Last baseball season, I kept a Detroit Tigers diary here called “The DET Offensive,” a nod to all of the offensive firepower Detroit added in the offseason, primarily in the form of Prince Fielder. This season, the return of Victor Martinez and the acquisition of Torii Hunter make the Tigers even more of a threat with the bat. Their biggest question headed into the year is at the closer position. Jose Valverde had a perfect season two years ago, but he dropped off significantly last year, and GM Dave Dombrowski sent him packing as a result. Phil Coke filled in at that position quite admirably during the playoffs, but for whatever reason, he isn’t being considered for it as we head into the 2013 season. Instead, management seems to be waffling between minor league sensation Bruce Rondon (intriguing) and Rick Porcello (GAHHHHH!). Continue reading →
Just in time for the All-Star break, which marks the half-way point of the MLB season, the Detroit Tigers have clawed their way back to an above-.500 record, which feels like much more of an accomplishment than it should, but things really do seem to be getting back to the way they should be. The team followed up its strong showing in interleague play by finishing the first half of the season having won five straight and seven of their last nine, earning a 44-42 record. The pitchers seem to be getting settled in (Scherzer leads the AL in some strikeout statistic I forgot, Phil Coke is a workhorse, and Justin Verlander’s done well enough to earn the starting spot for the AL All Stars), and odd-walking liability Delmon Young homered in each of the last four games. Brennan Boesch still is hitting below .250, but Jhonny Peralta seems to be coming on, and Quintin Berry is a joy to watch on the basepaths. Team-wide, defense remains a very frustrating problem, however.
The second key is the two spot in the lineup. Quintin Berry has done a terrific job in the two-hole, but the return of Andy Dirks could help fuel the Tigers offense. Dirks was having a tremendous impact on the numbers that Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera were putting up. Below is a look at the numbers for the two sluggers with Dirks in and out of the lineup:
With Dirks batting second: With other hitters batting second
While Dirks is out of the walking boot and his achilles is feeling better, getting him back before August is not a good bet at this point.
Mario also tempered the optimism headed into the second half with this note:
The last week has given the Tigers hope that a second half run is on the horizon. The first three weeks following the break will be telling. Detroit will play 29 straight games against teams over .500.
The Tigers got back to their winning ways this afternoon after a disappointing ninth inning yesterday in which Justin Verlander finally was allowed to sow the seeds of his own defeat by coming back to beat the Rays 7-2. Fresh-faced rookie Drew Smyly– filling in for the injured Doug Fister– struggled early but found his bearings long enough for Brennan Boesch to drive in four runs and secure the win.
I largely agree with Bpbrady and Dave Cameron’s assessment of the deal that made Prince Fielder a member of the team where his (estranged) father was a star. In short, the Tigers had better win a World Series by 2015. Fielder probably is close to his athletic peak right now, but, like Albert Pujols’ new contract with the Angels, compensation doesn’t really ramp up until later.
Those early-contract numbers might look a tad pessimistic, given that Fielder’s coming off a season in which he hit .299/.415/.566 and racked up 5.5 wins above replacement, and he’s just 27 years old, smack in the middle of the age range in which the average major leaguer peaks. But for all of his power potential, Fielder is a lousy defender who’ll play either first base (poorly) or DH. That means he needs to hit a metric ton to yield as much value as a player manning a premium defensive position, like Matt Kemp or even Dustin Pedroia.
The national media reaction to this deal has been pretty tepid: it just seems to be too rich for their liking, and Fielder won’t earn the money over the full length of the nine-year contract. My buddy in Detroit called me a couple hours after the announcement to discuss, and he said that the reaction over there largely remained in the surprised shock stages. The general consensus that’s filtering through there and nationally, though, is that the Tigers over-leveraged their future in an attempt to win now, making this a bad deal for the Tigers. In other words, this 275 lb (and growing), $214 million (and escalating) albatross will be such a drag on the team that it will clearly outweigh any short-term benefits.
This, of course, is hardly the case. The theory underlying the criticism of the Fielder deal is that teams should be trying to build perennial contenders, and that this contract will prevent Detroit from becoming a perennial contender once Fielder’s decline sets in. The second clause in the preceding sentence may be true and probably will be, but the first contains a cliché assumption that is bogus. Maybe it isn’t totally bogus. If some success is good, more success is better, and once having found success, it’s nice to sustain that success. The problem is that very few teams have been able to maintain top-level success. (Moreover, there was no indication that the 2011 Tigers were calibrated such that they were on the cusp of a decade of dominance or anything like that.) Detroit hasn’t won the World Series since 1984, and the years since then have been pretty thin. If presented with the option of winning the division in each of the next three seasons, winning one championship during that period, and then sinking back into mediocrity for the next six years, I can’t imagine a single Tiger fan saying no. Our willingness to forego future stability for an increased chance of present gains has put our economy in the stink pot, but when it comes to baseball, and a team that hasn’t won it all in 28 years, the strategy makes perfect sense.