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.