly terrible natural disaster, with waters rising, lives lost or at risk, and homes destroyed, and there’s always this need to tie the local sports team to the tragic events unfolding in our lives. The nation sympathizes with the very real plight of Houstonians, and so the Astros will come into the empathies of many baseball fans. It’s just the way these things work. Now, in the city’s time of need, a “hero” comes to town, a tremendous pitcher on a Hall of Fame path ready to help lead a team—who probably didn’t need his help—into glory.

Verlander is a tremendous talent, one of the most visible superstars in the game, and representative of the Old West gunslinger riding in to save the town at the last minute. His superstardom doesn’t quite match up to his performance these days, but he’s exactly the type of reliable starting pitcher the Astros could use to shore up a rotation with more question marks than the average staff. Though we may not be precisely sure just how good Verlander might be, or how healthy his shoulder is, he still represents a more reliable option on both counts than your Brad Peacock, Mike Fiers, or Charlie Morton. He represents a very, very flashy safety net, if nothing else.

For the past 12 seasons, Verlander has been reliable at worst, and exceptional at best. Looking at his BP player page, the innings pitched, strikeout, and WARP totals should stand out to you. He’s been capable in the past of putting up MVP-caliber seasons (including one where he actually won the award), single-game performances that will end up being replayed ad infinitum (including two no-hitters), and regularly covers his team for over 220 innings. In his past four “down” seasons, he’s been something between average and exceptional, with 2016 as a standout and 2014 as the low-water mark. But as his career winds down, it’d likely be foolish to expect a repeat of 2016, and wiser to expect performance in line with this season’s statistics, and perhaps nearing an inevitable continued decline.

Forever possessed of tremendous velocity, Verlander has seen a fastball renaissance these past couple of seasons, but time will kill his heat just as sure as it’s grinding down his right shoulder. There may come a time soon when Verlander will have to choose between innings and strikeouts, and one aspect of his career—performance or durability—could suffer. If I were the Astros, I’d set my expectations that Verlander will be league-average or so through the tail end of his contract, and that any additional value, either through a standout playoff performance or a season surpassing these mild expectations, would be gravy.

From the Astros’ perspective, I believe that this event is the final nail in the coffin of their “rebuilding” phase. After the years in the wilderness—the 100-loss teams, the dismal television ratings—this is another big spend after about a year of moderate investments. They’ve acquired another in a series of stars (Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran) to carry the team up to and through the finish line. As young as this team’s biggest stars are, as bright as the future is for Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman and Lance McCullers, we have entered the win-now zone.

Verlander is expensive, especially taking into account that he’s entering his age-35 season; with the Astros on the hook for about $45 million after a $16 million payout from the Tigers, that’s something like $21 million per year during the next two seasons. Unless ownership commits to making another large payroll jump, this team may not have the ability to bring in another high-priced talent this offseason, especially if they’re looking to at least try to lock down any of their younger talents. (In the cases of Carlos Correa and George Springer, that might not even be possible, given their comments on the matter.) This very well could be the Astros’ only big swing at an outside, high-value talent for the next year or so.

But that’s okay, right? I mean, how many other premium pitching talents will be available to this team—either by trade or by free agency—this winter? Do the Astros think they can pluck Yu Darvish away from the Dodgers? (I don’t.) Would they prefer to deal a higher caliber of talent to the Mets for Jacob deGrom? (I might not, because elbows.) Is there another name out there that we’re not thinking of? (Probably.) No, what I think is that this is precisely the right move, just a month or two too late, but also right on time. Houston could use a lift, no matter how small and insignificant. The Astros could use a foundational starting pitcher. It’s a perfect match. —Bryan Grosnick

Bryan Grosnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here
Jeffrey Paternostro is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeffrey's other articles. You can contact Jeffrey by clicking here

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