You can say this much about 86-year-old Tigers owner Mike Ilitch: The franchise's World Series championship drought, which has leaked into a fourth decade, isn't for lack of trying. His willingness to spend big to put a winning product on the field, luxury tax be damned, is always welcomed and appreciated.
And you can say this about his first-year general manager, Al Avila: If then-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski's mini-selloff of pending free agents six months ago caused the rebuild-wary Ilitch any agita, Avila's short tenure has been Prilosec OTC.
Jordan Zimmermann can hardly fill David Price's shoes, but the perennially ugly Tigers bullpen should be much sharper in 2016. And now, with left fielder Justin Upton on board with a six-year, $132.75 million contract, Ilitch and Avila have acquired a terrific replacement for Yoenis Cespedes, the focus of several conversations between Dombrowski and Ilitch last July, before the Tigers traded him to the Mets.
Over the course of several months during this on-the-fly rebuild, the Tigers effectively swapped Cespedes for Upton, and they're much better off for it.
Let's play the Player A/Player B game.
• Player A: 4.0 bWAR, .265/.309/.481, 118 OPS+, 28 home runs, 95 RBIs, 33 doubles, 135 strikeouts, 35 walks
• Player B: 3.5 bWAR, .262/.344/.470, 126 OPS+, 27 home runs, 84 RBIs, 29 doubles, 164 strikeouts, 68 walks
Player A is Cespedes' average over the past three seasons, and Player B is Upton's average over the same span, but it probably doesn't matter. The difference is negligible -- just half of a win above replacement, according to Baseball Reference. Upton gets on base a little more, Cespedes has a teensy bit more power. Cespedes strikes out less, Upton walks more. Cespedes might play better defense -- and certainly has a hell of an arm -- but Upton has been trending in the right direction defensively the past two years.
If you look at those numbers and prefer Cespedes -- if you want to pick a fight over that half-win -- the Tigers ending up with Upton (as opposed to not trading and then re-signing a free agent Cespedes) has other benefits, which tip the scales well in favor of the way things have worked out for Detroit. Among them:
Upton is entering his age-28 season, Cespedes his age-30 season. That's significant. Not all ballplayers age equally, but on paper Upton has two or three prime seasons left, and Cespedes has maybe one. The $22.125 million per year the Tigers will pay Upton is something close to what someone will eventually pay Cespedes, who is reportedly receiving plenty of interest and looks likely to receive a nine-figure contract for four to six years. So let's call the money a wash and the youth a win.
Also noteworthy is the player opt-out clause in Upton's contract. Opt-out clauses, if you haven't noticed, are hot right now. Upton's comes after the second season, 2017. That won't help him get in on the massive money in 2018-19, but a 30-year-old Upton could find himself in the same position as Cespedes does now. (Which, all things considered, is a very good position to be in.)
If things break right for the Tigers -- i.e., if Upton crushes it for them the next two seasons, then opts out and signs a huge contract somewhere else -- they get two seasons of a guy's prime without having to pay close to $90 million for four seasons in his 30s. That's two seasons of an outfielder younger than Cespedes is right now.
The Tigers didn't just lose Cespedes last summer, they traded him for a pair of pitchers. Righty Luis Cessa, 23, struggled in Triple-A in 2015, but the real prize was another right-hander, former first-round Draft pick Michael Fulmer. He spent his age-22 season in Double-A, posting a 1.88 ERA with Binghamton before the trade and a 2.84 ERA with Erie after it. Now he's Detroit's No. 1 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, and on the club's 40-man roster.
3 Family reunions
Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander dates model Kate Upton, who is definitely not related to Justin Upton, but let's roll with it anyway.
So if Verlander gets married will we have two Justin Uptons— Miguel Cabrera (@DrunkMiggy) January 19, 2016
Think of the marketing opportunities, people.
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Follow Tim Healey on Twitter @timbhealey.