Has the window closed for the Detroit Tigers?

Baseball is one of the few major American sports where trades are a major factor for any team, both during the season and in the off season.

Dave Dombrowski seems to have an itch to overhaul his ball club every year, but given the fact that Mr. Illitch wants to win now, you can hardly blame him for drafting talent and shipping it off almost immediately. The number of prospects that the Tigers traded away in the past year alone to get big names (David Price, Joakim Soria) down the stretch is astounding.

Since the start of the 2014 season, the Tigers have received:
Joakim Soria
David Price
Anthony Gose
Shane Greene
Alfredo Simon
Yoenis Cespedes
Alex Wilson
Gabe Speier

They traded away:
Austin Jackson (starting CF)
Drew Smyly (only LF starter, showed a lot of promise)
Willy Adames (SS- was named Ray’s top prospect after trade)
Jake Thompson (RHP – Tigers 2012 2nd round pick)
Corey Knebel (RHP – Tigers 2013 1st round pick)
Devon Travis (2B –  Tigers 2012 13th round pick)
Robbie Ray (RHP – Received in exchange for Doug Fister in 2013)
Eugenio Suarez (SS – played half a season in majors in 2014)
Rick Porcello (RHP – staple in Tigers rotation for years)

Of the 9 players traded away in the past year, I would argue that 7 of them would be considered prospects. The scene that unfolded with Austin Jackson running off the field in mid-inning was bizarre and unusual, but it’s characteristic of how Dombrowski has run this team. He’s opportunistic and is not worried about taking a risk, but at what cost? The Tigers farm system is absolutely depleted, and the trades last year did not pay off now, which is what they were intended to do. Last season truly turned into win at all costs. The pitching staff is not young, and there are no big name arms waiting in line for their opportunity.

While Dombrowski has fleeced some teams in the past (Marlins for Cabrera, D-backs for Scherzer), you have to wonder how long you can go trading away the core of your farm system (and your future) before you run out of assets. Your major league club is not getting any younger. I am fearful that the Tigers have sacrificed far too much to win now and the damage the farm system has already been felt (last year, starting rotation and bullpen, anyone?)….

What are your thoughts? Has the window closed on the Tigers to win a World Series? Are all of these trades moves of desperation? As a fan of the game, I like what the Royals have done, and I think the White Sox will be strong contenders for the AL Central as soon as next season. However, I believe the Royals are the team that the Tigers will be chasing for years to come. They have positioned themselves to win for the foreseeable future by building a team the right way – through their farm system.

2014: A Season of Change, A Season to Forget

It’s been a long time since I have been active here – life has taken its toll. I graduated from college, traveled Europe for several weeks, am working full time as a software developer, and bought a house last year.

However, I wanted to chime in on last season and lead myself into a post previewing next season and onward.

Brad AusmusI was a harsh critic of Jim Leyland. I struggled with his management style, and I felt that a fresh, young manager that could bring some more excitement to the team would be great. When they announced that Brad Ausmus would be the next skipper, I was reserved, mostly considering he’d had zero managing experience at any level of baseball. But at the same time, he was a guy that was fresh out of the game, and I can’t imagine the Tigers brass would have brought in a guy that they didn’t have confidence in. Listening to what he said in his interview and his introduction to the media, I was hopeful. He wanted to get a team that did the little things – bunt, steal, play defense, run the bases efficiently…manufacture runs! All of these aspects were things that Tigers teams under Leyland lacked, year after year.

I probably have more of a NL mentality when it comes to the game. I love the strategy involved and the need to play small ball to win games. Too many times, Tigers teams blew great opportunities to move men over, instead playing for the long ball or the drive to the gap. And as expected, since baseball is a game of averages, you’re going to lose that battle more often than not.

As the 2014 season got underway, I was optimistic about the offense and starting staff. Both looked to be very solid, at least on the same level as some of the better Tigers teams in recent years. Combine that with Ausmus’ plan to play to all fields and manufacture runs by putting pressure on the defense, and we were looking at a dangerous baseball club!

I made mention of Ausmus’ lack of managerial experience. When the first rough spell hit for the Tigers, I sensed a different style of play from the team. Whether that was Ausmus pressing the panic button, or some of the leftovers (Lamont and Jones, I am looking at you…) from Leyland putting thoughts into Ausmus’ head, the whole system seemed to revert back to what we had seen under Leyland. Inconsistent offense, not moving runners over in obvious bunt situations, and mind boggling commitment to under performing players.

The bullpen was the obvious sour point. The entire season was a miserable disappointment in that regard. There was not one player that could be counted on from start to finish last year. What is one thing that every World Series winning team has? I’d be hard pressed to find a team in the past 10+ years that won it all with an even mediocre bullpen. Pitching is the name of the game, and the ability to come in for the 7-8-9 inning and shut the door is imperative to success.

Instead of dwelling on last season, I’d rather look forward to 2015. It was a season that was full of change (many big trades, which I will touch on in my next post) and regrettably, it was a season to forget. I don’t believe that the Tigers moved forward in 2014, and I am fearful that their window to win it all may have already closed.

Justin Verlander Socked Again

Justin VerlanderJustin Verlander has not been himself this season.

Even after manager Jim Leyland chose him as a personal pick for the A.L. All-Star team, and announcing that a flaw had been discovered in his mechanics that was to be corrected, he was pounded by the lowly Chicago White Sox Tuesday. He got through 7, giving up 12 hits and 5 earned runs, including two long-shots. He only struck out 3.

White Sox LogoThe White Sox, coming in with a dismal .296 OBP (good for 28th in the league) and having only scored 314 runs this season (good for 29th in the league) made mincemeat of Tigers pitching Tuesday, clocking 23 hits. Has Verlander been bad this year? Certainly not. I think the bullpen issues magnify Verlander’s struggles, but as Tigers fans, we have been spoiled for the past several years with his dominance on the mound every 5 days. It was must see TV every time he took the mound. Now, he appears to be just another part of a strong rotation. He still has an ERA that is only .3 higher than his career average. But not since May have we seen more than 10 K’s in an outing, and not since June 12th have we seen any more than 5 K’s. Four outings have also come with at least 5 earned  runs.

What do you think? Has Verlander lost his dominance, and will he ever be able to regain his form to be what he was in his MVP season a year ago? Max Scherzer has filled in admirably, but I think every fan is crossing their fingers that #35 will return to his old form to help carry this team down the stretch.

Game 2 – Starting Lineup and Thoughts from Opening Day

Today’s game against the Boston Red Sox is nationally televised on FOX at 4:05 PM.

Here is the lineup:

1) Jackson (8)
2) Boesch (9)
3) Cabrera (5)
4) Fielder (3)
5) Young (6)
7) Avila (2)
8) Dirks (DH)
9) Raburn (4)

SP: Doug Fister

As far as opening day goes, the excitement didn’t really start until the late innings, finally giving something for fans to get on their feet for, with the exception of reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander putting on a pitching clinic. He was absolutely lights out for 8 innings and his curveball looks as good as I have ever seen it…and it’s the first day of the year. Bodes well for Tigers fans, as long as Jose Valverde doesn’t blow the gems in future outings like he did Thursday, giving up 2 runs in the 9th to tie the game. But Austin Jackson, who had a solid day at the plate and actually looked comfortable for once, came through with a bases loaded single in the bottom of the 9th for the walk-off win on opening day. There were a lot of positives to take away from the first game of the year, not to mention a record opening day crowd. The city is hungry and I think this team will produce.

Cross your fingers for no repeats of ’08.

Opening Day Lineup

It’s here, folks.

It’s opening day in Detroit. Here is today’s lineup.

1) Austin Jackson (8)
2) Brennan Boesch (9)
3) Miguel Cabrera (5)
4) Prince Fielder (3)
5) Delmon Young (7)
6) Ryan Raburn (DH)
7) Jhonny Peralta (6)
8) Alex Avila (2)
9) Ramon Santiago (4)

SP – Justin Verlander

Opening Day – Detroit Tigers vs. Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Detroit TigersDetroit Tigers vs. Boston Red Sox
Comerica Park (Opening Weekend)

Thursday (4/5) 1:05 PM:
Verlander (0-0) vs. Lester (0-0)
Saturday (4/7) 4:05 PM:
Fister (0-0) vs. Beckett (0-0)
Sunday (4/8) 1:05 PM:
Scherzer (0-0) vs. Buchholz (0-0)

It is hard to ignore the excitement around the Detroit Tigers heading into the 2012 season. The rotation is finally set, the 40 man lineup still has some if’s, but Opening Day is here!

With a starting rotation that has a huge upside yet, and an offense that should be absolutely lethal, the Tigers are strong contenders for their first World Series championship since 1984. When Victor Martinez went down shortly before spring training, nobody expected the replacement to be slugger Prince Fielder. It leaves a shaky defense in the infield, but a lineup that has the potential to make up large deficits in a hurry. But with such a potent lineup, it should take a lot of pressure off of the starters and bullpen, knowing that there is some room for area as long as the bats producing. If Justin Verlander can come even close to duplicating last year’s results (he has actually said he is expecting to be better than last year – is that possible?), and Doug Fister pitches with the same effectiveness that he had when he came over to the Tigers from the Mariners in a trade last year, look out. It is difficult not to be enthusiastic if you are a Tigers fan.

The Red Sox made a lot of changes in the off season after a very disappointing end to their 2011 campaign. Bobby Valentine is in as manager and looking to change the culture of the team. The top end of their rotation, which the Tigers will see this weekend, is one of the best in the game, so it should be an exciting series to start a season that has Tigers fans, players, and coaches alike, hungry for success.

This blog receives a fair amount of traffic on a daily basis and I would like to interact with visitors throughout the year. Any comments, thoughts, or opinions are welcome!  Anything you would like to see as a regular feature, or changes made to current postings, will be taken into consideration. It’s a new year and that means a fresh start!

Tigers take on Nationals tonight on FSD

Detroit TigersWashington Nationals The Detroit Tigers take on the Washington Nationals tonight at 6 PM, televised on Fox Sports Detroit. Jim Leyland has said that starters will go 7 innings, suggesting that the lineup he runs out today will most likely be his opening day lineup, with the probable exception of Miguel Cabrera. It will give fans a good opportunity to see the regulars play as a group for nearly an entire 9 inning game.

Several things to note –

1) It was announced today that Andy Oliver has been assigned to Triple A Toledo, meaning the battle for the 5th spot in the rotation is down to rookie Drew Smyly and Duane Below, who made several starts for the Tigers last year. Or, it is still entirely possible that the club could be looking for a trade to fill in that final spot.

2) While Brandon Inge is a fan favorite, it is hard to justify his spot in the team at this point. Leyland has openly said that Danny Worth provides more value with his above average defensive ability at several infield positions, and Inge probably did himself no favors with his critical view of Cabrera playing 3rd base. Plus, he is batting below the Mendoza line this spring (.184), even though Leyland is sticking with his belief that Inge is hitting the ball better than his average would indicate. In my opinion, if you are not getting on base, scoring runs or driving in runs, you do not provide an abundance of value to a major league club, especially one of Detroit’s caliber.

3) I find it hard to believe that Cabrera would not be in uniform opening day (next Thursday at 1 PM vs. the Boston Red Sox). He has missed over a week now with the fractured orbital bone, but was back on the field yesterday, taking batting practice and grounders at third. Is the luck on Detroit’s side this season? A pair of sunglasses protected Detroit’s $152 million man. Let’s hope that the bad luck of year’s past with injuries and collapses down the stretch does not creep into the picture this season.

Spring Roundup

A week ago I tweeted (@optimisttiger) that the Detroit Tigers had started the spring 6-0.

And a week later, they have lost 1 game (12-1). The biggest reason? The 8 pitchers who could be considered starters for the 2012 season have a combined ERA of 2.35. Some notables:

  • Andy Oliver – 0.00 ERA. 9 IP, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K. Opponents are batting .071 off this lefty.
  • Justin Verlander – 0.93 ERA. 9.2 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 13 K. Could he possibly be on track to avoiding another rough April?
  • Doug Fister – 1.00 ERA. 9 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K. Beginning right where he left off. Poised for a huge year.
  • Drew Smyly – 1.13 ERA. 8 IP, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K. The 22 year old is having a fine spring and may be a dark horse for the 5th spot.
  • Rick Porcello – 1.80 ERA. 10 IP, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K. Hopefully there is less pressure on him starting the year, having a similar type of pitcher in the rotation in Fister who he can work with.

You’ll notice that in those 45.2 innings, only 10 walks have been given up combined by these pitchers. Max Scherzer is pitching less remarkable so far (3.38 ERA, 8 IP, 3 ER, 5 BB) but still solid for it being March.

Also of note, a player who we might see at some point in the Tigers bullpen and was signed mid-December is Chris Bootcheck. He has appeared in 5 games with 5 IP, 0.oo ERA, 1 BB and 4 K. I like a trusty reliever out of the pen who keeps runners off the bases. I will be keeping an eye out on him.

All of this talk about pitching, but the Tigers hitters have had some hot bats this spring, as well. Some notables:

  • Delmon Young – .519 BA. 8 R, 3 HR, 15 RBI. I know there are some questions about his defense, but it is clear the Tigers are favoring bats over covering the field this year.
  • Ryan Raburn – .458 BA. 6 R, 5 HR, 16 RBI. 5 of his 11 hits have been homers, and 5 of his 6 runs have come from those homers, which irks me. Having a good spring, but he is still a player that needs to be more consistent with his bat throughout the year.
  • Brandon Inge – .240 BA. 6 hits in 25 ABs. 2 doubles. 1 HR. I wish he would realize he is not a power guy and would try to hit more opposite field. He would be a much better all-around player.

Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are both putting up solid springs and I did not feel the need to note their stats. They are going to be at the top of the league in nearly every major category at the end of the year, granted there are no injuries or unexpected issues. Danny Worth (.353 BA) is having a steady spring as well, and I hope that he gets a chance to stay with the team. I would much rather have him at 2B than either Raburn or Inge, but manager Jim Leyland will give both of the veterans every opportunity in the world to succeed. You cannot expect to run a player out once a week and have him perform the way he is capable of, and I don’t think Worth has been given the opportunity to perform to the best of his ability. Don Kelly (.385) and Andy Dirks (.429) are also having great spring’s so far.

One player of concern right now is centerfielder and lead off man Austin Jackson. He has a .276 average, but has struck out 11 times in 29 ABs. That is far too many yet and really needs to be corrected if he is going to continue to be a lead off hitter. Imagine what type of havoc the team could create having a lead off man get on consistently with Boesch, Cabrera, Fielder, and even Young coming up next. There is nothing to pitch around.

Again, I do not put much stake in spring training, as other teams are running out pitchers who may never see a major league mound during the regular season, and a lot of fine tuning goes into pitching and at bats, but if the spring is any indication of the year the Tigers are going to have, it should be a fun ride.

The Start of A New Year

Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers open the 2012 spring training season facing off against the Atlanta Braves tomorrow afternoon. Most of the roster is set going into spring training, but the biggest question still left open is who will be the Tigers fifth starter? Jacob Turner appears to working a slider into his arsenal, a move that should help his chances of snagging the final spot, but there are also some dark horses that could win the spot.

We must remember not to read too much into spring training games, as they are frequently used as a chance for professional athletes to tweak their mechanics and swings to prepare for the long season ahead. But you can’t help but get excited about the chances the Tigers have this season to make a major run late into October.

Atlanta Braves

The Return of Prince

Prince FielderYeah, we see you, too, Prince.

The Tigers shocked the baseball world yesterday by announcing the signing of free agent 1B Prince Fielder to a 9 year, $214 million deal. The specifics of the deal have not been announced, but reports say that he will be the 1B and Miguel Cabrera will transition back to 3B, where he started his career.

This raises a few interesting questions.
Firstly, where does it leave Brandon Inge? Does he simply become a role player and step in when either Cabrera or Fielder DH? Or is this the end of his time in Detroit? Who is going to DH when both of the players are in the field? Both are too expensive to DH, but the Tigers don’t have a solid option on their roster right now to be a strong DH.
Second, where does Fielder bat? Logically, placing him behind Cabrera in the 5th spot will give Cabrera plenty of good pitches to hit. Victor Martinez, who batted behind Cabrera last year, was a solid all around hitter but did not bat for much power. Having Fielder behind Cabrera should provide one of the more potent 1-2 punches in all of baseball. And then consider a healthy Brennan Boesch batting ahead of Cabrera? Phew. That should strike fear into any pitcher.
Third, are the Tigers done in free agency? Is this signing by GM Mike Illitch a signal that he is going all in to win now? If so, would the Tigers dump their blue chip players such as Nick Castellanos or Jacob Turner for another top-end pitcher? Are they still going after Cespedes, the highly touted Cuban outfielder?

While I like the signing of Prince, especially if Cabrera can play a good 3B (and the thought of Cabrera, Fielder, and Martinez next year? My gosh), this club still has questions to answer going into the year.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if another big move is made before then.