Author: Matthew Pouliot

Miguel Cabrera

The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Miguel Cabrera

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The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Justin Verlander
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Austin Jackson
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Prince Fielder
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Max Scherzer
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs without Doug Fister
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had they played in the AL East
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had they played in the AL West
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had MLB tossed the divisions and used a balanced schedule
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had Jerry Reinsdorf spent like Mike Illitch
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had John Danks not had a lost year
The Tigers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs had the White Sox traded for Anibal Sanchez instead of Francisco Liriano

Miguel Cabrera was the biggest reason for the Tigers’ modest regular-season success.  But the simple fact that his team made the playoffs and Mike Trout’s didn’t is a ridiculous justification for giving him the MVP award. The Yankees wouldn’t have made the playoffs without Robinson Cano. The Rangers wouldn’t have made the playoffs without Adrian Beltre. The Orioles wouldn’t have made the playoffs without Matt Wieters and Adam Jones and probably a handful of others. And I’m pretty sure Cabrera would be the first to say that several of his teammates were invaluable to the Tigers’ cause.

None of that means Cabrera shouldn’t be MVP. But the award is meant to go to the most valuable player in the league, not the best player on a team that just happened to squeak into the playoffs.

The case against Torii Hunter helping the Tigers

Torii Hunter
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It’s not hard to see why the Tigers were regular-season disappointments in 2012; the bottom half of the lineup, which was so productive the year before, stumbled badly:

OPS by lineup spot, from 2011 to 2012
No. 5:  .797 to .671
No. 6: .842 to .654
No. 7: .720 to .700
No. 8: .768 to .695
No. 9: .637 to .603

Victor Martinez was supposed to hit fifth, but he missed the entire season. Delmon Young, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch and a lousy assortment of second basemen all contributed to the funk.

In adding Torii Hunter on a two-year, $26 million contract on Wednesday, the Tigers took a step towards lengthening their lineup, even if the plan is to hit Hunter second initially. Martinez is expected to DH regularly and hit fifth. Andy Dirks, who will be moving from right to left, figures to hit sixth against righties.

That Hunter is an upgrade for the Tigers seems pretty obvious. For all of the praise heaped on youngster Avisail Garcia, there’s little reason to think he’s ready to be a full-time player in the majors.

I’m just not at all convinced that Hunter was the right upgrade for the Tigers. He’s worth the $13 million per year and more if he has two more seasons at his 2012 level, but the chances of that happening are very slim.

Before suddenly hitting a career-best .313 last year, Hunter had never in his entire career deviated more than 25 points away from a .275 average; his high was .299 and his low was .250. He came in at .281 in 2010 and .262 in 2011.

Going along with the fluky average was a career-low isolated slugging percentage. Hunter hit just 16 homers after finishing with at least 20 in every full season of his career. He hit 23 in both 2010 and ’11. He didn’t make up for it with extra doubles, either; he hit just 24.

Hunter also had one of the lowest walk rates of his career, with just 38 bases on balls in his 140 games.

One might say he was cutting down on his swing in an attempt to stroke more singles. But if that were the case, how would one explain his career-high strikeout rate? Hunter fanned in 23 percent of his plate appearances last season, up from 16 in 2010 and 19 in 2011.

Everything except Hunter’s batting average on balls in play suggests he was on the decline, and no hitting statistic is more prone to random variation that BABIP. If Hunter had hit his usual .300-.310 on balls in play instead of a ridiculously high .389, he would have had his worst season since 1999.

Maybe the whole thing was a fluke. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hunter hit a few more homers and strike out a bit less next season. But his average is coming down, probably way down. If he hits his usual .270, then he’s not going to be all that great of a No. 2 hitter. And if he falls to .250-.260, hardly an unlikely possibility at age 37, he’s really more of a No. 6 or No. 7 hitter.

It’s not a signing worth condemning, not when it’s only two years. Hunter still plays very good defense in right field. He gets all kinds of points for leadership. He’s just not likely to be quite the upgrade the Tigers think they’re getting.

David Price becomes first Rays pitcher to win Cy Young Award

David Price
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After tying for the league lead in wins and finishing first in ERA, David Price claimed his first American League Cy Young Award on Wednesday, picking up 14 of the 28 first-place votes.

Justin Verlander, last year’s Cy Young and MVP winner, finished second with 13 first-place votes and totaled 149 points to Price’s 153. Jered Weaver came in third, though he didn’t get the remaining first-place vote. That went to Rays closer Fernando Rodney, courtesy of Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The four-point margin of victory was the closest in an AL Cy Young race since Mike Cuellar and Denny McLain tied for the award in 1969.

Price tied Weaver at 20 wins and ended the year with a 2.56 ERA, just ahead of Verlander at 2.64. Weaver, at 2.81, was the only other AL starter to finish with a sub-3.00 ERA.

Verlander received less run support than Price and ended up at 17 wins. Still, many will argue that he should have won the award. He led the AL in innings pitched and strikeouts. He threw 27 more innings than Price and 50 more innings than Weaver. He also was pitching in front of the worst defense of the trio and in the most favorable park for hitters. On the other hand, he did pitch in the weakest of the AL’s three divisions.

Price previously finished second in the Cy Young balloting to Felix Hernandez in 2010. The three-time All-Star is 61-31 with a 3.16 ERA since debuting with the Rays at the end of the 2008 season.

Red Sox tried and failed to land Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson

Ben Cherington
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The Red Sox were negotiating with the Marlins on a deal that would have sent Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson to Boston before the Jays pulled off the trade that also netted them Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck.

Red Sox owner John Henry told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that even though the sides were talking, he had no idea “the whole team was available.”

Acquiring Reyes and Johnson would have been a return to old form for a Boston team that traded Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers in August. It would have added about $24 million to the team’s 2013 payroll, minus any major leaguers that went to Miami in return.

The Red Sox, though, were probably looking at it as though the Marlins would be open to a straight salary dump. The Blue Jays not only took Buehrle’s contract along with the other two, but they sent back three quality prospects in return.

Boston GM Ben Cherington might not be done with the Marlins just yet, though. The Red Sox would be smart to explore a Logan Morrison trade with first base open. They should also be prepared to blow up the minor league system for Giancarlo Stanton if the Marlins have a change of heart and make him available. Finally, they’re one of the teams that could consider Ricky Nolasco and his soon-to-be traded $11.5 million contract, though it seems doubtful they’ll be very aggressive there.

Breaking down the huge Toronto-Miami trade

Jose Reyes
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It’s not official yet, but here are some early thoughts on the trade as it’s currently being presented:

Blue Jays acquire SS Jose Reyes, RHP Josh Johnson, LHP Mark Buehrle, INF-OF Emilio Bonifacio, C John Buck and $4 million from the Marlins for SS Yunel Escobar, RHP Henderson Alvarez, SS Adeiny Hechvarria, LHP Justin Nicolino, OF Jake Marisnick, RHP Anthony DeSclafani and C Jeff Mathis.

– Of course, there’s the obvious thought: the Marlins are a joke and owner Jeffrey Loria needs to be forced out of baseball. That still applies.

That said, strictly as a baseball trade, this seems like a pretty good value for them. Reyes and Buehrle really shouldn’t have any trade value at all; the Marlins were the high bidders for both last year and signed them to backloaded contracts. Any time you can sign a free agent to a long-term deal and then trade him a year later, without eating any salary (though the Marlins did eat $4 million here), you’re coming out ahead. The back half of free agent deals are almost always worse than the front half.

Working under that theory, the only two guys in the deal for the Marlins with significant trade value were Johnson, who is one year away from free agency, and Bonifacio, an arbitration-eligible speedster who is an adequate regular at a few positions but not really exceptional anywhere.

In return, the Marlins are getting a cheap No. 3 or 4 starter in Alvarez, a possible long-term shortstop in Hechevarria, two very good prospects who will both probably crack the bottom half of top 100 lists next spring in Nicolino and Marisnick, a possible bullpen arm in DeSclafani and whatever Escobar brings back in trade. That’s pretty good. Better still if catcher Travis d’Arnaud was in there, but that probably would have required eating more salary than the Marlins were willing to do.

If this were a computer simulation, one could make a great argument that the Marlins came out ahead here. Figuring that they weren’t going to contend in 2013 anyway, they might as well start over, tank next year and then try to load up again come 2014 or ’15.

However, this is no computer simulation. The Marlins just took a big ol’ crap on everyone who has supported them in recent years and ticked off their lone remaining star in Giancarlo Stanton. Also, it’s hard to imagine free agents will line up to sign with them, even if they do offer to overpay, after what happened to Reyes, Buehrle and Heath Bell. It’s going to take more than a year or two to recover from this.

– As for the Blue Jays, well, they obviously got a whole lot better. The rotation now lines up as Johnson, Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero and probably J.A. Happ. Kyle Drabek will return from Tommy John sometime next year, and the team still has some quality pitching prospects behind them.

The lineup could look like:

SS Reyes
2B Bonifacio
RF Jose Bautista
DH/1B Edwin Encarnacion
1B/DH Adam Lind/free agent
3B Brett Lawrie
CF Colby Rasmus
C J.P. Arencibia
LF Free agent/Rajai Davis

With the newly signed Maicer Izturis leading the bench. The Jays could also trade Arencibia for a Lind replacement or a left fielder and then let top prospect Travis d’Arnaud compete with Buck and Bobby Wilson for catching chores in spring training.

The Jays also have plenty of live arms in relief and Sergio Santos making his way back. There’s no doubt that this team should be a contender. Whether it will be will hinge on keeping the arms healthy, especially Johnson’s. That’s an area in which the Blue Jays have had a lot of difficulties.

As is, the Blue Jays look like pretty good bets to claim one of the AL’s five playoff berths next year and those improved odds come at the expense of the Orioles, Rays and Red Sox.