Detroit Tigers Trade Value: Part 1

The purpose of this article is relatively simple: to rank the ten most valuable trade assets in the entire Tigers organization. It’s an idea borrowed from the good folks at Fangraphs, but they themselves took it from NBA aficionado Bill Simmons, so we think we’re in the clear. And besides, you can’t really own an least that’s what I’d like to think our legal department would say.

In any event, while it may be a simple concept, the process of ranking these ten players is actually somewhat complicated, and it required the help of the entire TigsTown staff. I’m doing the writing, but I want to thank Mark Anderson, James Chipman, Neil Weinberg, and Paul Wezner for their insight and analysis in helping me form these rankings. There’s a chance no one on this list will actually be traded, but we thought it would be a good barometer for the health of the organization as a whole.

Our goal is to present to the most realistic list possible, so we took several factors into consideration. They include the player’s age on July 31st (the trade deadline), their contract status, and something I call the Three P’s: Position, Performance, and Projection. Position is simply a consideration of where the player fits on the diamond -- a shortstop who hits .260 with 10 home runs is, in general, much more valuable than an outfielder with the same stats. Performance is a reflection on how well the player has actually produced, preferably at the MLB level. Projection takes into account what the player figures to do in the coming years. Each player capsule will include this information, as well as a guess as to what the Tigers could expect to get in return in a trade for each player.

Without further ado, let’s get to the list, beginning with a few near misses:

Buck Farmer - RHP - Age: 24.4 - Farmer hasn’t found any success in his MLB starts, but he has the stuff and build to be a back-end starter for a team that is willing to be patient with him.

Steven Moya - OF - Age: 23.9 - Moya offers tantalizing power and surprising athleticism, but legitimate concerns about his hitting ability sap a good portion of his trade value.

Anthony Gose - OF - Age: 24.9 - Gose has some impressive tools, particularly his speed and defense in center field, but he hasn’t done much to dispel the notion that he’s best used in a platoon.

Derek Hill - OF - Age: 19.6 - Hill has struggled in pro ball, and there’s a chance he never even reaches the level of Gose, but he offers plenty of potential, and any team trading for him could have him for at least six seasons at the MLB level.

Shane Greene - RHP - Age: 26.7 - Greene looked like a cheap, mid-rotation starter through the first three weeks of the season. If this list had been made then, he might have been in the top five. He could regain that value eventually, but his fall was so swift and troubling that it’s hard to imagine him bouncing back by the end of July.

Dixon Machado - SS - Age: 23.4 - Machado has always been a very good defender at shortstop, with solid discipline at the plate, but he never really hit until about a year ago. His defense remains strong, and he has continued to perform well on offense, but he’s blocked in Detroit, so he will almost certainly get traded before this year’s deadline. The Tigers would be wise to present him as a potential everyday shortstop, and if another team agrees, Detroit could get a very nice return. But there are still enough questions about his bat that he couldn’t quite crack our list.

The Top Ten

10 - Joakim Soria - Closer - Age: 31.2
Contract Status: Owed roughly $3 million in 2015, Free Agent in 2016
Performance: Soria is an experienced closer with a handful of very solid seasons under his belt. He has been effective for the Tigers this year, though he’s been unusually homer prone, and the advanced stats don’t particularly like him (-0.6 fWAR).
Projection: He’s unlikely to get any better in the future, but he should maintain his current level for a few more seasons.
Analysis and Return: Teams are always looking for relievers at the trading deadline, so that likely makes Soria more valuable than his raw production would justify. As a half-season rental, the return for Soria wouldn’t be huge, but the Tigers could probably expect to land a solid B-level prospect or a younger relief arm.

9 - Ian Kinsler - 2B - Age: 33.1
Contract Status: Owed roughly $7 million in 2015, $14 million in 2016, $11 million in 2017, and a $10 million club option for 2018, with a $5 million buyout.
Performance: Kinsler was outstanding last year in his first season for the Tigers, providing excellent defense, speed, and solid offensive contributions. He is once again providing solid defense and baserunning this year, but his offensive production has fallen off dramatically.
Projection: It’s hard to know if Kinsler’s power outage is a real erosion of his skills, or simply a fluke -- his HR/FB% of 1.1 is almost 8% lower than his career average -- but he’s on the wrong side of 30, so it’s reasonable to expect that his power and speed numbers will continue to slowly decline in the coming years.
Analysis and Return: The main thing holding Kinsler back is his contract. It’s not terribly prohibitive, but there’s enough money and years left on the deal to make him a little less desirable, particularly if his power truly is gone for good. As a solid regular, Kinsler could probably net the Tigers a veteran position player or a backend starter, provided those players had similar contracts, or a package including a few second-tier prospects.

8 - Nick Castellanos - 3B - Age: 23.4
Contract Status: Owed roughly $200K in 2015, arbitration eligible in 2017, under team control for four more seasons.
Performance: Castellanos had a solid rookie year in 2014, showing flashes of pure hitting ability and plus power, although he was also one of the worst defensive third basemen in the majors. An offseason of hard work has turned him into a roughly league-average defender in 2015, but his offense has fallen off a cliff, and he currently stands as the least productive regular third baseman in the majors by a fairly wide margin.
Projection: Castellanos is one of the few prospects the Tigers haven’t traded in the last few years, because the organization was always a big believer in his potential with the bat. The potential to hit for above-average power still remains, particularly as he continues to get stronger, but the projections of him as a plus hitter for average are looking less convincing as he continues to be exploited by MLB pitchers.
Analysis and Return: Castellanos’ projection still outweighs his lack of performance at the big-league level, but teams may stop believing in him if he continues to struggle as he passes the 1,000 AB mark. That said, baseball is filled with guys who don’t fully tap into their potential until their mid-to-late-20s (there’s one later in this list, in fact) and Castellanos won’t be a free agent for another 4 1/2 years, so a team with patience may be willing to part with a fair amount of talent to land him. He could net the Tigers a veteran back-end starter, or he’d fit in a classic “change of scenery” trade where he gets swapped for another young player who has underperformed.

7 - James McCann - C - Age: 25.1
Contract Status: Owed roughly $200K in 2015, arbitration eligible in 2018, under team control for five more seasons.
Performance: Tigers manager Brad Ausmus brought McCann along slowly until Alex Avila went down with an injury, and the rookie has stepped in beautifully, combining decent offensive production with terrific defense.
Projection: Because his defense is already so solid, most of McCann’s remaining projection has to do with his bat. He doesn’t walk a ton, but he has a solid eye and makes decent contact, and he’s a big, strong kid who may hit double-digit home runs one day.
Analysis and Return: Catchers who can play above-average defense are incredibly valuable, and they can remain in the majors for more than a decade simply on the strength of their gloves. McCann offers plus defense, the chance for average or above-average offense, and he’s under team control for five-plus years. The Tigers could realistically expect a healthy return for McCann, ranging from a solid starter in the final year of his deal, to a promising young major leaguer, to a prospect with top-150 potential.

6 - Yoenis Cespedes - OF - Age: 29.8
Contract Status: Owed roughly $5 million in 2015, Free Agent in 2016, not eligible for qualifying offer compensation.
Performance: Cespedes came to MLB from Cuba carrying a great deal of hype, and for the most part he has lived up to expectations. He’s not a superstar, but he’s been an above-average regular, and he’s on pace to produce 5 WAR this year, which would be his best season yet.
Projection: Cespedes is a good player who does just about everything well, though he stands out most for his plus raw power and elite throwing arm in the outfield. He doesn’t figure to get much better in the future, but he should be able to produce at a similar level for another 3-4 years.
Analysis and Return: Cespedes is in the final year of his contract, and teams can’t get draft-pick compensation if they fail to re-sign him, so his value is somewhat dampened. Still, the Tigers could probably get a mid-rotation starter with an expiring deal, a young major leaguer with some upside, or prospect with top-100 potential.

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