April 4, 2008
Can Of Corn
What follows is a little something I like to call the "Mock Stove League." Allow me to explain--I'm proposing a trade of the blockbuster variety, one that, from my remove makes sense for all teams involved. In terms of tenability, it depends; these are deals that may or may not have a chance of happening in the demonstrably more complicated world of reality. From the remove from which I make this suggestion, though, the deals I'm suggesting strike me as helpful and inspiring for all. So, serious prescriptive or idle daydreaming? A little helping of both, please.
Without further chattering, this week's fake trade...
Why It Makes Sense for Detroit
The Tigers are certifiable contenders. Last season, they finished eight games behind the division-winning Indians, but they were only two games back according to runs scored and runs allowed. They were also one of baseball's most active teams over the winter. For their efforts, they have an offense capable of 900-plus runs on the season, and they have a rotation that has the potential for yeoman-like consistency, if not excellence. To put a finer point on it, PECOTA forsees that the '08 Tigers will win 91 games and tie Cleveland atop the division.
On the other hand, the Tiger bullpen might get in the way of those lofty expectations. The relief corps was a problem in 2007 (the "best" Tiger reliever, closer Todd Jones, ranked only 32nd in the majors in Relievers' Expected Wins Added (WXRL), and with Joel Zumaya out until midseason and Jones another year older, things figure to be even worse this year. In the AL, there's precious little margin for error, and that means the Tigers don't have the luxury of trying to scheme their way around a sub-optimal pen. So to the market they must go.
For the Tigers, anything less than a deal that lands them--at the very least--an elite, shutdown closer is a half-measure. That brings us to Joe Nathan. Last season, Nathan ranked sixth in WXRL, and in 2008 the PECOTA weighted mean has him pegged for a VORP of 17.9. Compare that figure to Jones' weighted-mean projected VORP of 7.1, and it's clear that, barring injury, Nathan would constitute a massive upgrade. Also, based on Nathan's 1.88 RA, 4.05 K/BB ratio, and unexceptional .286 BABIP in 2007, you can make a strong case that PECOTA's forecast for him is a bit pessimistic. So get Nathan, defrock Jones and dispatch him to a set-up role, and do an immensely better job of holding leads in the ninth.
As a sweetener, there's also Matt Guerrier. For the Tigers' needs and purposes, it's actually a "death by chocolate"-level sweetener. Entering his age-29 season, Guerrier has a career RA of 3.40, and he's also been quite durable over the last three seasons. In Detroit, Guerrier would immediately become the right-handed middle reliever of first resort in the middle innings, at least until Zumaya has convalesced. Make this deal and, presto, the bullpen is no longer a weakness.
Why It Makes Sense for Minnesota
After trading Johan Santana and allowing Torii Hunter to sign elsewhere, the Twins are squarely in rebuilding mode. This season, even in the most ideal of circumstances, they're not going to overtake the Indians or the Tigers in the AL Central. They're skewing younger and not going to contend in the near term, and that means Nathan is expendable.
In this deal, the real draw for Minnesota is adding a talent like Porcello to the fold. As a 2007 draftee, Porcello isn't yet eligible to be traded, but a simple "player to be named later" designation takes care of that. As for his potential, here's what Kevin Goldstein has to say about the five-star right-hander: "Some scouting directors saw Porcello as the top high school right-hander of the decade, and the best since Josh Beckett went second overall in 1999." Lofty praise, indeed. Assuming Clay Buchholz and Joba Chamberlain exhaust their rookie statuses this season, the debate over "best pitching prospect in baseball" will come down to Porcello versus the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. Porcello would immediately become the Twins' most promising prospect since Joe Mauer.
As for Iorg, the University of Alabama product is an excellent defender at short with the potential to develop into an above-average hitter by positional standards. For the Twins, a team in need of young hitters, he's a worthwhile addition.
Finally, trading Nathan gets the Twins out from under the rather silly four-year, $47 million contract extension to which they signed him last month. If Nathan's limited no-trade provision allows him to block a deal to Detroit, then the Tigers can likely coax him their way by agreeing to pick up his 2012 option. Meanwhile, the Twins can install Pat Neshek as closer and save loads of cash in the process.
The Case Against
The Tigers aren't willing to conclude the disemboweling of their farm system, or the Twins prefer the illusion of sorta-kinda trying to contend rather than fully dedicating themselves to the rebuilding process. On the former point, Detroit is already, in poker terms, "pot committed" to going for it this season, so now is not the time for cautious restraint. As for the latter hesitation, it's senseless on its face. So, Dombrowski, Smith, let's light this candle.