Tigers Still Successfully Adapting Long After Peralta Suspension

When Jhonny Peralta's suspension was announced in early August of 2013, it set in motion a series of transactions that re-shaped the Tigers' roster. The results, viewed in the aggregate, appear rather impressive. GM Dave Dombrowski not only shored up the team's chances at an ultimately successful division title run in 2013, but formulated a responsive strategy that spared the club over $150MM in future guarantees without sacrificing significant short-term value. Here's how Dombrowski's subsequent actions shook out.

With Peralta set to miss the stretch run at a division title, the Tigers acted decisively to replace him at short with Jose Iglesias, costing the team outfield prospect Avisail Garcia and reliever Brayan Villarreal. While that took Garcia out of the running to see time in left field in 2014 (as a regular or in a platoon with Andy Dirks), he likely would have competed with Nick Castellanos for a single job anyway. As a result, the Tigers not only replaced Peralta, but were left with the ability to slot not just one, but two league-minimum salaries into their everyday 2014 lineup. (I.e., Iglesias and Castellanos, as opposed to Garcia or Castellanos alone.)

Castellanos' role remained unclear, however, as the 21-year-old has played both third and the corner outfield over his career. That flexibility helped free Dombrowski to ship first baseman Prince Fielder to Texas in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler, saving $76MM in the process. Castellanos entered the picture at third, Miguel Cabrera shifted to first, and Kinsler slotted in at second.

As a byproduct of the around-the-horn musical chairs, the Tigers no longer had to compete for free agents to play up the middle. Second baseman Omar Infante would have come with an estimated $25MM price tag. (Although, as MLBTR's Zach Links noted, the club may have gone with the younger, cheaper Hernan Perez at the keystone anyway.) And Peralta's return, we now know, would have required over double that sum.

Meanwhile, the Tigers still had an excess of legitimate starting options. By shifting Drew Smyly to the rotation and shipping Doug Fister to the Nationals, the club saved another $6.5 million or so in guarantees at that starting slot. And in nabbing utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi and left-handed reliever Ian Krol in return, Dombrowski added two more league-minimum roster spots. In addition to adding back a left-handed arm to a pen that stands to lose Smyly, the move presumably saves the cost of adding a utility player on the open market. (That might have cost around $2.5MM to $3MM per season on a one or two-year deal, based on the Nick Punto, Willie Bloomquist, and Skip Schumaker contracts.)

The Tigers just made another related move by signing Rajai Davis to a two-year deal. With Garcia now in Chicago and Castellanos at the hot corner, the club still needed a right-handed bat to pair with Dirks in left. This move, in turn, adds $10MM back to the Detroit payroll.

The net of these moves is significant, to say the least. If, instead, the team were still responsible for the Fielder and Fister contracts, and had brought back Infante and Peralta while signing a utility infielder, it could well have over $150MM in additional guaranteed current and future payroll obligations. (This includes the money saved in the Fielder and Fister deals, offset by the money owed the newly acquired players, and the avoided cost of signing Peralta at $50MM+, Infante at $25M+, and a utility infielder at around $3MM.) Even if you assume the club would have plugged in Perez at second, this is a huge sum.

It is worth noting, also, that if young pitcher Robbie Ray can eventually occupy a big-league rotation spot, his years of cheap control will offset the added money that Smyly will eventually earn through arbitration from throwing as a starter. And the additional league-minimum and arb-eligible years from Lombardozzi and Krol could avoid some long-term spending as well, even if neither player figures to be terribly productive. (Of course, it is still fair to ask — as I have — whether the Tigers should have commanded a different and better return for Fister.) 

But, how do the tradeoffs look in terms of projected performance? Detroit likely saved $150MM+ at a cost of between 1.5 and five wins next season. Compare Detroit's current alignment to a hypothetical Tigers team that instead retained Fister and Fielder while signing Peralta, Infante, and a utility infielder of Lombardozzi's ilk. Steamer and Oliver project something like the following production shifts: A 3-4 win improvement at first and a half to a full win improvement at second. An approximate push at left field and the utility spot. And the loss of between four to five wins at third, 1 to 1.5 each at short and in the rotation, and somewhere in the realm of a half to a full win in the pen.

Now, we will see whether and how Detroit spends its surplus cash. Extensions are certainly possible, of course, whether agreed upon now or in the future. Or, the club could still try and add back those missing wins by signing an impact player like Shin-Soo Choo, which might well bring the net dollar and WAR impact for 2014 back to its rough starting point.

Even in the latter scenario, Dombrowski's maneuvering would not have been for naught. Remember, he not only plugged a sudden and unexpected gap at a critical point in a contending season, but did so by adding a player (Iglesias) with largely the same control and value as the one he gave up (Garcia).

But what if Dombrowski instead moves to add 2014 production — through the pen and bench, perhaps — at a much lower overall commitment than the dollars he shed? (And, in so doing, refrains from tapping his 2016-20 powder kegs, holding them in reserve for long-term deals for worthier players?) It is generally assumed that a closer like Joe Nathan would have been signed either way, but that might not be true. And what if Dombroski has reason to expect that his replacements will outperform their projections?

If some or all of those questions are answered in the affirmative, Dombrowski's strategic response to the Peralta suspension may prove to have been a masterstroke. 

Full Story | 25 Comments | Categories: Detroit Tigers

25 Responses to Tigers Still Successfully Adapting Long After Peralta Suspension Leave a Reply

  1. Ausome7 2 years ago

    I still detest the fister trade

    • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 2 years ago

      Sounds like you’re softening on it a bit, though! I certainly agree with you that it seems light, and probably always will — even if Ray turns into Cole Hamels. But that shouldn’t completely detract from the overall body of work of the front office in dealing with a tough situation.

      • TigerDoc 2 years ago

        Jeff, bang up job on this article. Just found it this morning. A nice, even handed approach to all Dombrowski has done recently. Keep up the good work.

      • Dubious McDoobinator 2 years ago

        Great article Jeff. I have to say that most fans only look at immediate returns on trades. I myself did this when the Fister deal was announced. After sitting back and thinking things through I do have faith that DDs move was for future long term success.

        I also believe the Fielder cash clearing was more for Cabby then Max as DD has been darn good at finding starters who have shown flashes and nab them at the right time.

    • BigDeal 2 years ago

      Still baffles me that DD made such a bad trade. Especially when you consider how is always the one fleecing other GMs. That trade is not something a team in win-now mode makes. Illitch wants a championship and is willing to throw unlimited money at it, so let him

    • BigDeal 2 years ago

      Still baffles me that DD made such a bad trade. Especially when you consider how is always the one fleecing other GMs. That trade is not something a team in win-now mode makes. Illitch wants a championship and is willing to throw unlimited money at it, so let him

  2. bucs_lose_again 2 years ago

    This reads like a Fangraphs article.

    In other words, Kudos!

  3. I guess even Monet and Rembrandt made mistakes but the end product was always worth it. The Fister trade was that mistake, he should’ve gotten more. Even still, in context of everything else he had to do and did?? Bravo!!

  4. Jefftown37 2 years ago

    Enlightening article! Dombrowski has been one of the best in the biz for 20 years now.

  5. Brandon Fields 2 years ago

    I still think we could of gotten more for Fister but I believe in Dombrowski and I trust him to build a good team.

  6. Flowseidon 2 years ago

    Whether this is a masterstoke or not depends heavily on how this next season goes.

  7. Will Snyder 2 years ago

    The Tigers have had a good run of respectability since 2006, but they not gotten to the top because if shoddy fundamentals. In the 2006 World Series, it was he need for “Pitchers’ Fielding Practice.” In the 2012 World Series, the Tigers were given a classroom lesson in fundys from the Giants. This past season, it was base-running by mastodons. Finally, though, a new manager seems to be getting the team to understand the need for better defense and a little more speed.

    • BigDeal 2 years ago

      Ausmus will be a great manager. Improving defense and team speed is great. But now they have lost a ton of power. And their starting pitching will be a little weaker also. And they still have holes at LF and C. They also need another bullpen arm – ideally someone who can pitch the 8th inning.

  8. Mr Pike 2 years ago

    Thanks for an article that steps back and looks at the big picture. There has been too much hysteria since the season ended.
    Two points
    Perez is a great prospect, but his 2013 cameo showed he needs a year in Toledo to work on his hitting.
    The Tigers gained 16 years of control on three young players they think will be significant contributors for a two year Fister rental. Fister’s line is almost the same as Porcello’s, and Rick is 5 years younger. This is the Trumbo deal on a little bigger scale. Seems everyone expected Will Myers back for Fister, nobody is going to make that mistake again any time soon.

    • BigDeal 2 years ago

      Perez is not a great prospect. And Avila is not the answer at C either. C is a big weakness for the Tigers. Fister is a top 25 SP the last 2 years. I like Porcello’s potential with a better defense, but he is not in the same ballpark as Fister. Of course, no one will make the mistake of trading Myers and Odorizzi again for 2 years of a SP. But the return could definitely have been a lot better. Even the second best player in that trade (Odorizzi) was better than the entire haul the Tigers received combined

      • alphabet_soup5 2 years ago

        Agree that Avila is not the answer, but he can at least be serviceable. For what it’s worth his wOBA is right around Russel Martin & Matt Wieters since 2012, but his defense is nowhere near theirs.

  9. Tigers72 2 years ago

    In dombroski I trust. I just want him to get Revere for a very fast left field.

  10. bobbleheadguru 2 years ago

    Great article. Anyone interested in GM baseball strategy should read it!

  11. TigerDoc 2 years ago

    Different team, very different team. So no one really knows what we have yet. Still have good starting pitching, a lock down closer, and a healthy (hopefully) Miguel Cabrera. We are a ton better defensively, and have a lot more speed. As much as I agree with those who think we should have gotten more back in the Fister trade, the fact is, we did not (based solely on talent). What we gained is flexibility, and sometimes you have to take a step back to take two forward. Plus, it is only December 11th, something tells me Dave Dombrowski is far from done this winter.

    • McTigers 2 years ago

      I think even without Prince’s bat this team will score a lot more runs just from taking the extra base and staying out of double plays. There are some questions, but it was clear the station-to-station depend-on-the-timely-big-hit approach wasn’t working. Doug is a tough loss to swallow, but overall this is going to be a very different and interesting team in 2014.

  12. tune-in for baseball 2 years ago

    Excellent article. We really don’t know if the Tigers are better for 2014 because our base line of reference is the past 2 years. Power baseball,excellent SP, station-to station running, and below average defense in ’12 and ’13. We now are not “better or worse’ but different. Less power, need for #4 & #5 SP to step up, much better defense, and speed for the basepaths,(as long as they get on base). DD has much more control of the payroll and how to allocate resources going forward to make us a force for the next 5-7 years.

  13. Kevin Yochim 2 years ago

    Wouldn’t Iglesias not be a league minimum salary since he signed a Major League deal with Boston?

    • Mr Pike 2 years ago

      No, he’s gotten 2 million a year since the Red Sox signed him. Like the Cespedes situation.

  14. Mr Pike 2 years ago

    It’s great that the roster got cheaper, but I really like how it got younger without giving much up in performance and gaining a lot of upside.
    Smyly in for Fister, Lombadozzi for Santiago, Iglesias for Peralta, Castellanos for Fielder, Holaday for Pena.
    Nathan for Benoit, and Krol for Smyly are basically washes.
    Davis for Tuiasosopo added 6 years.
    HUGE improvement.

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