For the time being, the buzz is about Tigers trade scenarios involving Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. There are only two guys that I can realistically imagine being part of any 1-for-1 (or very nearly 1-for-1) deals for Scherzer, without any second team involved. The first was Elvis Andrus, the second is Anthony Rendon of the Washington Nationals.
Lets get a few things out of the way: I am by no means certain that the Tigers would or should be willing to trade Scherzer at all. I am by no means certain that the Nationals would or should be willing to trade Rendon at all. Nor am I certain that either team would consider the other guy to be a fair price for their own player (though I am reasonably sure that most fans on either side would not).
What the Tigers would need to get for Scherzer – for it to make any sense at all for a team that fully intends to push for the World Series in 2014 and 2015 they have to get a guy they expect to be a very productive player in either left field or second base – two positions with either no depth, high prices or both on the free agent market – in 2014 AND beyond (not only “beyond”). Anthony Rendon, be he available or be he not, is among the most talented young second basemen out there – the #28 prospect prior to 2013 and a guy some thought would be in the running for the Rookie of the Year. His 2013, once he hit the big leagues (after basically skipping AAA), wasn’t bad but the competition included not only RoY Jose Fernandez buy also Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Rendon didn’t have a chance. He’s 23, so though he was rushed through the minors (with only 79 games played) he’s not exactly a spring chicken by the standards of blue chip prospects.
His lack of experience also makes him a little difficult to evaluate – and though GMs and fans are going to go by tools alone for guys like this that does make him a little bit risky as a guy you expect to be a cog in the lineup. In those 79 minor league games, what you saw from Rendon was a guy with big-time power (.262 ISO) and professional-grade patience (55 walks). As a big-league rookie he looked pretty “normal”. The ISO came down 100 points, the walk rate halved and the pedestrian (for a second baseman) .725 OPS was good for 1.5 fWAR in 2/3 of a season. But, remember, this was a rookie that skipped AAA. Defensively, as is common with small sample sizes, advanced metrics can’t make up their minds. If you go by Ultimate Zone Rating, Rendon was well above average. If you go by Defensive Runs Saved, Rendon was well below average. If he clobbers the ball like he seems to be capable of, that does not matter at all. If he doesn’t, it does, which is why he was a replacement level player using Baseball Reference fielding numbers. Scouts considered him a plus defender at third base, prior to the switch to second.
Getting Rendon would undoubtedly be a gamble for the Tigers, though he is a young big leaguer rather than a guy who has never played a level higher than AA. A .725 OPS with subpar D at second base wouldn’t destroy the team’s chances, but it wouldn’t come anywhere near making up for Max Scherzer’s lost production. Rendon is capable of far, far more than that, of course and it wouldn’t exactly shock anyone to see him post a .900 OPS in 2014. If the bat looks good, but in the end the D at second does not, the Tigers could move him over to 3rd when Victor Martinez‘ contract is up in 2015 when one of the Tigers second base prospects might be ready (or not) and the market for free agent second basemen might look better (or not). The deal would actually save a significant amount of money over keeping Scherzer and re-signing Omar Infante. If the Tigers are cash constrained in any way, shape or form (and we have heard no mention of what those constraints might be or not be) consider that Scherzer for Rendon would save a little more than $20 million (and a bit in 2015 too), money that could be reallocated to other team needs. IF you imagine a cap of $160 million on the budget, Rendon would allow the Tigers to resign Joaquin Benoit but also add new closer Joe Nathan and lefty Javier Lopez. Rendon could be as valuable as Scherzer in 2014, but he probably won’t be. On the other hand, Rendon, Nathan and Lopez probably would be.
If the money is going to be spent anyway as Mike Ilitch tries to go out with a bang, then this trade wouldn’t make sense – no trade of Scherzer for young/cheap players is really going to make sense. You just can’t get a guy who’d be expected to contribute 6 wins (like Scherzer) in a trade. If the team has a clearly defined budget, then I think it does. I would personally at least seriously consider a 1-for-1 Scherzer for Rendon deal. There are undoubtedly plenty of Nats fans out there who would not make that trade, but at least one Nats expert (Mark Zuckerman from Nats Insider) thinks Rendon alone wouldn’t be enough to get Scherzer without a couple more top prospects included.