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Jun 4, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Corey Knebel (49) pitches in the ninth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Comerica Park. Toronto won 8-2. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Cost of Joaquin Benoit

There has been a fair amount of chatter this week – much of it potentially idle – about the Tigers interest in near-elite relievers like Joaquin Benoit, Joakim Soria or Steve Cishek. If the rumor mill is right, Dave Dombrowski would like to add a guy who wouldn’t mind pitching the 8th but could close if Joe Nathan struggles or is injured. The bullpen has been a source of frustration for fans, so such hypothetical additions are going to be enthusiastically supported by most you talk to – but should they?

Trades – aside from the pure salary dump variety – are two sided. You have to give up quality to get quality. If you are all in favor of snagging Joakim Soria, what would you be willing to give up to get him? The way these things tend to go is that no deal is likely to get done unless you include at least one top 10 prospect – probably with another non top 10 guy in a package. The Tigers would likely refuse any deal that required TWO of their top 10, assuming we are talking about deals for relievers who are paid what they are worth or more, which would nix some deals (probably for Cishek). Not all of the Tigers top 10 are – I would expect – of the caliber of prospect that a team like the Padres or Rangers would demand. For example, MLB.com has James McCann and Casey Crosby in the top 10 though both of these guys have failed to do much in AAA this year to suggest they’ll realize a higher ceiling. McCann is a major league ready backup catcher. Crosby will be an up-again, down-again fringe bullpen arm.

Last season the Tigers moved Danry Vazquez – by some lists a top 10 Tigers prospect – in order to acquire Jose Veras. Vazquez was no blue chip, but he is a young guy with a high ceiling. Buzz is the Tigers would have to give more to get the guys they have been looking at this season. Let’s go over some scenarios – for simplicity’s sake just assume that the Tigers get Joaquin Benoit and only Joaquin Benoit and that the add on or add ons in the deal are guys you don’t think have a prayer or seeing major league play.

To clarify a couple of things: I don’t think James McCann, Hernan Perez and Casey Crosby will be accepted legal tender for the purchase of Joaquin Benoit. I don’t see teams drooling over JD Martinez either, should you wish to trade him, OR any of the Tigers players or prospects currently sitting on the DL. It’s also VERY, VERY hard to see teams showing much interest in Tyler Collins or Daniel Fields, though they were on some top 10 lists prior to the season due to poor-to-mediocre numbers in seasons that needed to be good to propel them into the bigs. Nick Castellanos and Eugenio Suarez are – at this point – irreplaceable parts of the major league team and can’t be dealt for a reliever (though it would be fascinating to see Castellanos dealt for Benoit AND Chase Headley, but I digress). Robbie Ray is the presumed 2015 5th starter and any deal involving him would have serious strategic reverberations into the future.

The following are the guys left over that I could imagine being the centerpieces of a deal for a top arm, obviously the weaker members of the group would require somewhat stronger add ons.

Jonathan Crawford
Jake Thompson
Domingo Leyba
Devon Travis
Corey Knebel
Steven Moya
Jose Valdez

Maybe add Drew VerHagen, Buck Farmer, Kevin Ziomek, Willy Adames or Austin Kubicza though none of those 5 have yet made it on a major published top 10 list that I’ve seen it’s quite possible that they could be on some team’s internal list.

I ask you: which of these guys would you be OK with trading away and for what return? None of them are untouchable and none of them are fringy throwaways – which actually makes the Tigers system seem a bit stronger at the moment than it has in the past. Knebel and Valdez are near-ready relievers with great stuff (middling relief prospects do not make these lists). Verhagen is near-ready but maybe a AAAA quality starter. Crawford, Thompson, Ziomek and Kubicza are low minors starters with both potential AND numbers to show for it (unlike Endrys Briceno, for example).

They are not going to have any kind of immediate impact, but let them develop and you might have an in-house replacement for Rick Porcello when he walks after 2015, or the inevitable injury to another cog. Steven Moya has turned one of the two corners he needs to turn as a hitter in AA this year – he’s now hitting with the massive power that his frame led folks to project. He still walks too little and strikes out too much to be more than a fringe major leaguer even with that power… if he strikes out 27% of the time in Lakeland and Erie, how often is he going to strike out in Detroit? Travis has kept on hitting, looks ready to hit the bigs mid to late 2015 were he not blocked, he would appear to be the organizational insurance policy against injury or decline by Ian Kinsler but otherwise blocked. Adames and Leyba could turn out to be elite shortstops but they are both 18.

Though they are blocked by both Suarez and (when healthy) Jose Iglesias, they might not even be ready to play until those guys are about to hit free agency. In short: I kind of like what the Tigers have going at the moment – the beginnings of a genuine prospect pipeline. There is almost nobody that the Tigers would be hurt by losing in the short term (except Knebel or Alvarez or in case of injury) but dealing anybody would compromise the longer term health of the farm system.

In past years that would have been an obvious green light to deal, deal, deal for a pennant push. This year it doesn’t feel that way. This year the Tigers are stingy. The reason that they don’t have Benoit right now is that they couldn’t spare the cash. While Mike Ilitch might not be unwilling to add $2 million over the rest of the season, I have the feeling that adding Benoit’s salary for 2015 and possibly 2016 would force sacrifices in other areas to keep overall payroll within budget. If it involved nothing else, parting with Crawford – even coupled with another top 20 guy like Collins – for Benoit would seem like a winning proposition.

The Tigers can easily get by without Collins and Crawford. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that dollars are going to be in short supply when the Tigers look to replace Torii Hunter this November even assuming they feel Ray is a good bet to take over for Scherzer. Raises will be due, VMart will cost a pretty penny to resign and the bullpen is one of the few areas where you get the sense that reinforcements from within are on the way for 2015 and maybe sooner

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