The Last Night of the Tigers Dynasty That Wasn’t (via Baseball Prospectus)

Over the next several seasons, we’ll see the Tigers get worse before they get better. The veterans who remain will be traded or allowed to walk. Mildly youngish players like Daniel Norris and Nick Castellanos will be given more time to showcase why they should or shouldn’t be part of the future. And general manager Al Avila will likely hoard prospects as he looks to restock a bottom-10 farm system.

This doesn’t look like a Yankees rebuild-on-the-fly situation. It looks like the Tigers might be the new Reds, Phillies, or Braves. It looks like Tigers might be in the basement for a while. Memories of yesteryear rarely dull the pain of today. But still, the baseball world owes it to the Tigers to remember those early 2010s teams one more time before a new Dark Ages of Tigers baseball begins. Because dear lord, they were a lot of fun.

None of this is meant to dig up old wounds for Tigers fans. In fact, the goal is here is quite to the contrary; to remind people that the early 2010s Tigers weren’t also-rans or lucky bastards or frauds. They were really good. Good enough to win it all, if another bounce or two went their way. Good enough to win it all more than once if a half-dozen bounces went their way.

Over the next few seasons, as we watch Mikie Mahtook struggle in center field and Matt Boyd struggle on the mound and countless other journeymen, misfits, and youngens flock to Detroit, try to remember the good ole days. Remember how scary it was seeing “Cabrera, Fielder, Martinez” in the heart of a lineup. How exciting the prospect of “Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez” was in 2013. How easily the Tigers could bash you into a pulp or marginalize your best hitters. And how Dombrowski made “mystery team” mean something.

They say the journey is more important than the destination. That feels less true than ever in an era where every pitch, error, swing, and call is dissected on Twitter, debated on TV, and picked apart in online columns. But for the 2011-2014 Tigers, it has to be true. History will not remember them as winners, but we should not forget them as entertainers and craftsmen, as teams built to thrill and wow and dazzle.

That all ended officially on August 31, 2017, though we’d seen it coming for years. Justin Verlander is in Houston, Detroit is rebuilding, and time marches on. The Tigers’ watch has ended, but they are not forgotten. … Read More

(via Baseball Prospectus)

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Saving Detroit: Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp

cespedes-crabs-660x330

Last night, I provided my instant reaction to the trade that sent J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks for three modest infield prospects. In that post, I considered what many are calling a “very light” return for the slugging outfielder in the context of another star-for-prospects trade made just days ago between the two Chicago teams involving starting pitcher Jose Quintana and suggested that a lesser return for Martinez was appropriate in light of his contract status (expiring), age, injury history, and inconsistent defense. I further suggested that, with multiple transactions still to be made over the next two weeks, it is too early for a referendum on Detroit’s general manager, Al Avila.

Avila is a first-year GM, but he worked alongside previous Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski for many years and is an experienced and well-regarded talent evaluator, so the job isn’t exactly new to him. Yet, in some Tigers fan circles right now, Avila is being pilloried as an unqualified, incapable rookie, while Dombrowski has never been remembered more fondly.

As I wrote last night, even if this trade becomes a blemish on Avila’s resume (the more thorough analyses of the prospects involved in the trade out this morning paint a more detailed picture but don’t really contradict the experts’ immediate reactions), it’s much too soon to declare him unfit for his current position. In addition to the Quintana trade discussed last night, though, there is another trade we can look to as a rough comparison between Avila and Dombrowski: the 2015 Yoenis Cespedes trade.

With the non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approach, on July 31, 2015 Dombrowski traded Cespedes to the New York Mets for two pitching prospects: Luis Cessa and Michael Fulmer. That trade, along with two previous ones that sent David Price to Toronto (for lefty pitching prospects Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt) and Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh (for JaCoby Jones), surprised some Tigers fans, who were not necessarily soothed when Dombrowski described what looked to some like a sudden selloff as a mere “rebooting.” Not insignificantly, these trades immediately cost Dombrowski his job.

In isolation, the Cespedes trade– from Detroit’s standpoint– looks fairly similar to yesterday’s Martinez trade. Both players were on expiring contracts and thus guaranteed only to be rentals for the receiving teams (and an unusual clause in Cespedes’ contract actually made it less likely that the Mets would be able to sign him as a free agent, though Cespedes waived that provision and did remain in Queens). In the first half of 2015 (the split most readily available to me as a rough approximation of a snapshot at the trade deadline), Cespedes had a 121 wRC+ (45th among qualified hitters) and contributed 3.3 fWAR in 366 plate appearances. In the first half of 2017, Martinez posted a 156 wRC+ (would have been eighth among qualified hitters had he played enough to qualify) and contributed 1.4 fWAR in 215 plate appearances.

Cespedes memorably caught fire at the plate upon moving to New York, but he had been a lesser hitter than Martinez was over the same stretch– both in terms of a direct comparison and relative to his in-season peers– in 2017. Without a more detailed and complex analysis of the different trade markets in the different seasons, it’s difficult to say more about the two players’ relative value in this space.

The return for Cespedes– Cessa and Fulmer– was more lauded both at the time and now, in retrospect, than the return for Martinez. Fulmer immediately was highlighted as a significant prospect, and he turned in a full-season performance the following season that earned him rookie-of-the-year honors and some Cy Young votes, and he was named to his first All-Star team this season. (Cessa never played for the Tigers, who shipped him to the Yankees that offseason as part of a package that returned Justin Wilson, the team’s current closer and valuable trade chip.)

We don’t have two years of hindsight from which to assess the future development of Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King, but, from my review of the assessments of these players by experienced prospect writers, it’s hard to see a Fulmer-caliber player among them. It remains too early to render significant judgments about Avila’s capabilities as a front-office leader, and Lugo, Alcantara, and King may have been the best available return for Martinez on the current market. To the extent Dombrowski’s 2015 Cespedes trade is an adequate comp for Avila’s 2017 Martinez trade, though, it’s not one that– in isolation– reflects especially well on Avila.   Continue reading

Another audible discussion of current baseball stories

While the ALDLAND Podcast‘s technical hiatus continues, I returned as a guest on this week’s episode of the Banished to the Pen podcast, where we discussed current baseball stories, including the latest Dave Dombrowski news, the status and outlook of frequent trading partners the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays, and issues surrounding the possible expansion of safety netting in MLB stadiums.

You can download or stream the entire podcast here.

Window Shopping: Step Back From the Window, or, Thank You Very Much, Mr. Rebooto

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline was an especially active period for the Detroit Tigers franchise, which made big moves both with player and front-office personnel.

Detroit traded three of the best players on its 2015 roster in the days and minutes prior to the trade deadline. The team’s biggest move, and arguably the biggest of one of the most active trade-deadline periods ever, was their decision to trade number-one starter David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays. They also sent closer Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh, and, in the final moments before the deadline, Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets.

The basic logic behind each of these moves is that, even prior to these trades, each of these players was, for all practical purposes, not going to be a member of the Detroit Tigers in 2016. That’s because each is in the final year of his current contract, meaning that each becomes a free agent at the end of this season. The Tigers would have no special ability to keep Price, Cespedes, or Soria in Detroit after the end of the 2015 season, and, given their individual successes, each is likely to fetch contract offers on the free market too rich even for Mike Ilitch’s blood. Rather than keep Price, Cespedes, and Soria for August and September on a team that’s unlikely to even make the playoffs, only to watch them walk away in the winter, the Tigers, with an eye on the post-2015 future, decided to cash in some of the value of these assets by trading them now. In doing so, Detroit converted these three expiring assets into six prospects, including five pitchers and one infielder.

Baseball analysts widely praised these transactions as beneficial to the Tigers, who, general manager Dave Dombrowski announced were “rebooting,” selling with the goal of remaining competitive in the near term, rather than undergoing a full rebuilding. The top return for Detroit was Daniel Norris, a now-former Blue Jay who lives in a van and shaves his beard with an ax. They also received Matt Boyd from Toronto, a younger starter who, in his recent Tigers’ debut, beat Johnny Cueto and the Royals.

Of course, the only real question for Detroit was not whom to trade but whether to trade. As July 31 approached, that question divided fans and, it later would be revealed, members of the team’s front office and ownership. As for the former group, most fans recognized the Tigers’ slim playoff odds and supported selling, although a minority that included this writer held out hope that the team could make one more postseason push before initiating a rebuild. Ultimately, Dombrowski’s “rebooting” seemed to satisfy both camps: Detroit would get close-to-ready prospects in exchange for their expiring assets. No long rebuilding process– a full surrender– was in store, just a quick retooling.

Two additional notes in the context of these trades: 1) one week before the trade deadline, Toronto, the biggest buyers, and Detroit, the biggest sellers, sat four and five games out of the last American League wild card position, respectively, and 2) while it isn’t at all likely that Price, Soria, or Cespedes will return to Detroit in the offseason, the effect of an unusual clause in Cespedes’ contract is that the Tigers actually increased whatever chance they have of resigning Cespedes by trading him.

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As the Tigers and their fans were settling into life without Price, Soria, and Cespedes, and enjoying their first trial run with Norris, who had a strong start on Sunday in Baltimore, unbeknownst to them, even more action was afoot behind the scenes.    Continue reading

Window Shopping: Pigs in the Pen

It’s July, which means it’s time for MLB teams to sort out their trade-deadline strategy. While fans distract themselves with All-Star festivities, general managers are preparing to execute player transactions in attempts to load up for a playoff run or, in acceptance of their near-term fates as noncontenders, build for the future.

In this context, the Detroit Tigers find themselves in a bit of a bind. After a very strong start, they’ve slid back to a .500 record and have been entrenched in the middle of the AL Central, never too far out of first place, but never really within striking distance. Would a first-place finish from this position be unprecedented? Hardly. Can they claim a fifth-consecutive division title without making a significant trade this summer? Almost certainly not. The Tigers’ record is not a product of underperforming their potential; instead, it likely is a reasonably accurate reflection of this team’s collective ability to date, warts, lower-body injuries, and all.

There is no question that the Tigers should be buyers this month, however thin their wallet may be with currency in the form of desirable prospects. I can’t say with any certainty whom Detroit should acquire this month– starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels are the most valuable targets on the market, but the sellers’ prices may be too rich for the blood of the Tigers’ farm system– but I do agree with the prevailing preference for bolstering the pitching rotation. Shane Greene‘s floor proved too low to allow the team to continue to wait to see how high his ceiling might go, Alfredo Simon’s regressed to the very average levels we should have expected out of him as a starter, and, with appearances in just four games in 2015, Justin Verlander’s projected resurgence isn’t happening. The return of game-calling extraordinaire Alex Avila to his precarious post behind the plate can’t fix that many holes, and neither, I suspect, can J.D. Martinez‘s unsustainable home-run rate. Detroit needs to find another starter.

The trade-deadline attention on the pitching rotation represents a shift of attention away from their bullpen, the conventionally identified leading source of all of the Tigers’ problems. Continue reading

Window Shopping: Tigers Roaring Out of the Gate

At one month old, the MLB season now has accrued a sufficient sample size of free time to permit me to compile the opening post of this site’s regular Detroit Tigers series for 2015, Window Shopping. Last year, I came out of the gate a bit too hot, burned out, and had to take the month of June off. This year finds your resident Tiger tracker more balanced and measured in his approach. This year’s Detroit Baseball Tigers have a more balanced look too.   Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Where are the Bats?

cabbatI have the good fortune to have spent portions of every summer at an old, out-of-the-way place in southwestern New York that historically has named among its variety of curious attributes a large bat population. The particular species is known, semi-colloquially anyway, as the little brown bat, and its surprisingly heavy presence was readily noticeable visually and environmentally (the prime example of the latter being the localized dearth of mosquitos). In the past year or two, the little brown bat population there has declined steeply, however. An invasive mold-related disease seems to be to blame. If the fact of the problem is known and the cause of the problem is suspected, the solution at this time is neither. The situation feels helpless.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, the bats have gone missing too, albeit in a far less dire context. While all eyes are on the bullpen, the simple and obvious truth is that successful baseball teams combine good pitching and good hitting. A shut-down bullpen alone does not a winner make. I’m not saying that general manager Dave Dombrowski’s priorities are misplaced in trading for a reliever (Joakim Soria) or even two (a lefty, please) before the trade deadline this afternoon, but if a trade could inject some life into a surprisingly weak Tiger offense that seems like it’s really missing Jhonny Peralta and a healthy Miguel Cabrera, that might not be a bad idea.

The Tigers plated 796 runs last year. They’re on pace for 758 this season. Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Detroit finds relief, but at what price?

Last night, the Tigers traded two of their top pitching prospects, Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson, to the Texas Rangers in exchange for reliever Joakim Soria. My immediate reaction was that Knebel and Thompson were a steep price to pay for Soria (or virtually any single relief pitcher), but two realities likely drove up the price: 1) in general, it’s a sellers’ market, because league-wide parity (some might say mediocrity) at this point in the season means there are more buyers than sellers as we approach the main trade deadline, and 2) everyone knows the Tigers need bullpen help and therefore have Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski a little bit over a barrel when it comes to negotiation leverage. However you weigh the trade pieces here, Detroit had to make a move like this if it wanted to contend this October, and the equities certainly are not as imbalanced as they were in some of the Tigers’ preseason moves.

Soria is a thirty-year-old relief pitcher who was born in Mexico and spent the first five years (2007-2011) of his career in Kansas City. After sitting out all of 2012 while undergoing Tommy John surgery, he joined on with the Texas Rangers in 2013. While a glance at his numbers suggests that he picked up in 2013 where he left off in 2011 (in a hitter-friendly park in Arlington), he has been absolutely excellent so far in 2014.

I’ve had my eye on Soria since he popped up in serious trade rumors in the past week or so, and I haven’t found much to dislike about him. Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Closing the Book on 2013

Rock and Roll never forgets, and neither does ALDLAND. Last season, I took a look at whether the Tigers struggled to score later in games, a trend that, if shown and in combination with the team’s bullpen woes, would make comeback wins less likely. While the preliminary numbers suggested I was onto something, the trend appeared even more pronounced with one-hundred games’ worth of data. The purpose of this post is to make good on the promise implicit in that last one by completing the full season’s worth of data.

First, an aside on data collection. I previously gathered and organized these inning-by-inning run totals by hand because I didn’t realize Baseball Reference actually tracks that information. In order to maintain the same error potential, and because B-R doesn’t separate the runs/inning between wins and losses, I’ve updated (a simplified version of) my chart as I did before.

r-in 2013

Continue reading

Book Review: Up, Up, & Away

jonahkeriupup&awayJonah Keri has completed the keystone work of his young life with Up, Up, & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball, & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos. While Keri surely will continue to be one of the top baseball writers of this generation, he was born to write this book about his dearest baseball love.

The book tells the full story of the Expos franchise, beginning with pre-Expos baseball in Montreal, which included the minor league Montreal Royals, a team that counted Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente among its alumni, through the bitter end and the franchise’s departure to Washington, D.C. Readers learn about Montreal and the men who brought Major League Baseball to that city (and Canada) and administered it while it was there, but Up, Up, & Away really is a fan’s story of the talented characters who wore the red, white, and powder blue.

The Expos generally had two peaks in their thirty-five-year history. The first came in the early 1980s, Continue reading