Mr. Scherzer goes to Washington


Overnight, the long-anticipated news of this baseball offseason finally broke: The Washington Nationals won the Max Scherzer sweepstakes by signing the former Detroit Tiger to a seven-year, $210 million contract.

Scherzer made news last March when, heading into his final season before becoming a free agent, he turned down the Tigers’ six-year, $144 million offer to stay with the team. That failed (from the team’s perspective) dance fouled up a variety of personnel matters for Detroit. They had already traded Prince Fielder and much, but not all, of his contract to Texas and starter Doug Fister to Washington for figuratively literally nothing all probably in an attempt to clear the books for Scherzer’s new contract. When Scherzer balked at the offer, the team responded by giving Miguel Cabrera all the money. Last season got off to a rough start, and, at least from a business perspective, Scherzer was at the center of it.

Max probably was my favorite amongst a very likable group of guys playing for the Tigers over this last stretch of seasons. His relief appearance against Oakland in the 2013 playoffs always will be among my most favorite half-innings of baseball.   Continue reading

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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

The DET Offensive: Interleague Play

It has been a tough first half of the season for the Detroit Tigers, who are struggling just to get to .500. I wrote before that the best way to get out of a slump is to invite the Royals to your yard. That sort of worked, but it didn’t really cure any ills in the longer term. After this month, though, I have a new recipe: play the National League.

The Tigers began interleague play on June 8 in Cincinnati, and they won each of their interleague series except for the last one, taking two of three from the Reds, Cubs, Rockies, and Cardinals and avoiding a sweep in Pittsburgh with a game three win against the Pirates, the team with the second-best home record in all of baseball. The Reds, Cardinals, and Pirates are good, and the Cubs and Rockies are quite bad, but Detroit’s performance on a given night seemed to have little correlation to the strength of their opponent. MLB, unlike the NFL or NBA, is a situation in which any team can beat any other team on a given day, but I think this is more a reflection of the Tigers’ internal struggles.

Injuries continue to be an issue, the most troublesome example of which is all-star catcher Alex Avila’s knee and leg problems. Fortunately, Gerald Laird has proven to be a more than serviceable backup, but Jim Leyland consistently and accurately insists he has yet to have his best lineup on the field for any meaningful stretch of games. Utility man Don Kelly also is out as a result of flinging his leg into a barrier at dead-sprint speed.

On the positive side, Doug Fister looks to be healthy and back on the path towards pitching effectiveness. Ditto on the latter for Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. The shining star continues to be Austin Jackson, who is hitting very well in the lead-off spot while recording zero errors in center field.  Keep reading…

The DET Offensive: Tigers open 2012 season with Sawks sweep

Alex Avila’s walk-off homer– the first for any player in the young 2012 season– in the bottom of the eleventh last night secured a season-opening sweep of the Boston Red Sox in a series that showcased the promised strength of this Tigers team and cast some light on potential weaknesses going forward.

This lineup was expected to be absurdly productive on offense, and they did not disappoint. Over the three games, they scored 26 runs on 39 hits, including seven home runs, all from Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Avila.

The first game, a 3-2 victory, showed that ace Justin Verlander was picking up where he left off last season, a dangerous prospect for opponents considering the fact that the pitcher won the Cy Young and the MVP last year. Batting pyrotechnics in the second game, a 10-0 win, were enough to momentarily overshadow the injury to Detroit’s #2 starter, Doug Fister, who landed on the 15-day DL because he sprained a side muscle after pitching 3 2/3 shutout innings. This injury could damper the Tigers’ hot start, especially since the team has “no clue” who Fister’s replacement will be. Manager Jim Leyland:

I have no idea who’s going to start. Don’t ask. Please. I have no clue. I just told you that. There’s no sense searching. I have no clue. I keep trying to make that perfectly clear to you guys, but you keep searching. I have no clue who’s going to start. None.

… We will have a starter at the appropriate time. Who it is, I have no clue. None. Next question

That’s concerning. Number 3 starter Max Scherzer got shelled in the third game, and relievers Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit looked a bit out of sorts in this first series. If Tiger fans learned anything from 2006, it’s that a baseball team that lives by its offense can die by it when the hits evaporate. This team is both more balanced and more offensively powerful than that team, which made it to the World Series, and last year’s squad, but it looks like they are going to be able to need to bat their way through some early defensive hiccups to continue this strong start. If any team can do it, though, it’s this one.

For now, it feels really great to open the season in grand winning fashion, sweep a media darling like Boston, and find out that the grand slugging experiment, initiated when the Tigers signed Fielder to replace the injured Victor Martinez, really works.

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.

Keep reading…

Jim Leyland’s ALDS Game 5 lineup

When a reader told me he’d seen Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland wearing a suit on TBS last night, I knew something was awry. Earlier in the day, ESPN Insider, Vanderbilt graduate, and Vermonster Buster Olney reported that Justin Verlander would not start Game 5 against the Yankees in New York, and that Don Kelly would start at third, with Magglio Ordonez in right field.

I’ve only ever seen Leyland in a baseball uniform, includng hat, or some other Belichickian attire like a windbreaker pullover or hooded sweatshirt, so to see him dressed as pictured above somewhat shocks my brain.

Less shocking, but still surprising, were Leyland’s starting lineup choices. That Verlander would not start was expected. In the playoffs, you have to be able to count on your number two starter in a must-win game, and Doug Fister is more than competent to handle that task. I’m still scratching my head over the Kelly/Ordonez decision, though, and I’m trying to figure out which came first. Both mostly play right field. Ordonez has been an offensive power in the past, but he generally has cooled off in the last year or two. Kelly usually is described as a defensive replacement, meaning that he does not hit especially well, although he has been making good contact in this series.

Leyland had been working a similar pairing at third base with the recently acquired Wilson Betemit and longtime Tiger Brandon Inge. Like the Kelly/Ordonez pairing, one (Betemit) is the better hitter and the other (Inge) the defensive replacement. Also like Kelly/Ordonez, Betemit’s bat has cooled off in this series, while Inge’s has heated up.

In a vacuum, Leyland’s decision to start Kelly and Ordonez is not necessarily strange, but when examined together with the consequence of that decision– both Betemit and Inge on the bench– I have a hard time understanding it. Which is why I, unlike Leyland, wear a suit most of the time and don’t manage a baseball team. Still, I hope the Tigers aren’t getting away from what got them to this point.

Fall ball: ALDLAND takes you to the action in Motown

Tiger Stadium (1912-1999)

This afternoon, the Detroit Tigers will try to sweep a three-game set against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park in Detroit. I will be on hand for the game, so stay tuned to this site, twitter, and flickr for updates.

Doug Fister is scheduled to start for the Tigers, and although his record on the year is 7-13, he struck out thirteen in his last start (against Cleveland) and took a perfect game into the seventh inning in his previous start (against Kansas City). The Tigers have won ten of their last eleven games, including a current eight-game winning streak, so this should be a fun one.