It’s that time of year. The time when grown men hug each other to say goodbye after five months together. It’s also the time when refresh buttons are mashed on Twitter trying to catch the news of whatever trade is about to happen. It’s all so exciting. And here at BP, we like to get into the spirit of the season, too. It’s become an annual tradition to play the BP Trade Game, where we put on disguises that make us look like general managers, and pretend to trade for someone.
Today, we present the first entry in that series where we try to trade J.D. Martinez from the Tigers to a team looking for a rental bat. And, as sometimes happens with these, real life scooped us. I guess we shouldn’t feel too bad. On July 28, the Tigers are having a “Game of Thrones” night at Comerica Park, featuring a bobblehead of J.D. Martinez sitting on the throne.
However, like your ill-informed uncle on Facebook, we will ignore reality and go ahead with the exercise anyway. Playing the part of Tigers general manager Al Avila will be Russell A. Carleton. He will receive offers from several teams we think (thought?) would be interested in the services of Martinez.
- Jeff Luhnow (HOU): Ben Diamond
- Matt Silverman (TAM): Martin Alonso
- Jerry Dipoto (SEA): Wilson Karaman
- Jon Daniels (TEX): Jarrett Seidler
- Farhan Zaidi (LAD): Kate Morrison)
- Billy Eppler (LAA): Matthew Trueblood
- Mike Hazen (ARI): Real Life
And so, let the games begin!
From: Jeff Luhnow
To start, I’d like to get something out of the way. I have absolutely no ill will toward you and your organization about the whole J.D. thing. Sure, I’m not thrilled about offering some of my best prospects for a guy you
stole signed after he was cut by yours truly. But I’m no child, I’ve gotten over it. Anyway, as we all know, the roster you’ve built is deteriorating quickly, while my spectacularly assembled ball club is ready to make a World Series run and just needs another piece or two.
It’s a perfect fit! Nori Aoki hasn’t been doing too well in left field, so what better piece to add than a slugging corner outfielder who we so brilliantly drafted back in 2009? With that in mind, let’s talk trade. I’m thinking I could use Justin Wilson alongside Martinez, and my offer for the duo is Derek Fisher, A.J. Reed, Rogelio Armenteros, and either Riley Ferrell or Trent Thornton.
I know you guys would like to avoid a lengthy rebuild, so we’re only offering you high-minors talent. The centerpiece of this deal is Fisher, an MLB-ready outfielder who can replace Martinez and contribute immediately. He has upside, too. By the end of this year, he’ll have bashed 20 home runs and stolen 20 bases for the third minor-league season in a row. How about another MLB-ready piece? Reed is never going to find a place in my lineup, but your porous offense could probably use his powerful bat. He just needs big-league playing time to find his stroke and become a great Victor Martinez replacement for you, should you unload your wallowing DH.
The last two pieces don’t have quite as much upside, but they’re also close to contributing so I doubt you’ll be complaining. Armentaros could be a solid rotation option by the start of next season, and he’s already pitching well at Triple-A after breezing through Double-A. You can also take your pick of a replacement for Wilson—both Ferrell and Thornton aren’t far from being solid bullpen arms, and I think we all know how badly you guys have needed late-inning help over the years. Bet you wish you were shrewd enough to claim someone like Will Harris on waivers, eh?
Let me know your thoughts on the deal. I look forward to taking back what’s rightfully mine at this deadline. I’m basically Robin Hood. Also, not salty at all about you snagging Martinez. Not. At. All.
From: Al Avila
First off, Jeff, I really enjoyed your interview with Jonah Keri on his podcast last week. And I want to thank you guys for all the work you did in making J.D. such a fine outfielder during his formative years. We have very much benefited from that.
OK, so you want Martinez and Wilson. The thing about Wilson is that he’s a reliever and selling relievers at the trade deadline is like selling umbrellas during a rainstorm, so that’s a lot of value going your way. What you’re offering back is really high-variance stuff. Fisher and Reed are MLB ready, in the sense that they’ve already made the majors. Fisher might not end up as a center fielder, but even if he ends up in left, I don’t know whether Justin Upton is planning on opting out or not after this year. So, maybe Fisher is better than Mikie Mahtook and maybe he’s insurance against Upton up and leaving.
Reed is a 1B/DH type, and yeah the power is there, but dude’s striking out more than a quarter of the time at Triple-A. Yeah, I know, “sit fastball, swing hard, strikeouts don’t matter” but eventually you have to hit the ball. Armenteros set a career-high last year in innings pitched with 134. There’s a lot of "MLB-ready" stuff in this pack, but what I really want is “MLB-good” stuff in here. This is a gambler’s four-pack, even more so than the typical four-pack of deadline-deal prospects.
From: Matt Silverman
Word around the wire is you’re looking to move Martinez. That’s great news given that we’re in the middle of a tight playoff race and need as much hitting help as we can get. Now, I know how much you like to build around pitching, so I’m willing to give you Ryne Stanek and can also help your rebuild by adding Jesus Sanchez. Given that our we don’t have a big budget, I think this would be a fair trade, though if you can eat some of the contract, I could also throw in Genesis Cabrera to help you start anew. So, do we have a deal?
From: Al Avila
Stanek’s ability to strike out more than a hitter an inning once would have made parts of me tingle that I don’t even tell my pastor about. But frankly, while all anyone wants to talk about is the home run surge and whether the ball is juiced, MLB is once again on pace to have its collective highest strikeout rate ever. Again. Sanchez has raw power to dream on, but I’m guessing Jesus won’t get here in three years, much less three days. And Genesis Cabrera is worth trading for just for the name.
From: Jerry Dipoto
Al! Babe! I come in peace to discuss your right fielder. Now, first things first, I know our franchises have this history where y'all take our lunch money in deals for productive veterans. But know that I seek no vengeance nor honor for the likes of Carlos Guillen or Doug Fister. Those deals came before me, and those waters have long since rolled on under the bridge.
In the here and now, I've got a pretty damn good package for you that will advance both of our respective interests. The summer months are just delightful in Seattle, seems only fitting after all that sweet, cost-controlled value you've coaxed out of J.D. that you send him off into free agency with an all-expenses-paid trip to the Pacific Northwest in prime time, no? That we can get you some nice pieces to kick-start your next wave of contention to boot? Gravy, baby. How's about you pack J.D.'s bags, and we send you Nick Neidert, Braden Bishop, and Anthony Jimenez for your trouble?
Neidert's always had the pedigree and control, and now all that "projectability" people used to talk about is morphing into actual physical gains. He's up to 92-94 these days and missing bats like you wouldn't believe in the California League—the California League, Al!—while still managing to not walk anybody. He's a Guy now. And Bishop can go get it with anyone in that league, too. We're talking about a true 6 defender in center, with wheels to cause havoc on the bases and the strike-zone command to get him to first often enough for 'em to matter.
Then there's Jimenez, who's been doing things to Midwest League pitchers (and catchers) all year and is just about due to take his talents to High-A. I'm telling you Al, there's more pop coming in this kid's bat, and we think he can find it without getting too big for his legs to keep churning at their current rate. He's a great ceiling guy to tack onto the back of this deal. That's three legit big-league prospects on the table there for two—well, who are we kidding, to justify this kind of a haul for a rental we damn well better make it three—months of a walkin' man. Whatta say bud?
From: Al Avila
Jerry, what did you do?
Let’s look through the file here. Neidert has a sub-3.00 ERA in a league with an ERA over 4.00 and seems to be allergic to walking people. Nice start. But the outfielders in this deal (Bishop and Jimenez) have weird profiles. Bishop is putatively a center fielder, although he’s 23 at high-A, the speed isn’t that gaudy, and speed basically starts declining for players once they learn to walk. You guys have been pushing him to left this year. Jimenez has the more gaudy SB totals, but has been playing right. He strikes out like a power hitter, but hasn’t really had the taters to show for it. Sure, if the power develops, that’s a really nice player to have around.
There’s some decent value in this package, although I feel like I’d be enabling you by letting you make another trade.
From: Jon Daniels
My man Al,
Rough stretch here to pull you out of contention. I hear through the grapevine that you’re shopping around J.D.? Well, we’re still buying here in Arlington, and like they say, all the trade offers are bigger down here too. I’m looking at offering Jurickson Profar, Ariel Jurado, and Connor Sadzeck for Martinez and your son, Alex Avila.
We’ve got to get ourselves a big bat, and as a fellow J.D., we think Martinez is the best bat on the market. We’ve definitely got playing time for him—Delino DeShields Jr. and Drew Robinson are seeing semi-regular outfield time right now, and that’s just not gonna fly, and Mike Napoli might be cooked. I know some of these other teams might be low-balling you, expecting Martinez to go back to Houston form, but man, he’s been this dude for three-and-a-half years now. We believe he’s the missing piece for our bopping and rolling needs.
We’re also looking to upgrade our depth at both catcher and first base, and we think your boy is a great fit as Jonathan Lucroy insurance and a multi-positional platoon bat. Wouldn’t you love for the kid to get another chance at a ring?
It kills us, just absolutely kills us, to part with Profar. We love the kid so much, but with Andrus, Odor, Beltre, and Gallo all around we can’t just stick him in a spot and let him play. I think he’s still got a shot to be a star, just needs to be left alone at a spot for awhile. The kid’s only just 24. Jurado ranked 72nd on that Baseball Prospectus' top 101 list before the season, so you can take a bow on getting a top-100 prospect back for your rentals, and not even have it be the first piece! He’s scuffling a little this year, but we both know his stock isn’t really that down. And I’ll even toss in flamethrower Connor Sadzeck—I know how you like your upper-90s relief dudes.
Your pal in all things J.D.,
From: Al Avila
Well, this would make Thanksgiving at our house kind of interesting. Were you aware that Alex Avila is my son?! You want my son. Give me back my son! YOU CAN’T HAVE MY SON!
I mean, imagine that conversation:
Me: Hey son, I have some news for you.
Alex: Yeah, dad, what?
Me: Son, I’ve traded you to Texas.
Me: Mhm, the Rangers.
Alex: Oh, so I’ll be the starting catcher? And get to pet Cole Hamels’ mustache?
Me: Well, that’s between you and Cole, son. But no, the Rangers were thinking of you as more a “depth player.”
Alex: But Lucroy stinks this year.
Me: Yeah, I know. I’m just telling you what they told me.
Alex: Well, who are you getting back?
Me: Jurrickson Profar.
Alex (spits water all over the table): You’re trading me for a replacement-level utility player?
Me: Well, yeah, you and J.D. See, it’ll be just like going away to camp. You’ll have a friend to go with you!
Alex: He’s … OK, the Rangers have been playing DeShields and Drew Robinson in their outfield, right?
Me: Yeah, OK.
Alex: And Profar can play left, or at least they’re willing to stick him in left, because why not? But Profar’s been in the minors most of the year. What do you think that says about Profar?
Me: Ummm, well, they’re also throwing in Ariel Jurado.
Alex: OK, so a nice pitch-to-contact, high-floor guy.
Me: And Connor Sadzeck.
Alex: Big arm (literally, the guy is 6-foot-7), but he’s 25 and in Double-A after a TJ.
Me: But Profar …
Alex: Look, dad, if a guy has been at replacement level for four years, even if he was once the best prospect in baseball, sometimes you just have to believe a guy is what he plays like.
Me: GO TO YOUR ROOM!
Alex: You can’t send me to my room. I’m 30.
From: Farhan Zaidi
No, you cannot have Alex Verdugo.
Now that we’re past that, let’s get down to brass tacks. You’re looking to restock that farm system of yours a bit, take advantage of having some good pieces on a bad team. We’ve all been there, some more recently than others. We think we’ve got something that could help put your team back on the road to success, put some life back into your farm, with the help of some arms and a bat.
What we’re talking about here is J.D. Martinez and Justin Wilson for Willie Calhoun, Brock Stewart, and a PTBNL (one of Caleb Ferguson or Dennis Santana) or cash. This works out well for both of us—we get some more OF/1B flexibility, and bullpen stability, and you get a young but polished hitter, and a few arms to mold into your pitchers of the future. Sure, Stewart’s relieving right now, but the kid’s got a starter’s repertoire and with just a bit of time he could be a part of a rotation going forward. Wilson’s still got an arb year, and so in return we’ll throw in another young arm or some cash—not international cap money, mind you.
Good luck moving Verlander, as we’re sure you are.
From: Al Avila
I guess there’s something to be said for the idea of Calhoun as the natural successor to Ian Kinsler, except Kinsler has been (and is still) an above-average defender and Calhoun is … well, he does know where second base is. So, that’s nice. Perhaps he ends up as the natural successor to Victor Martinez at DH, although one of the great traps of baseball is committing to a young player as a DH, because “he’ll be such a great hitter” despite having no defensive chops. Even if it “works” you’ve closed off the DH spot for any further building you want to do, and it’s not like there’s a short supply of old players who can still DH and who only want one-year deals.
Stewart’s a nice piece to put in there. He’s the kind of complementary piece that isn’t a headline grabber, but someone has to pitch in that no. 4 spot in the rotation. Plus, I get an ever-present “big-armed lottery ticket.” But by including Wilson, I lose the ability to get a separate return for him.
From: Billy Eppler
Look, we both know that you're going to hear sexier names from other guys when it comes to the possibility of moving J.D. I'm rarely accused of this, but I'm going to get a little cute here, a little creative. If you're more interested in staying the course and rolling over the names on your top prospect lists, so be it, but I think this might be a unique opportunity for both of us. We're still in the middle of the Wild Card hunt, but I have to confess that I don't foresee us being back in that space anytime soon. I've convinced Mr. Moreno of this, so he's going to let me break through the soft ceiling of the luxury tax threshold this season and try to put this team over the top. Hey, you never know.
We need J.D. to bolster the heart of our order. But we also need better starting pitching, or it's not going to matter how many runs we score. I know this, too: you need to loosen up your roster. Only three teams have more money committed to their 2018 payroll than you do, and some of that is just ugly dead weight. (No offense; it's not your ugly dead weight, just like Pujols and Hamilton aren't mine.) Thus, I want to nab Justin Verlander from you, too. No bullshit: we'll take him at full freight.
For Martinez and Verlander, I can offer you Jahmai Jones, our top prospect, plus catcher Taylor Ward and pitcher Grayson Long. That's three guys having solid seasons. I'm guessing, though, that you'll want more, even as I relieve you of Verlander's hefty remaining monetary obligation. That's why I leaned on the Rockies, who are still searching for quality outfield depth and don't seem likely to get David Dahl back anytime soon, and got them to surrender right-hander Peter Lambert in exchange for Cameron Maybin. Lambert's a polished arm, not unlike Long. That's a couple of solid shots at getting a back-end starter to support the Fulmer-Norris-Manning rotation that can't be all that far off for you. Of course, you'll have ample opportunity to supplement your core in free agency in a year or two, too, if you can get out from under all the money owed to Verlander.
I know what J.D. and Justin both mean to your organization. I know Verlander has his eye on a move to Southern California too, so I like to think this would be a chance for you and he to part ways on very good terms. As you seem to be turning a corner, though, and still have so much interesting young talent around, I think this deal could help you get streamlined and ready to compete a year or two sooner than is otherwise possible. I know you guys still feel, and I agree, that the economics of the AL Central leave the window perpetually open for you, even as the future payroll available to you becomes a little less certain. (Again, our condolences on Mr. I's passing. I wish he'd been my owner.) Take this deal, and really move forward.
From: Al Avila
The contract that I really want you to take belongs to Jordan Zimmermann, who is at once making a lot of money and not a franchise icon. But I’ll hear you out on Verlander. There’s a possibility that in my meeting with ownership later, they’ll want me to cut as much payroll as I can, and Verlander is due at least $56 million after this year, with a possible vesting option in 2020. I could see the allure of JV as a possible reclamation project, and if he were anything other than the face of my franchise, this would be a much easier call. Are you sure you don’t want Zimmermann?
Jones being the “best prospect in the Angels' system” isn’t exactly high praise. All of these guys have “if all goes right, they turn into, y’know, decent roster parts” written all over them. Frankly, the allure of this offer is the salary relief, but you may have picked the one player who is probably worth more to the team in terms of marketing than anyone. And it’s not like he’s awful, he’s just reaching the point where he’s a decent player on the back-end of a big contract. It happens. And he’s still decent, sot I’m going to have to DFA him any time soon.)
From: Mike Hazen
From: Al Avila
I’m no superman, but that sounds like a deal!
OK, so we know how this movie really turns out. What’s interesting about these offers is that almost all of them seemed to be a ploy to get Martinez and someone else, with two requests for Justin Wilson, one for Alex Avila, and one for Justin Verlander. In some sense, this has turned into a column about the trade value of Justin Wilson, which is fortunate for me, because as I write this, he’s still a Tiger.
But let’s take stock of the pieces. Martinez is a straight up rent-a-bat. He will be a free agent after the end of the year and he’s maybe worth a win over the last two months of the season. The teams bidding for that win are the ones who might be on the edge of a playoff spot, but it’s worth re-imagining Martinez as a one-win player being dangled by his GM in the offseason. Think of what teams would trade for that sort of guy. If you’ve ever wondered why the return for a player is so underwhelming, it might just be a case of “well, when you put it that way.”
The game at trade deadline as a “seller” GM is that you play on a team’s sense of loss aversion. At the beginning of each year, BP publishes World Series odds for all teams. At the beginning of the 2017 season, we had the Dodgers with the best odds, at 17.4 percent. Upgrading part of their roster by one win at the beginning of the season would have been worth some upward tick in those odds, although not as much as one might think. At the beginning of the year, a team might look at that potential upgrade and the asking price for it, and make a rational decision. At the trade deadline, you’re dealing with teams that are in the emotional thick of it.
It’s true that the teams interested in buying at the deadline are the ones for whom the marginal value of a win to their playoff and World Series chances will be highest, but these are also teams that are holding “a chance” in their hands, in a way that few people talk about at the beginning of the season. Trading for J.D. Martinez is not just an investment in the outfield. It’s not having to throw that chance away. That might be worth a prospect upgrade.
Personally, I’m a fan of how the White Sox packaged together their tradeable assets in the form of Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson, and used bulk to get a better prospect (outfielder Blake Rutherford) from the Yankees, rather than a handful of lesser prospects from here and there. Maybe packaging Martinez with someone like Wilson would have been a better solution. We’ll never know.
But to go back to the offers, I can’t see the Tigers trading Justin Verlander, even if there’s a semi-logical case to be made from it in a baseball ops perspective. So, sorry Billy Eppler. No JD and JV for you.
That leaves us with five remaining offers:
– The Astros are offering high-variance 23-year-olds, probably a left fielder and a DH, for Martinez and Wilson.
– The Dodgers are offering a DH, a meh starter, and a lottery ticket for Martinez and Wilson.
– The Rangers are offering a utility player/enigma who would be gone after 2019, a high-floor pitcher, and a lottery ticket for Martinez and Avila.
– The Mariners are offering three guys who are probably all 20th players on a roster for Martinez.
– The Rays are offering a 25-year-old and a couple of young lottery tickets for Martinez.
For 2019, the Tigers are committed to just three players contractually (Miguel Carbrera, Verlander, and Zimmermann), and potentially to Justin Upton if he does not opt out. The problem is that those four contracts combine for more than $100 million in salary. On top of that, on the current 25-man roster only Michael Fulmer is under 25 and decent. It’s not like there’s a bud (Norris or otherwise) from which to flower. Two of the Tigers' top three prospects are not due until 2020. It seems that in trying to amass a youth movement, around 2020 would make the most sense. This means I should prefer younger prospects.
Most of what’s on offer here is guys who are, at the end of the day, probably 1B/DH types, corner outfielders, back-end starters, and relievers. It so happens that of the players I’m committed to long term, one is already a 1B/DH, and if Upton sticks around, I already have a left fielder. To be clear, that’s about par for what I should expect for a two months of a good-but-not-great outfielder, but none of these packages is ideal.
I must admit, I was very tempted by the Dodgers' package, which includes Willie Calhoun, who maybe can play just enough second base to not be a drag on his value, along with some other valuable pieces. But, I ended up saying yes to the Rays for the reason that two of the three players on offer were younger prospects and I would retain Justin Wilson for another trade, in which I could pick up more lottery tickets. I may have to try to rebuild based on gathering as many lottery tickets as I can together and hoping that one of them hits.