Thursday, January 17, 2008

Above the Fold - 3 more years of gum time

As I'm as burned out on the Rich Rodriguez story as you are (though I'm sure there will be much more to the story, and I'll have to touch on it again soon), let's delve into something less dramatic.

The Tigers continued to spend money as if it grows on a money tree at Little Ceasers' headquarters, as they inked starting pitcher Nate Robertson to a 3 year extension worth $21 million. That's a ton of jack for a 5th starter, but it's considerably less than the going rate for an established big league pitcher with similar stats. Hard to believe that paying $21 million to a career under .500 pitcher is considered getting a "Hometown discount," but in today's game, that's the God's honest truth.

In the Tigers blogosphere, the general consensus of the Robertson signing is positive, with the normal caveats (Health, consistency). Let's start our tour with the lone dissenter...

Ian is not being a contrarian with his issues regarding Robertson's contract at Bless You Boys. He voiced the same opinion a couple of months ago when Robertson's agent announced they wanted to talk long-term deal. Ian also asks the pointed question, "Do the Tigers give Robertson a three-year deal if Jair Jurrjens and Andrew Miller are still in the organization?" To be honest, I'm not sure...

I can see the value in locking up a homegrown pitcher when the Tigers will face at least one hole in the 2009 starting rotation after Kenny Rogers calls it a career. And if Rick Porcello isn't ready for prime time by then, Robertson's inning-eating prowess might be even more important.

But I guess I feel much like Rob Neyer did after the Dontrelle Willis extension was announced. Is Robertson a pitcher you really want to pay a $10 million salary to? That's what the Tigers are facing in 2010, the final year of this new deal. It's a big chunk of change for a below .500 pitcher. But that's clearly the market these days, even for a fourth or fifth starter.

Exactly, that's today's market for pitching. To replace Robertson via free agency, the Tigers would have to start the conversation at $10 million a year. Example 1A being Carlos Silva getting $44 million over 4 years to go to Seattle.

D-Town Baseball takes a favorable view of the deal...

All-in-all I’m pleased to see this as Nate gave the Tigers several tremendous outings which were, unfortunately, usually followed up by some bad outings. If he can gain a bit of consistency, even a little, this would be a decent deal for Detroit.

With the run support Robertson is likely to get over the next couple of years, he could win more than his fair share of games. That's if he can keep an even keel, and stay consistent, as Eric points out.

The Detroit Tigers Weblog brings up the consistency issues as well, along with Robertson's age. At 30, Nate is as good as he's ever going to be. Overall though, Billfer does like the deal, and gives several reasons why...

Still, there is a case to be made for making this deal. The Tigers aren’t likely to match Robertson’s production at a cheaper rate over at least the next 2 years. There isn’t anything close to a sure thing in the minors with the departures of Andrew Miller and Jair Jurrjens. Yorman Bazardo, Jordan Tata, and Virgil Vasquez could step in, but the Tigers don’t want to be dealing with “coulds” and “replacement levels” given what they’ve invested into this team. With a payroll that is already over $120 million this year which will top $135 before all is said and done, and $95 million already committed in 2009 (assuming Renteria’s option is picked up) a proven free agent pitcher is out of the question. Given the farm system a trade isn’t likely to bring back a better return either.

Bingo! In many ways, Robertson had the Tigers over a barrel. Replacing him would be a hard proposition. The minor leagues have been stripped bare of prospects, thanks to the Cabrera/Willis and Renteria trades, and I've already touched on the going rate for league average starters in free agency. Robertson proves the old proverb true, as the Tigers felt that one in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Now that the Tigers have 4 starters locked up till 2010, Tigerblog looks at the remaining rotation spot, post Kenny Rogers.

At some point, you’d have to hope Rick Porcello fills in that final spot but I don’t see him even getting a cup of coffee until 2009. That means the Tigers have to hope either a guy like Yorman Bazardo or Jordan Tata steps up to fill in or the Tigers go out on the market to find someone.

As Porcello signed a major league deal coming out of college, and is on the 40 man roster, you'd have to think he's the front runner for The Gambler's spot in the rotation. If he shows anything at all this season, Porcello's option 1, 2, and 3 to become the 5th starter (Speculating that '08 is Rogers' final season) going into 2009. The Tigers have never been afraid to push top pitching prospects thru their system with lightening speed, I expect it to be no different with Porcello.

At Mack Avenue Tigers, Kurt gives the deal a thumbs up, as he also brings up the high cost of replacing Robertson.

That sounds like a lot of money in a few years for a player that is average — or a scosh above average. But that’s the market these days. Replacing Nate with league-average pitching in 2010 really could cost $10M+, so when you think of it like that, the contract isn’t really out of line.

I’ve liked having Nate around anyway. You know what you’re going to get, and he’s a fierce competitor. So I approve of the deal.

I like having Robertson around as well, for reasons other than what he brings on the mound. He lives in the area year round, the only Tiger to do so. He's a survivor of the 2003 season, and I'll always have a soft spot for Tigers (My man-crush on Craig Monroe being one example) from that team who made good. You just get the feeling from Robertson that he loves being a Detroit Tiger, and will make Michigan his long-term home. I'm betting he stays in Detroit after his career ends, much like blue-collar fan favorites Milt Wilcox and Dave Bergaman.

The Fanhouse chimes in, with Matt giving the deal his approval.

Besides, it also means that the Tigers have the core of their rotation set in stone for at least the next three years. With Jeremy Bonderman already under contract, Dontrelle Willis signing an extension last month and Justin Verlander a couple of years away from arbitration, the Tigers have four of their five starters locked up for at least the next three years, by which time super-stud prospect Rick Porcello should be ready for the majors, assuming he doesn't already have a year under his belt.

The fact the Tigers know what 4/5 of their rotation is going to look like for the next 3 seasons is a position any franchise would love to find themselves. Factor in the oldest of the 4 being only 30, and 3 of the 4 having shown ace-like talent, and you have a 90's Braves style rotation in the making.

That's "Above the Fold" for Thursday, 1-17-08!

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