TWO TIMES TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

One by one, the Tigers and Al Avila are checking the boxes. Needed a closer. Got ‘em. Needed outfield depth. Got some. Needed a #2 starting pitcher? Well, we’ve got that now, too.

The free agent signing of Jordan Zimmermann is a big one for the Tigers; a piece sorely needed for the starting rotation.

The best part about all of this is that Avila shared what his shopping list was for the off-season and he hasn’t wavered from his needs; he has only fulfilled them.

What do the writers at Totally Tigers think? Well, read on!


1. Evaluate the Zimmermann signing.

Holly – Jordan is ranked by most as the #3 starting pitcher available and the Tigers got him for a reasonable 5 years at half the price that Price will probably receive (with 6 or 7 years). So yes, I’m thrilled – especially since the Tigers got him for essentially what the Nats offered him a year ago.

I’ve had the chance to watch him often as I’m based in DC. Excluding Max’s recent arrival, I felt JZ was the most dependable of all the Nats starting pitchers. He’s a bulldog and total professional.

While all signings involve some risk, including this one, this is something that had to be done. The money doesn’t break the bank and the Tigers are in desperate need of pitching, especially guys who can eat innings.

Zimm was the best possible solution. Max won only 1 more game than him last year and if you compare Zimmermann’s stats with the Tigers’ starting rotation, he would have been the top pitcher last year in wins, ERA and WHIP despite his “down” year.

Given the Nats’ poisonous atmosphere among pitchers last year, I would think Jordan will be able to focus and perform even better this coming year.


Kurt – What choice did the Tigers have really? Without getting into the risks associated with the Zimmermann signing which are already well documented, you have to look at the choices.

To get a starter for the top or near the top of your rotation, you look at Zimmermann or you go up a notch to the $30 million-a-year club. A place the Tigers could not afford to be. If that was the case, we would have signed or tried to sign David Price.

What I like most about the deal is that it’s for 5 years when in the past you would have to sign a pitcher of this caliber for at least 7 years, which is a huge risk. I understand the reasons the Nationals didn’t hold onto him, but I also understand why he was chosen by the Tigers over anyone else.

Acquiring starting pitchers never come without risks and I really do have concerns about the TJS and the declines Jordan had during the 2015 season. But looking at the level of pitcher we were looking to acquire, he was the best one. And the gamble is worth it.


2. What does this most recent trade say about Al Avila?

Holly – I really like what I see so far. The Tigers have been the most proactive team so far in all of MLB since the Hot Stove season started. Al is receiving rave reviews in the national media, even from the critics who tend to be anti-Detroit.

The man had a plan – and was very proactive in getting out there before his top choices were taken. Especially significant is that he made his moves before other players were signed and the price bar was set for everyone else.

How many GMs can say that they already have their closer and top choice starter already in the fold? And to have it done even before the Winter Meetings are held?

It also says something positive about the Tigers for Zimmerman to sign so early and quickly. The national media feels the Tigers got a really good deal – juxtaposed with stories about Dave Dombrowski willing to outbid everyone else by $30 – $40 million dollars for a top pitcher.

So far, I don’t see any resemblance between Al and his former boss, which could be a very good thing.


Kurt – Al is sticking to the plan. There isn’t anything to question so far. And when asked what’s next, he spelled out the rest of the plan. They will sign another starter and they will acquire 1, 2 or 3 pieces for the bullpen.

The signing of Zimmermann is just more evidence from a man who does what he says he’s going to do, and frankly his full disclosure is refreshing.

Al knew what level we needed to operate on when it came to starting pitching acquisition #1 and Jordan was the best at that level and Avila went out and grabbed him.

He then made it clear that the next starting pitcher they acquire will not be as expensive but will still be a quality pitcher. So, I have no reason to question him; that is exactly who we will get.

The Zimmermann acquisition continues to validate that the plan is being followed without wavering. Avila impresses more every day and I can honestly say that I am pleasantly surprised.

LEGENDARY LLOYD LIVES !

By:  Holly Horning

Once a Tiger, always a Tiger. At least that’s how it seems for Detroit’s former managers and coaches.

Trammell and Gibson have found their way back. So have “retired” managers like Jim Leyland. And also former MLB managers Dave Clark and Gene Lamont.

Add to that list now, Lloyd McClendon.

While not an unprecedented move by Detroit, the timing is what is raising fans’ eyebrows. Despite the fact that the Tigers have rehired and retained 3 other former managers, speculation is that Lloyd may be making that drive from Toledo to Detroit this year.

But is there really a master plan to insert Lloyd into a managerial position in Detroit? Let’s look at the reasons for hiring him.

As in the majority of businesses, people most likely to get the job are the ones who have connections with the employer. In this case, McClendon is not only a former employee, but he has ties with Dave Littlefield (who hired him) going back to Pittsburgh. He is also a good friend of “Bull” Durham.

He’s known Al Avila for years and brings with him an already-established level of work experience and communication. He’s a known commodity and will get up to speed more quickly than other candidates, especially important given that Larry Parrish ran Toledo for 15 years. He knows and understands the organization, corporate culture and people. No significant learning curve here.

But Lloyd also has a reputation for handling young talent very well. Perfect for the minor leagues. And given his managerial background, consider his experience with both Pittsburgh and Seattle as “value added.” Who better to manage a AAA team than someone who knows what it takes to make a major league roster?

The Mud Hens finished 2015 in last place and haven’t had a winning record since 2009. Could McClendon possibly see this new job as an opportunity to return the majors down the road if all goes well?

In 7 seasons as a manager, Lloyd had only 1 winning season. He must understand that other managerial jobs will not be forthcoming anytime soon and thus being realistic about his next career move.

Given his managerial record, it’s highly unlikely the Tigers are considering him to replace Brad as manager. If the Front Office had considered him to be a strong candidate, they would have given him the job back in October 2013 instead of hiring a long-shot outsider with no managerial experience.

But maybe, just maybe, Al Avila is also preparing for a worst case scenario in 2016. Ausmus is moving into his lame duck year and it will become apparent halfway through the season whether he will be staying or not. It is a general policy in MLB that GMs will extend a manager’s contract well before the end of the season if they will be retained.

It’s always been my theory that Avila’s decision to retain Brad was primarily based upon establishing his power within the organization and waiting for the right managerial candidate to come along. And this is where McClendon may actually serve an additional purpose.

He could possibly step into an interim managerial position should things go south this year. He’s managed in the Bigs, knows most of the players and could help calm a clubhouse and transition a team should Ausmus leave.

Having options is always a good strategy when situations don’t go as expected. Lloyd could end up being the solution to at least one or more issues Al Avila may have to address this year.

IS VMART REALLY HELPING MIGGY?

By:  Kurt Snyder

The Tigers have had great pitching over the years and it hasn’t mattered.  They have brought in speed and defense and it hasn’t mattered.   No matter what they have tried, their inevitable failures have been tied to the health of Miguel Cabrera.

Over the past 3 seasons, Cabrera has sustained injuries that have put the brakes on this team.   The ever-elusive championship seems to run hand-in-hand with the ever-elusive healthy season for Miggy.

And it all seems tied to rest or the lack of it.

The post below is republished from August which explains how equally important it has been to get Miggy off the field as it’s been to keep him on.   And the key has been Victor Martinez.   And he will be again in 2016.


 

Last spring, there were two things the Tigers needed to do, without question, to compete for another division title. First, they needed to bolster their bullpen;  the deficiencies were obvious. We could not go into another season knowing the bullpen could potentially keep us from a championship. We had been burned before, so we all figured we would finally learn. Well, we know what has transpired with that one. It’s part of the reason (maybe) that Dave Dombrowski now works for the Boston Red Sox.

But one of our readers, Frankie, brought to our attention something about the Tigers that bothers him.  And it had to do with the other move we all knew the Tigers had to make last spring, and that was to re-sign Victor Martinez. There wasn’t a soul in this town that didn’t believe we had a choice. I, for one, fell into that category. I felt VMart was too critical to the lineup and we could not afford to let him walk.

But, Frankie brings up an interesting point. There are very few teams in baseball who have full-time DH’s. Three come to mind for me; VMart, David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. The biggest question is how much do full-time designated hitters restrict your lineup, limit your choices, and in essence, handicap your team?

Well, let’s look at the Tigers. In the spring, VMart was coming off the best year of his career. He wanted to return to Detroit. Mike Ilitch loved him and wanted him back just as much, so a deal got done and we were all satisfied that the team did what needed to be done. It was a must in our minds.

But Victor spent the first half of the season recovering from knee surgery and really has supported the argument of fans on the other side of the coin who thought it was a risk signing him until he was almost 40, given the continued risk of injury.

But we are talking about the Detroit Tigers here and aren’t the Tigers one of the worst candidates for a full-time designated hitter? Just now, Victor has gotten healthy enough to begin spelling Cabrera at first when the need arises, which if you really analyze the need, it should probably be at least once a week.

Cabrera needs to DH more. Cabrera needs to come off the field more. If we are ever going to win a world title while we have the best hitter on the planet, his body needs to be preserved. So this is Frankie’s point, and it’s a valid one. Victor Martinez may be keeping Miguel Cabrera from staying healthy, because Miggy gets so little rest.

Of course, it’s a tremendously easy argument to make in a year that VMart has been fighting injuries for much of the season, after having his best season in 2014. Quite easy, in hindsight.

But the argument is very sound. The Tigers’ one common thread riding shotgun next to bullpen weakness, has been injuries to Miguel Cabrera; and having a full-time DH who rarely is able to help get him off the field for a night may be the difference.

Victor Martinez may continue to decline and we may have seen a 2014 season that we will never see again. So, next year, near the top of the new manager’s list should be finding a way to DH Victor less and DH Cabrera more, so Miggy is left standing at the end of the year, ready to let it all hang out in the playoffs.

MIDWEST NICE

By:   Holly Horning

So nice, we had to publish twice.  Midwest Nice, that is.

A reoccurring theme within the Tiger organization that is a stumbling block in their pursuit of that elusive ring.  The tendency to lag behind other teams in useful advances within the game, gravitating to hiring quiet forces instead of dynamic leadership, and practicing long-term obligations to players, coaches and managers beyond the expiration date.

This is the corporate culture of our favorite team and its impact is seen regularly.  This was first published in June and still rings true – except for the name of the GM.


My day job often finds me teaching protocol, defined as the recognition and understanding of etiquette, behavior and legal standards crucial to developing successful relationships and achieving the desired business and social goals.

While most of my clients need this for diplomatic dealings or international business travel, understanding protocol is also essential within the geographic regions of the US. But within this country’s border, I call it “Cultural IQ.” Having lived in the Midwest, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southwest, I can testify that the ways each region’s residents communicate, process information and communicate are vastly different from each other’s.

I remember leaving Michigan for college on the East Coast and having the natives tell me I needed to adopt tougher ways. I was “too nice” they said. I was told I needed to move faster, be more direct and make decisions more quickly. Today, the only way people can ascertain I’m from the Midwest is by the way I pronounce the letter “a.” That, and asking for a “pop.” (Be very careful asking for the latter on the East Coast as it may get you something else.)

On the other hand, I occasionally take my husband, a born-and-bred Manhattanite, back to Michigan. But I have to pack some duct tape just in case because his NY mannerisms travel with him. He found meeting people was an amazing experience because the people in Michigan were so nice – almost “too nice.”

So why am I regaling you with this story? It’s because I think the Midwest Manners (or Cultural IQ) are a factor (out of many) in why the Tigers haven’t won a World Series in decades. The owners and management have been too nice, too safe and too slow in making the necessary changes that could have sped up the process and results.

We all know the stories of East Coast teams like the Yankees who have been downright ruthless in pursuing those pennants and rings. Owners like George Steinbrenner and Edward Bennett Williams of the Orioles. Only here can a manager like Davey Johnson be fired one day before he wins Manager of the Year.

On the other hand, those 10 teams in the AL and NL Central tend to have reputations as “nice teams” with calm and steady management. And many have said that Boston’s failure to win a World Series for decades was because Tom Yawkey was a “gentleman owner.”

We all should be proud of Tiger ownership. Mr. I runs a first-class operation with the highest levels of professionalism. Negative comments by management and players are few and the exception to the rule. Employees stay forever and turnover is low – all positive signs of a well-run organization. Players put Detroit near the top of their lists for teams they want to join.

But moves over the years have overall been conservative and slow in the making. We’ve had a manager here for 8 years who was never able to achieve that victory parade – and with one of baseball’s highest payrolls. And never officially “fired.” What are the chances an East Coast team would have maintained that level of patience?

Joe Girardi is the longest tenured manager in the AL East at 7 years with the Yankees.  But then again, he has won it all for them. Otherwise, managers change frequently with 3 – 4 years as the average length of stay.

But given this cultural indicator, are we surprised that certain facets of the Tigers have not resolved themselves over the years? Players who remain despite a clear expiration date stamped on them. Yearly bullpen blowups. Lack of offense in the playoffs. No ruthless closer who mows down opposing batters. Tough and controversial decisions were not made.

And let’s not forget a collection of managers who maintained auras of calm, cool and collected going all the way back to a Mr. Anderson. Maybe now is the time for Mr. I and Dave to channel their inner-Sparky.

Maybe it’s time for the Tigers to leave their Midwest Nice and make a fast, bold and decisive move like the one accomplished back in 1979. Firing Moss and hiring Sparky worked out pretty well for them, didn’t it?

We’ve just seen two managers let go because they were hovering around the .500 mark. Another one with a similar record – and naturally from the East Coast – is expected to be let go shortly. I don’t think a similar move by the Tigers would raise many eyebrows. At least not on the Right Coast.

Let’s hope at this point, that reality and desired results win out over being “too nice” for Mr. I. With the Tigers at the fourth highest payroll in MLB, his “Cultural IQ” shouldn’t keep him from making a faster, bolder and more decisive move while there is still a season to salvage.

INAUGURAL SEASON NOT ALL FUN AND GAMES

By:  Kurt Snyder

I had every intention of reposting a blog from earlier this year, something we agreed to do during the holiday to give ourselves a break while still offering our loyal readers something to chew on, as if turkey and stuffing weren’t enough.

But Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving without football right? Lions Football. So this ultimately takes me to the seemingly endless vault of stories from the Ralph Snyder Archives.


After spending half his career working in scouting for the Tigers, my dad began his second half as Tiger Stadium manager in 1971.

What a year to start right? In 1971, Detroit hosted one of the greatest All Star games ever played. Hall of Famers galore graced the field that day at The Corner.

Hosting the All Star Game in Detroit represented one of the high points of Dad’s career right away in his inaugural season running Tiger Stadium. But it certainly wasn’t all glory, because 1971 marked the beginning of the Billy Martin era in Detroit.

Anyone who remembers Billy Martin knew what a fiery personality he possessed. And Dad often felt the wrath of Billy during Martin’s 3-year tenure with the Tigers from 1971-73.

Dad continually feuded with Martin about the length of the infield grass. In fact, I recall Sparky Anderson also demanding that the infield grass be a certain length, mostly long to slow down ground balls for his pitchers.

But in 1971, I remember Dad coming home some nights pretty miffed about not being able to please Martin and how difficult it was for him to keep his composure while Billy screamed at him.

It was quite the indoctrination for Dad in ‘71, with all the new responsibilities associated with running an iconic ballpark; he also had to please the seemingly-never-satisfied Tiger manager.

Short-tempered didn’t even begin to describe Billy Martin.  Dad finally just had to learn to tread lightly around him.

The bloom continued to wear off the rose as the year went on, even as the Tigers were winning and were setting themselves up for a very successful division winning 1972 season.

You see, 1971 was 3 years prior to the end of Detroit Lions football at the old ballpark.

Yep, Dad’s new job was not just about baseball, it was also about football. Lucky for him, he only had to endure 3 seasons of the Lions tearing up the baseball diamond at the end of every year. It always meant new sod for the field before Opening Day rolled around in April.

But we will never forget 1971; the glitz and glamour of the All Star game in July and the horrible tragedy on the football field in late October.

I don’t remember a lot about that fall day, considering I was only eight years old at the time. But I do remember this. On a rainy late October Sunday, we witnessed the demise of Lions’ wide receiver Chuck Hughes, the only NFL player to ever die during a football game.

I remember him being put on a stretcher prior to being loaded into an ambulance close to the Tiger dugout. We had way too good of a view as Dad’s seats for football were just past the dugout down the third base line. I remember asking him if Hughes was going to be ok. He didn’t answer. But he knew.

Later in his office, Dad got the call. He hung up the phone and as he fought back tears, he told us. Chuck Hughes had indeed passed away.

We had so many great memories as a family while we lived Dad’s career at Tiger Stadium together. There were so many highs and of course lows as well. But there was no low that could ever match the tragic day when Chuck Hughes died on the field.

Suddenly, Dad’s run-ins with the Tiger manager in the summer paled in comparison to that horrible day in the fall. Things can really find their place of importance in the face of life and death.    And the year of 1971 at Tiger Stadium screamed that message loud and clear.

ASKING THE TOUGH QUESTIONS

By:  Holly Horning

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  We here at Totally Tigers are way too focused on the Big Meal to churn out a brand new blog on a major holiday.   However, we are reprinting one of the most popular ones from August which is still as relevant today as it was then.

And on this day of Thanksgiving, Totally Tigers is thankful for its readers.  We truly appreciate those of you who read us (hopefully everyday) and leave your comments and suggestions for future topics.  We are truly blessed.


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” pretty much describes the other day for the Tigers. Less than 24 hours after hitting the cellar in the AL Central, JV comes oh-so-close to throwing a no-hitter. Wednesday was the perfect microcosm of a very strange 2015 Detroit Tigers season.

Earlier in the day, more than a few in the national media were anointing our beloved team as the most disappointing one for the year so far given the fall from “first to worst”. And the justification for their opinions was based upon the significant amount of talent many believe resides on this team.

So much talent, that despite some injuries, should have translated into so much more than 7 games under .500, 18 games out of first place and the 10th worst record in baseball. Talent that consistently produced top offensive numbers yet had difficulty in translating those figures into wins.

We know all too well about the struggles of the starting pitching for part of this year and the eternal black hole known as the bullpen. But can we really use lack of pitching as the sole or primary excuse for this year?

For all the arguments that say good pitching beats all, the Tigers had the best starting pitching in baseball for years yet always managed to win the division by a single game. (2011 is excluded considering they were the only team above .500.) We won’t even discuss performance during recent playoff years or the single World Series win from two contests.

So what gives? Why have the Tigers failed to put it all together for the past 10 years when expected by most to have had at least one ring by now? And why especially did this year turn so sour?

Maybe it’s just not talent that is a factor. Maybe there are other non-physical skills and intangibles that are at play. And that’s why we need to evaluate this team as any other business gets analyzed.

Make no mistake, baseball runs like any other company – the same structure, purpose and goals. The intent is to develop talent and produce a winning team. And when owners invest millions in employees and resources, but expectations don’t match performance, companies have to look inward at the culprit(s).

Many of these organizations end up bringing in analysts and coaches to help them dig deeper and locate the hidden weak links. And from my experience as a professional performance coach, I can say it is never one single factor. It is usually a combination of elements – and it always involves the tangibles as well as intangibles.

So can we assess the Tigers organization? Sadly, no, unless Mr. I gives me a buzz – and even then there’s the pesky issue concerning client confidentiality. To be able to locate the factors holding this team back, we need to be welcomed through the front doors and to be able to scratch around a bit.

But we can, like coaches, ask lots of questions. Questions raise awareness and in turn, issues are identified and hopefully resolved. As we say in the biz, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

So what questions would I ask if this was my client? I thought you’d never ask……..

What is the corporate culture? In other words, what are the shared values, standards, attitudes and beliefs of the members that would characterize this organization and define it to outsiders?

What is the leadership style? Does upper management take a proactive stance on exhibiting visible leadership or is their style subtle and low-key?

Are the goals of the organization clearly spelled out in detail? Or are the goals vague, unwritten and assumed?

Does each leader within the organization mirror the leadership and energy of the owner? If the owner is exacting and energetic, for example, are all the managers as well?

Are the methods of managing conducive to achieving the set goals? How well do they inspire the desired level of performance?

Are the leaders of the organization easily recognized by everyone else? Does every department, division or team have at least one clearly defined leader?

Do the leaders have mentors and coaches to assist them? Do these “helpers” coordinate the work and message with the leader?

Does every employee or player have someone to guide them? Are they able to understand what is expected of them? Is there someone who can work effectively with them?

How is accountability communicated and measured? Do members understand what is expected of them? If they fail to meet goals, do they understand that consequences may be involved?

And the biggie……

How important is teamwork in the overall organization’s philosophy? Is it taught, emphasized and practiced regularly?

So once again, we’ve got an exercise in which questions, not answers, are offered. And that’s OK, because the fans and media should be asking the questions. It’s up to the owner to provide the structure and for the team to provide the answers.

WOW, NO COACHING TWEAKS, BRAD?

By:  Kurt Snyder

We will spend the Thanksgiving holiday break reposting some of our favorites.  They are discussions that are still relevant today.

So enjoy this repost regarding Brad’s choice to retain all his assistants for next season.

Thanks to all of our loyal readers for following Totally Tigers throughout the season.   Have a great Thanksgiving!


 

If I had to rank the 2 biggest disappointments of the season, you don’t have to go too far to find them. The winner by a landslide was the decision by Al Avila to retain Ausmus. And the second would be Brad’s decision to retain all of his coaches.

Now you have to really wonder. You have to ask some questions. Al Avila had a responsibility to evaluate the performance of his manager before he made the decision about Brad’s fate. But didn’t Brad have the same responsibility with his staff? Didn’t Brad consider a fresh start with some of his coaching positions? Does Brad think that the players were completely to blame for all the base running mistakes, all the outs made at the plate, a pitching staff ranked near the bottom all season?

Sure, the players certainly did not perform in a lot of areas. But you know what? Neither did some of the coaches. There are players who will not be back next season based on a number of reasons that probably include cost but will mostly be about poor performance.

You would expect a fair amount of turnover after a disappointing season. And shouldn’t Brad have taken the opportunity after the season to evaluate his coaching staff the same way he and Al will evaluate his players and areas for improvement?

Why on earth did Brad and Al make these coaching decisions so quickly? OK fine, Brad’s coming back. I’m over it. But if I am Avila, I ask Brad to take some time to evaluate his coaches and decide if he wants to make any changes. And you know what? I would expect that Avila did exactly that. I would expect that Brad, being the master of acting before thinking, obviously needed the time for evaluation.

But, apparently, the performance of his coaching staff was so stellar all year that there was really no need to spend time evaluating them. What was there to evaluate? No need to change things up by replacing Gene Lamont, a Leyland holdover, for maybe a manager-in-waiting for some team, some day, Omar Vizquel.

Omar would seem to be a tremendous upgrade and could be really valuable spending more time in the dugout with the players, mentoring them and being that much-needed conduit for communication. Omar has a communication skill set that could be utilized even more by having him in the dugout full-time.

Gene Lamont has served his purpose. He was the proper bridge from Leyland to Ausmus. But after 2 years, the bridge is no longer necessary, I would hope. Perfect opportunity for a change, but none taken.

Also, given the disaster that was the pitching staff this season, this was the perfect opportunity to make a change and let Jeff Jones pursue a position with another team. The pitching staff needs a different voice and a fresh start after a brutal season. Perfect opportunity for a change, but none taken.

I would send Dave Clark on his way given all the guys he sent (guys like VMart and Miggy) chugging around third to be sacrificed at the plate. Those were risks taken with our biggest and most important hitters. Perfect opportunity for a change, but none taken.

I would take Alan Trammell, also a good candidate for bench coach, and at the very least, let him coach first or third. Let’s expand his role with this team. He’s been a manager, he’s been a bench coach. Why not utilize him more?

These are all moves that should have been made. In fact, Brad’s coaches had to be surprised they were all coming back. They may have even laughed a little. I even laughed after I quit throwing things.

Come on Brad, there had to be something you weren’t happy with in your coaching ranks? Your team had a horrible season. Your team was supposed to contend.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has to share the blame. You were blessed with an undeserved retention. But you can’t look anyone in the eye and say everything is all good with your entire coaching staff! Please!

TWO TIMES TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

The Tigers broke the ice over the last week and made two trades, addressing both their bullpen closer vacancy and their outfield depth. They were not the flashy variety, not by a long shot.  The philosophy for this season certainly and maybe from this day forward, has changed.

But were these moves good for the Tigers? This town is used to the Brink’s truck rolling up to Comerica Park and unloading expensive new bags of goodies. But instead, 2 Men and a Truck could have delivered this cargo.

So what do you make of these trades? What do you make of Avila’s approach? Kurt and Holly will take a look.


1. What do the two trades the Tigers have completed so far, say about Avila’s strategy?


Kurt – First of all, the 2 trades were not for expiring contracts or rentals. Both players have club options for a second year return, should we so desire. There is no risk of losing them after one season.

Secondly, we didn’t sell our souls for these guys. They were brought here in return for lower level minor leaguers the Tigers could afford to let go with the exception of Ian Krol. But he was someone on the major league roster who just wasn’t working out for us. Krol was becoming a project for Detroit and frankly, we need relievers who can help us in the pen, not hurt us.

The bottom line is they were low risk, but potentially high reward trades that preserved our minor league talent. Up until now, the minor leagues have  just been a holding tank for trades; but not anymore.

Under the new rule, there is a clear mission to acquire talent while still preserving the minor leagues in the efforts of building on it, not depleting it. This is Al’s way, certainly not Dave’s.


Holly – Acquiring KRod and Maybin are decent and solid trades. Not exciting as Tiger fans are used to but then again, the big, splashy trades and signings in past years didn’t get the job done which really is all that matters.

Avila performed due diligence as it was reported he inquired about every closer being made available and then went out and got someone who was not officially on the market. And the talent given up didn’t sting or make anyone wince.

Al appears, for the moment, to be creative and cautious in how he acquires new players. There’s no overpay and no depleting the farm system. In fact, it appears he is trying to rebuild the farm by protecting promising talent.

It’s apparent that the secondary needs were completed first in order to give the Tigers a solid idea about where their payroll stands so they can now go after the primary targets – starting pitching.

Al is saving every penny he can in order to have as many available options for acquiring the needed starters. And wisely, some of the money involved in these recent trades is deferred or paid by the other team, which will not add to the current concern over the second highest payroll commitment in baseball.


2. Which strategy do you prefer, DD’s or AA’s?


Kurt – Dave Dombrowski’s decision to sell and not buy at the trade deadline in 2015 was not something Mike Ilitch was accustomed to doing. For 14 years, DD’s philosophy was to use his minor league system as a field of sacrificial lambs; talented prospects were used to acquire high-priced and high-profile major league stars, mostly at the trade deadline.

Unfortunately, we did it so much, there was nothing left to offer teams; so the Tigers were given no alternative but to sell. Sure Al Avila could have followed in the footsteps of Dombrowski and offered up the very talent he received in the trades of Price, Soria and Cespedes; and he most likely would have received some very good players; the expensive, high risk variety.

For a long time, I was very supportive of the Dombrowski way of doing things. The Tigers have been winning a lot with this method and a lot of high-profile major league talent has looked good in the home Tiger whites. But these moves, though exciting, did not result in a championship, and their failures slowly eroded our chances for winning one in the near future.

Now, who knows if Al’s way will translate into a championship? That’s anyone’s guess, but the free-wheeling Dombrowski approach did nothing but poach our future. So it’s imperative that we now buy into the new order, making Al’s way certainly worth the trip.


Holly – The book is still out on both men. Dave’s true evaluation as a GM with Detroit won’t be finalized for at least another year and Al has just started to make his mark.

They really are polar opposites from what we’ve seen so far with Dave overpaying and depleting the farm system while Al appears more prudent and aware of the long-term implications. We’ll see which one has more sizzle and which has more steak.

Dombrowski has been about the immediate and made moves that hinged on today with little regard for the future. With Detroit, it was all about acquiring players and there was no focus on the factors that contribute to success. While they had one of the highest payrolls, the Tigers were years behind everyone else in analytics, scouting, computer programs and physical performance departments.

In less than one month, new GM Avila announces the installation of an analytics department and within a couple of months, an overhaul of the farm system and scouting programs. He did more in 2 months to strengthen the entire organization than Dave did in 14 years.

Avila is not going to be the GM who makes sexy and exciting moves – and that’s OK with me. But I see him looking at the big picture and making moves for now and the future which is what teams like the Cardinals practice.

IGNORING INJURIES AND INVESTMENTS

By:  Holly Horning

There were high expectations for this team in 2015 given their payroll, Cy Young Award winner, MVP and an elderly owner pushing for a World Series.

But the team was hit with yet another year in which a rash of injuries occurred – sidelining some of their best hitters and pitchers. And one of the reasons given for their disappointing finish in 2015.

And shortly after the season ended, the Front Office broomed all the trainers and fitness coordinators.

What???” you say? Oh, sorry – I forgot to mention these introductory paragraphs were about the Washington Nationals.

It is eerie how similar the teams in Detroit and DC are. Two parallel stories, especially when you compare the managers, a past year riddled with injuries and accusations of underperformance.

Catch up on my earlier blog describing the same paths but different destinations of these two teams. https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2015/10/08/an-intriguing-interesting-tale-of-a-team/

It is amazing how two teams with the same goals and similar stories (except for the final standings) can do their own analyses and come up with polar opposite decisions and actions. And today, it’s about addressing fitness and injuries.

The Nationals had a year that was plagued by injuries to both their starting rotation and lineup. Many of the injuries were extended or exacerbated from rushing players back from the DL. And others were injuries undiagnosed until it was too late. The Front Office also believed that lack of proper conditioning contributed to the increase in injuries. Sound familiar?

But the Nats decided to do something about it. They hired a British soccer health expert to revamp how the Nats will address training, conditioning and the overall physical health of their players. Their new director was responsible for overseeing a 50%+ drop in soft-tissue injuries in his previous work.

Let’s now look at the Tigers. There have been 3 years of above-average injuries. Miggy has not been healthy since 2012. VMart’s great 2014 was sandwiched in between 2 years of injuries.

How can a team be surprised to learn the best hitter in the game was playing on TWO injuries including a broken foot in 2014? How could management bear to watch their two top hitters grimacing and limping around the bases? How can Victor injure his leg twice while doing routine exercise?

In 2015, the Tigers used 12 starting pitchers – the most since 2002. They had the fewest starting rotation starts in 13 years and a full one-third of last season was pitched by guys called up from the farm.

Sixteen pitchers out of 23 last year suffered from injuries. A total of 22 out of the 40-man roster were unavailable to play at times due to injuries of varying lengths.

There were starters coming into the year hurt. Others pitched inconsistently or were bombed consistently – only to finally find out that injuries were the root cause.

Then there is the case of Justin Verlander, the third most expensive pitcher in MLB, taking trapeze lessons over the winter with his girlfriend. A sport best performed by short men with significant proportionally-larger shoulders and arms, not guys who are 6’5″ and lanky.

And the injuries most likely to occur from trapeze work? Damage to the tri-ceps. You simply can’t make this stuff up.

What is unclear is whether the Tigers require players to get approval before participating in another sport or dangerous activity. Most teams do.

But someone needs to be in charge. You’ve got 2 of baseball’s most expensive players, 2 franchise faces – and their overall health and performance are not being adequately monitored and addressed. The investment – and the future – are not being protected.

The Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS), finds that each team addresses and manages injuries differently. Some are consistent in their philosophy, others aren’t. Some address players’ health seriously, some don’t because they see it as “part of the game.”

And in all the years PBATS recognizes the best medical staffs in the game, the Tigers won only once – in 2006. Coincidence?

A further look into Detroit’s training and conditioning program shows a bare-bones approach and program. A trainer and assistant, 2 strength and conditioning coaches and a part-time performance coach.

More than half of the other MLB teams have an entire department dedicated to maintaining peak physical performance of their players, complete with directors, chiropractors, sports psychologists, physical therapists, massage specialists and rehab coordinators.

Now that Al Avila is in charge, let’s hope he casts a fresh eye on the organization and evaluates and expands on the key pieces that keep teams in contention. Physical health is a top priority.

Oh, and so is nutrition. But I’m saving that topic for a blog in the near future. Stay tuned……

WHAT GOES AROUND MAY COME AROUND

By:  Kurt Snyder

Remember the day the Tigers acquired Doug Fister?

In 2011, he was a below-the-radar acquisition based on a horrible 3-12 record he had amassed with Seattle. But something was amiss. He had a relatively low 3.33 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. Horrible run support was hiding a very good pitcher and the Tigers realized it and nabbed him.

Fister responded big time to the move, going 8-1 with Detroit after the trade deadline with a sparkling ERA under 2 and a WHIP under 1.

He was a 6’8” intimidating mound presence, who constantly fooled hitters with his vast array of pitches and great control. He didn’t throw as hard as you would expect, but he kept hitters off-balance with his off-speed pitches and a fastball that moved all over the place.

Surrounded by hard-throwing pitchers, Fister was the perfect change of pace for the Tiger rotation. He was a perfect fit.

But in 2013, in the blink of an eye, he was gone. Dave Dombrowski traded Fister to Washington. When it was first announced, it was not immediately known who the Tigers had acquired.

But names like Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard came to mind as Fister would certainly bring one of the Nationals’ top relievers. He would command that type of player in return, right?  The Tigers bullpen needed upgrading (imagine that) and it only made sense that if we were going to trade Fister, it would be in exchange for a dominant reliever.

Sorry! The Tigers received 3 players in the deal; a utility infielder by the name of Steve Lombardozzi, minor league pitcher Robbie Ray and lefty reliever Ian Krol. That’s it.  They received far less than anyone could have imagined.

Dombrowski immediately touted Robbie Ray as the key acquisition in the deal and according to Dave; the Nationals did not want to include him in the deal. Ray was regarded as a gifted pitcher who would be in the Tiger rotation within a few years.

Tiger fans were enraged and this trade still ranks near the top of the list of the worst the team has ever made.

So, how do Tiger fans feel now as they look back on the trade? Well they may feel just a little worse.

In the spring of 2014, the Tigers got the awful news that newly acquired Jose Iglesias would be lost for the season. Steve Lombardozzi was immediately traded away for Alex Gonzalez, a veteran journeyman shortstop to help fill the void left by Iggy’s injury.

Gonzalez, who should have been retired, was let go so he could. It didn’t take the Tigers long to find out he had nothing left. Lombardozzi, the first Fister pillar to depart, didn’t stay long enough for fans to figure out how to spell his name and he was traded for someone who left within a month.

The second pillar, Robbie Ray, bounced back and forth between Detroit and Toledo, having only occasional success, but he definitely had talent. You could see he could indeed be someone who had a future with the Tigers. But the Tigers inexplicably traded him on 12/4/14 as part of a 3-team deal that brought them Shane Greene from the Yankees.

The Tigers were in scramble mode as their vaunted starting rotation was eroding. Gone were Fister and Scherzer (and later Rick Porcello), so the Tigers needed starters  they could add to their rotation immediately. And Shane Greene was the guy. As a result, Robbie Ray, the second pillar, had fallen.

That only left Ian Krol. He had a great arm but never really made an impact in the major leagues with the Tigers as he bounced back and forth from the minors.

This all brings us to today. This past week, the Tigers, with a shopping list that includes lots of pitching and some outfield help had an opportunity to bring back Cameron Maybin, who was a major piece in the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers.

So who did the Tigers give up in the deal for Maybin? That’s right, Ian Krol was sent to Atlanta. The final pillar had fallen.

Doug Fister has been gone 3 seasons and within 3 years, the Tigers traded away everyone they received in return. Everyone.

The irony of it all is that when the Tigers acquired him from Seattle in 2011, he was brought in to bolster the rotation.

So here we are again with a rotation looking for a boost again, and they have strategically made moves so far this off-season to preserve as much money as possible to supplement their rotation through the free agent market. And lo and behold, guess who is available? Doug Fister.

Could this all come full circle? Could the Tigers really acquire Fister one more time? Well, given their needs and their budget, it doesn’t strike me as a terrible idea. It would almost be sweet justice to have Fister return and finally put to bed all the rage created by his departure.

We know one thing for sure. Dave Dombrowski doesn’t want him.