TIMING IS EVERYTHING

By:  Holly Horning

Our readers come up with the best questions. And this week’s is no exception! HTBob asked me to address this one, so let’s get to it……..

“I’ve been saying for 3 year now, that the biggest mistake (managerial-wise) was bringing back Leyland for his final year when Terry Francona was available that fall. Had Dombrowski made that move then, most likely we’d have at least one World Series flag flying outside Comerica Park by now.”

Before we can analyze the events surrounding the Tigers’ decision to maintain the status quo, we need to revisit the events surrounding the 2011 through 2013 seasons. Let’s explore what was happening within both the Tigers and Red Sox organizations.

Terry Francona was Boston’s winningest manager ever. In his 8 years with the team, he had 6 years of 90 wins or more (with several verging on 100 wins) and 2 years of wins in the high 80’s. Nothing less. Francona won 2 World Series with Boston and excluding the Yankees of the 1920’s, is baseball’s only manager to be undefeated in World Series games.

Despite an implosion by the Red Sox in 2011, they still won 90 games that year. After the season, Francona left the Red Sox of his own accord, along with a mass exodus of other Front Office personnel, including GM Theo Epstein.

Terry spent the 2012 season working as an MLB analyst and signed with the Indians as their new manager just after the 2012 World Series. And in 2013, his first year with the team, Francona led the Indians to 92 wins from only 68 wins the previous year. The Indians finished just 1 game back of the Tigers. Tito won Manager of the Year.

The 2011 season found the Tigers with an amazing 95 wins but no pennant to show for it. They regressed to 88 wins in 2012 and did get to the World Series but were swept by the Giants. In 2013, they once again won 93 games but lost the pennant to the Red Sox. But I really don’t need to remind you about that.

In Detroit, Jim Leyland was Detroit’s manager through the 2013 season. Despite a roster loaded with talent, including baseball’s best starting rotation and hitter, he steered the team to multiple division titles but only 1 measly World Series game win out of 8 back in 2006.

In his final 3 years (2011-2013) with the team, Leyland worked year-by-year with no contract and an agreement based upon a handshake. In extensive research, the only rationale given was based upon JL’s preference to have a contract that would allow him to leave whenever he wanted. None of the articles even broached the possibility that the Tigers might exercise termination first.

In previous blogs, I’ve pointed out that while Dave Dombrowski had many great accomplishments while the GM for Detroit and was considered a master at roster-related skills, the jury is still out on his ability to recognize talent outside of the guys who took the field every day.

He did not build the organization outside of the roster and kept the same personnel (once stability had been established upon his arrival) throughout his tenure with Detroit. To see Al Avila make personnel changes from top to bottom within his first 2 months on the job is telling.

It’s not a reach to connect the dots and be able to conclude that Dave may not have been the best person to judge managerial skills. In his first GM job with the Expos, he broke the expected rule about GMs hiring their own managers and kept the managerial status quo – a guy who was a .500 manager. Kept him for his entire tenure of 4 years.

With the Marlins, Dave hired Jim Leyland but it was not the first time they worked together. Dave and Jim go all the way back to the White Sox – 35 years ago. And JL’s history with the Tigers goes all the way back to 1963.

While a 35-year friendship is admirable, it can serve as a set of blinders when it comes to evaluating a relationship honestly. Sometimes, people get too close to the situation and can’t make the best decisions.

And I think this is the case. Dave was in no position, either personally or professionally, to replace Leyland. He was too close to the situation. And changing managers after the 2011 season would have been an extremely bold and uncomfortable move for Dave given his track record.

So could the Tigers have won at least 1 World Series with Francona at the helm? I’m very comfortable saying “yes.” And I’d also like to think a second flag had good odds, too. And maybe, just maybe, a third if we dream big.

Terry was ranked last year in an official poll by coaches, Front Offices and players as one of the top 3 managers today along with Bochy and Maddon. He could have been hired by the Tigers all the way back in the winter of 2011 – and not just for Leyland’s last year with the team.

Would he have managed better in the 2012 World Series against the Giants? Given that the team was swept in 4 straight, I think we all know the answer.

If we look at 2013, Francona may have helped the team avoid the horrible memories of the Boston series given his talent and added bonus of being the Bosox former manager. Many have said the 2013 Detroit team was the best out of all the recent years.

If the Tigers had hired Terry, then history would have been rewritten. Brad Ausmus would not have been hired for the 2014 season. Dave might even have kept his job.

Certainly, it’s hard to speculate and say “what if?” Other non-managerial factors would also come into play.

But it does appear that the Tigers missed out on a golden opportunity to hire one of the best. The last time they were bold and made a managerial move, it was grabbing a man by the name of George Anderson and releasing Les Moss. We know the rest of that story. “Fortune favors the bold.”

Meanwhile, Terry is in the last year of his contract with Cleveland. But he also has an opt-out clause if his GM left, which did happen. While he is on record saying he won’t opt out, Joe Maddon also said the same thing in his identical situation. Hope springs eternal.

If not this year, then Francona may become available for the 2017 season if the Indians new GM decides to bring in his own man. Let’s hope Terry has fond memories of his days as the Tigers’ third base coach.

There are very few outstanding managers in baseball and they come around once in a lifetime. When they do, you better grab them while you can. You may not get another chance.

WHAT IF MIGGY WASN’T A TIGER?

By:  Kurt Snyder

Totally Tigers has continued to preach that this is a blog for our readers. And we have been consistent in asking for topics. What is it that you would like to see addressed? What questions do you have for us?

Well, you have responded and we have been challenged. And today is no different. In fact, we are entering a category we don’t venture into very often. Today we enter the land of “What if?” And I’m glad we don’t go here a lot because frankly, it will drive you mad.

So get a load of this question from Robert R. You may learn something you didn’t already know.

What if, in 2005, the Tigers drafted Andrew McCutchen instead of Cameron Maybin? Look into the crystal ball and see what might have happened if the Tigers traded him for Miggy, or just held onto him instead, or if someone else would have been traded for Miggy?


After I read this over, I don’t know, maybe 10 times, I wondered, “Why McCutchen?” Why was he singled out in a “what if we drafted someone else” scenario?

Well, when you look at the 2005 draft, the Tigers drafted Cameron Maybin at #10, one spot before the Pirates grabbed Andrew McCutchen at #11.  All I can say is, ….. Ouch!

After recovering from that little nugget of info, I figured, ok, if we would have drafted and then traded McCutchen in the Cabrera deal, both teams would have ended up with perennial All Stars.  But Cameron Maybin wasn’t the only part of that trade. The Tigers sent a whole bushel basket full of players to the Marlins for Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

The Tigers traded Maybin, Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, Mike Rabelo and Andrew Miller. But Miller and Maybin were the players of interest for the Marlins.  Maybin wasn’t enough. Florida didn’t want the best prospect in the Tigers system, they wanted the best 2.

So, I took a look at the 2006 draft, the year we got Andrew Miller. Who do you think was drafted next after Miller? Oh no, it didn’t happen again did it? Well, hold onto your hats! It was Clayton Kershaw! Ouch!…..Expletive!

What the heck! These are big time names! What if the Tigers never drafted Cameron Maybin or Andrew Miller? What if they would have drafted the next guy instead?  What if the Tigers drafted McCutchen and Kershaw?

When looking at the Cabrera deal, would the Tigers have held onto them or would Dombrowski have viewed them the same way he viewed Maybin and Miller, as good young prospects that he could risk unloading for a Hall of Fame level talent?

The Tigers made headlines not only for acquiring Miggy,  but by trading the top 2 prospects in their minor league system; their best hitter and their best pitcher. Certainly, it turned out fine for them as they acquired a future Hall of Famer, and he remains the cornerstone of their franchise today. But this analysis is about “what if’s.”

So imagine for a moment if the Tigers had drafted McCutchen and Kershaw instead of Maybin and Miller. Forget Cabrera! He’s just one guy!   These are 2 of the top 10 players in the game. If you can’t build a championship around these 2 guys, well then, you never will. It’s hard to fathom the Tigers not winning at least one title if those 2 became Tigers. And of course, it’s equally hard to fathom the Marlins not winning a title if they acquired McCutchen and Kershaw for Miggy.

If Dave Dombrowski had a crystal ball prior to the big trade for Miggy, he certainly looked in and saw Maybin’s and Miller’s future and he pulled the trigger. But would he have made the same trade if they would have drafted the next 2 players in 2005 and 2006? Remember he has the crystal ball, so certainly not.

Arguably, McCutchen may have been a better fit for the Tigers, a better fit for Comerica Park. And considering that Kershaw would be involved too, a crystal ball would tell you, “Stay away from Miggy, look what you have in those 2 guys!”

So take what you know about the Tigers between 2004 and today and look into the crystal ball.   This is what you would see:

SP Justin Verlander (drafted in 2004)
OF Andrew McCutchen (drafted in 2005)
SP Clayton Kershaw (drafted in 2006)
SP Rick Porcello (drafted in 2007)
SP Max Scherzer (traded to Tigers in 2009)
SP Anibal Sanchez (traded to Tigers in 2012)

What do you think? No Cabrera, but is this a better core worthy of producing a championship or two?  Quite a different dynamic wouldn’t you say?

Feel free to dream a little further. In 2016, we could have been looking at an outfield of Upton, McCutchen and Martinez. And you have to figure Ilitch would have found a way to hold onto at least Verlander and Kershaw.  And if you still add Zimmermann, well now we’re talkin’ about another serious starting staff.

So, what did this teach us? Nothing really. It’s just a fantasy game. And really when you find your way back to reality, Tiger fans and Mike Ilitch are used to a lot of stars on this team. This scenario is not new.  The names are just different.    We’ve had great hitters.  We’ve had great pitching.  Superstar level pitching.

There have been several Tiger teams that have been loaded with talent.   And it was real. Sure we didn’t draft McCutchen or Kershaw, but we have had plenty of stars. They just have never aligned.

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS AND CONCERNS

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

Once again our writers have taken advantage of this Saturday segment to touch on as many issues as possible. It’s kind of nice sometimes when they aren’t thinking alike.

It gets readers thinking about a whole menu of topics as opposed to just different opinions on the same thing. After all, that’s what Tuesdays and Thursdays are for. Saturday makes for a good potpourri.


KURT

QUESTION

Is Rich Dubee the kind of pitching coach the Tigers have needed for a while? Dave Dombrowski continually targeted big, hard throwing pitchers through the draft as well as through trade and free agency. It would seem the picture is now being completed with a pitching coach who stresses aggressiveness and challenging hitters.

COMMENT

It was good news to hear that Kirk Gibson will take on more workload in the booth this season. He must be doing well. Plus, he has so much to give having managed and he possesses a great baseball mind. Also, installing him as a base running instructor for the club is a tremendous use of his talents; and it’s good for him as well.

CONCERN

Other than the recent announcement about Rondon’s mosquito-borne virus, all has been quiet so far on his progress towards being a candidate for the pen. That may be a good thing but I’m not so sure. The fact that Al Avila is still looking for pitching tells me it’s for the bullpen not the starting rotation. Maybe no news on Rondon is not always good news.


HOLLY

QUESTION

Could the Justin Upton signing force the Tigers to shelve a contract extension for JD Martinez this year? A payroll that is expected to reach $210 million for 2016 with 2 new contracts alone totaling over $200 million could force the Tigers to delay offering JD a contract for next year and even possibly for 2017. With 7 expensive long-term contracts already in the books, can they afford another one?

COMMENT

With the recent acquisitions of multiple infield prospects, it appears Al Avila is laying the groundwork for the eventual replacements for Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias – and possibly Nick Castellanos. Ian will be leaving either after 2017 or 2018 while Iggy is most likely to be traded after the 2017 season while at his highest value because his agent is Scott Boras. Top prospects Machado and Jones are pure shortstops so it’s not surprising that the newest Tigers obtained play second and third base.

CONCERN

The situation with Bryan Holaday being out of options poses a Catch-22 for the Tigers. The Tigers are unlikely to keep 3 catchers on the roster but allowing him to go on waivers will most likely find him claimed by another team. The Tigers don’t have another minor-league catcher anywhere near ready to step in should McCann or Saltalamacchia get injured.

NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE

By:  Holly Horning

Some people collect stamps. Others? Fine wine or classic cars.

But the Tigers? They collect former managers.

Think about it. How many teams can say they have half a dozen former MLB managers under their roof? Lamont. Clark. Trammell. Gibson. Leyland. And now McClendon. Just 3 guys short of fielding a team.

“Club, it is” as Yoda would say. And I would love to be a fly on the wall when they gather for drinks, dinner and stories. I hear they even perform seances and summon the spirits of Sparky and Billy.

But I can’t help but think they will be adding another member within a year. His name is Ausmus and he may just become one of the more viable members to keep on the payroll.

Let me explain.

In the off-season, I kept reading all these stories about the work Brad has been doing. The travel, the meetings, the conferences, the interviews with free agents and the groundwork required with building The Tigers’ Way. I don’t remember any other Tiger manager being given these responsibilities. Or managers with other organizations, for that matter.

Granted, Dave Dombrowski was known to tightly control the team and centralize the power. But we now know that Al Avila does things much differently than his former boss. Could he be seeing Brad’s true calling?

We know Brad is very smart. Maybe even “too smart” at times. But there are different levels of smart. Some of the best intellects in the game were horrible people managers (Ted Williams) and others who couldn’t even utter a grammatically-correct sentence were masters at motivating people (Sparky Anderson).

As a manager, and as one who regularly trains corporate managers, I can tell you it’s one of the toughest jobs out there. It is the rare individual who has a strong ability for the job. Most of the qualities which make a manager highly successful cannot be taught. The best have a natural ability in handling the many different personalities and situations as they pop up. The job requires a dash of psychology and a whole heapin’ helpin’ of gut instinct.

Does this sound like Brad? I didn’t think so either.

But where I think Brad excels is in the factual arena of analytics and the bigger picture of how to update and add value to the corporate entity. It was mentioned that he had a lot of ideas about how to develop the player’s manual.

This is Brad’s first real full-time job in MLB since retiring. And like the rest of us, it often takes a job or two to discover if it is truly your calling. In the 2+ years of media interviews, he’s never come across as comfortable, confident or passionate about his job.

Professional coaches will be the first to say that those who love their work don’t have a problem conveying their passion for what they do. Listen to the interviews MLB tv and radio do with the managers. Listen to Bochy, Maddon, Hinch, Showalter, Francona, Molitor, Collins, Hurdle, Banister and Matheny. They are inspiring and speak so eloquently about their vision and goals. It’s no coincidence that they show their love for the game and are successful in what they do.

But I did hear Brad give an uncharacteristically good interview when he was addressing the work he is doing this off-season. And none of it had to do with managing a roster. Hmmm….

So could the Tigers keep Brad around in another capacity? I’m not a betting person but I’d take those odds and say “yes.”

Much of it has to do with the Tigers’ corporate culture about their former managers and coaches who left to manage other teams and then returned. The Tigers, for whatever reason, have a hard time closing the door on them. They are the Ellis Island of MLB teams in taking in the poor, huddled managerial masses. They have a very hard time saying goodbye.

And moving Brad into a Front Office position may be the perfect and easiest solution for the team. No mess, no fuss, no fallout and no ‘splainin’ to do. Brad would also get a promotion. Could even be that he helps to update one of baseball’s most antiquated teams with ideas and programs to bring them into the 21st Century.

In the immortal words of comedienne Judy Tenuta, “It could happen!” (Accordion optional.)

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Remember Al Avila’s first significant move as the Tigers’ new general manager following the dispatch of Dave Dombrowski? How many were shocked that Ausmus was retained as manager?   How many thought it was the wrong decision?

Well, we haven’t broached this subject in some time now. But a loyal reader has asked us to re-evaluate his standing given Mr. I’s recent confirmation of where he expects this team to be.

So the question from BG:

Like other folks, I am concerned with the amount of rope Ausmus will be given by Avila if his mismanagement continues, possibly leading to another lost season. Do you believe his leash is short?


HOLLY

The good news is that Brad has more to work with this year but the bad news is that the onus is now fully on him to deliver great, not just good, results.

Mr. I’s massive expenditure of over $200 million on just two players shows how serious he is about getting that ring. And with JV and Miggy getting older, combined with the Upt-out clause, it shows us that the deadline for winning has to be within the next year or two.

Last year, Brad lucked out given the injuries, bad bullpen and Dave’s departure but he won’t be protected by those factors this year. And then there are the reports that Mr. I had a hard time buying into his hire by the man he released from his contract back in July.

So yes, the leash is shorter but the timing is tricky. Yanking him too early would publicly hurt the Tigers but waiting too long may be too late. Any new manager would require a period of acclimation. But we also need to weigh the negative impact a change in management brings to the players which means that Brad will stay unless the team really goes south or if he loses control of the clubhouse.

But there is another reason for hanging onto him even if team performance is not what it should be. No problems can be addressed until you have a viable solution at the ready. The talent pool of available managers is the key to any move made. If the Tigers don’t see a strong replacement, they will probably see if they can wait it out a bit longer.

If I had to guess at a timeline, the leash goes to the All-Star break if the team can’t break out before then. It gives the Tigers 3 months to see the monthly pattern of performance and it still gives the team 3 more months to turn things around.

In Brad’s first 2 years, the team pattern has been a good first month, followed by a month or two of .500 ball and finished with months of under-.500 ball. Mr. I and Al will be watching and I believe it will be Mr. I, not his GM, who will pull the trigger.

Last year, the Royals jumped out in the beginning and never lost the lead. Going into 2016, no one is more aware than Brad Ausmus that he needs to get out of the starting gate early. Let’s hope that this past winter contained many lightbulb moments and lessons learned for him.


KURT

You have been following a site that has stood united on a position that Brad Ausmus should have never survived 2015.

And since then, Avila and Ilitch’s great work in revitalizing this team has been very impressive and breathed new life into the franchise and the fan base. The last thing we want is for our manager, who many thought should have been fired, to start sucking the wind out of things again.

Should he have a short leash? Well, if a Les Moss / Sparky Anderson situation should present itself again, Avila won’t need to give him a leash at all. He will only need a collar to yank him out of the dugout. But certainly, a big upgrade would need to fall in our laps before Avila makes a move with the manager.

So how long is the leash? I think with all the improvements that have been made, culminated by the addition of Justin Upton, the Tigers should compete for the division title.

But a team with a lot of new faces will need time to mesh. Ausmus will be given time with more guns, but there will be few excuses if he screws up a team of this caliber. I believe the trade deadline bailed him out last season as the pressure was removed from his shoulders when all the big free agents were shipped out of town.

There were no more expectations. There was nothing left to win, nor were they capable. Justin Verlander was the only thing remotely interesting about the last couple months of the season.

But this is a new team. Everyone is healed and more great talent has been infused into this roster in the areas they needed it the most. The Tigers just need their manager to take the ball and run with it. He will have leash all the way until the trade deadline. But this time, if Brad has led the team into the weeds by then, he won’t be allowed another step.

MIGGY’S ATHLETIC PROWESS GOES BEYOND THE BAT

By:  Kurt Snyder

I hate to mention his name again, but I must. Prince Fielder. It kind of makes me cringe to bring him up, but he helps to illustrate the importance of one of the two most critical pillars of successful baseball: defense.

The acquisition of Prince Fielder was probably Mike Ilitch’s weakest moment as owner of the Tigers.  As much credit as Ilitch earns for financial support and a good baseball sense, this was not one of his strongest days.

It was an exorbitant amount of money spent to acquire Fielder; one of the most limited players in the game. Prince was not a good first baseman for the Tigers. In fact, defense has never been his strong suit. When he is talked about, it’s all about his bat and never about his glove, and certainly not about quickness or agility.

So when the Tigers acquired him, as exciting as he was offensively, things became a mess defensively. With Prince showing no desire to DH, first base is where he had to be, meaning the Tigers, almost embarrassingly if you think about it, told Miggy he had to move to third base.

Cabrera, after initially beginning his career with the Tigers at third base, had successfully made the transition to first where he had become quite comfortable. And he had become very good. So for the Tigers to first sign Fielder to a disgusting contract, it was followed up by turning the infield upside down.

Moving Cabrera back to third was not something any fan wanted to see given the experience we remember when he first became a Tiger; he struggled so much at third when he arrived. So the combination of adding Prince and downgrading the defense at first, the move in turn degraded the defense at third base as well. Weak defense at the corners is not something any team wants, even though the Tigers still managed to make it to the Series with the Miggy / Prince combo.

In Miggy’s defense, he did show his athleticism at third; but there were balls he just couldn’t get to, often futilely diving for shots in the hole or down the line.

Jim Leyland had to be cringing every time he saw Miggy diving in dirt. The Tigers were gambling with the future of their most-prized possession; and I am convinced that his time at third advanced some of his health problems the last few seasons.

When a team wins a World Championship, it’s common procedure for the media to comb through key moves and acquisitions that led to that title. And if the Tigers manage to win a title with this core, the Fielder trade for Ian Kinsler will certainly be one of the biggest reasons, because it has been so far-reaching.

Just think how Prince’s exit, Kinsler’s addition at second base and Miggy’s return to first, affected the Tiger defense. Before either of them even picked up a bat after the trade, the team had already improved immensely.

It was addition by subtraction from a financial standpoint, while Kinsler has become the anchor of the infield, playing a Gold Glove worthy second base.  And most importantly, Miggy has found his rightful spot back at first base, where he seems to improve every season.

As the Tigers have since upgraded shortstop with the addition of a very talented Jose Iglesias, they are now better defensively than they have been in a very long time.  But the key will always be Miggy.

We continually talk about how critical it is that Cabrera stay healthy for the Tigers to have any shot at winning a title. And it’s true, without him in that lineup, there is a gaping hole, which normally means the end of the line for the Tigers. There is really no replacing the best hitter in baseball.

But it’s not just his bat that is missed when he is injured. It’s his glove at first, his great arm and also his defensive instincts. He is a great talent, a complete baseball player, an intelligent presence on the diamond;  one we need to have on the field, both at the plate and standing next to the bag at first.

When the day comes that Miggy becomes a full-time DH, the Tigers will need to think defense as well as offense at first, because both will need to be efficiently replaced.

TWO TIMES TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

When you’ve got a hot hand, you keep going to him until he cools off. So, while J Up continues to be the hot topic for the Tigers, there is really no reason for us to slow down.

Tiger fans can’t wait to see what impact Justin Upton will have on the team. And they can’t wait to see what happens in 2 years when according to his contract, he can opt out and become a free agent again, despite his long-term deal.

Our writers will attack both of these subjects; his potential impact and the neat little clause in his contract. Let me just say … our apologies in advance.  SMH.


1. Is Justin Upton the piece the Tigers need to take them over the top?

KURT

This Tiger team is loaded with talent. Just loaded. You know the names. And the pieces that can take them over the top are the ones who have been getting hurt. They are Miggy and VMart and Verlander and Sanchez.

With the additions the team has made to the bullpen and the starting rotation, I guess you might say that Justin Upton is the icing on the cake. But he’s not.

He is just a guy who could really benefit from the talent around him, making us that much better. But if the talent around him doesn’t stay healthy, then J Up will be on his own.

And at the end of the season, we will be talking about what could have been, all over again.

HOLLY

Funny thing is that when you add a big piece, then the attention tends to shift again to the biggest weaknesses.

It was obvious that the Tigers needed help in the outfield and they shored it up well with the addition of Upton. But he’s not the essential piece that will take them over the top. He will help, but he’s not the sole solution.

I’m of the firm belief that a team’s success doesn’t ride on 1 or 2 players. It rests on the entire team working cohesively with one another. Players who compliment each other and can step in when one isn’t getting it done.

That said, I feel comfortable with the Tigers’ defense and a little more comfortable with their offense. But it’s the pitching that worries me – too many unknowns and the concern about how much of last year’s train wreck will turn around.

After acquiring Upton, the onus is now back on both the starters and relievers to perform well this year if the Tigers are to have a shot in October.


2. How do you feel about the Tigers giving him an opt-out clause?

KURT

Where have these opt-out clauses been? If they have been included in contracts in the past, they didn’t capture my attention. Even though it’s a player option, it gives the team an out as well. The Tigers will know a whole lot about Justin after 2 seasons.

I think it’s a great move. And I think the Mets were smart to offer Cespedes one as well after one season. You should expect to see these opt-out clauses more and more in the future because teams are leery about investing so many years into one player, tying up a lot of money.

One risk would be if Upton does really well with the Tigers, he may want to go elsewhere for a bigger contract after two years. But at least the team will have options, to spend bigger on Upton or spend somewhere else. All in all, the clause makes these big contracts more tolerable.

HOLLY

Sorry, I can’t resist, but this is begging to be called an Upt-out clause. And I’m among the few who believe that it can actually benefit the team, and not just the player who receives it.

It just depends upon the team, their goals and the situation. I do like the timing of the 2-year upt-out because it just might save the Tigers from being saddled with yet another long-term contract to an ageing player down the road.

As you know, I have concern over the Tigers possessing the second highest committed future payroll in MLB with no real payroll coming off the books until 2019. In a perfect world, Upton will have the necessary incentive to play his best these next 2 years and then leave for greener pastures. These 2 years mesh perfectly with the remaining window the Tigers have.

The best scenario is receiving his best 2 years, getting back to and winning the World Series and then shedding some of that payroll which can then be used to bring in new blood to balance the expensive, ageing stars and prevent Phillies Redux.

Hopefully, the Tigers will have found their outfield replacements by then and coincidentally, it’s the same year when JD Martinez is due to become a free agent. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers don’t extend him this year due to massive spending but wait until Upton….upts-out.

THE IMPORTANCE OF INTANGIBLES

By: Holly Horning

Since late July, Tigers fans have been debating whether the perceived value of Yoenis Cespedes would match the price he was asking. And since the World Series ended, the universal question was about where he would play in 2016.

Figures have been thrown out, stats have been analyzed every which way but Sunday and his performances with both Detroit and NY have been used as proof of why he should return to Detroit.

But none, I mean absolutely zero, discussions have focused on the intangibles. The factors that often drive an individual and keep him on track. The factors that often make us notice how players such as JD Martinez can pull themselves together and maximize their talent to everyone’s amazement and why other players with immense skill sets often disappoint us by no longer meeting reasonable expectations.

Many in the media, as well as fans, wondered why Yoenis hadn’t been signed yet. They wondered more as the available free agent class of outfielders dwindled. Tiger fans in particular were perplexed as to why Al Avila had yet to sign him despite his performance this past year.

And then Justin Upton came onboard. Who saw that coming? Well, probably the Tigers’ Front Office did.

Those who work directly with someone know all their strengths and weaknesses. They probably had a realistic concern about what Cespedes’ long-term impact might have been which is why they went in another direction. Or, at least a major factor in tipping the scale in favor of Upton.

Don’t get me wrong. Cespedes is a fine player and one who is particularly well-suited for the fan masses. He is often an explosive player, a “sexy” athlete who plays and hits in dramatic fashion. He can make the game very fun. And players like that can blind a fan to all the other factors that come into play.

For all the great memories of Cespedes we have, there are other memories of botched fielding, disinterest and yawning in the outfield, and days where he seemed on and other days where his mind seemed elsewhere. Consistent, he was not. A concern that makes any Front Office wonder why it should be happening.

But over the years, the rumors have followed. Oakland trading away their best player. Stories about his difficulties with following coaching direction and refusing to join his teammates in taking batting and fielding practice in Boston.

And now we’re hearing about the issues he had last year with the Mets involving his refusal to take batting practice, issues with a perceived lack of hustle and his chain-smoking habit that disrupted work with teammates and coaches, both in-game and in the clubhouse.

Add to this the controversy surrounding Cespedes playing 18 holes of walking golf just before Game #4 of the NLCS – and having to leave the game in the second inning with shoulder soreness.

Ken Rosenthal described him as a man “who marches to his own drumbeat” while others in the media have said their connections often used the term “diva.” Whatever term you may use, it all indicates a concern about placing a priority on your own desires over those of the team.

An MLB analyst last week revealed that sources indicated that it was not so much the contract that was holding him back, but the extra perks he was demanding. Perks consistent with what the very top players in the game are receiving. He went on to describe it as a dangerous precedent because it disrupted the expected hierarchy and understanding among players about who received what perks. Even more dangerous if the recipient cannot maintain his expected level of performance.

But for everything a player brings to the game, this is why we also need to look at the total package. It gives the most accurate picture of a player’s effectiveness both short and long-term.

In Yoenis’ case, he played for 4 teams in 5 years. Despite his immense talent, each of those teams was willing to part with him. Even if we exclude the Tigers and their reason, we still need to ask why.

Undoubtedly, there were many teams who were interested in Yoenis. He could have strengthened each of those organizations. But for how long? And for what price? Those are the questions each GM was asking himself this off-season. A player who did not trigger those questions would have been signed much more quickly and not have been the last man standing.

In the end, it was a very good move for everyone involved. The Mets were smart in offering only a 3-year contract and adding incentives to this year’s performance. Cespedes makes out extremely well with a paycheck of $25 – $27.5 million for this year.

There is an opt-out clause after one year which should keep Cespedes focused and motivated. A win-win-win situation for him, the Mets and their fans.

Now the only thing left for the Tigers and their fans to see is how well the Justin Upton contract plays out.

OH BROTHER, ANOTHER 5-TOOLER

By:  Kurt Snyder

If you aren’t that familiar with Justin Upton, well, I must admit I have a lot to learn myself.  And since he is the next big thing in Detroit, he’s going to be a familiar topic of discussion as we progress towards Lakeland.  But, there is much to learn.

So let’s start with some family trivia and then address our new “5-tool” leftfielder.


THE BROTHERS

Many know that the Upton family is blessed to have 2 brothers playing major league baseball together; and a fair amount of time on the same team.

Incredibly, in 2002, Melvin Upton was drafted #2 overall, a big time honor for sure.   Well, three years later, Justin was drafted #1 overall in 2005, making them the only brothers in baseball to ever be selected in the #1 and #2 slots of any first round draft.

The brothers Upton didn’t stop there. On June 2, 2009, Justin was named NL Player of the Month for May. Not to be outdone, Melvin earned AL Player of the Month for June, making them the first pair of brothers to win player of the month honors in the same year.

Is that it?  Not quite. These guys have really littered the record books together in their young careers. Check this one out:

On August 3, 2012, Justin hit his 100th career home run. What happened only 30 minutes later? That’s right; his big brother hit his 100th career home run in another ballgame.

It’s been said that twins do a lot of things together. But that would be the only thing that would make the story of these 2 brothers even cooler. However they aren’t twins; they are 3 years apart. But they seem to like to do a lot of the same things. Amazing stuff, huh? I thought so, too.


JUSTIN UPTON: THE “5-TOOL” TALENT

Overtime, Justin Upton has distanced himself from his brother Melvin. He has become the much better player. In fact, Justin has been listed in the vastly-overused category of “5-Tool Players.”

For those who were sitting in the back of the room and fell asleep during the 5-Tool lecture in Baseball 101, here are the qualifications required of players to be accepted into this exclusive club:

1) Hitting for Power
2) Hitting for Average
3) Fielding Ability
4) Throwing Ability
5) Speed

Well, what we have learned over time is that most players described as 5-tool players, just aren’t. When they arrive in the big leagues, our math skills are suddenly severely challenged and we just can’t count to 5. You see, to qualify, you must be great, and I mean great, in all of the above categories. So after Mike Trout, quick, give me 5 names. I think Trout is the one major leaguer who comes close.

Baseball has to quit throwing “5 tools” around so much. Yoenis Cespedes was described as a 5-tooler out of Cuba. But to date, both he and Upton have career averages of .271. Sorry, that’s solid but not enough to qualify for a 5-tool description. You had better be hitting .300.

Also, 5-toolers don’t have high strikeout totals. Both Justin Upton and Cespedes do. And 5-toolers don’t lead the league in outfielder errors like Upton has in multiple seasons.

The same description was thrown around to describe Cameron Maybin when he came up with the Tigers, and his much-advertised lofty skill set certainly helped the Tigers snag Miguel Cabrera.

You see, when you sprinkle around enough flowers, you can hide a lot of weeds. Dave Dombrowski was and is very good at that. Perception is everything, and the perception that accompanied Cameron Maybin was close to “all world.” Fans hated to see him go, but quickly forgot about him as he underwhelmed for years, having not met the lofty expectations.


Hopefully I haven’t burst your bubble on a couple new Tigers you were hoping would be big stars for their new team in Detroit. They could still very well be. You just need to know that both have not lived up to, in most cases, unrealistic expectations.

This is a team sport. And both Upton and Maybin are going to help this team, especially Upton. The Tigers, given how much money they have invested, obviously think a lot of Justin Upton,  and well they should;  he is a tremendous talent. And Maybin brings additional athleticism to this team which can’t be understated.

The Tiger outfield is in tremendous shape. And Justin is going to fit in quite nicely, with or without Melvin.

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS AND CONCERNS

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Justin Upton isn’t the only news of the week for the Tigers. The topics are pretty far-reaching. Which ones have captured the attention of our writers?

The most in-depth analysis may come from the writer with nothing but time now that she is buried in snow in DC. Just a hunch.


HOLLY

QUESTION

Have we seen the last of Bruce Rondon or are the Tigers just circling the wagons in order to avoid the inevitable questions during their trip around the state? Bruce contracted a mosquito-borne illness that the Tigers said was contagious, which was the reason given as to why he wasn’t on tour with them. Problem is, the virus cannot be transmitted from human to human, so there goes that story.

COMMENT

It appears that Al Avila has gained the upper hand within the Tiger organization and effectively squashed the insider rumor mill since assuming his new position. Multiple sources and news stories floated late last summer have totally disappeared and Al managed to accomplish all those trades stealthily and with nary a whisper of what was going on.

CONCERN

A recent story revealed that unlike many of his teammates, Miggy doesn’t have endorsement deals for some of the equipment he uses and the few deals he has amounts to less than $200K. Nike, who has shoe deals with controversial athletes like Tiger Woods, turned down his request, and after winning the Triple Crown, he received not a single offer. Completely stunning that American-based brands aren’t interested in signing baseball’s best hitter yet have some of his lesser-known teammates on their payroll.


KURT

QUESTION

Will the Tigers platoon Anthony Gose and Cameron Maybin in centerfield?  Prior to the signing of Justin Upton, I believed the plan would be for Gose and Tyler Collins to platoon in left field, while Maybin handled center full-time.   I don’t think the Upton acquisition affects the Tigers’ plan for Maybin. The centerfield job is for him to lose, based on his ability to add more pop to the lineup than Gose.

COMMENT

Upton has now provided the Tigers with a much-improved bench. Mike Aviles will be found all over the field this season, while switch-hitting Andrew Romine will back up the two middle infield positions.   And if my theory is correct, Anthony Gose will now be available to cover any outfield position, pinch run and provide another lefty bat for a mostly righty-loaded lineup. Add in Salty to backup McCann, play occasionally at 1B and pinch hit and you have a bench that is much more complete in what it offers.

COMMENT

With a healthy Shane Greene back for the Tigers, it appears there is no planned role for him, assuming the starting rotation is already set. But Shane is now a valuable tool for this pitching staff as he can strengthen the depth of the pen with the ability to fill roles in both short and long relief. But who knows what will transpire in the spring; it would not surprise me if he ends up in the rotation after all.