Detroit Tigers need to think about the future

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By H. Jose Bosch

Detroit, who for the last few seasons has been among the ranks of the highest payroll teams in baseball, may not be at the top following this off season. With news breaking that the Tigers are looking to trade All-star Edwin Jackson, it appears the economy is finally catching up.

When I first heard the news, I was very upset. As disappointing as the season was, I was optimistic about 2010 and a starting rotation anchored by Justin Verlander, Jackson and Porcello as the Nos. 1-3 pitchers. But according to this Foxports.com report (the outlet that initially broke the story) the move is probably an economic one more than anything else.

The thinking goes that if the Tigers want to sign top free agents, it needs to free up some space because the payroll can’t get any bigger. (So in reality they might still have a high payroll, but now they’ll have to be signing players and evaluating talent with a small payroll mentality).

But after thinking about it I realized that this is a huge make or break off season for Detroit in terms of the team’s the future. If the Tigers are at a disadvantage in terms of building a winner now, why sacrifice the future?

Technically the Tigers were one game off from being a playoff team, but let’s be honest; they were much worse than that. This off season could be the Tigers’ chance to stock up for the future with draft picks and prospects for some of their arbitration-eligible players.

This year’s free agent crop isn’t strong enough for the Tigers to build a contender through free agency and the Tigers don’t have enough talent internally, either.

Plus Detroit is freed from three debilitating contracts after next season: Jeremy Bonderman (4 years/ $38 million), Dontrelle Willis (3 years/ $29 million) and Nate Robertson (3 years/$21.25 million) are free agents in 2010. Add Brandon Inge (4 years/$24 million) and the Tigers could have a lot of money to play with after the 2010 season.

So, will 2010 hurt? You bet. But since the Tigers are better set up for future success rather than immediate success, I don’t think fans should worry too much about the loss of a Jackson or Placido Polanco.

Later today I’m going to start breaking down what roster moves Detroit should make with it’s free agents and arbitration-eligible players.

Read more about the Tigers at Jose’s blog, Michigan and Trumbull
Photo courtesy of powerbooktrance/Flickr

Twins vs. Tigers: Who Do Sox Fans Cheer For?

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By Soxman

Two teams, one game, and the winner moves on to the postseason while the loser goes home for the winter.  Sox fans know this scenario oh too well as we needed the famous “blackout play-in game” in 2009 to earn our central division crown.  For Twins fans, it is as Yogi Berra says, “dejvu all over again!” So as the Twin vs. Tigers game on Tuesday approaches, several perplexing questions are likely peculating through White Sox fans minds:twins_logo

Who do I cheer for?  Is it wrong be interested in this game at all?  To pick a side?  Can I cheer for my enemy and still be called a Sox fan? As Hawk Harrelson would say:  “YEEEEAAASSS.” Before you read my pick, understand a couple of  things.

First, while I’m a diehard Sox fan, I’m also a fanatic of the game of baseball…period.  A tiebreaker represents all that is exciting in this game, even if a team only needs 87 wins to reach the postseason. Second, there is no right or wrong answer in this equation.  That’s the beauty of the game. Let’s examine some points of debate:

The “ex” Sox factor
The Tigers have Magglio Ordonez and former coaches Jim Leyland and Gene Lamont. “O wee OOOO…MAGGGLIO,” left Chicago via the Scott Boras express, and the perception among Sox fans was he used the Sox to get a better offer from the Tigers.  It was the first shot heard ’round the Cell, that the Sox would refuse to play ball with Boras. The Twins have Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Orlando Cabrera and World Series Hero Joe Crede. Crede was a “Don’t Stop Believin” voice of the 2005 World Champion Sox.
Advantage:  Twins.


The Underdog Factor

Often synonymous with payroll, this year there is even more at play.  The Twins will be without their best power hitter Justin Morneau, and defensive stalwart Joe Crede, who both are out with back issues. The Tigers are without Dontrelle Willis and Joel Zumaya. Team Payroll?  Detroit has the 5th highest in baseball at just over $115 million. The Twins rank 24th at about $65.3 million. Advantage:  Twins

The Economy
With the flaying automobile industry and a depressed economy, Detroit has been referred to as a city “that needs the play-offs” as an emotional shot in the arm. Opponents argue, the Detroit Red Wings domination should be plenty.  People then counter argue with the Detroit Lions. Seriously though, according to a 2007 census study, Michigan has a 12% poverty rate, while Minnesota has an 8.1% poverty rate. Advantage:  Tigers

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Always the Bridesmaid Factor

While the Tigers won the AL Pennant in 2006, they did it as the AL wildcard team and have never won an A.L. Central Title since the 1998 realignment. The Tigers last won the World Series in 1984, their 4th in team history. The Twins have won the AL Central 4 times since 1998. They last won the World Series in 1991, their third in team history. Advantage: Twins by numbers, Tigers by Underdog Factor.

The Sox Hate Factor
This is pure opinion here.  I hate the Metrodome as a Sox fan because of our record there.  I hate the Metrodome as a baseball fan, as it’s a horrible place to watch a game.  I respect the Metrodome as an outsider because of the electric advantage it gives the Twins.
Detroit Tiger fans invade U.S. Cellular Field at a far greater rate and with a higher rate of irritability than Twins fans do.
Advantage: Tie

For me, its always about the underdog, or the little guy.  I’ve got to go with the Minnesota Twins.  With a total team salary that is 45% less than their opponent, and two of their better players injured, it’s amazing they made it this far.  Say it is so Joe…Crede that is. So for now….big gulp….larger swallow…Go Twins!  At least it’s not the Cubs.

And as Sox fans we can always say that we helped the Twins get there by taking 4 of 6 from the Tigers to end the season. To Twins Fan and Sportsbank Writer Peter Christian, remember who said your team would be here in August?  You can remember me in the Call Outs. Now that all the information has been presented to you, who are you cheering for Sox fans?

The Tigers’ collapse should come as no surprise

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By H. Jose Bosch

Today I have a splitting headache and I’m not sure if it’s because I might have swine flu or because the Tigers epically failed to seal the division championship over the weekend.

To be honest, I’d rather have the swine flu.

The Tigers 5-3 win yesterday afternoon, a win that forced a one-game playoff tomorrow evening, only proves the point that no Tigers fan should be surprised about this late season collapse.

Detroit has been the most consistent, inconsistent team in baseball all season long. One day they play like the hapless Tigers of the mid to late 90s and the next day they look good enough to beat the Yankees.

What hurt the Tigers is that they never embraced their true identity. Not that a team needs a true identity to play well, but when a team has a certain identity, it’s built in a certain way which helps the team play more consistently.

The Twins have had the same identity for years. They’re low budget, concentrate on developing players, particularly pitchers, and they play small ball well. The team is built for this. They have players up and down the roster who have come up through the farm system. They have players who can make productive outs and they’ve always been amongst the best in the league in pitching.

They’re not always pretty during the regular season, but they’re always good enough to be dangerous in August and September.

Add all those together and it’s no wonder the Twins clawed their way back to force a playoff.

Detroit, on the other hand, hasn’t fully embraced its new identity. Being a slugging team didn’t work last season, so management decided to focus on pitching and defense—a great idea considering the team plays in Comerica Park. Unfortunately the line up still features elements of a slugging team, despite improvements in small ball categories, like sacrifice flies and sacrifice hits.

Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco had off years, hurting the production of Miguel Cabrera, albeit not by much. Magglio Ordonez had zero pop in the bat most of the year as did Carlos Guillen, when he played. Marcus Thames, who was supposed to be a great power hitter, had an awful season and after a fast start, Brandon Inge fell back down to his base level, which is a terrible hitter.

A lot of these guys aren’t small ball type players but sluggers, only none of them slugged. So when the Tigers actually did try to play small ball — 92 sacrifice at bats compared to 74 last season — they couldn’t score runs.
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I think part of that comes from Detroit still relying on the big inning rather than chipping away at the opposing pitcher with a few runs sprinkled throughout the game. This type of mentality essentially breeds hot and cold hitting which, in turn, produces a hot and cold team.

Put that up against a hot team like Minnesota and it’s a recipe for disaster.

This post also appears at Michigan and Trumbull.

Don’t expect the same magic from 2006: Tigers exchange

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By Dave Boucher and H. Jose Bosch

[Editor’s note: This exchange began shortly after Detroit took two out of three in Los Angeles and before the Tigers pooped themselves in Kansas City. Some of the comments have been altered to be more timely.]

HJB-Just when Tiger fans were biting their nails over Detroit’s awful road record, they took two out of three from the Angels followed by a series split with the Tampa Bay Rays. Then Detroit didn’t look back and began September with a six game winning streak. After sweeping the Rays and being swept by the Royals, the Tigers have three road series left, all within the division. Can they go over .500 on the road in September and will it be necessary to win the division?

DB-Not only will Detroit go over .500 on the road for the rest of the season, they should take almost every series they play away from Comerica. Besides the next road trip to Tampa Bay, they get the Royals, Twins, Indians and Sox. I don’t even need to address the Royals series, and the Sox have more than struggled over the last couple of weeks. The Indians are 4-12 against the Tigers for the season; that leaves the Twins. They’re the only team that has enough talent to make the chase for the division tight. That doesn’t mean they will though: they have practically the same schedule as Detroit, with less offense and even shakier pitching. The two remaining series between the teams will be the deciding factor for the A.L. Central race. Look for the Twins to make up a little ground, but to fall short as Detroit stays at the top in September.
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HJB- One trend I’ve noticed the last month of the season is that Edwin Jackson hasn’t been quite as sharp as he was through most of the year. Since the beginning of August opposing hitters are hitting .291 against him and his ERA was 4.83. Granted his record during that time was 5-3, so he’s giving the team a chance to win every time he goes out there. My next question is this: Will this be acceptable in the playoffs where runs are usually at a premium?

DB-No, Jackson is definitely going to need to reacquaint himself with control if the Tigers want to advance into the playoffs. After the abysmal series against the Royals though, it brings up two new questions for me: When we need to go to the bullpen in the sixth inning, who do we turn to? Zach Minor obviously can’t handle the pressure, and the rest of the relief has shown problems as well. Do we drop one of the starters into the pen once the playoffs begin. Along those lines, what teams in the playoffs do you see Detroit succeeding against, and which present problems? Other than the Yankees, of
course…

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HJB-All the Tigers need in the postseason pitching wise is Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Jarrod Washburn and Rick Porcello in that order. Leyland might even get crazy and just rotate three pitchers. Personally, I think that’s Detroit’s best chance at winning in the post season. As for opponent, Detroit really doesn’t match up well with anyone on paper. They’ll probably play the Yankees and what can I say: on paper, Detroit is screwed. New York has a stronger lineup and a stronger pitching staff. Now, in 2006 the Yankees were heavily favored and still lost. But this Tiger team is much worse than the 2006 team. That team was really good but had a terrible second half of the year. This team is just mediocre.

What do you think Dave?

DB-I think you’re exactly right with the Tigers rotation. The pitching staff is key to any team advancing in the playoffs, but Detroit needs absolutely stellar performances from their aces to contend. I would even consider moving Porcello to the bullpen and working with a three man rotation. That way you could bring the rookie or Nate Robertson in as great relief after getting six or seven innings from your best hurlers.

We really, really need some offense as well. I think the pitchers will come out and play, but if guys like Inge, Cabrera and Magglio don’t swing the bat, they have absolutely no chance. When it comes down to it, I would love to see these guys belting balls into the bleachers as the D-Town cats proceed to the series. But it just won’t happen. They need the perfect storm of production from every on the team to succeed, and they still might not be able to make it by the Yankees. The sad and sorry truth: the Bronx Bombers may just be too good.

The Detroit Tigers: Winning the Stupid Way

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By H. Jose Bosch

I’ve already said here on The Sports Bank that the Tigers are in first places despite winning ugly. What I hadn’t realized at the time is that the ugly is not only on the field but also off it.

Detroit’s top five paid players make up roughly 58 percent of the team’s payroll (fifth highest in the league) and it’s safe to say their combined contributions to the team are not equivalent to what they are getting paid for.

Here’s an on-the-surface assessment of the Tigers’ five-highest paid players. (Three batters, two pitchers)

Batters (M. Cabrera, M. Ordonez & C. Guillen)

.294 BA, .449 SLG, .358 OBP, 29 HR, 108 RBI

Pitchers (D. Willis, J. Bonderman)

1-5, 10.50 ERA, 18 K, 31 BB

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Miguel Cabrera ($14.4 million) is the second-highest paid player on the team and he’s earning his keep and severely skewing the above combined stat line with his great averages and accounting for nearly 50% of the three players combined plate appearances. He’s the team’s leader in batting average (.333), slugging percentage (.551) and on-base percentage (.397). He also leads the team in driving in runs and is tied for 2nd in home runs.

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However, Magglio Ordonez ($18.9 million) and Carlos Guillen ($10 million) have little pop (combined .248, .317, .345, 8 HR, 48 RBI) in their bats and both have missed significant time due to injury or just plain sucking. That’s not even the worst part.

The worst part is the money they are flushing down the toilet to two terrible pitchers. The Tigers are paying Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis $22,500,000 combined this season to have an output less than that of a journeyman starter. Together they don’t even make up a crappy pitcher. Yet this talent-deprived Franken-pitcher would be the third-highest paid player in the league (and $4 million more than the current highest-paid pitcher in the league – Barry Zito).

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No first-place team is wasting as much money on its five highest paid players. The Los Angeles Angels come the closest. They also have three batters at the top of their payroll (Guerrero, Hunter and Matthews Jr.) and the Angels’ big 3 have similar combined stats to the Tigers’ big 3 in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage (Mostly due to the fact that Cabrera skews the averages so high due to so many more plate appearances than Ordonez and Guillen). However the Angels’ trio has driven in more runs (121-108) in 135 less at-bats and most importantly the Angels boast a record that is 8 games better than the Tigers.

New York’s three best hitters are also among the five highest players on the team and one of them (Alex Rodriguez) hasn’t even played the entire season. Kick and scream all you want about the Yankees spending but at least their players are earning their pay (for now) and winning a much tougher division.

Worse than the high paid hitter’s failures, no team’s highest paid pitchers even come close to the Tigers’ futility. Just to see what a good team spends its money on, the Yankees’ two highest paid pitchers (4th and 5th on the overall payroll) are a combined 20-11, 3.68 ERA, 222 K and 106 BB.

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Dave Dombrowski should be given credit for making Detroit baseball relevant again. The Tiger GM convinced owner Mike Illitch to open the purse strings and spend like a stay-at-home mom on QVC’s Web site. However to this point, the Tigers have only put together one remotely successful season under Dombrowski and the 2006 World Series run was more fluke than a great plan constructed by Dombrowski. I think 2007 and 2008 proved that.

The problem was and is Dombrowski’s fear of arbitration and his inability to play the market to his advantage.

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The Bonderman and Willis contracts were a direct result of trying to avoid the apparently fearful situation of arbitration. Maybe I don’t have a great grasp on the concept, but no player has won more than $10 million in arbitration and that player was Ryan Howard who had already won an MVP Award prior to that mediation. Surely neither Bonderman nor Willis was going to come close to that figure and break the bank, even if they won their cases. But rather than bite the bullet for a year Dombrowski offered very stupid contract. He also did this with Nate Robertson (3 years/$21.25), who is being paid $7 million this year to not be on the active roster.

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Bonderman may have convinced the front office to give him a longer contract after arbitration, but his numbers dipped significantly from 2006 to 2007. Robertson had a losing record in 2007 and should’ve just been released, but even if he wasn’t, Dombrowski would’ve had an easier time dropping him after 2008. Same goes for Willis.

Had Dombrowski given himself the chance to see how unhelpful those three pitchers were, he might’ve saved himself roughly $40 million of the past two seasons, money that could’ve been spent on a more reliable third starter or to shore up the bullpen.

The Guillen and Ordonez contracts aren’t as much of a problem; Dombrowski just didn’t know how to use the market to his advantage. Last season the Tigers should’ve been sellers and both Guillen and Ordonez were shoppable. Hindsight is 20/20, but despite both players contributing very little this season, the Tigers are in first. It makes Dombrowski look foolish for holding on to these parts when he clearly could find parts to throw together and make a competitive team in a mediocre division.

Today, Dombrowski is staring at a team with major holes in the bullpen, at the back of the rotation and a team with little pop from the left side of the plate. Not to mention that the team’s second best “hitter,” Brandon Inge, is playing through a serious knee injury and both Placido Polanco and Curtis Granderson are underperforming.Bad contracts make most players on the team unmovable and there is little depth in the farm system, a problem that could’ve been solved by making some deals last season.

Detroit is defying all conventional wisdom by remaining in first place this far into the season with the team it has. But it has been in spite of Dave Dombrowski’s decision-making, not because of it.

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