Sunday, January 17, 2010

Work with me here. Did Ed Wade force the Tigers' hand?

Just a little Sunday morning stream-of-consciousness here, so work with me (because maybe you've already thought this through. I had not, until this morning.):

Thought: By signing Brandon Lyon, Ed Wade made it inevitable that Detroit would sign Jose Valverde, resulting in the two extra draft picks.

A timeline of events:

December 1 - Tigers offer arbitration to Fernando Rodney
December 7 - Rodney, Lyon decline arbitration
December 8 - Jose Valverde declines arbitration.
December 9 - Brandon Lyon signs with Houston for 3-years/$15 million.

Okay, the Tigers really had four options to close in 2010: Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, Ryan Perry, and Brandon Lyon. When Rodney and Lyon declined arbitration, that left Zumaya, who has a history of injuries, and Ryan Perry - who has thrown 61.2 IP in his career, and will be 23 in February.

As soon as Valverde declined arbitration (arguably the most questionable decision of the off-season, from a player's standpoint), the question became, "Who can afford Valverde?"

The Astros desperately need to re-stock their farm system, having missed out on being a part of the conversation for Jake Peavy (Roy's BFF) and Roy Halladay (which wasn't going to happen, anyway) because of the sins of 2006-2007. What's the best way to re-stock a farm system? Extra picks. It was pretty obvious from Valverde's comments that he was hell-bent on free agency, consequences be damned. So offering arbitration to Valverde was a much lower risk than it was offering arbitration to Tejada, whose expressed interest in staying Houston was clear.

The basis of the idea of arbitration is to offer compensation to teams who can't hold on to good free agents. The Astros offered arbitration to Valverde, moderately secure that someone else was going to sign him, and the draft picks would roll in. It was iffy for a while, but luckily Valverde and his agent crapped the bed and declined.

Valverde's options were limited. From published reports, there were only a handful of teams that needed a closer: Nationals, Marlins, Diamondbacks, and Tigers. It became fairly clear that there were even fewer teams that might be able to do take his salary.

The Marlins, who would pay $5.75/hour to players if they could, wouldn't likely do it. The Nationals aren't in a win-now mentality. The Diamondbacks, who are actively trying to reduce payroll, were a long-shot, and that left the Tigers. Hypothetical/rhetorial question: Did Ed Wade know this?

The Tigers were a more attractive option for the Astros than any of the other teams because they finished in the top half of the overall standings, meaning their first-round pick wasn't protected. Presumably, the Astros knew that, as well.

Two days after Valverde declined arbitration, the Astros signed Brandon Lyon, reducing the Tigers options for available closers. The AL Central is a division similar to the NL Central, in that it's generally a winnable division (less so for the NL Central, who have Holliday/Pujols, Wainwright/Carpenter). The Indians, Tigers, and Twins are close enough that any of those three times could feasibly win the division.

So by signing Lyon, the Astros significantly increased the Tigers' chances of needing a closer via free agency. We all know that 2012 is a target date for the Astros' return to respectability. The Astros signed Lyon through 2012, and the two extra picks (that's four picks in the first two rounds) will undoubtedly make the Astros a much better team in the future. Is $5 million per year over the next three years worth the opportunity to secure the future of the organization for the next decade? I think so. And maybe Ed Wade did, too.