WE THOUGHT YOU’D NEVER ASK

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

Who wouldn’t want to be the Tigers’ GM for a day? Who wouldn’t want the Tigers dropped in their lap giving you the opportunity to sell what they have to offer?

This is still a good baseball team. It just has some holes. We know where they are, but it’s a science to determine the right players to fill them.

This week a reader has challenged us to play GM. And you know what? It’s all we have ever wanted…


From a reader – Tom:

“You are the GM of the Tigers and your team has finished last in the Central in 2015. What do you tell free agents or their representatives why they should come to Detroit in 2016?”


Kurt

The fact the Tigers finished last in the division in 2015 has no bearing on their ability to draw stars to Detroit.

Free agents know what the Tigers have to offer. It’s a great baseball town that supports their team by filling the park just about every game. They have an owner who is starving for a championship and has shown he will spend and spend big to get there.

The Tigers have plenty of star power led by the best hitter in baseball in Miguel Cabrera. Miggy’s resume includes an MVP, a Triple Crown  and multiple batting titles. They found a diamond in the rough in acquiring JD Martinez who appears to me more than capable of helping to carry this team back to the playoffs.

Justin Verlander appears ready to lead this rotation again. His resume also includes an MVP, a Cy Young and multiple no hitters.

The Tigers suffered from injuries and depth in their lineup, starting rotation and their bullpen. And when they waved the white flag, they surrendered any talent they had.

Dave Dombrowski let the bullpen sit at the bottom of the priority list every season it seemed when they left spring training. But, Al Avila has made it clear that strengthening the bullpen is a priority and it’s a known fact throughout the league that the bullpen has helped to hold the Tigers back from bigger and better things throughout the years.

The Tigers are far from a tough sell for free agents. Pitchers especially, know that bulking up this staff could make the difference. Hitters know they will get to hit in a lineup led by one of baseball’s greats.

This is not a tough sell for free agents. In fact, it’s a quite desirable destination. With a little bit of luck, things can come together rather quickly with the right mix of players.

If I am GM, I sell the fact that this team has the ability to win a title within the next two seasons. You need only look at the core of talent already in place.


Holly

Despite the last place finish, the Tigers’ image is tarnished somewhat but nothing like the early 2000’s when players wouldn’t come here. Back then, they had to overpay for Pudge to don the Old English D. The Tigers won’t have to dramatically overpay again, however if they need the pitching, they’ll have to outbid everyone else.

The bottom line for 99.95% of all players is the salary. Offer the right amount, and they will come. But the sales pitch is the chance to include “value added” aspects which can help potential free agents trim down the list and give the Tigers an edge if there are two similar contract offers.

I would start with describing an ideal place with a generous, stable owner who is driven to earn that World Series ring. And a stadium that is always packed with the world’s best fans because players do appreciate a good audience.

If the free agent is a pitcher, there are advantages, including Comerica’s reputation as a pitcher’s ballpark. And the addition of Rich Dubee as pitching coach appears promising from his background and also his dynamite interview. I’d have him talk to the pitcher, too.

If the players in question are Hispanic, then the Tigers have a real advantage. A GM and first base coach who are Latino and a team with one of the best programs in MLB supporting Spanish-speaking players.

In the past, the Tigers have been successful having a current player or two call the potential teammate – a strategy I’d continue.

But for all potential free agents, I’d talk about the solid core of players – McCann, Ian, Iggy, JD, JV, VMart, Norris – and oh, that guy who is the best hitter in baseball. Who wouldn’t want to play with him?

I’d emphasize the Tigers are getting more youthful and expected to be in the mix this year and beyond. I’d also point to all those division flags flying from the last 4 out of 5 years and the years of October baseball since 2006 while also talking up this year’s injuries as a primary factor in the team’s drop.

And the final strategy to get them to considering signing? Giving them a case of Sanders Milk Chocolate Hot Fudge Topping and telling them there’s more where that came from…..

THERE IS NO “I” IN TEAM

By:  Holly Horning

Patterns. I’m always looking for patterns in everything I do. They give you information and an early sneak peek at the trends that are developing and likely to become part of the fabric of the future.

But I have to say that this particular pattern I’ve been seeing is one I don’t want to witness. And it has to do with the stories that come out of the playoffs over the past three years. And I fear it is diminishing this sport we love so dearly.

The question certainly is not a new one but rather one with a new twist. And that question is “Is big business and big money having an increasingly negative effect on team play?”

More and more I’m seeing stories questioning whether players are actually “all in” when it comes to helping their teams win in October. And the discussions all come back to the issues surrounding the pressure to get big money contracts as well as the increasing influence their agents exert over them.

Remember how we used to love a player who was in his contract year? How we thought he would pull out all the stops because a big payday was coming? Not anymore it seems. Many of these players are now being coached to pitch fewer innings or play more cautiously in the field in order to boost their value on the open market, as well as avoid injury. All in order to ensure a hefty payday.

Let’s review a few pieces of this pattern from the past couple of years……

2012 – Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals is shut down in the middle of a hot pennant race in September due to TJ recovery and a controversial pitch count quota. His agent was said to have had input in the decision. In the playoffs, the Cards won the series that most analysts saw as the Nats’ best chance to advance to the World Series.

2013 – Despite a stellar performance, Max Scherzer stuns the Bosox by leaving the game despite his continued mastery of them and opens the door for their comeback win. Media reports question the rationale, while former pitchers take Max to town for not pitching “until his arm falls off because that’s what you do in the playoffs.” We all know how this ended.

2015 – A battle breaks out between the Mets and Matt Harvey’s agent about when and if he’ll be shut down and unable to pitch in the playoffs. The Mets win this one but not without a fight that takes the focus off the team’s priorities and success.

Would you be surprised to learn that all three pitchers have the same agent? Or that since Max signed his new contract with the Nats that the innings pitched per game went up noticeably this year? Or that he pitched 4 complete games in this past year alone but only 1 in 5 years with the Tigers?

But we’re also seeing another pattern. The media has questioned this year’s playoff priorities of Johnny Cueto and David Price with both of them appearing not to place the team’s needs above their own. Throw in Yoenis Cespedes’ controversial move to play 18 holes of golf (and without a cart no less) just before a big playoff game in which he ended up hitless and involved in a controversial play.

In this case, these three players are all free agents in a week or two and not expected to re-sign with their current teams. Is the ring really the top thing for them? Or is money the bigger motivator?

And what does this say about the Tigers over the past 5 years? Great individual performances and multiple prestigious awards, but not the Big One which is based upon effective teamwork.

Am I the only one who wishes the Tigers had a bunch of Madison Bumgarner clones on its roster?

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

What’s an off-season without predictions? Everybody has them and so do we. But it’s early guys. The World Series has just begun and it’s a long way off until pitchers and catchers report in February.

So we have 3 predictions each to share, but don’t hold us to just 3, because there may be more at some point. These are just 3 to wet your whistle, from each of our writers.

Let’s see what predictions the kids at Totally Tigers have in store…


Kurt

1. That infield seems set doesn’t it? Well, no it isn’t. Someone is going to go.

The Tigers must resist even considering using any of their rookie pitchers they traded for as pieces for more deals this off-season.

Having said that, they must look to their current lineup for pieces. There are 3 guys in the infield who would make good trade bait, but only one that I would be willing to deal in the off-season.

Nick Castellanos could bring the Tigers pitching or he could bring the Tigers outfield help. Look for the Tigers to turn some heads by shipping out their 3rd baseman. Don’t worry, Ben Zobrist will do just fine at third, or short, or second, or left field or …

2. Having Yoenis Cespedes in left field was pure joy this season. Don’t expect him back but expect an acquisition of good talent for left field.

Standing pat in left field is not an option. Improving the talent in the outfield is imperative. Offensive punch and maybe a little speed are still sorely needed.

We got spoiled with Cespedes, but his career year has priced us out of the market. Most of that Tiger money has to go towards that starting rotation and bullpen.

But there are players on the market who can be that ‘below the radar’ improvement and Gerardo Parra is a nice fit as a more productive leadoff hitter.

3. Al Avila promised to address the bullpen, and he had better. But don’t expect all new faces; one may be an old one.

Don’t worry, I won’t lobby to bring back Joba Chamberlain. In fact I won’t lobby to bring back anyone. But what I predict is something else altogether.

The Tigers need a lot of help in the pen and they need depth at the back-end especially.

As bad as it was, there were signs of hope from the pen last season and Drew Verhagen and Alex Wilson will be candidates for late inning duty in 2016.

But the Tigers need more and expect them to reach out to Joakim Soria to make a return to the Tiger pen where he was so effective; not necessarily as a closer, but certainly part of a bridge to the 9th.


Holly

1. There will be no flashy, expensive contracts with marquee players signed.

Forget David Price and Yoenis Cespedes. The Tigers won’t spend that much, won’t go over the luxury tax and won’t put 3/4th of their total payroll into only 6 players. After the Dodgers, the Tigers have the biggest payroll obligations in MLB through 2024 – even ahead of the Yankees – and that’s a huge concern.

Expect them to try to sign more of the early-career Max Scherzers and Doug Fisters. Maybe even a solid starter, a little older, who is expecting a shorter contract, until the newest pitchers obtained in July develop. I expect Al will be leaning heavily on the analytics department to find some under-the-radar guys.

2. Someone currently on the 25 man roster will get traded.

With the top priority need of starting pitching, how will the Tigers come up with that chunk of change to get at least one of them? An increase in payroll, if done, will be limited and the farm system is tapped. So what other currency is there? Current players.

Over the past 3 years, approximately half the roster has turned over and this year should be no different. The most likely candidates to leave, other than relievers, are infielders. The buildup of SSs who only play that position and others who play 2B and SS and now trying out third base may indicate that either Castellanos or Iggy may be used as trade bait.

3. Al Avila will change the strategy used to build the bullpen.

Gone will be the ageing, reclamation projects with membership in the Tommy John Club. Dave’s formula has never worked so expect Al will change the age, the experience and the salaries of those who sit in the bullpen.

The top relievers in the game are young and making minimum salary. Al most likely will bring back some of the guys like Wilson, promote others from the farm and trade some, like Al Al, to get the missing pieces. But he’s not going to go out and get an expensive proven closer – unless he nails down a solid starting rotation first.

OH DEER, NOT THE ROYALS!

By:  Kurt Snyder

As Tuesday marked the kickoff of the World Series between the Royals and Mets, I pondered the path of the Royals success that culminated with last year’s near miss and this year’s second straight trip to the Series they will be favored to win.

I was going to save this discussion for after the Series, but I couldn’t hold it in anymore. All signs for me, point to a Royals World Championship, their first since 1985.

The Royals haven’t done a whole lot of winning since ‘85; in fact they’ve been one of the game’s sad sack franchises for the better part of 2 decades. But let’s concentrate on the last 10 years; the path Kansas City has taken to this point and the one the Tigers have taken to where they find themselves right now.

The Tigers over the last 10 seasons have gone to two World Series and have won 4 division titles. On the surface, it was quite a run of winning. Sprinkled in were seasons they didn’t make the playoffs, but for the most part it was exciting baseball, with our Tigers in the middle of the playoff hunt, year after year.

They have done everything but finish the job. All the success has resulted in, well, disappointment. No finished business. No World Championship.

The Royals, between 2006 and 2015, experienced 3 winning seasons, the last 3. The rest of them were years littered with several 90+ and 100+ loss campaigns.

It has been a long stretch of pain for the franchise and their fans. But if the Royals were to win it all this year,  it would more than heal all the pain their fans have experienced.   Winning it all means everything.

But how do you think Tiger fans are feeling right now? I don’t know about you but the last thing I want is to watch the Kansas City Royals celebrate a World Series, at least not until we do.

The Tigers have spent 1 more year than the Royals waiting for their next title. Detroit’s ’84 Championship was followed up the very next season with the Royals being crowned champs in ’85.

So both teams have been waiting a very long time for another one. And both teams have taken different paths in their attempts to build a winner and bring a title home.

It’s been a thrilling ride, but the Tigers have spent the last 10 years beating their heads up against a wall, pulling out all the stops, spending lots of money, making tons of deals and selling their soul to the devil, all for that very elusive title.

They have tasted all the champagne celebrations except for the one they covet the most. So, I have a question. Have you enjoyed this Tiger run? Even though the Tigers haven’t found the pot of gold, you could always sit back and say to yourself, ‘You know, at least it’s been fun; at least we’ve won some consolation prizes. Only 2 teams a year get to go to the World Series and we’ve been to two!’

But now think about Kansas City for a moment. Remember, even when the winning started in 2014, the Royal fans weren’t buying in; they never believed it could last. Their manager chastised them for not supporting the team and realizing the product on the field was becoming very good. It wasn’t really until the middle of last season that they began filling the stadium, maybe even later.

If Kansas City wins this World Series, what will fans say about the last 10-15 years? They will undoubtedly say that all the losing was worth it. All the losing made a championship that much sweeter.

But what if they were Tiger fans; would they trade the success Detroit has had over the last several years for a long losing path to sudden greatness, the path the Royals have taken?

There has been some exciting baseball in Detroit over the last 10 years, many division titles and multiple World Series appearances. These are great achievements, ones that cannot be denied. And there really have only been 2 exciting years in KC during that time, but it just might end with a championship.

So, what do you choose? Detroit’s 10 years of coming up short? Or Kansas City’s 7 years of losing and then a quick rise to a championship? The answer seems easy and hard all at the same time, doesn’t it?

Maybe the answer lies now, during deer hunting season. I know a lot of people on both sides of the coin. Many just love the thrill of the hunt whether they get a deer or not. They just love being out there in the woods, enjoying the sport.

But, others? They don’t particularly like it if they don’t get a deer. It’s a waste of time for them. So, are you good with just having a chance every year? Or does every missed opportunity bug you more and more every hunting season? That’s the real question isn’t it? How important is the deer?

TWO TIMES TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Tuesday kicks off Game 1 of the 2015 World Series between the Royals and Mets. So what can the Tigers do to put themselves in the running for next year’s World Series?

Will they go on a spending spree and pick up every pitcher who’s got a pulse or will they turn over a new leaf and become more selective with what they add to their club for 2016?

We all know where our needs are, but let’s dig into it a little further and discuss what specifically will make this team competitive again.


1. What types of players will the Tigers realistically end up signing through FA or trading to get?


Holly – A complete shopping list will have 2 starters (or even possibly 3), a closer, at least 3 new bullpen arms, a left fielder and maybe even a centerfielder. That’s a tall order! But the restraints of a near tapped-out payroll along with a depleted farm system means a reality-check is in order.

Their top minor league players are the ones they got in trading away Price, Soria and Cespedes, so don’t expect them to become trade bait. They are going to be essential cogs in the rebuilding process.

So, the Tigers must focus on the absolute necessities which include 2 starters, a closer and 2 bullpen arms – pitching, pitching and more pitching.

For purposes of payroll and too many long-term expensive contracts, they won’t go for a premier pitcher like Price or Greinke. They are more likely to go after a Scott Kasmir-type who would sign, as estimated, for possibly 3 years at $12 million/year.

The same goes for closers – no one with a long past history like Nathan but someone on the way up and an absolute maximum of a couple million a year given that most of the top closers out there currently are making league minimum and are notoriously erratic from year to year.

Now that there is an analytics department, I would expect Al Avila to use it and go after some under-the-radar pitchers who are trending upwards.


Kurt – If there is one thing that Al Avila has demonstrated since he became GM is a refreshing willingness to be frank with the media and the fans. Al made it crystal clear that the Tigers will be hunting for pitching.

By the end of last season, outside of Justin Verlander, they did not have much pitching of any kind and the losses mounted giving them a well-deserved last place finish.

As much as I would like to say Daniel Norris can be counted on to be a starter for all of next season, I would be very careful with that expectation.

Assuming JV and Sanchez are your top 2 in the rotation, the Tigers will need at minimum 2 starters. Of course, I would hope, one of the rookies the Tigers received in the fire sale could step in and take that 5th spot, but there are no guarantees and like Avila said, we don’t want to pressure them.

The bullpen is a mess and they will need three pitchers and that includes a closer. Nice predicament isn’t it? Don’t expect the Tigers to grab closer candidate #1 like last time; it will be someone they feel can fill the closer’s role, whether they have been one before or not.

And if they can’t find that guy, or there isn’t a fit, Joakim Soria will be out there. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but in a pinch it will do.


2. And from a reader (Gary M.):

How much will the Tigers be willing to increase the payroll for 2016 given the pitching holes that must be filled in order to compete?


Holly – Al Avila was quoted as saying Mr. I will be “competitive” but also indicated that the going near the $189 million luxury tax would be “pure insanity.”

As I wrote earlier, the Tigers have $111 million committed to 5 players. Contract raises and arbitration will take payroll to $130 million but one also has to consider that Miggy’s contract will continue to climb up to $32 million/year through 2023 which will impact how close the Tigers go to that luxury tax threshold.

This year, they started with $172 million and when all is said and done, final payroll for 2015 may hover around $178 million. Going on the pattern seen from past years, they could go up to a starting payroll for 2016 at $180 million – $8 million more than last year, giving them some wiggle room to avoid the luxury tax at the end of the year.

Avila may have $50 million to play with which could nab a #2 (free agent) pitcher who may run $18 million and another starter at $12 – $15 million.

With $17 – $20 million left, it gets more complicated. A closer and a bunch of new bullpen arms who could take half of it.

But there are two flies in the ointment: Will the Tigers try to extend JD Martinez and how many of their young pitchers (Greene, Norris, etc.) won’t be rotation-ready? A good chunk of available payroll may have to be re-allocated to those priorities.


Kurt – Are we tired yet of the “lose, so spend more” cycle? With a payroll sitting between $170 and $180 million dollars already, it is hard to fathom them spending much more. But they need so much to get back in the game that it will be very difficult not to; they just need to spend wisely.

And when considering the trade market, the same intelligence needs to be applied when determining who we give up. The trades the Tigers make this off-season cannot include any of the players we received in the deals for our big 3. The franchise must now start being very particular with who and how we add to our ballclub.

We don’t have to make big money splashes every time we make a move. They just need to be fits; guys who can be successful in Detroit.  Teams have been successful under the radar; why can’t we?

Keep this in mind:  Edinson Volquez and Chris Young are about to make World Series starts for the Royals. Let that sink in for a little bit.

WILL LIGHTNING STRIKE TWICE?

By:  Holly Horning

I can dream, can’t I?

Several weeks ago, I wrote a 5-part series on managerial candidates with the final installment focused on the top managers who may become available. https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/hit-by-a-bus/

One of those managers is Don Mattingly, who has finally escaped the drama and dysfunction known as the Los Angeles Dodgers. If you’re not familiar with their soap opera, this is a team MLB had to take over 5 years ago, resulting in its sale to a whopping 6 new owners (including Magic Johnson).

In their attempt to win an immediate World Series, they took payroll from $95 million to over $300 million in less than 3 years. They bought everyone in sight without regard to roles, personalities or team chemistry. Players were ditched just as quickly resulting in $100 million of their current payroll being paid to guys no longer wearing the Dodger uniform.

Despite all of this, Mattingly kept the team together despite constant Front Office turmoil and bad decisions. Last year, massive blood-letting found one of their Presidents and the GM fired. Yet, with all the changes and new bosses, Don stayed in his job. But now he’s had enough.

In the movie Operation Petticoat, Tony Curtis said ” In confusion, there is profit.” And the problems within the Dodger organization will be profitable to the team who lands Mattingly. Can we hope that team is the Tigers?

In a previous series of blogs (Managing Expectations – late September through early October), I presented multiple rationales for why the Tigers decided to keep Brad Ausmus. And none of them had to do with Brad’s actual skills but were based upon timing, expected timelines and specific situations.

One of the reasons focused on Al Avila not seeing the right managerial candidate to replace Brad. Combine that rationale with Ausmus’ remaining year under contract and the Tigers rebuilding in 2016, and we’ve got a reason to wait one more year for the right candidate to come along.

Could that time be now?

In 2013, Mattingly publicly expressed his disastisfaction with Dodger management and there was speculation he would leave. He was immediately linked with the Tigers to replace Jim Leyland. Unfortunately for us, the Dodgers convinced him to stay.

Last year, the Chicago press reported Jim Leyland’s trip to the Windy City one day after Joe Maddon resigned from the Tampa Bay Rays. The significance? Maddon’s agent works there and Leyland’s schedule had him solidly booked in Arizona.

It would appear that the Tigers have explored managerial opportunities when they’ve presented themselves and hopefully they are testing the waters again. It is the rare occasion when someone like a Maddon or Mattingly become available.

But of course, he needs to be a “fit” for the Tigers. Other than his .551 W/L stats and assorted Dodger records, what does he have to offer?

As a former Yankees Captain, it’s been said he’s big on leadership and team play. He pushes team concepts, emphasizes discipline at the plate and in the field, and is a stickler for fundamentals. And he knows how to deal with big egos. All concepts qualifying him for taking the helm of the Tigers. And personality-wise, he’s a fit with both Mr. I, Al Avila and the Tigers’ overall corporate culture.

But there are 4 other teams officially looking for a new manager. It’s been written that Don is not interested in the Nationals. And it’s unlikely he’ll want to move to the Padres after being with the Dodgers. The Marlins’ owner is determined to get him but will Don want to align himself again with another owner who is unpredictable and works with a very limited payroll?

Or would Mattingly welcome a chance with another big, but not overly huge, organization known for its professionalism and steady ownership? A team with a great track record and recent series of division titles? A team with another future Hall-of-Famer who plays first base, like Mattingly did?

This team has an impressive budget and a great solid core of players. And this team is located in the MidWest, where Mattingly was born and raised – and still lives. He also owns several business there which require the occasional visits. He hails from Evansville, Indiana which will ring a bell to many Tiger fans – and is only 400 miles from Detroit.

Thirty-five years ago, the Tigers traded in Les Moss for Sparky Anderson when he became available. It worked out pretty well. The Tigers should try it again, don’t you think?

TIGERS WILL NEED BREAKS TO BREAK THROUGH

By:  Kurt Snyder

I wouldn’t call 2015 a season of breaks for the Tigers. If anything, they were just broken.

I have always fought the arguments of the stat heads who preach the importance of sabermetrics as the path to determining the success of a baseball team. I always countered with the word “luck.” No team wins without luck.

It seems like a simple-minded argument but it happens to be true. And it begins right away in spring training. In 2006, the Tigers broke camp with 2 rookies on their pitching staff who infused too much power and potential dominance to leave behind. Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya were rookies who emerged as 2 of the most important pieces that led the Tigers to the World Series.

These were 2 very talented pitchers we took north not knowing if they were ready to help the Tigers win. But they had fire and it made all the difference as Verlander spiced up the starting staff and Zumaya gave the bullpen a boost.  As luck would have it, they were integral parts of the 2006 run.

Magglio Ordonez, a risky signing by the Tigers, given a very serious knee injury he was recovering from, was a player no one else wanted and they offered him a contract as if they were competing for his services. It had disaster written all over it. But, as luck would have it, Magglio regained his health with the Tigers, hit the home run in 2006 that propelled the team into the Series and also eventually won a batting title.

But what the Tigers have found along the way are two things that don’t seem to go together. The more desperate the Tigers are to win a title, the more unlucky they become. Desperation and aggressiveness are sometimes confused for one another, but desperation ends up proving itself to have high risk and low reward. And it rarely runs along the same path with good luck.

The Prince Fielder acquisition was a desperation move. The Tigers played in the World Series, but never got what they needed out of Fielder. In fact, in the end, fans hated that he was brought in at all as his commitment to the team came into question.

The Tigers were desperate for a proven closer 2 seasons ago, but never enjoyed any of the success that Joe Nathan had provided earlier in his career, even the season before he arrived in Detroit.

Looking for bullpen depth at the trade deadline in the same season, the Tigers bagged Joakim Soria, who immediately was injured and was never the same the rest of the year. He turned out to be a good safeguard for Joe Nathan this past season as he slid nicely into the closer role after Nathan was injured. But he eventually just became trade bait come July 31st.

The Tigers made one of their most exciting trades ever when they nabbed David Price last season. Unfortunately, it did not make a difference for them in the playoffs as they were swept by Baltimore in 2014. In hindsight, it was argued that really the Tigers needed more bullpen help, not Price, who, like Soria became trade bait at the July trade deadline this season.

And finally, a trade that seemed to be as shrewd as they come was the deal that brought Yoenis Cespedes to the Tigers in exchange for Rick Porcello. Cespedes had the best season of his career, while Porcello struggled mightily in Boston. Unfortunately, Cespedes led the Mets to the World Series, not the Tigers, as he, too, became trade bait for the Tigers at the deadline.

Big news, big players, big headlines, buzz-worthy excitement, bad luck. How many of these players are still around for Detroit? Well, Justin Verlander is. And he may not even be here anymore either if he hadn’t been signed to a contract that continues to restrict the team’s flexibility.

So the Tigers need some luck to knock at their door. They may have to resist the big names and look for good, under-the-radar fits. They need youth to mature quickly than expected. They need guys to emerge that they never saw coming. These types of players are sprinkled amongst the rosters of champions.

But the Tigers can’t expect it all to transpire in 2016. They may finally have to realize the importance of patience. The Tigers have been in a breakneck battle to win it all going on 10 years.

When you hurry, you make mistakes. So, they need to take a breath, slow down, operate under-the-radar, find some diamonds in the rough and maybe a little luck will find them.

WE THOUGHT YOU’D NEVER ASK

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

There have been years where it’s been difficult to watch the post season when your team is not part of it. It hurts too much sometimes when your team is sitting at home watching.

But this season, with the Tigers far from making the playoffs, it’s been easier to take a glance at what some of these playoff teams have that perhaps the Tigers do not.

So we will delve into what the playoff teams are showing off while the Tigers watch.


One of our readers, Bob, asked us to discuss how this year’s playoff teams were built. Considering this is, after all, Totally Tigers, we’ll take it a step further and compare what we’ve seen in October ballgames vs. what we’ve seen with the Tigers.


Holly

There have been three different models of how to build a team in order to qualify for the playoffs. The first is what I call “The Cardinals’ Way” – a uniform and precise way of playing that starts in the lowest levels and is present at the major league level combined with decisions that embrace the present as well as the future.

Then there are the teams who got there through massive suffering – years of cellar-dwelling that resulted in the advantages given to perennial losers allowing them to rebuild more quickly.

And finally, there are the teams who bought their way in either by acquiring multiple stars from other teams to fill their holes or outspending most of the other teams. In both cases, the emphasis has been on the present and risks taken against their futures. Sound familiar?  And these teams were the first to exit the playoffs.

But no matter how these final four teams got to the playoffs, they have a number of things in common that make for good, solid baseball. They all possess a lethal combination of talent, not just great pitching or great hitting. They are strong in all the categories and exceptional in 1 or 2.

Yes, there is excellent pitching but there are also solid bullpens to support those starters’ efforts. There are guys who can hit consistently, and don’t care if it’s for extra bases, as long as they can get on base and score. And they all have solid defense and running games – plus an understanding of baseball fundamentals. Gotta love Terry Collins who said the Mets didn’t have a running game and then his team goes out and steals 7 bases in one short series.

As for the Tigers, they have been focused on “big and sexy” – starting pitching and power hitters – for years to the detriment of the less flashy skill sets like bullpens, “small ball”, running – and until this year, defense –  that quietly get it done.

This year, our team earned the title of having MLB’s worst bullpen, while base running and situational hitting took the air out their ability to score runs. Add starting pitching, and they have a long way to go.

But the one thing that really stood out to me during the playoffs was not the physical skill sets; it was the intangibles that result from the combined energy of the group. It was the palpable determination to win – a cohesiveness of team, exhibited leadership and remarkable levels of high energy. I never saw those levels in any of the years the Tigers were playing in October.

When it comes to baseball’s most competitive games, opposing teams will always exploit the other’s weaknesses. Other than defense, the Tigers need to up their game in every other category, both physical and mental. They would do well to revisit the blueprint of that ’84 team that was so solid in every way as a good first step.


Kurt

What strikes me most about the teams in the post season is not the performance of the high-priced “rental” starting pitching, which has been underwhelming, but the performance of the young stud starters.

Even though these veterans may have helped get them to the playoffs, they haven’t necessarily helped them advance with a small exception of a couple starts. From what the Blue Jays and Royals have gotten out of Price and Cueto so far, it’s safe to say they will sign with other teams next season.

Also, it’s been clutch hitting that has excelled in the post season. And wow the home runs, there have been plenty. So it’s been an entertaining playoff season as both offenses and pitching have shined.

The Mets have to be excited about the young talent they have in their rotation with Harvey, Syndergaard and DeGrom, while the Cubs must be ecstatic about their future with all their young and athletic talent sprinkled throughout the lineup.

So it’s been the teams with the young talent that have stood out and yet the Royals may end up taking it all based on what? Experience.

Funny isn’t it? With the Tigers, what they lacked all season was clutch hitting as the team killed an alarming amount of innings with double play balls. And injuries, lots of them, really hurt them. But who got hurt that had the most impact? Their veterans.

The Tigers do have some young talent and they should be excited about guys like McCann and Iglesias and JD Martinez. But the playoff teams are littered with budding superstars. So the hope is that the baseball gods will begin to shine on the Tigers next season when they will pin a lot of hope on the talent they received for Price, Cespedes and Soria.

It seems every season, at least one of the big veterans they count so heavily on are bitten with the injury bug. The Tigers can’t get young enough right now. Because there are teams out there with so much young talent, you are going to know them like that back of your hand every October.

OWNERS’ INTENTIONS – PART TWO

By:  Holly Horning

On Monday, we discussed how winning may not be the top priority of every owner in MLB because they all have different reasons for owning their respective teams. Check it out at: https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2015/10/18/owners-intentions-part-one/

What motivates each owner to make or not make possible moves with his team? Even before any analysis takes place, it’s important to remember that we’re talking about an elite group of highly successful businessmen. And as such, they will almost always make decisions based upon their finely-honed business acumen.

Just because an owner has millions or billions at the ready, doesn’t mean money is no object. He didn’t get where he did by spending freely. In most cases, he made his money by making smart moves.

But yes, there are those who will take calculated risks and increase spending in order to achieve their ultimate goal. And that brings us to Mr. I.

Tiger fans should be most grateful to have this type of owner. There are too many out there who own teams which exist solely to feed egos, pockets and primary businesses.

I’ve watched once-glorious teams like the Orioles fall from grace because of a new owner who cut programs that churned out players like Cal Ripken. And after they swept the Tigers in the playoffs last year, what did the owner do? He gutted the team in order to save some bucks.

So how does Mr. I roll? Fortunately, his motives are multiple and they all support and mesh with each other – at least for now. Yes, he loves baseball and his city of Detroit. And we know that bringing a World Series to this part of the country is important to him – and part of his “bucket list.”

But there’s the financial side, too. Ilitch Holdings is comprised of 10 companies in the food, hotel, sports and entertainment industries. And they all are structured to feed off one another.

His business vision continues to grow with the monster renovation plan of 5 distinct and connected neighborhoods downtown appropriate for people to live, work and play. The plan is to create a continual massive flow of revenue.

The first part of this plan was put into play the day Mr. I bought the Tigers. Do you think it was coincidence that he owns two teams which afford fans the ability to come downtown every day of the year to see a sports game? Not to mention dine, stay or spend their money in a myriad of other venues.

But the Tigers have been a gold mine of an investment for Mr. I., too. He bought the team for $82 million and it is now worth $1,125,00 billion – the 13th most valuable team in MLB.

And proof of his devotion to the team is the reality that the Tigers have been operating at a loss for at least the past 10 years. Their operating costs have exceeded revenue. And most of this can be traced to one of the highest player payrolls in the game.

The Tigers were only 1 of 4 teams in 2014 to lose money despite having one of baseball’s highest attendance records. In their last division title year, they lost almost $21 million.

Fast forward to this year and we can only guess what Mr. I may be thinking. Certainly, he sees that the only team losing more money than his is the woeful Phillies – a team taken down by a bloated payroll and expensive long-term contracts to ageing players. And it’s got to concern him.

He’s also got to be thinking about the financials from 2015. A year that saw the team go from first to worst with an even higher payroll than 2014. Attendance figures, which comprise 40% of revenue, will be down. Overall revenue will be down which means that the net operating loss will most likely be higher than the previous $20+ million.

And he undoubtedly noticed that 8 of the 10 playoff teams this year have significantly less payroll. Statistics also show that World Series winners for the past 15 years had, on average, the 8th largest payroll. Not the third or fourth like the Tigers’. And then there’s the lesson to be learned from the Dodgers who have over $300 million in payroll.

And this all has to concern him. The Tigers took calculated risks over the past 5 years by increasing payroll, signing big name players to long contracts, trading for rentals and depleting their farm system. And it didn’t work. Now the risks are much higher so expect the Tigers to be more cautious.

What does this mean for fans? Mr. I will be more likely to refrain from boosting payroll outside of contract increases and arbitration. Al Avila said that Mr. I mentioned going near or above the luxury tax threshold of $189 million would be “pure insanity.”

They’ve got $111 million committed to just 5 players – and two of them don’t play every day. Arbitration will take payroll to near $130 million, leaving less than $50 million (a generous estimate) to spend on at least 2 starting pitchers, a closer and assorted other relievers.

And while the Tigers have a solid core of players, their greatest needs are also their most expensive ones. Will the Tigers go after big names? Unlikely. Limited payroll and an empty farm system won’t allow them. But there is another option – and one we’ll explore later during Hot Stove season.

It’s also doubtful they will go after other expensive free agent players like Yoenis Cespedes who will require a contract of at least $150 million and 6 – 7 years.

But on the positive side, the Tigers current financial inflexibility won’t allow them to trade some of the big names being speculated about in the media. And that means Miggy.

As much as his contract and injuries make people gasp, Miggy is the straw that stirs the financial drink for the Tigers. He is the primary player who puts fannies in the seats and spurs revenue. He is the franchise face and a merchandising gold mine. His jersey is one of the top sellers and the Tigers profit from all of that.

Take Miggy away and attendance will turn downward significantly. So will the revenue from ticket sales, food and concessions, parking and merchandise. Will fans turn out en masse to see JD or McCann if Miggy is traded? Uh, no – at least not this year.

So as we turn from World Series games to the Hot Stove season, keep in mind all of the above. When a trade gets made, or a player goes somewhere else, it’s all going to be based, bottom line, upon the limits Mr. I has imposed, anticipated revenue, and the value of any possible trade bait.

There’s also the potential that Mr. I realizes that 2016 will be a retooling year given the immense pitching needs. Maybe he is already looking at 2017.

But as much as he loves this team, the financial aspects will always take priority over performance-based ones. That mantra is what moved him from #122 to #88 on Forbes’ list of wealthiest  Americans last year.

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Jeff Jones, the long time Tiger pitching coach announced his retirement this week. It’s been our opinion on this site that a couple changes could or should have been made with Brad’s staff, and pitching coach at this particular juncture, might be a place where they should start.

Maybe Jeff Jones saw himself that it was going to be a huge task for the Tigers to improve a pitching staff that took a huge dive last season.

So he has called it a career and we will take this opportunity, as suggested by a reader, to evaluate his performance.


With Jeff Jones retirement, how should we evaluate his legacy?
(Question from Matt C.)


Holly – Coaches are much harder to evaluate because, unlike the manager, we don’t see or hear from them as much. Given that, I believe waiting one year will give us a much better indication of how much he contributed once the new pitching coach has established his record.

But if we’re going to credit him with the Cy Young Awards won under his watch, it’s only fair we include the entire history, good and bad.

What we do know is that Jonesy was made pitching coach, in part, because the Tigers felt he could handle the strong-willed JV. And handle him he did. Since coming on board midway in 2011, Justin jumped significantly in performance – winning 24 games, the Cy Young and MVP that year. You can tell when they interact on the mound that there is a bond between these two.

In 2012, JJ was credited with tweaking Max’s delivery and pitch arsenal. It also appears that Jones had some success with Rick Porcello given how Rick has fared since leaving the team. However, there is nothing to be found about Jones’ influence or work with David Price and fortunately, responsibility for that dumpster fire known as the bullpen falls under Bullpen Coach, Mick Billmeyer.

But excluding injury issues, the Tigers’ starting rotation this year was highly inconsistent, and that is Jones’ responsibility. Only David Price had a respectable ERA. Three-fifths of the starting rotation had ERAs of 4.99 and higher. Anibal Sanchez seemed lost the entire year and Alfredo Simon did his best impression of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Unknown is whether Shane Greene’s injury had anything to do with his travels on the express elevator down.

How much of Jones’ reputation hinges on working with solid, great talent?

Would other pitching coaches have had similar success with these top pitchers?

How much of an impact did Jones have on lesser pitchers? Great coaches in the history of the game have excelled at developing lesser pitchers who exceeded expectations.

Did this year’s significant drop in performance have anything to do with team leadership or was Jeff tired and already thinking retirement?

All good questions and something we should revisit next October 4th once the new guy has left his mark.


Kurt – It’s the toughest of tasks for fans to evaluate the performance of any coach. It is especially tough to judge the performance of a bench coach or hitting coach or pitching coach.

It’s certainly easier to get a feeling for how a manager is performing based on decisions made during games, what he says in a news conference, how he says it, how he carries himself, how he leads.

But with the retirement of Jeff Jones, it’s only right that we give him a fair assessment based on what has been achieved. From the way the pitchers interacted with Jones, it appeared they liked and respected him. And the few times we did get to hear from him, he seemed to have a calm and carefree demeanor, which is the probably the #1 priority for a pitching coach.

Every time a coach comes out to the mound to meet with his pitcher, it is normally because they are in trouble. And Jeff Jones seemed to provide that calmness and comfort needed to relax a pitcher while reminding him to trust his stuff.

Overall, I would say that Jeff Jones had tremendous success with the Tigers. But coaches more than anything ride the wave of talent that may or may not exist on their team. Jones was blessed with some great pitching staffs. But even the good ones need to be reminded not to fall in love with one pitch.

In time, when all the good about the staff turned to bad, Jones’ performance was more and more in question. Funny how that happens isn’t it?

I doubt there are many bad pitching coaches in this league. If nothing else you need someone to make sure your guy on the mound is mechanically sound. Even the best pitchers need to be counseled when their mechanics get out of whack, causing issues with control and location. And there have been indications over the years that Jones was very good at making those adjustments.

A couple of those pitchers went on to win Cy Young Awards, so it’s only fair that Jeff Jones be given some of the credit for that success.