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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All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

The Three-Team Jake Peavy Trade Revisited

Maybe you thought the Matt Garza trade was the biggest of the season. Maybe you thought it was one of the numerous big-name relievers changing teams that took the prize. Nope. This crown, for now, belongs to the Jose Iglesias/Avisail Garcia/Peavy trade that found the Tigers dealing with the Sox drawer.

The gist of it is this: the Tigers got a shortstop to fill in for Jhonny Peralta in the short term, as well as potentially the long term, Iglesias. The Red Sox found an upgrade to their rotation that they feel comfortable throwing out (pun intended) every fifth day. The White Sox also got a lot of prospects, something struggling teams need because, if you haven’t noticed, Chicago has tanked. They are by far the worst team in the division going forward. Put it this way, they’ve watched usual stinkers Cleveland and Kansas City leapfrog them while they have slowly sunk into the pit that is the basement.

This isn’t a Chicago bashing piece though. If it was, I’d just say look at the depth chart and ta-da, behold the issues. Outside of Chris Sale and some unproven youngsters, the future is bleak-ish. No, this is about the aforementioned trade involving both shades of Sox and the Tigers.

Initially it looked like a stop-gap trade. As mentioned above, Boston got a starter, the Tigers got a shortstop and the White Sox got prospects. All needs. All filled. Now it seems more than that. Peavy’s years in a White Sox uniform were marred by seasons of .500 records and an ERA in the mid fours. Now in Boston, he has settled in at the back of a talented BoSox rotation. He picked up four wins in an efficient 64.2 innings and was superb in his division series start against Tampa.

Iglesias has come back to earth. No longer is he ripping the cover off the ball with a .400 batting average like he was previously in the season. He’s hit .259 in his time in the Motor City so far, a number that isn’t horrible considering how much he contributes on defense and the fact that shortstop is generally an offense derived position.

When I said, “considering how much he contributes on defense,” I meant plays like this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ui8yhI6eYX8

Ridiculous.

It’s a nice change of pace to have a star defensive player on a team comprised of offensive stars.

This trade has propelled both the Tigers and Red Sox to where they are now, in the ALCS. Maybe not directly, but they helped. Who knows where the Tigers would be if a suitable replacement for Jhonny Peralta wasn’t found? Where would Boston be if they had to stick with internal options? Or even worse, acquire a pitcher who flopped in the role and was in the bullpen by mid-August?

These questions will never be answered, but one question that will be answered in the coming weeks is who will the American League Champion be? The Red Sox or the Tigers?

Who do you think the champ will be? Tell me in the comments below.

Torii Hunter’s Impact with the Detroit Tigers

I’ll admit I didn’t see the signing coming; I’m a bit of a homer when it comes to placing trust in Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch and Quintin Berry, so I didn’t want the signing initially. But the more I look at it, the more there is to like.  Yes, Hunter is getting up there in years, but after further digging, he’s still a very good player in this league despite being 37.

Last season, the Tigers were knocked for not having a good defensive team. That criticism was mainly placed on the infield. But in terms of “elite” defenders, the only one the Tigers had who could change a game in the field was Austin Jackson. Infield aside, the corner outfielders were a tad suspect with the glove. Dirks, Boesch, Berry and Avisail Garcia’s collective number of runs saved above average per 1,200 innings (from the folks over at baseball-reference) was -26. Dirks was the only one of the group whose number was a positive one with three runs scored above average. The point here is that the overall defense in the outfield corners could have been better. Enter Hunter, who despite being nearly a decade older than every one of the previous four, saved 16 runs above average per 1,200 innings.

The beauty of the signing is this: yes, Hunter is valued defensively, and maybe he was needed defensively, but he also brings a whole lot to the table offensively. So often teams bring in an outfielder or use an internal option that is a far superior defender, but lacks completely with the bat.  Teams feel they need to upgrade defensively and save runs there and completely mail it in offensively. But this is the beauty of the signing. Hunter upgrades the defense and offense drastically.

The other bonus of having Hunter as well as Jackson in the outfield means Jim Leyland has his pick of outfielders to use strategically on a game-to-game basis, whether that be Berry, Garcia, Boesch or Dirks.

The Tigers won the American League pennant last year. They also won it, when at times the death-row duo of Miguel Cabrera and Fielder looked like the walking dead. But now Victor Martinez will be 100% healthy, and Torii Hunter joins the mix. Death row just got a whole lot deadlier.