Masahiro Tanaka to the Detroit Tigers: Is the plan for Dombrowski & Towers to Improve by Risk Analysis?

Masahiro Tanaka: The Next Ace of Detroit???

First Dombrowski Domino: Miguel Cabrera Can Deliver At 1st Base

Last week, Detroit and Texas pulled off one of those trades that shook the MLB world because it made so much sense. Prince Fielder to Texas and Ian Kinsler to Detroit, and Miguel Cabrera to first base, a place he stops by frequently en route to a .320 plus average with 5+ WAR. In that trade, Fielder moved to a hitter’s haven; Kinsler provides decent 2B glove, good contact, and most importantly: a much shorter, less pricier commitment. Cabrera replacement at 3B potentially Nick Castellanos.

 Ian Kinsler vs. Prince Fielder Analysis @ Various Rates of Returns

Rate of Return 8%
Time 0 1 2 3 4 5 6
Year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Value($M)
Ian Kinsler $16.0 $16.0 $14.0 $11.0 $11.0 $68.0
Det Adj. Payroll $16.0 $14.8 $17.1 $13.5 $12.5 $4.1 $3.8 $81.8
Prince Fielder $24.0 $24.0 $24.0 $24.0 $24.0 $24.0 $24.0 $168.0
Detroit Pays TX $6.0 $6.0 $6.0 $6.0 $6.0 $30.0
Texas Adj. Payroll $24.0 $22.2 $15.4 $14.3 $13.2 $12.3 $11.3 $112.8
Differential $M Prefers Yr-W Ian Prince $Ian/WAR $Prince/WAR
5% 33.85 Detroit 0 3.5 5 4.57 4.80
6.50% 32.34 1 3 4 4.94 5.56
8% 30.95 Neutral 2 2.5 3.5 6.86 4.41
10% 29.28 3 2 3 6.75 4.76
12% 27.78 Texas 4 2 2.5 6.25 5.29
5 0 2 6.13
6 0 1.5 7.56
Total  13 21.5 6.29 5.24

The breakdown of the financials at various Rates of Returns shows the relative savings Detroit got and the potential upside from this domino falling in place. In real terms the savings is not $70M. Detroit depending on interest rates (the cost of capital and return rate expected for such risks) will be more in line to obtain only $31,000,000 in actual real savings at 8% Rate of Return.

Detroit will save the money, to be sure, but it hinges on how Prince declines or Ian declines. I made a very modest assumption on the fall off of Prince. I think he’s start off well in Texas, all-star. Meanwhile, Ian will be about his normal rate of WAR, aside from one monster year in 2011. The differential of cost per WAR reflects Ian as a cheap front side option, whereas, Prince costs a bit more in those first years and his final years. Others peg it this way from MLB Trade Rumors:

  • Dave Cameron of Fangraphs loves the trade for Detroit, as they escape the burden of Fielder’s contract and replace him with a player Cameron feels will post a similar WAR total in 2014. Plus, he adds, the $76MM savings would be enough to potentiall add Curtis Granderson and Joe Nathan to the fold. “Kinsler, Granderson, and Nathan, or Prince Fielder? These aren’t even close,” writes Cameron.
  • Cameron also analyzed the deal from the Rangers’ point of view, and while he’s not as quick to heap praise on Texas, he understands the thinking and doesn’t consider it a loss for the team. GM Jon Daniels found a good way to move Kinsler and add a first baseman, and opened up a hole for someone who is expected to become a very good player, says Cameron, “…But it was an expensive trade to make, and no team has unlimited resources.”

The Next Step: Japanese Import Lands in Detroit

Detroit can now do various things with that money saved. Owner and former minor leaguer Mike Ilitch, at 84, likely can’t spend all his money made from pizzas, Little Caesar’s, and other numerous ventures. So, he may have given permission to Dombrowski to go for broke on a few candidates: Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin Soo Choo, or Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka? Why? Tigers had plenty of pitching for they post season, they just came up short, partly due to Fielder.

Well, Max Scherzer, represented Scott Boras, is in his final arbitration/soon-to-walk year. Boras also represents Ellsbury and Choo, and once did Cano, now represented by Jay-Z’s new agency. So, no matter what you will be dealing with either Boras, or the new Boras, who wants to bid up Cano to astronomical levels ($300 million over a decade!) Even the mighty Yankees balked.

Scherzer’s extension will be based off his last two seasons. Boras will move the needle towards a 5-6 year deal at $25 million on a 30-year old pitcher, who has been durable and reliable, but is: 5 years older than the Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka was analyzed on this blog. At that moment, I felt $90-100 million felt about right. I have reconsidered that once you factor in the new $25M per team in TV MLB revenues, also discussed on this blog he’s gonna be well over a $100 million dollar add option. The market is slim on top tier pitching as teams are generally risk-adverse to give up young pitchers who are evaluated as top-of-the-rotation possibilities, until their market prices (20M+/yr) drives them out of price range of mid-to-small market teams. Those teams then look for other top-tier prospects in return – pitching if possible – and then repeat the cycle as needed. 

The short of it on Tanaka: It is not necessarily more risky if you think Masahiro Tanaka and his 24-0 record in Japan and stuff can be a six-year-$150 million dollar deal, plausibly producing 30WAR in his prime years. Even at 20 WAR, while you  potentially overpay $44.6M, accounting for rate of return at 8%, that will be mostly negated by $31M in savings from the Fielder deal if you were Detroit in this example. If Tanaka lives up to Yu Darvish-lite comparisons, he’s worth the $80 million bid and $70 million sign over 6 years.

That said, the upfront investment costs of $80M is substantial and a regular sign would provide unique savings too. But the New York Daily News puts it this way:

Masahiro Tanaka, a 25-year-old right-handed pitcher for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, has what a teammate describes as a bulldog competitive nature and has drawn comparisons to Greg Maddux for his pitching precision. He threw an eye-popping 160 pitches in the only game he lost all season – Game 6 of the Japan Series – and then closed out the championship clincher the next night.

Several baseball folks said they could see Tanaka eventually scoring between $50-75 million, or more, for Rakuten in a posting fee and then getting perhaps $75 million more in a contract from his new team. That’d made him the priciest Japanese pitcher ever, passing Yu Darvish, who commanded a $51.7 million posting fee and a $60 million contract two winters ago.

For all that money, a club would be getting a pitcher who was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA over seven seasons in Japan. Tanaka can “touch 97 (miles per hour) with his fastball and pitch around 93,” says a big-league scout sent to Japan last season to evaluate him.

The scout says Tanaka’s fastball is his best pitch of the six (fastball, curve, slider, changeup, cutter, splitter) he can throw.

Tanaka vs. Scherzer Financial Analysis

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As you see, it ain’t simple financially. But there are other motivations aside from just picking a relatively unknown to America, but obviously well-scouted Japanese pitcher, over a Cy Young award winner. That’s leads to the final step.

The Final Step: Max Scherzer Traded back to Arizona

This one, cooked up by my zombie brain, takes place in a world with AZ President Kevin Towers being goaded a little more and then lubricated with alcohol. However, bare with me as I try to improve two teams to battle their nemeses in their respective leagues.

Detroit has 2013 Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer in his final season. He’s now an ace, his xFIP (used for that Wins Above Replacement calculation) has always been mid 3’s, but went down to a sparkling 3.16 last season. His stuff is every bit of that label – Ace.

So, his final season is gonna cost Detroit over $10M but maybe under $15M. Cheap. And extension would be undoubtedly be in the 5/6-year range for upwards of $150 million, especially since, an older Jason Vargas just got a 4-year deal at $32 million for being a 1-1.5 WAR/year pitcher. Scherzer’s valuable floor, so far, is that of a 3WAR pitcher, while he just topped out at 6.4, according to Fangraphs. That range is part of the discussion used in comparing him to Masahiro Tanaka.

I think Scherzer is still at least a 20WAR pitcher for 6 seasons. Maybe a bit more (18-24 would not be implausible). However for this analysis, Arizona needs a 6WAR+ pitcher in the fold today, in 2014, if they are to match the payroll-is-no-object moves of the LA Dodgers, who just signed Dan Haren, ex-Arizona pitcher, and 2B Guerrero to friendly terms. Or San Francisco, who corralled their own 2-time Cy Young winner in Tim Lincecum, and good vet, coming-off-unfortunate injury in Tim Hudson to go with RF Hunter Pence for about $150 million, all total. Even San Diego signed Josh Johnson, the brittle man, hoping to get a recharge in park friendly PETCO before trying to land another payday.

So, Arizona needs to step it up a notch…or just bide time until Hillary gets elected in 2016.

The Trade : Ace for Potential Ace, a vet Bullpen Ace, and Middle Infielder that hits (so far)

Arizona does have limited payroll ability to sign guys in 2014-2015, however, they maybe can entice Detroit, who had bullpen problems, to take a package of veteran closer in J.J. Putz, top pitching prospect 21-year old Archie Bradley, and 22-year old SS/2B Chris Owings.

1) JJ Putz is a decent veteran closer, that could be an option for Detroit. 1 year left on the contract. So no commitment. A 2014 push for World Series…via the motivated vet wanting that title.

2) Bradley is a future ace potential. But that is still to be seen. Yet, as a top 10 prospect, his WAR value probably can’t be under the 15-20 range as his floor for 6 seasons. He’s 1 year away- or likely midseason – depending on the Arizona development plan, and arbitration clock for monetary reasons.

3) Owings did well in his call up and is very young. Detroit can pair him with Jose Iglesias or Kinsler. Basically, they have a guy that can fill in the middle infield, and hits well enough so far, that maybe he spells Kinsler or picks up Jose Iglesias’s slack.

But Arizona gets a top of the rotation horse they know well. They traded him off to Detroit. Now, the Cy Young award winner, is signed and traded back? The new TV revenues will help Arizona out, one can presume, as does revenue sharing system that garnered $27M for the team. Their pitching lineup is better with Scherzer, Corbin, Miley, Cahill, Delgado, and Skaggs. They shop Brandon McCarthy as back end option – getting out from under the contract a bit. And therefore, can do a Scherzer deal.

Of course, this conjecture only works if Arizona values Scherzer for potentially an offset to the LA duo of Kershaw/Greinke, or SF’s trio of arms in Bumgardner, Lincecum, and Cain, not necessarily in that order.

Now, is Archie Bradley not potentially a Max Scherzer? Sure. It could happen. But is that going happen immediately in 2014? Or 2015? Is Arizona built to win somewhat today, or are they going to wait, hoping the Dodgers collapse due to age factors? (While they have similar problems on several less meatier contracts…)

Arizona has been kicking the tires on Jeff Samardzija, the 3WAR pitcher, has 4-5WAR potential ace-like stuff. And another year of control to the equation…and a year younger than Scherzer. Yet, Theo & Jed are probably asking for Bradley and Skaggs back at minimum. Does Arizona no good. And it’s a poor sell to Diamondbacks fans. A CY Young winner, former AZ stud, easier to spin that trade as a good deal.

For Arizona, it can be ok in the future…but it’s gonna be hard to finish .500 because you can’t stop the Dodgers’ bats at present.

Dombrowski too has multiple ways to do things if cash is not his constraint. But at some point it always is.  Tanaka may not post in 2014…then this idea goes bust!

And then he’s back to Choo or Ellsbury as the missing piece at $125million plus. But a Tanaka add will not cost that 1st round pick – even as low as Detroit will pick – and this has a way of detracting those that know minor league talent keeps the major league team alive better.

So Dave: Swap talent, get younger, and add potential ace material and a potentially good bat to your order today. Arizona – you need a top of the rotation guy for at least 4 seasons. Scherzer will do so at a price. And Bradley is just a pop away from being cut open…hopes dashed.

Risk analysis at its finest!

  My Final Analysis

So: 2014 World Series, or bust for Detroit! 

Arizona, wait until Bradley becomes an ace…or spend on the gamble I have laid out.

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One Response to Masahiro Tanaka to the Detroit Tigers: Is the plan for Dombrowski & Towers to Improve by Risk Analysis?

  1. Pingback: Extending Tradition: Why the Yankees Win and the Cubs Lose « Deepcenterfield MLB

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