Dr. Savelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rookie Closers

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Remember when this guy was a closer? Ozzie Guillen would just walk out to the mound motioning his arms outwardly, both vertically and horizontally, to signal for him. You know, because he’s fat (also tall, hence the vertical motions, but moreso fat). What you may not remember is that, in that 2005 White Sox title season, Jenks only saved 6 regular season games, finishing only 18. He didn’t even make his MLB debut until July 6th of that season. And yet, the 24 year-old rookie closer was one of the more recognizable faces of a championship.

(That it is such an ugly face seems befitting for that franchise, but I digress)

Like I said, Bobby Jenks only saved 6 games in the regular season. At least a couple of you would probably remember that it was 32-year old journeyman starter Dustin Hermanson who led the White Sox in saves. After getting his closer feet wet in San Francisco the year before, Hermanson was signed by the Sox to relieve, and did a terrific job in the role. Jenks’ ascendancy was purely because of Hermanson’s unfortunate back problems, and it certainly was not caused by Dustin’s sparkling 2.04 ERA and 1.099 WHIP in 57.1 IP.

But when the White Sox broke camp in 05, neither Hermanson nor Jenks were the closer. The White Sox were counting on 36-year old Shingo Takatsu, a veteran from Japan who turned in a quality season the year before. Shingo would have more difficulty building on that one success than Los del Rio, but it wasn’t a big surprise that Hermanson was his successor. Jenks was the man no one saw coming. Not only was he in the minors at the start of the year, he was picked up via waivers after a dismal 5-year minor league career with Anaheim.

The White Sox won a championship with 3 different closers, one who wasn’t even used to getting hitters out in the minor leagues. They did so in one of the most dominating title runs in history. The Tigers were a mere 71-91 that year, but they too utilized many closers. Troy Percival, then Ugueth Urbina, then Kyle Farnsworth, and finally Fernando Rodney. In an ironic twist given their respective pedigrees, it was Percival who was the only ineffective one in the bunch, thanks to injury.

 

This is all to explain why it will be A-OK if and when the Tigers install Bruce Rondon as their 2013 closer.

The simple fact is that the installation of a closer on day one is simply a minor concern. The Tigers will have all of 162 games in which to evaluate their closer options. Among those options is the aforementioned Rondon, along with the following: Joaquin Benoit, who was the next choice whenever Valverde needed a rest; Octavio Dotel, he of the 109 career saves; and Phil Coke, who was trusted with the role in the playoffs, and allowed only 1 run in 10.2 innings. If those four options all go exhausted, there is always a trade market. By the count of twitter follower @Nopich, I see 5 closers traded during the 2012 season: Ernesto Frieri, Brandon Lyon, Francisco Cordero, Jonathan Broxton, Brandon League.

The closer mentality is celebrated by many, and by all accounts, Bruce Rondon has that mentality in spades. But ultimately, quite a few pitchers of varying talent have held that job. When teams need to dip into the well to find a replacement, it rarely if ever runs dry. 

On the other hand, there is a cost of experimentation. The prospect of losing games in order to find out whether Rondon, Benoit, Coke, or Dotel can hack it in the role all season is unattractive, to say the least. They would be taking on a risk, to be sure. But the volatility of relief pitching makes virtually ever closer decision a risk. Bringing back Valverde after a perfect save % season proved to be a risk. Signing established all-star closer Troy Percival was a risk. Trusting Todd Jones in 2008 was a risk. Some seemed more obvious than others at the time, but there are no sure things in this game.

Besides, Bruce Rondon will have to be a first-time closer at some point. I can think of no better time to experiment than this year: ZiPS projects the Tigers to win the division by about 10 games. I have seen plenty of baseball experiments go wrong, but dropping 10 games because of closer issues stretches the imagination. 

 

 

PS: ZiPS is none too impressed with Rondon, projecting 45 innings of 5.60 ERA ball with 6.80 BB/9. Rest assured, if he is that bad, he won’t be around long enough to pitch 45 innings.

Cooperstown’s Moral Relativist Problem

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The 2013 Baseball HOF ballot featured two hitters with 3,000+ hits, four hitters with 500+ home runs, five hitters with 1,500+ RBIs, three with 500+ stolen bases, two pitchers with 3,000+ strikeouts, and eleven players total with 60+ career wins above replacement. But as you’ve undoubtedly heard, none were selected for induction, for a wide variety of reasons.

The most significant reaction has been to congratulate the baseball writers for collectively taking a stand against the steroid era, the stand no one made in the 90s. However, this stand is curiously inconsistent with the current makeup of the Hall, already featuring known cheaters, drug users, and others who violate the standards of character, integrity, and sportsmanship. On the other hand, better late than never, right?

In the abstract, there is nothing wrong with attempting to improve your institutions. Unfortunately, I fear this will serve to do nothing but degrade the Hall, to begin a slow march towards irrelevance. Without intervention from the Hall’s administrators, or from the Commissioner himself, the muddled moral stand will do far more harm than good.

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Moral relativism (more specifically, meta-ethical moral relativism) is the idea that there are no objectively right or wrong positions in a given debate or choice of action. This isn’t an idea that the average person really employs in everyday life; even someone who doesn’t take their moral compass from The Bible will accept a criminal code as a basic standard of right and wrong. However, it’s ever present when a large group of people are asked to take collective action on something. When no one can use a normative point of reference, there’s no way to get collective movement in the proper direction, if any direction at all. Your group becomes a poor sap lost in a dark forest without a compass.

We see this on a grand scale in politics. The fundamental disagreement on whether large or small government is preferable leads to the kick-the-can fiscal cliff and debt ceiling deals everyone hates. The gun control conversation is hopelessly aimless because Americans as a whole are having trouble deciding whether they value freedom to carry guns or safety from them. Thanks to steroids, we’re reaching the point where the BBWAA votes on the HOF with the effectiveness of Congress. Yikes.

The main problem with their moral stand against steroids is that no one is really sure what kind of stand it is. Even among the writers that do agree that steroid users should be punished, you have: those who exclude the entire 1990s, those excluding only those who admitted or were caught by positive tests, those painting their suspicions with a broader brush, and finally the blank ballot crew. When one person’s election requires 75% of the vote, the most restrictive standard becomes the operative standard.

For the last few years, this wasn’t a major problem; truly great players like Rickey Henderson could still command all the support they needed. But now that so many players are on the ballot, it’s going to be virtually impossible for a player to clear all of the steroid hurdles, gain the respect of the blank ballot crew, all while reaching the limited ballot space from voters who aren’t keeping steroid users out. Greg Maddux is surely making the cut, but there’s a chance Tom Glavine gets delayed from the ballot crunch (for instance, a lot of the more inclusive voters have omitted the top candidates in order to keep fringe candidates on the ballot).

It’s going to be tough for the Hall to maintain historical relevance when the only person from the 90s/00s that can get inducted from now on is Greg Maddux. Thus, the most obvious reform would be to go to a 20-spot or unlimited ballot, which would ease the gridlock a little bit. But, there’s an even bigger problem that threatens the Hall’s relevance: debate fatigue.

No matter your opinion of the various steroid users, I think ultimately everyone would love to move on from the Steroid Era. Every conversation about who took steroids from 1995-2004 detracts from the current game and anyone playing in it. But we’re never going to stop having those conversations while we’re debating Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, every year, for the next 20 years. After only one election cycle, I’ve heard plenty of very committed baseball fans admit that they simply don’t care about Cooperstown anymore. When we rehash this next January, who else is going to lose interest? Think about how aggravating the 2012 AL MVP debate was. I don’t know a single person who wasn’t completely sick of the whole thing by the time it ended, myself included. And the MVP is easy: we have a direction in mind, and we’re limited to only that season. Does anyone still want to debate the merits of 2012 Mike Trout and 2012 Miguel Cabrera? I didn’t think so.

This is where the Hall’s moral relativist problem is most concerning. There is literally no hope of these differences being resolved. The various factions are so directionless that no one is going to move towards each other, and there’s no incentive for the BBWAA to change that. The lack of direction is even more stark when you realize that, not only are the voters too relativistic on baseball maters, but they’re even subverting concepts which are universally accepted in the rest of the country. For instance, the idea of forcing an accused man to prove his innocence was established as a violation of due process in ancient English common law. Yet numerous writers have posed that exact requirement on guys like Piazza and Bagwell (how on Earth someone is supposed to prove that they never took a drug over a 20 year period is beyond me, but that’s a different story).

An increasing number of baseball fans are simply going to lose interest in a Hall of Fame where no one gets in, where we have to keep rehashing one of baseball’s serious black eyes, and where we have to watch the historical gatekeeping function administered by a collection of petty and self-aggrandizing writers, using standards fit for a country with far less liberty than ours. But, there is a solution available.

To go back to the Congressional comparison, Bud Selig has shown quite the preference for the kick-the-can method of solving problems. His response to the Steroid Era history has been famously timid, preferring to let the BBWAA sort out the mess somehow. This is in stark contrast to the swift action by MLB after the Black Sox scandal, as well as its reaction to Pete Rose. As draconian as a lifetime ban can feel, it spares baseball of the yearly re-opening of old wounds and allows progress.

Baseball needs a strong sense of direction from the top in order to solve its Cooperstown crisis. It doesn’t have to be lifetime bans and total ineligibility for every proven user (although that would be a vast improvement). It could be as simple as Allan announcing his support for Steroid Era players as integral part of the game’s history and deserving enshrinement. I’ve generally favored full inclusion, but I’m at the point where I would welcome a collection of bannings. Anything has to be an improvement on the bloated mass of players floating along in the limbo of receiving 10-40% of the vote each year. After all, Congress has an approval rating about 12%. A comparison to that group can’t be good for baseball, or for anybody.

Pictured: Old Hoss Nietzsche

Jambaroo round 10: Dee Gordon

I really hope this guy doesn’t get traded by the time I finish the article.

Who: Devaris Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers. Born April 22nd, 1988, bats LH.

2012: Dee Gordon began the season as an everyday starter, but he hit the DL in early July with surgery on his thumb. While he was on the mend, the Dodgers traded for some Hanley guy. In his 87 games played, he his .228/.280/.281, with 1 homer and 32 steals.

Pros: Gordon is an absolute tool shed, flashing 4 tools with + to ++ potential. His contact skills support an easy .300 average in his prime. He has all the range and arm strength necessary to excel in the field. His speed is top-notch. He’ll never hit for power, but with everything else he has to offer, he won’t ever need to. As an athlete, he possesses everything he needs to be a perennial all-star. At only 24 years old, he has plenty of time to build those skills.

So far in his brief MLB career, he’s already established himself as a quality base stealer. He has swiped 56 bags between his two seasons (143 games), with a success rate that exceeds 75%. He’s also shown the ability to make adjustments, doubling his walk rate from 3% to 6.1% in 2012.

Cons: Everything about Gordon’s ability is prospective, because in two years, he hasn’t really shown that he’s learned to play Major League Baseball. You saw his 2012 line, it was nothing short of brutal. His line in 2011 was better (.686 OPS), but neither one is going to wow anybody. His walk rate improvement came with a major bump in K rate from 11.6% to 18.8%. He’s obviously trying to adjust, and he’s young, but at age 24, his development has simply lagged behind his peers. The good news is that, given his natural hitting ability, he doesn’t need a great approach to be an average hitter. The bad news is that even an average approach looks pretty far away. There’s way too much swing-and-miss in his game right now.

Not only is his bat lagging behind in development, but his defense is more raw than sashimi. Both Fangraphs and B-R rated him as a simply terrible fielder, and scouts were no kinder. His concentration simply sucks, leading to bad jumps on plays and erratic finishes. His mechanics on throws aren’t very developed either, and in his 133 games of experience at the position, he has a whopping 28 errors. Most players have already gotten a feel for defense by now, and it’s starting to look like a move to the outfield is in store. A move to CF would put even more pressure on his developing bat, and he simply doesn’t have the offense to play a corner.

Cost of acquisition: He’s a great buy-low candidate. The Dodgers already have Hanley Ramirez to play short if need be, and their lavish spending spree makes prospects highly expendable. Given his struggles, the Dodgers might let him go for a halfway decent prospect at any level. A modest prospect like Tyler Collins could work. Any one player better than that probably isn’t worth the deal.

Other notes: Yes, he’s incredibly raw, but he’s not old enough to foreclose the possibility of development. With his tools, even modest improvement would make him a solid choice given the Tigers’ paucity of infield options. On the other hand, the Tigers aren’t in a waiting mood, and they probably have little interest in a lottery ticket.

Dee is the son of former MLB pitcher Tom Gordon, who was a decent starter with the Royals and Red Sox before bouncing around 6 more teams a reliever and sometimes-closer.

Jambaroo round 9: Yunel Escobar

This is probably the guy I want the least, but, he’s definitely available, he’s a starting-caliber player, and everyone is a possibility during the winter meetings. Hopefully, he doesn’t show up there with any eye-black.

Who: Yunel Escobar, Miami Marlins (sort of). Born November 2nd, 1982, bats RH.

2012: Escobar had a down year, for certain. With Toronto, he posted the worst full season OPS of his career with a line of .253/.300/.344, with 9 homers in 145 games. After the season, he was included in the mega-deal that sent Jose Reyes to Toronto. Although Escobar has yet to play an inning for Miami, the Marlins seem to have little interest in playing him next season.

Pros: In 5 1/2 seasons, he’s recorded 18.5 WAR (by both measures), which is 3.36 on average. That’s quite good for your starting shortstop, and it is absolutely worth acquiring. His career line of .282/.353/.390 demonstrates his advanced approach and quick bat able to make solid contact on anything. His strikeout rate hasn’t exceeded 12% since 2007, and his career walk rate is almost 9%. Combine those numbers with a .306 career BABIP, and you’re talking about a player who can consistently hit for average and get on base at a high-level.

His defense is more than good enough to call him a true shortstop. Defensive metrics being what they are, both B-R and Fangraphs have rated his defensive consistently above average. Like Asdrubal Cabrera, the potential for above-average contribution on both sides of the field is an extremely intriguing option for almost any team. From a tools perspective, his defense comes from great instincts, soft hands, and a terrific arm that is both accurate and strong. Much like JJ Hardy, Escobar’s skills allow him to produce despite reduced speed.

Cons: Escobar’s speed is really lacking for an infielder, to the point that while his range is fine for now, it might not be for very long. Escobar recently turned 30, and a step back in speed due to age might bring him towards Peralta territory, albeit with a better arm. The lack of speed is a problem on offense as well; he doesn’t add any value to a team in stretching singles into doubles, going first to third, or stealing bags. Power is also a tool he almost completely lacks. He can generally sneak up to double digit homers in a good season, but he only has 53 in his career, and he doesn’t make up for those with many doubles either, and only 8 triples career.

Low power is generally fine for a middle infielder who consistently hits .285 and walks 10% of the time, but 2012 put that into some doubt. A .40 point drop in BABIP plunged his batting average accordingly; the .253 mark in 2012 was a career low. Not only did that impact his on-base percentage, his walk rate was nearly cut in half from 10.3% to 5.8%. The loss of those two skills leave him as little more than a bench option if that trend continues. While his track record heavily supports regression, that can be a tough bet for a 30 year old player.

No Escobar analysis would be complete without mentioning his checkered past. The deal that sent him from Atlanta to Toronto for Alex Gonzalez seemed terribly lopsided, until grumblings about his personality made their way around the media. In Toronto, he had a much more public issue arise, when he wore eye-black bearing a Spanish slur. It’s almost commonly understood that Escobar is a headache for a team, and the question is simply how much are you willing to roll the dice.

Cost of acquisition: This guy. Welp. The winter meetings being what the are, by the time I got to this point in the article, the Marlins had already dumped him to the Tampa Rays for minor league infielder Derek Dietrich. Dietrich is more lottery ticket than prospect; a high-upside but raw bat that is probably destined for 3B or 2B.

Other notes: I’ll be honest, I didn’t really want Escobar on the Tigers, so this is just fine with me. The move makes plenty of sense for the Rays, who get to deal a minor prospect to fill a major hole. His contract is extremely Rays-friendly: he gets $5 mil for 2013, and has club options for 2014 and 2015 at $5 mil each.

Jambaroo round 8: Asdrubal Cabrera

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t going to cover him. After I wrote the Lowrie article, the pervasive Stephen Drew chatter began, and I contemplated that the jambaroo may be retired early in the offseason. Alas, Stephen Drew is still a free agent, and now Jim Bowden has remarked that the Tigers are interested in trading for Cleveland’s shortstop. So grab your banjo and your jar of moonshine and gather ’round the campfire, because this jambaroo forges ahead.

Who: Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians. Born November 13th, 1985, bats SH.

2012: Cabrera was an all-star for the second consecutive year, contributing quality production in all aspects of the game. In 143 games, he posted a batting line of .270/.338/.423, along with 16 home runs and a career-high 52 walks.

Pros: Asdrubal Cabrera has a wealth of offensive tools and the right approach to use them. His ability to hit for average power without sacrificing batting average or on-base percentage allows him to hit everywhere in a lineup besides 4th, and he is one of the better hitting shortstops in the league. Over the last two seasons, he posted a combined OPS of .778, a number made even more impressive when adjusting for a pitcher-friendly home park.

Cabrera’s defense is nothing to ignore. He is a weekly contributor to the highlight reels, and his defensive tool set is every bit as impressive–if not more–than his offensive set. When he can set and throw, he has the strength and accuracy to record an assist from far outside the zone. Combined with quality range and great hands, those tools allowed Cabrera to record 50 more assists in 2012 than Jhonny Peralta, as I demonstrated in a previous article.

Cabrera’s youth and contract are assets as well. Despite being in the league since 2007, Cabrera will only be 27 for the entirety of the 2013 season. The Indians bought out two years of arbitration and one year of free agency with his current deal. Any team trading for Cabrera this offseason will get him for two seasons at a combined $16.5 million. That contract is terrific value for any contending team. It also means that Cabrera has some offensive projection left. From 2010 to 2011, Asdrubal tapped into his power potential and took a major step forward, hitting 7 more home runs in 2011 than he did in the previous four seasons combined. As he enters his “prime” years, there’s potential for even more growth, particularly in batting average and OBP.

Cons: Cabrera still looks like a hitter trying to find himself. Over the last four years, his peripherals (namely BB%, K%, and ISO) are all over the map. His 2011 power surge came with a huge increase in strikeouts; in 2012, he lowered his K-rate, raised his walk rate, but then lost a good chunk of that power. The different iterations of Cabrera are all still quality hitters, but no one likes an unpredictable player. Cabrera has boom potential if his tools “click” once again, but there’s also moderate bust potential. For a contending team, such fluctuations makes it difficult to find the right lineup spot, and you can lose some production to inefficiency.

Analyzing Cabrera’s defense is a strange thing. His tools defensive tools are + or better. He’s a prolific miner of web gems. He forced Jhonny Peralta over to 3rd base with his defensive ability. And yet, advanced metrics hate him. UZR has consistently rated him as a bad defender his whole career, to the point of saying he’s only slightly better than Derek Jeter. Baseball-reference isn’t as harsh, but they are likewise unimpressed by his ability to make plays in the field.

The consensus seems to be that Cabrera is erratic and overrated, and that the web gems are coming as a result of routine plays being botched initially. Given that his assist numbers are middle-of-the-pack for AL shortstops, and that his error totals are high, this explanation makes sense. As a 22 and 23 year old, Cabrera had the surplus athleticism to make up for any missed first steps, poor positioning, and other instinctual issues. As his defense tools recede from elite to merely + , misplays get exposed. It’s quite common for a middle infielder (or for that matter, any player) to be less quick at 26 then at 22. However, if Cabrera can’t find ways to compensate for his reduced range, he’ll have an artificial limit on his useful life as a shortstop. As he is still above-average defensively, that wouldn’t impact him over the life of his current deal. It would be a factor in any contract extension.

Cost of acquisition: High, to say the least. Trading Cabrera makes sense for the Indians: they aren’t contending, his value is sky-high, they only have him for two more seasons, and most of their top prospects are infielders. It makes so much sense that I would be shocked if Cabrera ends the 2013 season with Cleveland. However, that value means that Cleveland will have no shortage of suitors for Asdrubal. The prevailing theme of the jambaroo is that shortstops are hard to find these days. Legitimate all-star shortstops are possibly the most valuable commodity around, and the Indians should have no problem getting at least one top 50 prospect close to the majors, as well as other young starting-caliber players.

If Cleveland were in the NL East, for instance, the Tigers would be able to pull this deal off. Castellanos is probably in that deal, along with a quality complement like Drew Smyly. If you execute that trade, extend Cabrera, and he holds his value, it’s worth it. But of course, Cleveland is in the AL Central. Major inter-divisional trades are nearly impossible, particularly when it involves popular, high-profile players. If Cleveland traded Cabrera to the Tigers, they would have trouble justifying a sub-par roster while one of their best assets is off contending for that same division title. If the Tigers had an offer comparable to a Diamondbacks offer, for instance, Cleveland would almost certainly prefer sending him to the desert. The Tigers could still pull the trade off if they really wanted him, but at a certain point, the asset isn’t worth the price. Would a Castellanos, Smyly, Rondon, and Dirks package for Cabrera really make the Tigers better as an organization? Not likely.

Other notes: The unusual first name of Asdrubal derives from the ancient civilizations of Phoenicia and Carthage. Hasdrubal was the Latin form of the Phoenician name Azruba’al, which translated to “the help of Baal.” Baal was the supreme god of Carthage, and so Hasdrubal became a common name for famous Carthaginian generals.

Jambaroo round 7: Jed Lowrie

The longer we get into the offseason without hearing any Tigers rumors whatsoever, the more I fear that this jambaroo will be for naught. But, I will forge ahead, undeterred, until I run out of ideas. I have not yet run out of ideas.

Who: Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros. Born April 17th, 1984, bats SH.

2012: After having an injury and ineffectiveness-plagued career in Boston, Lowrie was traded to Houston prior to the 2012 season. Lowrie established himself as a well-above-average producer, batting .244/.331/.438 with 16 home runs in only 97 games. He missed a large chunk of the season with a nerve injury in his leg.

Pros: Lowrie has a good stroke that generates doubles power with ease. Although his home run power was probably more a product of Minute Maid Park this season, he’d be a good bet for double-digit home runs in a full season, along with a enough doubles to give him an ISO of around .160 yearly. Although he is not a high-average hitter, he has a fantastic approach. Lowrie’s approach allows him to make the most of his power and to keep a quality OBP despite a low average. For his career, Lowrie’s walk rate was a fantastic 10.1%, and he was even better at 11.1% in 2012. Despite the lack of contact hitting in his game, his strikeout rate was a manageable 16.8%. Additionally, Lowrie hit this well despite a depressed BABIP of .257 for the season. The combination of power and approach makes Lowrie a great-hitting shortstop, who would belong at nearly every spot in the lineup.

Cons: Lowrie is a rarity in baseball: a shortstop who played second base in college. Most scouts would contend that that simply means he’s not a shortstop. With two different franchises giving him a shot at playing everyday shortstop in the majors, that’s probably an exaggeration. However, he pretty much plays SS like a 2B would. His range leaves a lot to be desired. His arm is adequate for the left side of the infield, but it isn’t really considered plus. While most shortstops without plus tools tend to make up for it with footwork or hands, Lowrie isn’t exceptional with those, either. Ultimately, Lowrie is average at his absolute best when it comes to SS, and once he slows down even a little bit, he’s a sure bet to move to second or third.

However, the much bigger concern is simply his health. He had left wrist surgery to fix a nerve issue in 2009, missed 3 months with mono in 2010, hurt a nerve in his left shoulder in 2011, and had another nerve issue in his right ankle this season. That’s four straight seasons with injuries that cost more than a month of playing time, and three injuries involving his nervous system. His injury history is a bigger red flag than Kristen Wiig’s perfume, and it already prompted Boston to give up on him and trust their SS job to marginal talents like Mike Aviles and Pedro Ciriaco.

Despite being a switch hitter, Lowrie has a very pronounced platoon split, struggling mightily against lefties. In 2012, Lowrie was able to maintain his approach and pop against southpaws, but he struggled so much putting balls into play that his average fell to .184.

Cost of acquisition: According to Buster Olney, the Astros would prefer to keep Lowrie, despite the amount of teams asking for him in a trade. Lowrie has two more years of team control left, so while he is a cheap asset for Houston right now, they will need to make a decision on him very soon. If he gets hurt again in 2013, his trade value might evaporate entirely, without being worthy of an extension. However, if he puts together a full season that impresses, Houston may be inclined to build around him.

A complicating factor is the presence of SS prospect Jonathan Villar, who will be in AAA to start 2013 and is effectively on the doorstep. Unlike Lowrie, Villar is a true shortstop with notable defensive chops. On the other hand, Lowrie’s bat is strong enough to play at other spots in the infield. Second base is unlikely (thanks to Jose Altuve), but third base could be  the answer.

The Astros acquired Lowrie and SP Kyle Weiland from the Red Sox for RP Mark Melancon. The Tigers would have to pay a lot more than that. The nice thing is that the Astros have a need for virtually anything, giving the Tigers flexibility. Prospects like Avisail Garcia and Casey Crosby could make realistic centerpieces for a deal, and the two of them together could be enough without forcing the Tigers to part with an MLB piece like Porcello or a top prospect like Castellanos.

Other notes: Ultimately, replacing Peralta with another mediocre defender might seem redundant. However, if Peralta were a good bet to produce a .775 OPS next season, there probably wouldn’t be a need to replace him. An OPS improvement of .100 is roughly the equivalent of swapping Victor Martinez and Delmon Young, a difference that was quite stark all season.

Jambaroo round 6: Zack Cozart

We’re going back to the realistic options now. This fellow would be another trade candidate, but at least it’s been confirmed (by Jon Morosi) that he’s on the market.

Who: Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds. Born August 12th, 1985, bats RH.

2012: Cozart got his first full-time gig in 2012 after playing 11 games in 2011. At the plate, he was mediocre at best: .246/.288/.399, with 15 home runs. His defense was strong enough to earn him 2.4 bWAR and 2.7 fWAR.

Pros: Cozart is a young and athletic shortstop with legitimate + skills defensively. Going into the 2012 season, Baseball America ranked Cozart as the #75 prospect in baseball. Baseball Prospectus tabbed him as the #3 prospect in a fairly loaded Reds system. He has some of the best instincts at the position, and he should be able to play well-above-average even as he slows down. His range is not exceptional, but more than good enough to be a true SS.

Cozart has the offensive tools to at least be an average hitter in the big leagues. While his contact hitting leaves a bit to be desired, his K% of about 16% in the minor leagues isn’t fatal. Despite batting .246, he has enough projection to be a .270 hitter in the big leagues. His swing sacrifices some contact for power; Cozart has the power to hit 30 doubles, 15 home runs, and 5 triples annually, as he did in 2012. A .270 average would enable him to slug .425, allowing him to reach league average or better even if the approach never develops.

Cons: The approach needs a lot of work. Cozart was never great at drawing walks, but his rate dropped from 6.6% in AAA to an even more troublesome 5.2% in the majors (Brennan Boesch’s walk rate was also 5.2 this year). A combination 113 strikeouts and 31 walks should be a major red flag for any player.

It’s easy enough to say that a player has projection based on his minor league track record, raw skills, and relative lack of experience in the big leagues. However, Cozart is already 27. There’s a very good chance that this is the best we’ll ever see from him. A .270/.315/.425 shortstop with a + glove is a very valuable asset. A .245/.290/.390 shortstop with that glove is just another average ballplayer.

Cost of acquisition: Walt Jocketty suggested looking for a closer or a leadoff hitter, preferably from the outfield. As the Reds are in the same position as the Tigers, you can bet they’d need those pieces to be big league ready. The Tigers only have one outfielder good enough to leadoff, and he’s not going anywhere. That leaves closer.

Dombrowski could try a number of things. He could hard-sell Phil Coke’s postseason excellence and present him as a budding closer. He could point to the elite slider of Al Alburquerque, or maybe the exceptional ERA and K/9 of Brayan Villarreal, as closer-caliber relievers. But that would just be a shell game. Dombrowski said it himself that the future closer of the Tigers is Bruce Rondon. With the market putting shortstops in such high demand, there’s nothing stopping Jocketty from requesting the big fella with 100 MPH gas and useful secondary stuff. The good news is that Rondon’s value is really high by reliever standards. One reliever usually isn’t enough to score a starting MLB shortstop in a trade, but Rondon might be the exception.

Other notes: Normally, a player like Cozart would never hit the market. Even as a poor hitter, average big league regulars on rookie contracts don’t get dealt by contending teams. The Reds’ motivation is the presence of prospect Didi Gregorius. Gregorius represents more of a high-ceiling/low-floor risk for the Reds; he possesses the tools to be an elite defender and .300 hitter, but he has no power projection and has yet to play significant big-league games. The Reds seem comfortable going forward with either option and seem to be using their surplus to plug other holes. (I probably won’t devote a round of jambaroo to Gregorius, as the analysis would be fairly similar.)

In addition to Cozart and Gregorius, the Reds could also use Billy Hamilton. The speedster is moving to CF, but he has played SS for most of his career. If the Reds did trade Zack or Didi, they would still have Hamilton as an option if the starter got hurt.