Flying Tigers: Waiting for Takeoff

A month into the season, the Detroit Tigers sit atop the tightly bunched AL Central with a tenuous 12-9 record. The team, guided by first-time manager Brad Ausmus, looks and feels much different than it did over the last two years. Whether due to the change at the helm or a not-quite-coherent set of offseason moves, the 2014 Tigers appear to have traded identity for tactics and strategy. Thus begins Flying Tigers,* our third Detroit baseball series.

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When Jim Leyland announced his retirement following the end of the 2013 season, we knew Motor City baseball would be different in 2014, but we didn’t realize just how different it would be.     Continue reading

[UPDATED] Fistered: Tigers lose starting pitcher to the Nationals

News broke last night that the Detroit Tigers traded starting pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals, the team’s second major move of this young offseason. (They traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler last month.)

In exchange for Fister, the Nationals sent Detroit Steve Lombardozzi Jr., a utility player; Ian Krol, a left-handed reliever; and Robbie Ray, a left-handed starting pitcher in the minor leagues. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said that Krol “can step right into our bullpen and has the potential to be a No. 1 lefthanded reliever,” and he called Lombardozzi “one of the best utilitymen in baseball.”

It’s tough for me to evaluate this trade, because I’ve never heard of Lombardozzi, Krol, or Ray. I’m far from a league-wide expert on players, but that may be an evaluative statement, however. I know Dombrowski has committed to moving Drew Smyly into a starting role, but I thought it would be Rick Porcello, or perhaps Max Scherzer, who departed to make room for Smyly. The decision to move Fister surprised me, and although I don’t know anything about Lombardozzi, Krol, or Ray, I can’t help feeling like Detroit got too little in return for the very solid Fister.   Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Heeeeeere’s Jhonny?

jhoLast month, Jhonny Peralta, the starting shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, agreed to accept a fifty-game suspension because of his connection to the Biogenesis Clinic. That suspension is nearly over, and he could return to the team on September 27, which is the date of the first game of the Tigers’ final regular season series, coincidentally taking place in Miami.

The decision whether to bring Peralta back to the team belongs to the team, and general manager Dave Dombrowski in particular. The question is whether they should allow him back.   Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Trader Jose(s)

With the non-waiver trade deadline set for 4:00 pm today, the Tigers got in on the action earlier this week by adding two major-league-ready players who should address the team’s short-term needs as they prepare for a postseason run.

On Monday, Detroit acquired bullpen help in the form of Houston closer Jose Veras. Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: A Tiger is a Tiger is a Tiger

Buster Olney reports:

Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers have reached agreement on a new contract that could exceed $202 million, sources told ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Verlander’s deal, which would make him the highest-paid pitcher in the game, is for seven years and worth $180 million, sources said. A vesting option for an eighth year could push the deal to $202 million.

Verlander, who would have been eligible to become a free agent after the 2014 season, had recently said he wouldn’t discuss a new contract if a deal didn’t get done by the end of spring training.

Verlander celebrated with a baby tiger (above). Additional details are not known.

In other pitching news, the team sent relief prospect Bruce Rondon back to the minors and announced they’ll begin the season with a “closer-by-committee” approach. The seven-member committee reportedly does not include Rick Porcello, who was listed as part of Detroit’s starting rotation. As mentioned last time, I was a bit concerned that management might give him the relief job, but since then, Jonah Keri assuaged my fears about that prospect,

and yesterday’s announcement makes it look like that possibility will not come to pass. Still, it would be nice to have one go-to guy who is reliable, even if he isn’t quite the unicorn on a waterslide that was 2011 Jose Valverde. Look to people far more qualified than I to say whether GM Dave Dombrowski, a personnel master of the first order, can bring in someone capable of holding down the job. For now, though, I think Dombrowski has earned a weekend off after locking up Verlander for the meaningful future.

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Previously
Bay of Cigs: The Departed – 3/14

The promise of Prince Fielder

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.
 
 
ESPN Insider’s Dan Szymborski ran a ZiPS projection for Fielder over the next nine years. Here’s what he got:

 

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.

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