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MikeTroutThere’s obviously this AL MVP debate going on around baseball centered on Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. The Tigers and their fans are obviously going to support their guy, and you can’t really fault them for that, but in an MLive piece by Chris Iott, Leyland was quoted implying that the team wouldn’t consider a Cabrera-for-Trout swap.

Leyland’s quote:

"I will not use the player's name, but according to the sabermetrics there is a player that is better than Miguel Cabrera. So when the guy that gave me the sabermetrics told me that, I said, 'Well, should we trade Miguel Cabrera for the player you're talking about?' He said, 'Oh, no, you can't do that.'

"And I said, 'Well, then you don't believe in sabermetrics. And neither do I.' "

There’s actually three separate questions at play here that we should separate out first. (1) Who’s the better player, (2) who’s having the better season, and (3) who would you rather have on your team.

MVP voting focuses primarily on question number two. Or, at least, the “sabermetrics” that Leyland was shown (probably) point out Trout’s better overall (offensive plus defensive) value. Question number one is slightly different and is tougher to answer. We have a really good idea of Cabrera’s true talent, and we know Trout is having a historically good season, but we don’t really have Trout’s actual talent level nailed down quite as well. He’ll probably regress next season (you couldn’t count on anyone repeating those numbers), but we don’t exactly know how much he’ll regress.

Question three is a completely different (though related) question. One could debate that Cabrera’s the better player (and I might concede that), but I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t trade Cabrera for Trout in a player-for-player deal. If Dombrowski picked up the phone and the Angels organization was on the other line offering the trade, he’d say yes before the full question was even articulated.

The real issue at play here is their relative salaries. Cabrera is owed $65 million for the 2013-2015 seasons. Trout, on the other hand, will make the league minimum (or thereabouts) for 2013 and 2014, and will be an arbitration eligible player for the 2015-2017 seasons. So, from here through 2017, Trout might earn around $40 million.

This question is less about who’s a better player in a head-to-head comparison, and more about what you could do with your available payroll. Trout would give the team two extra years of servitude while eating a significantly lower chunk of the total payroll pie. So the question becomes what would you rather have: three years of Cabrera, or five years of Trout plus a simultaneous year of a top-tier free agent (or two years of a medium-tier free agent)?

Or put a slightly different way, would you rather the Tigers enter 2013 with Cabrera (and Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez), or with Trout and Josh Hamilton (and Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez)?

I’ll take what’s behind door number ‘B’.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Leyland wasn’t actual speaking about an actual trade and still speaking in a purely statistical comparison, and that would make this post entirely pointless, but salary isn’t a factor that should be ignored if one was actually considering such a trade offer or proposal*.

*Obviously this whole thing is hypothetical. The Angels would never make such an offer.

Matt  Snyder writes about Baseball, Football, and College Basketball. He can be found online as the creator and editor of Forever Faithful, the editor of The Tigers Den, a contributor to Call To The Pen, and a contributor to SideLion Report. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.