Detroit Tigers: Success with Roster Turnover the Reason Team’s Championship Window isn’t Closing

Since the Detroit Tigers started their run of success, they’ve everyone will tell you some combination of these next seven statements about the Detroit Tigers.

  1. Their bullpen is dreadful.
  2. Their defense is bad too.
  3. They’re not built for the future.
  4. They’re top heavy.
  5. They spend money at a rate that isn’t sustainable.
  6. Their farm system is “barren”.
  7. They have no minor-league depth.
  8. The window is closing.

The first two statements are indicative of the team’s shortcomings over the past few years, but this season they are vastly improved. Detroit has solid a bridge to closer Joakim Soria consisting of Tom Gorzelanny, Joba Chamberlain and Alex Wilson. Additionally, Angel Nesbitt, who has pitched well as a rookie along with fellow youngster/flamethrower Bruce Rondon (once he returns from injury) will be vital bullpen cogs moving forward. Throw in rebound candidate Al Alburquerque (10.29 ERA at present, career 2.82 ERA entering the season) and you have a solid bullpen.

In terms of the defense, the additions of Anthony Gose and Yoenis Cespedes, coupled with the subtraction of Torii Hunter, the return of Jose Iglesias and the improvement of Nick Castellanos have left the Tigers with a strong defensive unit.

What’s significant about almost all of the aforementioned players is that general manager Dave Dombrowski brought them in an attempt to shore up the bullpen and defense. That’s been the Tigers model since their magical World Series run in 2006, reload and reshape.

The Tigers have gone from a team with a powerful lineup with no real weakness (2006) to one with the best rotation in baseball (2013), to this year’s team which excels at defense while still bringing the pop offensively.

They’ve been dependent on one major offseason acquisition/bat (Magglio Ordonez) before turning to another player brought in from outside the organization to lead the team (Miguel Cabrera).

They’ve also moved from one ace (Kenny Rogers) to another (Justin Verlander) before repeating the process again (Max Scherzer to David Price).

They’ve achieved all this with a perceived “weak” farm system. But regardless of prospects, the Tigers have continued to sustain success. They won their fourth straight AL Central title last season and are tied with the New York Mets for the best record in baseball over the course of the young season.

All good things have to come to an end, but Detroit’s window won’t be closing any time soon because of their ability to sustain success. They rarely deploy homegrown prospects, instead deciding to flip them into better, more established players. For as much as certain mainstream pundits like to go after the Tigers system, the belief is clearly not shared throughout the rest of the league. If it was, then the Tigers wouldn’t have been able to pull off trades for the likes of Price, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. Throw in players like Devon Travis and Drew Smyly excelling elsewhere and the Tigers “system” doesn’t look quite as bad other writers make it out to be.

This continual roster reshaping/reloading has firmly jammed Detroit’s championship window open. They’ve continually dealt for top talent while bringing in replacements of equal value when that talent grows old, ineffective or too expensive.

Dombrowski turned Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson, both of whom were All-Stars in Detroit and the on the verge of massive contracts, into Scherzer and Austin Jackson. Scherzer would go on to win a Cy Young award in Detroit while establishing himself as one of baseball’s best. Jackson, on the other hand, provided stellar defense in centerfield before growing too pricey relative to his production. He was one of the key pieces in the Price trade.

Rick Porcello was also shipped out before he grew too expensive, he brought back Wilson as well as Yoenis Cespedes, who has provided good defense while hitting .310 and driving in the same number of runs as Cabrera (17).

All in all, the Tigers aren’t as fiscally irresponsible as you might think.

The Tigers are rarely on the side of the deal that yields prospects for one player thanks to a history of trading prospects. Recent acquisitions Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene have joined a lit that also includes the likes of Carlos Guillen, Jhonny Peralta, Jose Iglesias, Delmon Young and Soria. The most significant player traded in all of those deals? Avisail Garcia, who hit .244 for the White Sox last year.

Detroit has continued to tinker with their team while not being afraid to cut their losses if an experiment fails. Furthermore, the team isn’t afraid to make bold/unpopular moves to further success.

Jeff Baker was acquired by Detroit in August 2012 for the stretch run, but due to ineffectiveness, was traded before the month was out. The Tigers ate money to move on from Prince Fielder despite their being seven years left on his contract. Robbie Ray, the still-developing centerpiece of the Doug Fister debacle was moved in a three-team trade to bring in Greene.

Bringing in Greene and Simon to replace Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello is certainly bold, as is dealing fan-favorite Granderson and replacing him with an unproven Jackson. Even bolder is the decision to deal nearly every prospect of note in the system (at the time) for Cabrera.

However, the moves seem to have paid off. Scherzer was essentially replaced in kind by Price, so swapping out the now over-paid Porcello and Drew Smyly for the comparatively cheaper duo of Simon and Greene is a win considering how well Simon is pitching this year and the potential Greene has shown. If Cabrera continues his current career trajectory he’ll be discussed in the same discussion as Hank Aaron… so that trade worked.

The team will do whatever it takes to win, and continue winning. They mortgage their future by swapping out prospects for veterans. However, when that future comes, they simply trade excess players and more prospects for new parts in order to maintain success.

Pundits will tell you that the Tigers will decline and be a very bad team soon, but they’ve been saying that for a while now. The Detroit Tigers have perfected their model and stayed competitive for nearly the last decade. Who’s to say it won’t happen for another decade?

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Detroit Tigers: Don’t Count the Tigers Out of the Playoffs

Thanks to the Kansas City Royals being reigning American League Champions and the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians making significant improvements in the offseason, the trendy pick is to not pick the Tigers to win their fifth consecutive AL Central crown. Another trendy pick, thanks to a vastly improved Central division, is to leave the Tigers out of the playoffs completely.

This may not be the most prudent of selections.

Everything comes to an end at some point, but do you really think the Tigers are going to let an unprecedented fifth straight division title slip away? Granted there have been some close calls in the past, but this year’s team has the mental advantage of having something to prove. Manager Brad Ausmus was still ticked that they got swept in January and says the team can be “successful and widely respected” and “still have that proverbial chip on its shoulder.”

So there’s the fact that they got swept in the first round as a rallying point after making three straight American League Championship Series. That run included a trip to the World Series and another October dream that came up just short thanks to other-worldly, clutch hitting from the Boston Red Sox. There’s also some of the whole “everyone says were through” business floating around as well.

The Tigers may be the best team not to win a World Series in the last decade. Since 2006, the Tigers have won at least 86 games every season with the exception of anomalies in 2008 and 2010. One of those seasons’ high draft pick that came as a result of a poor record netted the team Jacob Turner, who was used as the centerpiece of the Anibal Sanchez trade. Sanchez is one of the Tigers’ best pitchers and one of the most underrated hurlers in the league. He’s been one of the catalysts of Detroit’s recent success.

(RELATED: My ancient reaction “column” on the Sanchez/Omar Infante Trade).

Detroit’s baseball team wants a World Series title, leaving them out of playoff predictions is foolish. Obviously the predictions don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but the point is you shouldn’t be counting out the Tigers.

Detroit’s main competition for the division crown will come from Kansas City, Chicago and Cleveland. I’m sorry Minnesota, but even before being obliterated over the first two games of the season, you weren’t close to the pack.

The Royals essentially replaced James Shields, Nori Aoki and Billy Butler with Edinson Volquez, Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales. That’s secret code for a step down. Kansas City still has a good defense and bullpen, but they won’t be the same team. The fact that the Royals only managed six wins in 18 games against the Tigers doesn’t bode well for KC’s chances.

Chicago added some exciting pieces over the offseason in Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Zach Duke and Adam LaRoche. Add those to a core that features Chris Sale and Jose Abreu and you have the makings of a playoff team—however the team was swept by Kansas City to start the year and lost the series by a cumulative score of 21-6.

It’s still extremely early, but the White Sox are going take time to mesh. Given how competitive the Central is, they may be too far behind once they mesh to make a run at the division title. It would surprise no one if the Sox made the playoffs, but right now they aren’t the well-oiled machine that Detroit, Kansas City or even Cleveland is.

Speaking of Cleveland, the Indians added Brandon Moss to fill a need offensively. Cleveland essentially swapped out Jason Giambi for Moss. This trade off will help the team, but the Indians have holes just like everyone else. Shortstop Jose Ramirez isn’t exactly a world-beater offensively while the Tribe’s outfield is hit and miss. Michael Brantly was an All Star last season, but outside of him there are definite question marks.

Michael Bourn arrived in Cleveland as a career .272 hitter who averaged 39 stolen bases a season. His best season came in 2011 when he hit .294 with 61 stolen bases for Houston and Atlanta. From 2009 to 2011 the speedster averaged 58 swipes a season. Last season Bourn led the league in triples with 10, but hit .257, drove in a measly 28 runs and posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 114/32. He only stole 10 bases.  

Bourn isn’t alone in the outfield in terms of seeing his numbers dip upon arrival in Ohio. David Murphy was able to rebound from a down season in Texas during his first year with the Indians, but was unable to replicate the success he’d found earlier in his career when he hit .283 from 2008 to 2012. He averaged 14 home runs and 61 runs driven in per season over that span while swiping 10 bags a season. Murphy only managed 8 bombs, 58 RBI and a .262 average last season.

Like Bourn, Nick Swisher entered the Tribe as a quality hitter. He hit .272 in his last season in New York and made the All Star team in 2010 with a .288 batting average. In his first season in Cleveland (2013), Swisher hit .246. His RBI numbers went from 93 in his last season with the Yankees to 63 in his first season with the Indians. That’s right, his RBI total dropped by thirty. Swisher struggled mightily in 2014, posting a mere 8 home runs and 42 RBI. He was limited to only 97 games, but he only hit .208 and posted an ugly 111/36 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Cleveland’s other two outfielders, Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles, hit .200 and .247 respectively last season.

The heart of the Indians’ order (Brantly, Yan Gomes, Moss and Carlos Santana) can holds its own against most teams, but the Tribe will need other positions to step up offensively if they’re going to seriously contend. Based on the outfield’s struggles last season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cleveland fall short again.

Counting the Tigers out of playoffs probably isn’t a smart thing to do. Kansas City isn’t what they once were while the White Sox have yet to mesh and the Tribe have holes on offense. Expect another American League Central Title and another playoff berth for the Tigers this season. Did I mention they haven’t allowed an earned run yet this season?

All stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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What We Learned from the Seahawks 50-17 Win Besides the Fact that Buffalo is Also Pitiful

It’s really not a joke. The Seahawks aren’t pulling the wool over the eyes of everyone who seems to miss their games (i.e. everyone who lives outside of the great state of Washington.) Yes, Buffalo is a bad team, and Arizona was/is too, but you can’t ignore 50-plus points in consecutive games.

  • The Record Book just won’t go away. Russell Wilson continues to take records and break them as if he was eating a sandwich for lunch. After strong play last week, Wilson now holds the record for most rushing touchdowns in a game for the Seahawks. Something he did in the first half with three rushing scores. No Seahawks QB has ever rushed for that many touchdowns in an entire game.
  • Read Option. The Seahawks continually used the “Read Option” to their advantage on Sunday. On the play, Wilson receives the snap with Marshawn Lynch to his right in the backfield. If it looks better for Wilson to run it himself, then he fakes the handoff to Lynch and goes behind Lynch with the ball. If the play looks like the team would get more out of it if Lynch ran it, then Wilson simply hands off the ball. The point of the play is that the QB makes the split-second decision on what would work best. Hence it being called the “Read Option.” The Seahawks used this play to continually rip off huge gains versus a porous Bills’ defense.
  • Passing Dan Marino. Last week I told you with one more touchdown Russell Wilson would pass Dan Marino in terms of number of passing touchdowns in a rookie season. With his TD pass to Zach Miller, Wilson moved his total to 21, passing Marino’s 20.
  • Win and You’re In. The Seahawks can clinch at least a wild card berth with a win on Sunday against San Francisco. The Seahawks would clinch the number two seed in the playoffs, and receive the first round bye that comes with it, if they beat the Niners and Rams to close out the year. And, if the 49ers lose both of their remaining games, and if Green Bay loses one of its last two games. Plus, they would get home field advantage at home in the divisional round (they’re 6-0 at the Clink this year.)
  •  50-50. The Seahawks are now one of three teams in NFL history to score at least 50 points in two straight games. This feat hasn’t been accomplished since the 50’s. This is fantastic for a team who was 28th in the league in total offense last year. Other quarterbacks who have yet to accomplish this or haven’t: Tom Brady (very surprising,) Peyton Manning (equally surprising,) Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Steve Young, Joe Montana, John Elway ( I think you see my point.)
  • Winning. The Seahawks now have tied their highest win total since 2006, the year before they went to the Super Bowl. That team was 9-7.

Super Bowl Worthy? I posed this question last week, and now it should be a given. The Seahawks are Super Bowl worthy. Finally.

The Best in World of Sports: An Atlas of Atlases

In Greek mythology there is a Titan named Atlas who held up the world, or held up the sky so that it didn’t crash down on the Earth.

In the world of sports, each team has its own “Atlas” who keeps the team from falling flat.

Some of the best “Atlases” in recent sports memory:

  1. LeBron James- Cleveland Cavaliers. During LeBron’s tenure the Cavaliers were essentially James and a never-ending roll call of role players. Shaquille O’Neal and Ben Wallace were the only really good players who James played with in Cleveland. And at that point both were in the respective twilights of their careers, and Wallace wasn’t scoring much (as per usual). Cleveland was so bad without “King James” that they set an NBA record for the longest losing streak: 26 games after he made the decision to go to South Beach.
  2. Derrick Rose- Chicago Bulls. A small sample size, but while Rose dominated Game One of the first round of the playoffs versus Philly, he tore his ACL towards the end of the game. After holding on for the win in that game the Bulls went on to lose the series 4-2 to the eight-seeded 76ers. As a follow up, this year with Rose out for an extended amount of time, most pundits and talking heads have Chicago in the 6-8 seed range in the playoffs. Quite a drop-off for the team who had the best record in the East last season.
  3. Luis Suarez- Liverpool. If you take away Suarez’s fantastic production, the Reds would likely be in the relegation zone if not in last.
  4. Dwight Howard- Orlando Magic. Orlando is so bad without Howard it compelled me to write an entire piece on it, you can see that here. Orlando is going nowhere fast.
  5. Steve Nash- Phoenix Suns. Obviously earlier on in Nash’s career he had Amare Stoudamire and friends, so the team wouldn’t be that bad off without him. However, the Suns of the past couple years have needed Nash to help them stay out of the cellar. With him they were camped on the stairs going to the cellar; now they’re the cellar’s likely tenants.
  6. Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Trout supporters love overusing the stat about the visible improvement of the Angels’ record with him, as opposed to their record without him. Take away Trout and a lineup that includes Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells goes nowhere offensively. Continue reading

The Madden Curse

With the exceptions of the “FIFA” franchise as well as the “Mario Brothers” Empire, “Madden” may be the most popular video game in the world. Hence, it would be an honor to be on the cover of it. And while it’s nice to be on the cover, there is a certain “curse” per say which follows it.

Which is why Lions fans are probably fretting over the season Calvin Johnson is going to have, or the fact that he’s probably being taken way too late in fantasy football drafts around the country.

And rightfully so, people have a right to be hesitant.

Dating back to 2001, when a single athlete graces the cover, it tends to impact their performance the next season. A lot of those declines are due to injury, however not all of them are. Continue reading

Trade Reaction: Tigers Acquire Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for Jacob Turner and Prospects

I was surprised that this happened. Not necessarily in a good way.

It was noted, the Tigers’ production at second base has been horrendous this season. Throw all the ugly numbers out there that you want. They have been bad.

A possible starting pitcher was another need seeing as, again throw all your numbers out there, the Tigers’ back end starters, namely the fifth spot, have been inconsistent. Continue reading

The Real Deal or Not So Real: Early Season Contenders and Pretenders

It’s early in the season. Perhaps too early to make assumptions and what not, but here goes anyway.

Every season some teams get off to fast starts, and somewhat slower ones. A fast start could propel you to a successful year (‘06 Tigers) or send you on your way to a horrendous one (‘08 Tigers).

The following teams are off to scathing starts and could very well be contenders…or pretenders:

Candidate Numero Uno- The Texas Rangers

The Rangers are a very deep squad. They feature a rotation that has possibly five front-line starters, when their stuff permits. They also feature two more pitchers who would make most clubs rotations in their bullpen: Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman.

To continue with the pitching, Texas’ ‘pen could be hit or miss (pun completely intended). Joe Nathan could be one of the better signings of the offseason, or one of the worst. If he doesn’t work out, the bullpen could go into a tailspin without a defined closer.

(Side note, the Rangers are 10-2 and Nathan has both losses.)

If you live under a lake or something, you’ll be surprised to know that the Rangers’ pitching rotation isn’t even their “strength”. That “strength” would be the offense. Yes, Texas’ offense is very good. Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre and Mr. Eye Brows himself Nelson Cruz are all guys who could hit .300 with at least 20 bombs. To be fair, David Murphy, Elvis Andrus and Mitch Moreland aren’t terrible either.

So if you haven’t reached the conclusion, the Rangers are CONTENDERS.


Candidate Numero Dos- The Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have Matt Kemp and Andre Etheir going for them. That’s almost it. Clayton Kershaw is the Cy Young winner, and rightfully so. But after that there isn’t a ton to be excited about.  Dee Gordon and James Loney are nice pieces. Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly are very good rotation options. There are some young, talented arms in the bullpen, but I’m running out of huge positives here.

Yes, the Dodgers are off to a hot start, but they beat up Pittsburgh and San Diego. There, go ahead, let that sink in a little. They crushed teams that they should be crushing, so to speak, which is what you’re supposed to do anyways.

The Dodgers might have shown their true colors against Milwaukee, who might not even get second in the NL Central. The Dodgers lost the first two games and, as I write this during the third game, it doesn’t look amazing.

Overall this might just be a fluke, or the Dodgers simply beat teams they should. Until they can start beating the big boys I’m labeling them PRETENDERS.


The Third Candidate is the Montreal Expos Washington Nationals

I write that because the Nationals haven’t been good in DC. Period. But that could change here soon. Right now as it is the Nationals look very good on paper. They have really good youth and talent at most positions in the field. They seem to have a strong bullpen with the likes of Henry Rodriguez, Brad Lidge and All-Star Tyler Clippard holding down the fort until Drew Storen comes back. Stephen Strasburg leads a rotation that includes, get this, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Jordan Zimmerman. Granted Jackson is in town on a one-year deal, but regardless that’s an exciting first four.

Their offense is led by Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and a seething Adam LaRoche. That middle of the order is pretty good even without the currently injured Michael Morse and the long-awaited-and-still-waiting-for Bryce Harper.

Sounds pretty scary.

After all this I still think the Nationals are a year away. They will no doubt be playing meaningful games late, and it wouldn’t totally surprise me to see them sneak in. But with Strasburg’s innings cap and Harper’s late arrival… Next year they definitely will be a force. This year, second or third in the division is more likely.  Verdict: PRETENDERS (for now).


Saving the Best for Last- The Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are legit. The only possible questions of concern for Detroit entering the season were their infield defense and the back end of the rotation. Those questions aren’t really of concern much anymore. Miguel Cabrera has been turning in pretty good glove work at the hot corner and Prince Fielder isn’t a terrible fielder to begin with (again, pun completely intended). Jhonny Peralta should have won a Gold Glove last year and Brandon Inge is one of the better defensive players in the game wherever you put him.

The back end of the rotation has been quality as well. And when I say quality, I mean to use it as the worst transition known to mankind to get to the fact that Adam Wilk and Drew Smyly have posted quality starts. They have helped fill the short-term void of Doug Fister’s rotation spot as well as the fifth spot in the order.

The only glaring question now is the back end of the bullpen. Jose Valverde has been shaky this season, but really, anything is shaky compared to his perfect campaign of 2011. He’ll get it together. Other than that the rest of the team is loaded. And with Austin Jackson finally raking at the top of the order, the Tigers will propel themselves to a deep October run. Verdict- (If you haven’t guessed yet) CONTENDERS.

Assessing the Cleveland Indians Chances

In the AL Central… No chances at all. I’m just kidding. They have a shot, but then again, so do the Orioles.

Cleveland is certainly head and shoulders above the competition, for second place that is. They are certainly better than Kansas City, for the present at least. They are also better than Minnesota’s current Rochester Red Wings/ injured former stars jumble of a roster. Chicago remains the wild card here. They could certainly be an upstart team under Robin Ventura, or could fail miserably. That being said, the team itself is the definition of inconsistent: Alex Rios, Gordon Beckham and Adam Dunn all had unyielding seasons last year and could do with a solid season, much less a complete comeback and/or return to form.

Back to Cleveland’s bashing… Again I’m only kidding, but it isn’t looking exceptionally bright for the Indians. Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers wasn’t the only big first baseman news in the AL Central. Casey Kotchman moved into Cleveland’s starting lineup, displacing Matt LaPorta in the process. The latter is currently at AAA and waiting for the call should injuries or need reveal themselves.

If Cleveland wants to have the smallest of shots at the division title, they need their pitching to come through for them. It’s going to be a lot of groundballs if everything goes to seed. If everything doesn’t, then it could be a problem.

Justin Masterson is a solid option in the rotation, so is Ubaldo Jimenez. Derek Lowe can also be a dependable cog on a contender, but has shown the tendency in the past to be rather like some Chicago White Sox players: inconsistent.

Cleveland needs all the stars to align. They need to probably lead the league in ground balls, or come close to it. They need to score many more runs than expected with an offense that looks the part of a poor man’s Tampa Bay Rays minus Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. They also need sheer luck and to catch more than a few breaks.

It’s not ridiculous for them to contend and be successful, just look up the Tigers magical run of 2006. However for Cleveland to win the division, or take a highly coveted wild card spot from the AL East or West, they are going to need a lot of everything.