Detroit Tigers: Kyle Lobstein an Unlikely Steadying Presence

Kyle Lobstein has been the most reliable pitcher in the Detroit Tigers’ rotation in the last few weeks.

The man who Brad Ausmus referred to as “Lobber” has been consistent for the Detroit Tigers at a time when they are in dire need of reliability. Starting pitching was once the Tigers’ calling card. And I guess it still is, but right now they’re going through some struggles. Not only is the team trailing the Royals this late in the season (they entered today two games back of Kansas City) their starting pitching hasn’t been as effective. Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and David Price have compiled a few uncharacteristically pedestrian/awful starts as of late while Rick Porcello is having what can be described as a small speed bump in an otherwise superb breakout year. Other pitching woes include Justin Verlander having a down year (compared to his absurdly high standards). In addition, Anibal Sanchez is dealing with an injury that could keep him out for the rest of the year. Sanchez’ replacements, the two headed monster that is Buck Farmer and Robbie Ray, were dreadful in spot starts.

Because of this, Ausmus and the Tigers have turned to “Lobber.”

Lobstein has only thrown two starts, but with the rest of the rotation on a roller coaster in terms of results, those two starts seem like so much more. The former Rays’ prospect hasn’t officially recorded a win, but Detroit has won both of his starts (incidentally, Phil Coke won both of those games). Lobstein isn’t just keeping the Tigers in games; he’s pitching well and giving them a chance to win those games. The former second round pick has succeeded where others have failed in stabilizing a contending team’s rotation as a rookie.

The Tigers’ haven’t had much success in bringing starting pitching up from the minors in recent memory, but with Lobstein it seems they’ve found a keeper.

Detroit Tigers: Why Detroit Must Trade for a Starting Pitcher

The Robbie Ray/Buck Farmer two headed monster hasn’t worked. After each was utterly annihilated by the Twins (yes those Twins) in consecutive starts, the Tigers need some pitching help. Not only do Ray and Farmer’s struggles hurt the Tigers from a winning and losing standpoint, but it also overtaxes a recently overworked and generally underwhelming bullpen. Each starter lasted on only an inning and a third each against Minnesota.

Maybe the most telling number from the two disastrous games in Minnesota was the lack of established, quality big leaguers Minnesota had in the lineup. The Twins, who are obviously in deep rebuilding mode, had only three legitimate big league starters in the lineup versus Ray—Brian Dozier, Joe  Mauer and Kurt Suzuki. They only fielded two of those players against Farmer (Dozier and Mauer) as Suzuki got the day off.

Detroit hasn’t had to call up too many starting pitchers from the minor leagues in recent memory, but they have had some success with the likes of Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly. Ray and Farmer are still young and have room to grow, but for now their numbers are more reminiscent of Andy Oliver and Casey Crosby than Porcello and Smyly.

At this late stage, the best starting pitching options available to the Tigers are those who have cleared, or are in the process of clearing waivers. Should any of those players clear waiver, they will likely have an inflated salary. A factor that might make Detroit shy away.

The Tigers need money to throw at David Price. This is assuming Max Scherzer will leave via free agency in the offseason. If Scherzer does leave, acquiring a quality, moderately priced and not particularly old starting pitcher would seem smart. The team can use that starter to fill the rotation turn of Anibal Sanchez until the former Marlin is healthy. That and a healthy Justin Verlander will push the Ray/Farmer duo back to the minor leagues—something that would be beneficiary for all parties. Once Sanchez is healthy, manager Brad Ausmus can either use the new acquisition out of the bullpen, or use him to occasionally spell one of the other five starters.

For Detroit, the real advantage of having six quality starters comes in the postseason. Most teams wouldn’t be thrilled about using two of their starting pitchers out of the bullpen in October, but this could work for the Tigers. Adding two quality starting pitchers to Detroit’s playoff bullpen would be godsend. Here are some of the many positives-

  • More quality arms: Detroit could use more top-drawer pitchers in the bullpen. Adding two (even if they’re starters by trade) would give Ausmus more options.
  • In-game flexibility: Ausmus can use the two starters to pitch long, effective innings in relief to shield the rest of the bullpen. This could be particularly useful if Detroit is on either side of a blowout.
  • Tense situations: Jim Leyland used Max Scherzer to great effect out of the bullpen against Oakland last year. With six quality starters, Ausmus can repeat this with Scherzer and use one of the two extra starters to take Scherzer’s playoff start. Or he can simply use one of the extra starters, who may be better options than most of the Tigers’ current relievers.

At this point, even if Detroit acquires a starting pitcher in September who isn’t eligible for the playoff roster, but simply helps the Tigers get there, it will be a win. It may not be panic time in the Motor City, but it’s certainly getting close.

 

Detroit Tigers Acquire David Price: How, Why and What it Means for the Tigers and the Pennant Race

Who Was Acquired: The Tigers acquired starting pitcher David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team trade.

Who They Gave Up: Centerfielder Austin Jackson, starting pitcher Drew Smyly and minor league shortstop Willy Adames.

Who Else Was Involved: The Seattle Mariners, who acquired Jackson while also sending infielder Nick Franklin to Tampa Bay.

What it Means for the Tigers:

Detroit acquired one of the premier starting pitchers in the game, David Price. The cost? Austin Jackson, Willy Adames and Drew Smyly. The price to pay (if you excuse the pun) wasn’t as high as say the pieces Kansas City gave up for James Shields, but it was still high. Jackson is as good of a defensive centerfielder as you’ll find and brings pop and speed to the lineup. Smyly, on the other hand, is a young, controllable and versatile pitcher who has quality numbers in his career out of the ‘pen and in the rotation. Adames is in the lower minors and is a long way away from the Majors.

The Tigers didn’t pay a whole lot for Price. You could arguably say that the Red Sox got a better haul for either Jon Lester or John Lackey. Chicago may have gotten a better deal for Jeff Samardjiza. Detroit can now pencil in some combination of Price, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer for games one through three of the postseason. That’s not even mentioning Rick Porcello, who is finally showing all the potential and promise he had earlier in his career, or Anibal Sanchez who not only was ridiculously dominant against Boston in the playoffs last year, but also led the American League in ERA last season.

This trade was partly made possible due to offseason acquisitions Rajai Davis and JD Martinez. Before their acquisitions the outfield was very clearly Jackson, Torii Hunter and some combination of players filling the third spot. Now with Martinez hitting like a middle-of-the-order bat and occupying the corner outfield spot opposite Hunter, the team can slide Davis to center to fill the void created by Jackson. Davis’ skillset also made it easier to part with Jackson. Last season, Jackson was the lone source of speed in the lineup— something that was exposed in October. Davis can cover ground in the outfield, can steal a multitude of bases (even more than Jackson) and hit for some power. On a minor note, this solves the Andy Dirks issue. When he’s healthy, Dirks will be the fourth outfielder, something that wasn’t clear before, due to all the outfielders and Dirks’ injury.

Price’s acquisition also sets up an all-out war for the American League pennant. With all due respect to Anaheim and Baltimore, the AL champ will be from Michigan (more likely) or the Bay Area. The Tigers and A’s have met in the last two postseasons, with Detroit winning both matchups. Oakland has made big acquisitions as well, bringing in Jon Lester and Jeff Samardjiza. The A’s made these trades to win it all, but also to get by Detroit who have knocked them out of the playoffs the last three times Billy Beane’s team have made it.

The acquisition of Price also gives the Tigers insurance down the road. If Max Scherzer leaves, the Tigers now have Price as cover, if you want to call one of the best pitchers in the game “cover.”

If anything, this trade signifies pitching as king in baseball. The Tigers now employ the last three American League Cy Young winners in the league. If the previous thinking holds, and pitching is king, the Tigers have it in spades. Look out World Series, here comes Detroit.

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.

Mapping the Tigers’ Off-Season Part 1: Finding the Right Manager

Mapping the Tigers’ Offseason

The baseball world was thrown into some disarray today. Jim Leyland stepped down. After decades in the game, according to Leyland, it was time to step down.

Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers will have their own check-list of items to accomplish this offseason. Here’s the first item-

1.       Find a Good Fit to Lead the Team

With Leyland’s managerial days behind him, the team will need someone else to take the reins. The Tigers’ vacancy will automatically leapfrog the job opportunities in Cincinnati and Washington as the top gig on the market. After all, what manager wouldn’t want to take over a club who has made three straight LCS appearances as well as having arguably the best players at their positions (i.e. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera, etc.)? The Tigers could go numerous ways here.

One would be to go the “Mike Matheny” route and hire someone with little- to-no managerial experience, but is familiar with the organization. Brad Ausmus would fit the bill. However, this may or may not fly. The team is a championship contender, and throwing a first time manager into the fire like that may not work. It worked for Matheny, but Walt Weiss, Robin Ventura and Mike Redmond’s respective career starts haven’t exactly gone swimmingly.

The second option would be the “John Farrell” route: hiring someone who is familiar with the team, and has previous experience. Gene Lamont would fit this bill, and Leyland will surely give his old friend his backing, but whether Dombrowski wants to go this route remains to be seen.

Finally, the last option is the “Terry Francona” route. The team would go with an experienced, proven winner as their manager, someone who knows how to win. Francona, Buck Showalter and Clint Hurdle are recent examples of this route that have worked out well. Dusty Baker, Charlie Manuel and Lou Piniella’s respective names have already been tossed around. However, all that being said, the Tigers can’t afford to have a Bobby Valentine hire. It would be disastrous.

Check back for part two soon.

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?

Silencing the Tigers’ Haters

Much has been made of the Tigers’ “inconsistent” play as of late, as well as the fact that they aren’t in first place in a “weak” division.

This is all irrelevant. Or, unwarranted rather.  The Tigers have, if not the best, then one of the best records in the league since the end of June.

The division is another thing entirely. Yes, the Tigers sit two games out of first place Chicago, but on the year, Detroit has a 7-5 record against the Sox. That’s tied for the most wins the Tigers have against any other club this year. The other two teams the Tigers have seven wins against are Minnesota and Kansas City, which Detroit is a combined 14-6 against. Which brings us to this point, of the 40 games left, twenty six of them are against those teams. Six more of those scheduled games are against the Angels, who Detroit has won three of the four meetings with this year.

So add it all up, and the Tigers, if all goes as it has been going, should end up with the division title. This would in turn remove them from the wildcard-playoff-shtick. 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