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.

Detroit Tigers: Bullpen Names to Watch

It’s no secret that the Detroit Tigers have had bullpen issues. Detroit finished below league-average in numerous bullpen categories in 2014, including saves and holds.

Additionally, the team’s bullpen allowed 4.35 runs per game, easily the worst among playoff teams. Lastly, the team had an Inherited Score Percentage (which, per Baseball Reference, is “the percentage of runners on base when pitcher entered the game who subsequently scored) of 33% – fifth worst in the league. In other words, one of every three runners that Tigers relievers inherited scored. This stat is especially bad when you consider that Detroit inherited 244 runners, seventh worst of all teams.

While the bullpen will be largely improved thanks to expected bounce-back seasons from Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria, the return of Bruce Rondon and the consistent presence of Al Alburquerque, there are other names to track as we inch towards Opening Day.

Angel Nesbitt

None of these pitchers are locks to make the roster like a Nathan or a Soria, making them all dark horses to a degree. However, Nesbitt may be the biggest dark horse of the group. Unlike the relievers that follow, the flame-throwing 24-year-old doesn’t have any major league experience.

What he does have is stuff, including a fastball that approaches 100 MPH.

Nesbitt posted an impressive 1.48 ERA at two minor league stops in 2014 while striking out 9.7 batters per nine innings. He also compiled 20 saves.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see him start the year at Triple-A in order to obtain more experience, but if he doesn’t start the year with the big club, look for him to get a call up at some point in 2015.

Josh Zeid

Once upon a time, Hunter Pence was traded from Houston to Philadelphia. In exchange for parting with Pence, the Astros received a package that included Jarred Cosart, Jon Singleton, Domingo Santana… and Zeid.

Cosart has a cumulative 3.26 ERA in 40 career starts and was flipped at the last trade deadline to Houston for an additional haul of prospects, including two former top 100 prospects. Singleton is so highly thought of that the Astros signed him through 2021 despite having no big league experience. Santana made his major league debut last season.

Zeid debuted in 2013 with a solid season. In only 25 games, he posted a 3.90 ERA, recorded a save and struck out 24 batters in 27.2 innings. The former Astro has experience in the minors as a starter but has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen since 2012. Despite a 6.97 ERA in 2014, there are numerous positives to be had with Zeid.

He shows promise as a lefty specialist after holding left-handed batters to a .178 batting average and a .275 OBP in 2013. He struggled mightily with lefties in 2014, allowing a .455 batting average and a .500 OBP. Nonetheless, his performances in 2013 show that he has potential to be useful bullpen arm for Detroit.

Alex Wilson

Acquired as part of the Rick Porcello trade, Alex Wilson may start the season with Detroit. The Tigers clearly could use some new blood in the bullpen and Wilson provides that. He posted a 1.91 ERA in 18 appearances for Boston in 2014 and proved to particularly useful against right-handed batters, limiting them to a .151 batting average and a meager .476 OPS.

Another transitioned starter, Wilson will likely provide Brad Ausmus with another weapon to use out of the bullpen, along with Nathan, Soria, Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque and Tom Gorzelanny.

Ian Krol

Similar to Wilson, Krol came over as a secondary piece in a trade for a starting pitcher. Krol was acquired with the since departed duo of Robbie Ray and Steve Lombardozzi for Doug Fister.

It was hit and miss for Krol in his first go-around in Detroit. He came out of the gate strong with a 3.38 ERA in March/April and improved on that number in May with a 1.59 mark in 16 appearances. It went downhill soon after that. The former National’s ERA in June was 11.12. He only made 10 appearance the rest of the way, seven of which came in July. The reliever’s ERA in that month? 9.00.

Krol, along with Nathan and Soria, should have a bounce-back season. He showed promise early in Detroit and in Washington where he posted a 3.95 ERA in 32 appearances. Hopefully the adjustment period is over and Krol can go back to being a critical member of the Tigers bullpen.

Blaine Hardy

Plucked from free agency in 2013, Blaine Hardy had a solid first season in Motown. In 39 innings, he posted a 2.54 ERA, providing one of the few bright spots in an otherwise frustrating year for the bullpen.

Hardy will look to continue his success in 2015. Although a roster spot isn’t a 100% guarantee thanks to a rough spot down the stretch (5.40 ERA over his last nine appearances), expect him to be with the Tigers at some point in 2015—regardless of if he makes the team out of Spring Training.

Joel Hanrahan

At the height of his prime, Joel Hanrahan was a two-time All-Star closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates, converting 76 save in a two year span while turning in a sparkling 2.24 ERA. In four years with the Pirates he posted an ERA of 2.59 as a reliever.

It’s easy to forget those years he spent in Pittsburgh were from 2009 to 2012.

Hanrahan has had trouble recovering from injury as of late, but should he be healthy come the regular season, he’ll be a massive part of the Tigers’ success. Along with Nathan and Soria he would give Detroit three pitchers who have saved 40 games in a season, a rarity in today’s game. If all three pitch like they’re capable of, the Tigers could have a lockdown bullpen—something that hasn’t been muttered in Detroit for a long time.

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

Kingdome Crossover- Seattle Mariners: Washington Nationals Players Serve as Reminder to What Could Have Been

As the Seattle Mariners watch yet another playoffs from their respective couches, they find themselves wondering what could have been. Or rather, how close they could have been had they acquired or retained certain players.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in Washington, where the Nationals employ four former Mariners and two extremely important pieces of their team that were this close to becoming Mariners. Here’s a look at those players.

Anthony Rendon

Widely panned as the best hitter in his draft class, Rendon was taken sixth overall in the 2011 MLB Draft. The Mariners had the second overall pick that year. They took left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen, who has had his share of troubles thanks to a rash of injuries. Rendon, on the other hand, led the league in runs scored in 2014 (only his second season in the majors), hit 21 home runs, drove in 83 runs, swiped 17 bags and hit .287 with a .824 OPS.

Positional log jams aside, the Mariners are probably wishing they had Rendon’s bat in their lineup.

Stephen Strasburg

Strasburg is the one player on this list who Seattle didn’t have on their team, or could have drafted. Yet, he still represents one of the biggest, “what ifs?” in Mariners’ history.

Simply put, Seattle and Washington were both awful in 2008. Both had a legitimate shot at the number one overall pick in the upcoming draft – at the time, widely believed to be Strasburg. Seattle won four of its last six to finish 61-101 while Washington lost five of their last six to finish 59-102. The Mariners already have two of the best starters in the league in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, plus talented youngsters James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. If Strasburg drafted by the M’s and in that rotation, the Mariners’ playoff drought would be a thing of the past.

Doug Fister

The first of many former M’s on this list, Fister was traded from the Emerald City to Detroit along with David Pauley for Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells, Chance Ruffin and minor league prospect Francisco Martinez.

Since then, Fister went on to pitch fantastically in his 2 ½ years in Detroit, posting 32 wins—20 more than his total in 2 ½ years in Seattle— and turning in an ERA under four in every season. He also posted some absurd strikeout-to-walk ratios. Down the stretch in 2011 he struck out 57 batters while walking five over 70 innings.

The players Seattle got in return?

Wells would post decent power numbers in his brief time in Seattle before getting pushed out of a crowded outfield and finding himself with three different organizations not named the Seattle Mariners in 2013. He drove in a singular run in 53 games. Martinez was eventually traded back to Detroit for a PTBNL while Ruffin recently retired. Furbush was the only solid player Seattle got back. He’s provided a dependable reliever, but is buried in a deep bullpen.

Detroit would later send Fister to Washington, but the current Nationals pitcher is just another reminder of what could have been for Seattle.

Matt Thornton and Rafael Soriano

Seattle isn’t short on relievers at the moment, but Thornton and Soriano are two more examples of players who got away. Thornton, a former first round pick of the Mariners, was dealt to Chicago in 2006 for outfielder Joe Borchard. He went on to enjoy a long stint in the Windy City before moving to Boston midway through last season. He won a ring with the Red Sox and split 2014 with the Yankees and Nationals, posting a cumulative 1.75 ERA over 64 innings. For his career, Thornton has a 3.43 ERA in 670 appearances and an All-Star appearance to his name.

Soriano is the more sorely missed of the two. While Fernando Rodney has been superb as the M’s closer, and the has gotten by with a string of quality closers, Soriano has been superb in his career.

Upon leaving Seattle he moved to Atlanta, in a trade that will be addressed later, and in two years posted ERAs of 3.00 and 2.57 before taking over the closer’s role in 2009 and turning in a 2.97 ERA with 27 saves. He was traded to Tampa Bay and promptly led the league with 45 saves. He pitched to a tremendous 1.73 ERA and finished in the top 12 in Cy Young and MVP voting. After a year in Tampa he moved to the Yankees where he had a slight down year with a 4.12 ERA in 42 games before bouncing back to save 42 games and post a 2.26 ERA in 2012. He placed 20th in MVP voting that year. He then signed with Washington where he has accumulated 75 saves over the past two seasons with a collective 3.15 ERA.

Since leaving the Mariners, Soriano has appeared in 469 games, posted a 2.84 ERA and recorded 203 saves.

Now we get to the trade that was mentioned earlier.

The Mariners traded Soriano to the Atlanta Braves for Horacio Ramirez.

Yes, that Horacio Ramirez who’s ERA over 20 starts and 98 innings was 7.16. You heard me correctly, 7.16! Yes, that Horacio Ramirez who let righties hit .340 off of him. Yes, that Horacio Ramirez who allowed lefties to hit .330 against him. Yes, that Horacio Ramirez.

The Mariners traded away a reliever who would become one of the game’s finest at his position for a back-of-the-rotation starter who posted an ERA over seven in nearly 100 innings.

Yikes.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Another Mariner traded away for relatively nothing, Cabrera was lost to Cleveland in “The Great Highway Robbery/Fleecing of 2006.” Cleveland traded Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez to Seattle in two different trades. Seattle gave up Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera respectively.

Cabrera would go on to establish himself as a premium two-way shortstop, culminating with a 2011 season in which he hit .273 with 25 home runs, 92 runs driven in, 17 stolen bases and a .792 OPS. Cabrera would make two All-Star appearances in Cleveland before moving to Washington at this past trade deadline. While he isn’t a threat to hit anywhere near 25 homers, he still provides pop and solid defense for a middle infielder.

In Conclusion

It’s easy to sit and think, “what if this?” or, “what if that?”, especially with the Mariners. But the reality is that Seattle has a history of letting players go too early, as well has just missing acquiring players who could turn into important cogs. Those players go on to become impact players elsewhere. There are quite a few former Mariners and almost-Mariners in various MLB cities playing vital roles to their teams. The Washington Nationals just happen to have more than most. For the Mariners, it’s a reminder of what could have been.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

You can see the piece in it’s entirety on Kingdome of Seattle Sports here.

Detroit Tigers: Could the Team Reacquire Doug Fister?

The Detroit Tigers will likely lose Max Scherzer to free agency. While the team will receive a draft pick as compensation for once after losing picks to sign various free agents in years past, Detroit will still have to replace one of its Cy Young winners.

I looked at some options the team has, internal and external, yesterday.

However, the best option may be somewhere in between the two. Granted the pitcher plays for another team, but he is a former Tiger. That pitcher would be Doug Fister.

Coming off a phenomenal season in the nation’s capital in which Fister posted a 16-6 record, a 2.41 ERA and a 98/24 strikeout to walk ratio in only 25 starts, the Nationals could look to move him. Not only could they capitalize on the superb numbers the former Tiger and Mariner posted, but they also have numerous players heading for free agency that would take prominence over Fister in terms of needing to be signed.

The good news for Detroit, as well as other teams in the market for a starter, is that Washington probably won’t re-sign Fister when his contract expires after next season. He’ll be close to 32 and likely commanding somewhere north of $10 million a year. That and the need to re-sign Jordan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond will push Fister out of D.C.

The other good news is that Fister is historically undervalued in trades. Detroit acquired him from Seattle for Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells and minor leaguer Francisco Martinez. In turn, Washington acquired him for Ian Krol, Robbie Ray and Steve Lombardozzi.

With the exception of Furbush and Krol’s April to June performances, none of those six made any serious contributions to a Major League team last season.

Re-acquiring Fister won’t be easy. Washington might actually do something crazy and ask for a return that befits a pitcher of Fister’s status. Should the Nationals go that route, it would make it difficult to accomplish.

The Tigers have an elite team, but not one with exceptional depth at any single position. By the same token, Washington doesn’t have too many glaring needs.

The Nationals may need a second baseman should Asdrubal Cabrera depart and therefore could be interested in Tigers’ prospect Devon Travis. The 23 year-old second baseman is Detroit’s fourth best prospect according to MLB.com and has a bright future, but is blocked in Detroit. Ian Kinsler will man second base for at least the next four years while shortstop will be Jose Iglesias’ job potentially for the next decade.

Even if Cabrera is retained, the Nationals will need a long-term solution. Acquiring Travis and keeping Cabrera would allow the former to develop while the letter holds the fort down as a stop-gap solution. The Tigers have recently shifted Travis to center field in an attempt to get him to the big leagues sooner and to avoid a log jam with the glut of middle infielders Detroit has, namely Kinsler, Iglesias, Hernan Perez, Eugenio Suarez and Andrew Romine. The center field experiment with Travis could end quickly if the team finds a more experienced center fielder who can make an immediate impact.

Regardless of how that situation would play out, Washington would likely need more than just one prospect to let Fister go. Detroit could offer one of their many young starting pitchers i.e. Kyle Lobstein, Robbie Ray, Kyle Ryan, Buck Farmer or Drew VerHagen, though I’m not sure how receptive Washington would be to that idea.  Ryan and VerHagen only have two Major League starts between them and of the remaining three, Lobstein was the only one to post passable numbers. One of the few young and expendable players left on the roster is Perez, a 23 year-old with the potential to be a solid two-way player. However, if Travis is included in the deal, it would seem overkill to ship out Perez as well. Unless, of course, Washington thinks he’s a suitable solution at second until Travis is ready should Cabrera leave.

The problem with any Tigers/Fister reunion is that Detroit doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. If Washington goes the historical route and seriously undervalues Fister in a trade, the Tigers are in business. If not… who really knows? Tigers’ General Manager Dave Dombrowski has pulled crazier stunts before.

 

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

 

Detroit Tigers: How to Replace Max Scherzer

Changes are coming for the Detroit Tigers. Don’t worry, they won’t be wholesale. The team will still stick to its identity—superb starting pitching and a slugging, star-driven, high-scoring offense. While the bullpen, and to a lesser extent, the bench will likely be bolstered, there is yet another item that will force general manager Dave Dombrowski to make a transaction or two—replacing Max Scherzer.

The writing on the wall may have been the fact that the former Arizona Diamondback turned down a contract extension worth $144 million over six years. Since then, the public opinion thinks Scherzer will be playing for a different team come spring training. That may be public perception in Detroit’s front office as well. Dombrowski, in theory, has already acquired a replacement to take Scherzer’s spot on the front line next to Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. That would be David Price. The fact that the Tigers’ acquired Price mere months after Scherzer turned down the contract could be coincidental, but at the very least served as a backup plan to losing Scherzer.

Here are some options Detroit will have to fill the potentially vacant spot in their rotation.

The Internal Guys

Detroit has a plethora of internal options. A plethora. However, none of the internal options pitched like Cy Young winners, or anywhere close to it. Outside of Scherzer, Verlander, Price, Sanchez, Rick Porcello and the departed Drew Smyly, the Tigers used five other starting pitchers in 2014. That group consisted of Robbie Ray, Buck Farmer, Kyle Lobstein, Kyle Ryan and Drew VerHagen. It’s hard to judge them too harshly. Four of the group are only 23 (Lobstein is the resident greybeard at 25) and none of the five pitched in the big leagues prior to the season. As hard as it is to judge the group, it’s equally as hard to find a front runner in terms of claiming a rotation spot. Lobstein appears to be the leader in the clubhouse. He made the postseason roster as a long reliever, and save a disastrous start in Minnesota, pitched well enough to keep the Tigers in games. However, the former Rays’ farmhand only managed to reach the seven innings pitched plateau once in his six starts. If he can last longer in games and stay effective, he should be the frontrunner of the internal options.

Outside of Lobstein, it’s hard to get a read on things. VerHagen and Ryan only started a game apiece while Farmer struggled immensely in two starts. (Ryan threw six shutout innings in his only start. After that he was limited to bullpen work where he pitched well. He may find it easier to make the team as a reliever than as a starter.)

Ray is the wild card of the bunch. The centerpiece of the return received for Doug Fister pitched exceptionally well in his first two starts. Over 11.1 innings he limited the opposition to one run on nine hits. His strikeout to walk ratio was 7-2. If he can pitch close to that mark for an entire season, then Dombrowski and manager Brad Ausmus should hand him the job outright. Then again, if Ray pitches like he did the rest of the way it will leave the door open for other pitchers. After those two sparkling starts and a brief, two out relief appearance in Boston, Ray’s ERA jumped nearly four runs from 0.75 to 4.70 after surrendering seven runs in 3.1 innings to Texas. It only got worse from their as he posted an 11.12 ERA in three August starts, giving up 14 runs and 20 hits in only 11.1 innings.

If Scherzer’s replacement is an internal option, it remains to be seen who it will be. Lobstein and Ray (should he turn it around) seem like they have the inside track. Still, it’s hard to evaluate a group of young pitchers.

The Free Agents

Outside of Scherzer, the other marquee free agent starting pitchers are Jon Lester and James Shields. Signing either would cost a similar amount of cash to Scherzer, plus the loss of a draft pick, so re-signing Scherzer would seem the most prudent play out of the three.

Still, if the team opts for another free agent to fill the void, or perhaps split time with an internal candidate, there are plenty of options. Options that, on the whole, come with a caveat. That caveat is that most starters available on the open market are either reclamation projects/ buy low candidates or pitchers looking for a big payday.

If the Tigers aren’t willing to commit anything close to Scherzer money on anyone other than Scherzer they should look for a cheaper option. A cheaper option that is more reliable than a buy low candidate. Signing someone like Jason Hammel or Roberto Hernandez would make sense. Neither will wow you with their numbers, but neither will completely implode either. They’d keep the Tigers in game as well as providing decent rotation depth. If the Tigers want a pitcher with a little more experience and one who could win them more games, Jake Peavy would be ideal. He’s no spring chicken at 33, but has been in plenty of pressure situations and knows the division well thanks to his time in Chicago. He won’t be cheap, but he’ll be cheaper than Scherzer.

James Shields could be an interesting target. First off, he’s cheaper than the other two premium starters on the market—Scherzer and Lester. Secondly, signing him away from Kansas City would be a major blow to Detroit’s biggest division rival.

The Trade Market

Their likely won’t be many pitchers of Scherzer’s caliber on the trade market. Knowing this, Detroit could look for a controllable, young, middle of the rotation type to fill the need. The Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson would make sense. Given the fact Tampa may not want to get into a situation with him where they pay him gobs of money and decide to move him instead—a la Scott Kazmir, David Price, James Shields, et al.

San Diego’s Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy would also be pitchers to target. Ross has flourished as a starter in San Diego while Kennedy seems to have rebounded from a rough 2013. Before 2013, the former Yankee farmhand won 36 games between 2011 and 2012. One of Cincinnati’s may starting pitchers could also make sense.

In Conclusion

The simplest may just be to re-sign Scherzer, but should Detroit go another way, Dave Dombrowski will have plenty of options.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: Center Field Alternatives After Missing Out on Rusney Castillo

Regardless of how far the Detroit Tigers came in their pursuit of Cuban prospect Rusney Castillo, they missed out on adding the highly regarded center fielder. Castillo is heading to Boston. With Austin Jackson shipped out as part of the David Price trade, the Tigers are in need of a center fielder, if they don’t go after one to help their postseason run, then they will almost surely try to acquire one in the offseason. Here are some options.

Options for Right Now

The Internal Guys: Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera

Detroit got spoiled by Austin Jackson—a superb fielding, centrally based outfielder who hit for some pop. Sure, he struck out a ton, but at least he contributed in other categories. The Tigers now face reality without their once-longtime center fielder. Any disapproval of his replacements’ play has been answered with the question “Well, would you rather have David Price or not have David Price?” and while’s it’s fantastic to have Price, the team could use a center fielder. I’m not saying the trade shouldn’t have happened, but Detroit need a center fielder, and his name isn’t Rajai Davis or Ezequiel Carrera. Both can cover miles of ground, but aren’t close to the defensive player that Jackson was for the Tigers.

Davis has filled in admirably in center, but his best position remains in left field. This gives Brad Ausmus flexibility in picking his lineup—flexibility that Detroit has relied on and will need to continue to rely on.

While Carrera isn’t as strong defensively as Jackson, he isn’t good offensively as Jackson or Davis. Yes, he brings speed, but his hitting hasn’t been on par with the rest of the lineup. A .220 hitting center fielder with speed might play on a young team auditioning players, but on a team with championship aspirations like the Tigers, it simply isn’t good enough.

In 24 games, Carrera has a total of three extra base hits—two doubles and a triple. Jackson accumulated four extra base hits alone over the course of three games against Diamondbacks.

*Note: I probably wouldn’t be writing this piece if the Tigers were still in first place in the division, but new additions or better play is needed to pass the Royals. It’s also nearing panic mode in “Tigerland.”

The Current Trade Market: Various

With the non-waiver trade deadline come and gone, players must now pass through waivers before being dealt. The bad teams get first crack at players, so because of that and other factors, it’s unlikely that a player would fall through the cracks. However a number of players have passed through waivers with no teams claiming them, and are available to be dealt anywhere. According to MLB Trade Rumors, these players include outfielders such as Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rios, Matt Kemp, Brett Gardner, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. Each is a unique player, but all of them have one thing in common—they’re owed a lot of money.

In addition to being owed a collective 164 million dollars over the next six years, Choo and Granderson just signed deals with their respective teams this offseason. It would look bad for future free agents assessing their options to see that a team traded a player just months after signing him to a long contract. Choo has also played exclusively in both left and right field this year while Granderson has predominantly played right. Granderson has extensive experience in center; just ask any long-term Tigers’ fan, but his salary makes it hard to justify a reunion.

Rios falls in a similar boat defensively seeing as he hasn’t played centerfield since 2011. Plus, he’ll be 34 at this time next year and doesn’t have the power he once possessed.

The Dodgers’ trio of representatives on the list are harder to quantify trading. They aren’t exactly hitting the cover off the ball with batting averages of .247 (Ethier) .271 (Crawford) and .277 (Kemp). Ethier has played center field this year, but his batting line and hefty contract make a move unlikely. Crawford, on the other hand, isn’t a centerfielder. He never played the position extensively, as evidenced by the last time he was in center field—seven innings of a game six years ago while he was with the Rays.

Kemp may be the closest thing to a “goldilocks” fit. Not only does he play center (he’s won two Gold Gloves there), but if he can get his production near where it was during his accolade filled year of 2011, the Tigers would have another elite bat to hit in a lineup that features a handful of them. The red flag is that Kemp hasn’t played a full season since 2011 and is owed north of 100 million dollars over the next five seasons.

The Dodgers are also in the thick of a pennant race of their own, and with Yasiel Puig as the only other starting caliber outfielder on the team, it seems unlikely that LA would part with any of their three contractual albatrosses.

Finally, there’s Gardner. From a skillset standpoint, the Yankee outfielder would fit perfectly in Detroit. He has played 333 games in center field over the course of his career. He is a threat on the base baths with 179 steals over nearly 750 games—and, to top it all off, he hits for power. Albeit power closer to that of Rajai Davis as opposed to Miguel Cabrera, but it would be an upgrade. But similar to Kemp, Gardner’s contract calls for a lot of money. The Yankee outfielder is owed close to 50 million over the next four years, not including a 12.5 million team option for 2019. The money and the fact that the Yankees trail Detroit in the wild card standings may make a trade near impossible.

Splurging cash on one of these previously mentioned outfielders would seem counterproductive—especially after trading Prince Fielder and Doug Fister in cost-cutting moves. It would also seem odd considering the team will likely hand one/both of David Price and Max Scherzer a massive contract extension.

It’s unclear what Dave Dombrowski will do with the Tigers center field situation. Maybe Rajai Davis will prove he can play there full time. Maybe Ezequiel Carrera will hit. Who knows. But reinforcements via trade or Cuba are unlikely this season. If nothing is done, expect the Tigers’ GM to make a move for a center fielder this winter.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

 

MLB Trade Rumors: The Tigers and Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp at his best is a near flawless player. An athletic and talented center fielder, he combines that with the ability to hit for average, serious power and tremendous base running /speed to make for a potent threat. Put it this way, Kemp at his best would challenge Mike Trout for the “best five tool player” award.

Everyone is aware of what Kemp can do. He put in a wonderful season in 2011 when he posted a .324 batting average, 39 home runs, 126 RBI and 40 stolen bases. Kemp not only led the league in the two traditional run scoring stats, homers and RBI, but he also led the league in runs scored, OPS+ and total bases. Also on his resume that year? A Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Wow this guy is excessively driving in the point of how good Matt Kemp is,” then we’re on the same page. Matt Kemp is good. Really good.

So why are the Dodgers considering trading someone who, when healthy, rivals Mike Trout?

This is why. Here’s a comparison of Kemp’s accolade-filled 2011 stat line compared to that of the last two years.

Matt Kemp 2011: 161 games played, 115 runs scored, 195 hits, 33 doubles, 39 homeruns, 126 RBI, 40 stolen bases, .324 batting average, 353 total bases.

Matt Kemp 2012 & 2013: 179 games played, 109 runs scored, 193 hits, 37 doubles, 29 homeruns, 102 RBI, 18 stolen bases, .290 batting average, 321 total bases.

The current Dodger’s injury form and the emergence of Yasiel Puig have doomed Kemp to expendability. Maybe not Puig by himself, but the general immovability of Carol Crawford’s contract means one or both Kemp and Andre Either must go. After all, you can’t play four outfielders in the National League.

The Dodgers, as with many contending teams, have very specific needs. Their only legitimate needs are at third base and possibly insurance at second base. The Tigers current third baseman is Nick Castellanos. Unless the Angels offer Mike Trout or Washington calls with an offer of Stephen Strasburg and/or Bryce Harper, you don’t trade the former top-prospect if you’re Detroit.

Los Angeles was reported to be willing to eat money to facilitate a Kemp trade. Theoretically, a trade similar to that of the Prince Fielder trade could work. LA would acquire Ian Kinsler to provide insurance at second base as well as playing third. However, even if the Dodgers ate significant money, Detroit would likely be taking back major salary in the trade. Something that would go against the previous Fielder trade as well as the Doug Fister trade.

If you take salary out of the equation, a package centered around Austin Jackson could get the deal done, but who else would be in that package is beyond me. The Tigers don’t have the equivalent of a massive, expiring contract in the NBA that they can shop. They simply don’t have a big contract to shop.

Dave Dombrowski’s reshaping of the team has been extremely cost cutting. He’s expunged the hefty, collective contracts of players such as Fielder, Fister and Jhonny Peralta and has replaced them with younger, cheaper players that still make the team legitimate contenders. The cost-cutting has gone so far that somewhat-expensive role players such as Jose Veras, Ramon Santiago and Brayan Pena have been replaced with even cheaper options like Ian Krol, Steven Lombardozzi and Bryan Holaday.

Acquiring Kemp would undo almost all of the work he’s done to get the team to its current state.

Detroit has reportedly been in contact with the Dodgers about the two-time All-Star, which given everything that I just stated makes a potential move curious. It may have just been tire kicking at its best, but if the talks were serious the Tigers would probably ask for the Dodgers to eat a lot of money. Like a lot in italics a lot.

The Dodgers reportedly now plan to keep Kemp, but should the Tigers remain interested there could be trouble.

Unless Los Angeles nearly gives him away from a salary standpoint, Kemp is going to occupy a large portion of Detroit’s salary going forward. This is all and well if the Tigers are able to sign Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer to long-term contracts, but if Kemp’s salary stands in the way of that, then Dave Dombrowski should stay away.

Kemp is going to bounce back and be a fantastic player, but he isn’t worth the risk of losing Miguel Cabrera and or Max Scherzer.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: Breaking Down the Doug Fister Trade

When the Detroit Tigers acquired Doug Fister from the Seattle Mariners a few years ago, it was viewed as an under-the-radar trade. After a few months of Fister pitching, it was looked at as a straight-up train robbery.

The train robbery is over. The Tigers have cashed in their bounty from that robbery, dealing Fister to our nation’s Capitol for a package that included utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi, young, lefty reliever Ian Krol and starting pitching prospect Robbie Ray.

At the end of the day, someone was going to be supplanted by Drew Smyly in the Tigers’ rotation. Many thought the supplanted pitcher was going to Rick Porcello, some thought it would be Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.

It was Fister.

MLB Trade Rumors arbitration projections show Porcello earning more than Fister, so it wasn’t all about the money. But, Tigers did save some cash by comparison if you match up the former Mariners’ contract with the combined salary owed to the three players he was traded for.

Part of me thinks this has long term implications for the Tigers. They obviously get young players to help them contend in the future, namely Ray, but it also helps them get to that future.

People tend to forget that Rick Porcello is only 24 years of age. He’s already got five years in the big leagues, but is only 24. Fister is five years older. Keeping Porcello makes sense when looking ahead five years from now when Porcello will be in his prime at 29. At that time Fister will be making his way toward retirement.

Dave Dombrowski might be selling high on Fister. The team was determined to move Smyly into the rotation, meaning one of the incumbent starters had to go. Detroit isn’t moving Verlander or Sanchez, and would only take everything and the kitchen sink for Scherzer. This may have been a case of the Tigers getting more value out of Fister than Porcello.

Most people will say that it is a lost trade for the Tigers, but we shouldn’t doubt Dave Dombrowski’s trading prowess. He’s won every major trade he has made in recent memory.

Think about it, he won the Miguel Cabrera trade by a landslide (that’s including the fact that he had to take back Dontrelle Willis’ contract). He won the Curtis Granderson/Edwin Jackson three-teamer by a decent margin. He acquired Fister in said train robbery. He got Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for a backup catcher and two young starting pitchers who haven’t been able to fully establish themselves on one of baseball’s worst teams. The man wins trades.

No one should jump to conclusions on trades. You can only tell who won or lost a trade in four or five years. People have doubted Dombrowski’s deals in the past. (I, for one, thought they gave way too much for Sanchez. I was wrong.) We have to give the team a chance to play together, let alone get through an off-season. It’s premature and foolish, to jump to conclusions about Dombrowski’s trading. Give it time. It’ll all work out.

Tigers’ Dombrowski Keeps Looking Better and Better

Dave Dombrowski is one of the better GMs in the sport of baseball. Maybe the best. His latest trades are a testament to that.

First off, Miguel Cabrera? Remember him? MVP having a ridiculous year? Widely regarded as the best hitter in the known universe?

You know what Dombrowski gave the Marlins for him? Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Burke Badnehop and some minor leaguers. Fun fact, of the players that Florida Miami got from Detroit there are more players currently on the Brewers’ payroll (two) than the Marlins (zero).  So that was a train robbery, not so much of a trade.

The Tigers recently exchanged more players with the Marlins at last year’s trade deadline. Detroit acquired Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for a package of prospects highlighted by starting pitcher Jacob Turner and catcher Rob Brantly. My reaction was extremely skeptical. I thought Turner was much too high of a price to pay for a stop-gap piece (Sanchez). I’ll raise my hand and say I was wrong, because I was. Sanchez has not only resigned with Detroit for the long term, but he has also warranted that contract extension with tremendous pitching. The former Marlin is a Cy Young dark horse and leads the league with a microscopic 2.61 ERA. He was also arguably Detroit’s best pitcher during last year’s World Series run.

There is also the case of Infante. Not only has he solved the massive black hole that was second base, but he has also exceeded expectations with a .325 batting average, further bolstering an already terrifying lineup.

The price that was paid to bring Sanchez and Infante back/ to Detroit was a package including Turner and Brantly. Both are on the Fish’s big league roster and both look to be part of the team’s future. Neither seemed to have that look in Detroit, mostly due to established players ahead of them on the organizational depth chart.

The Tigers continue to make extremely smart trades that make the rest of the league look foolish for not making the deal. Sanchez and Infante join a growing list that includes Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson.

If liked the piece and want to check out more of my work, you can head over to my site dedicated to Seattle Sports, http://www.kingdomeofseattlesports.com/.

The Mariners Really Need to Trade Felix Hernandez

The Upper Echelons of Major League Pitchers-

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. David Price, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, Jered Weaver
  3. Matt Cain, RA Dickey , James Shields, Zack Grienke, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez
  4. Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg,  Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Johnny Cueto
  5. Ian Kennedy, Anibal Sanchez, Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo, Trevor Cahill, Jordan Zimmerman etc.

Those, in a nutshell, are the top pitchers in baseball. Notice the placement of RA Dickey and James Shields. Both have been traded in the last month, yet both are ranked below (in my estimate) Felix Hernandez. In addition to those two big offseason moves, the Angels signed Josh Hamilton. I say this for one reason, Texas isn’t going anywhere,  and Los Angeles just added Hamilton to their team. The other team in the division is Oakland who, I might point out, was probably the second best team in the AL playoffs last year.

Regardless of Seattle’s current talent (meh,) the team is in a stacked division. Anything besides last place is probably a miracle (barring an Angels’ season-long flop.)

The team isn’t going anywhere soon. Thus it makes sense to trade Felix Hernandez, especially since their top two pitching prospects (Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen) are ranked fourth and eighth in terms of the top 100 prospects in the game per Jonathan Mayo.

There are two, if not three, (James Paxton could be special as well) potential Hernandez replacements waiting in the system. Yes, the fences are being moved in and the Mariners need to sell tickets, but dealing Hernandez makes sense.

Let’s put a few things out there. One, Hernandez is four years younger than Shields and twelve younger than Dickey. Not surprisingly, King Felix is a much better pitcher than both. The point on Shields, or even Dickey, is that Shields fetched the number three overall prospect (again all this per Mayo,) Wil Myers, who has at least “star” potential if not more. Another prospect that went to Tampa was starter Jake Odorizzi, ranked the 30th best in all of baseball. Tampa also picked up two other prospects who are ranked in the top 20 of their system.

New York got the 11th and 83rd best prospects in the game by selling high on a 38-year old.

What I’m getting at, if you haven’t gotten there first, is that the Rays and Mets got some of the better packages of prospects that the trading market has seen in the past few years. I would think that the Mariners would want to cash in with a haul of that kind.

The Mariners need a hitter to lead them into the next phase of the franchise (hopefully contending.) I’m sure they’d jump at a package of Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt (not that Texas would consider that seriously.) But Seattle needs a corner stone. They need the next Miguel Cabrera or Evan Longoria. They need someone who can carry a team on his backs/bats. Maybe Felix Hernandez is the way to find that player.

Surely if James Shields and RA Dickey can fetch outstanding hauls of prospects, then a younger and better pitcher (Felix Hernandez) can get a better one.

What do you think? Should the Mariners trade King Felix or should they keep him and try to contend?