Saturday, April 26, 2008

Willis (left) and Cabrera (right) were almost Halos in the off-season

By David Saltzer - Columnist

No other topic dominated the fans’ attention this past offseason than the potential to trade for Miguel Cabrera. The Angels, who made another early round exit from the playoffs while looking completely overmatched by Boston clearly needed to improve their offense. Even when the Angels landed Torii Hunter, the fans still clamored for a trade to net Miguel Cabrera. And, when it didn’t happen, the howl of the fans could be heard all the way through the start of the season. So, with our trip into Detroit, the ultimate winners of the Miguel Cabrera sweepstakes, it’s time to analyze the trade that wasn’t.

I’ll admit it: I wanted Miguel Cabrera. No, strike that. I coveted Miguel Cabrera. I would have pulled the trigger on some of the proposed trade scenarios, but, ultimately would not have made the deal that the Marlins tried to force down our throats. One can’t have an honest discussion about the trade that wasn’t without stating where he was at the time the trade could have gone down.

While we’ll never know exactly what the Angels were offering or what Florida demanded, it’s pretty clear that Florida wanted at least 3-4 young ML players or close to ready ML talent in exchange for M. Cabrera. Most likely they wanted Adenhart, Kendrick, Mathis and Santana. And, as they ultimately did in their trade, they would have wanted us to take Dontrelle Willis off of their hands to free up a huge chunk of cash for his next 3 years of arbitration.

So, let’s assume we made the deal for M. Cabrera: How would that have turned out for us? Let’s assume that all the players involved remained healthy and would post numbers similar to what they’ve done over the past 2-3 years. Should we have pulled the trigger on the deal?

No matter what people say about trades, there are 3 cardinal laws that must be obeyed when considering any trade. They are: 1) you have to trade value to get value; 2) never make one hole to try and solve another; 3) the money matters. Only the Yankees seem to be able to violate these laws, and well, let’s face it, if their fans are any indication, they aren’t human. But for every other baseball team, these laws apply like death and taxes.

As much as we wouldn’t want to admit it, if we traded for M. Cabrera, cardinal law #1 says we would have lost at least 3 top prospects or young rookies in the best case deal. While we would like to say that Howie Kendrick wouldn’t have been a part of the deal, most likely FLA wouldn’t do the deal without him. So, let’s count him in as part of a deal. Since FLA also got a catcher back from Detroit, we can assume that they wouldn’t have done the deal without Mathis. Since FLA insisted on a bunch of pitchers, we can also assume that Adenhart or Saunders would have gone in the deal as well. Finally, knowing how financially restrained their management is, we would have had to take Dontrelle Willis back in the deal (this is my thought as to what the final deal breaker may have been).

Under that scenario (prior to any knowledge about injuries, etc.), Figgins would move to 2B, M. Cabrera would take over 3rd, and our rotation would have been Lackey, Escobar, Weaver, Garland and Willis. We would be looking at increasing our payroll by about $17 million for the year with the arbitrations for M. Cabrera and Willis. Had we done the deal before we signed Hunter, there’s no way that we would have signed him, so our outfield would be GA, GMJr, and Vlad, with either Kendry Morales or Quinlan vying for the DH at bats since we wouldn’t be able to afford a better DH and don’t have any better internal options.

Under that deal, our defense would have definitely taken a hit, as Figgy is not as good at 2B as he is at 3B, M. Cabrera isn’t as good as Figgy at 3B, and we’d be going with Aybar at SS. Our offense would definitely improve over the 2007 level (you can’t help but improve if you add a 300 hitter with 30+ HR potential). But, at the same time, our pitching would suffer, and, the net benefit would not be anywhere near as good. We probably would not have increased our net wins because the gains in offense would be offset by the declines in defense and pitching.

Projecting forward under that scenario, we would be in deep trouble with the injuries to Lackey and Escobar because our top pitching prospect would not be there to back them up. Our rotation would suddenly become Weaver, Garland, Santana, Mosely and Green (due to the injury to Dontrelle Willis) which is a far cry from the pitching we’ve had for the past few years. All of a sudden, we’d have a team ERA near 5, our bullpen would be completely overused, and we’d be helpless to stop the bleeding. Most likely, if we had pulled the trigger, we’d be looking at a 3rd place finish this year.

Hence, trading for M. Cabrera would have definitely violated cardinal law #2 for trading by creating a major just to solve a current hole. While we do have lots of top-shelf pitching talent, after Adenhart, the next best candidate is at AA in Brok Butcher! There’s no way that he could make the jump, so any advantage we gained on offense would immediately be blunted on defense and pitching!

Had we done it after the deal for Hunter, most likely K-Rod would definitely be gone next year, as would Garland and Lackey potentially after him because we couldn’t afford to pay M. Cabrera $20 million/year for 7 years, extend Vlad for around that much money, pay Torii Hunter AND keep all of the pitching together. So, in order to keep our costs down, we would continue to suffer near the cellar, much like Texas because we couldn’t out-hit our pitching.

Again, while we do have some top-shelf pitching talent, it would take at least 4-5 years to get it fully developed and in the majors (assuming it all pans out). By the time the pitching is all sorted out again, we’d be near the end of Vlad’s extension, near the end of Figgy’s maximum production, near the end of Hunter’s contract (if we had him) and at a point where we’d possibly be losing Kotchman. So, instead of creating a dynasty, we’d be chasing that 1 possible year way down the road while we rebuilt to get there. Hardly worth it, if you ask me.

Finally, there’s one last potential problem with the deal for M. Cabrera that made it a very risky deal: Miguel’s weight/defense (the two are tied together). Although much press was given to the weight that Miguel lost this offseason, there’s no denying that his defense was less than stellar at 3B. Already, Detroit has shifted him to 1B because he just cannot make it as an ML 3B. If we had that problem, we’d have to consider trading Kotchman to open up the spot for our $20 million/year player *OR* move him to LF. That would create an even greater logjam for the OF and DH spots, especially if we had also signed Torii Hunter.

As I said at the outset, I coveted M. Cabrera. I still maintain that this team needs to get 1 more middle of the order (MOTO) bat to complement Vlad in the heart of our lineup. As one AL executive said about why Vlad was the most feared hitter in the game “because there's no one else in that lineup I fear. Torii Hunter is a really good all-around player. But the difference between him and Vlad is, Vlad's a guy who makes you feel like you can't breathe the whole time he's at the plate." We can’t continue to let Vlad be our only answer to that question if we want to compete with the Bosox and Yankees—both of whom have 2 hitters that give opposing pitchers nightmares. Miguel is the kind of player that would make opposing AL executives quiver in fear, but, we shouldn’t sink our team’s pitching and defense for 4-5 years to just to get that MOTO solution.

Fans may not have liked it, but NOT trading for M. Cabrera was the right thing to do. I commend the Angels management for recognizing that and sticking to their guns to protect both the present and the future of the franchise.
Love to hear what you think!


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