By: Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder
This week’s edition of 2X2 offers a look at 2 totally different topics.
As we get closer to spring training the Tigers have a few things to work out, both fundamentally and financially. One step has been taken and the other…well, they are workin’ on it.
Let’s take a look.
1. Who does it help more by installing Gibson as base running instructor, Kirk or the Tigers?
When Ausmus came on board, he announced the Tigers would be running more. They even hired an outside base running specialist that first year but the results were disastrous. Ditto for 2015, a year in which the Tigers recorded 60 outs on the bases, including 19 pickoffs for the worst record by far in MLB.
So forgive me if I shake my head over the selection of Gibby as spring training’s base-running instructor. Nothing less than Ty Cobb or Ricky Henderson will really do because the team is really that bad on the base paths.
Gibby was the best base-stealer in the 1980’s for the Tigers, which isn’t saying a whole lot. He was known for his acceleration, a physical skill, and not really for the instinct that the great baserunners were known to have.
But kudos to Kirk for taking on this thankless task. Since October, he’s slowly been raising his profile once again with an interview for the Dodgers’ managerial position. Taking on this new job is another way for him to keep his hand in as he tries to work his way back into a managing or coaching position.
Well, given the Tigers need to improve on the base paths in 2016, they need all the help they can get. Every step they take towards producing more runs as opposed to running themselves out of innings is important.
Choosing Kirk Gibson to help is a win-win. As a player, Gibby was an aggressive baserunner, could steal bases and his instincts helped win a championship.
Also, this is a great move for Gibby himself. Staying active and involved with this team in a number of different areas is the best medicine for him. It’s always been hard to hold Gibby back from fighting and competing, great traits needed to take on his current challenge.
The Tigers continue to offer opportunities for people fighting personal battles; Daniel Norris for one and now Gibby. Improving the Tigers’ base running is all about baseball. Offering Gibson the opportunity to help is all about life.
2. What does it indicate if the Tigers end up having to go to arbitration for the first time in years with JD?
This may simply be the result of how the new GM operates or it could be part of a contract-extension negotiating strategy by one or both sides.
We know Dave never went to arbitration with any of his players, but he was also known for a tendency to overpay. JD has a strong relationship with Al Avila that dates back to high school. And he also knows that Avila was the one responsible for saving his career by urging the Tigers to sign him. This is not the typical athlete – GM relationship so I doubt that any hard feelings will come into play.
Some may look at the $2 million difference and think the Tigers are being petty and cheap. But maybe the Tigers are looking at the bigger picture and not just at the one year. Fans may see a mere $2 million but potentially the Tigers may see an extra $20 million in savings long-term if arbitration goes their way.
They may want to see what arbitration would bring because the judgment would help determine a fair contract extension baseline. But the strategy also works both ways as a higher assessment would benefit JD who would use it as proof of his higher value when it comes time to seriously discuss a contract extension.
As an Astro, JD had reached the crossroads of his career. He was floundering as a hitter, and he appropriately became a student of the game. After reinventing himself, he has become one of the more dangerous hitters in the American League. And he has the Tigers to thank for that.
Houston had no more patience for JD’s lack of development and mistakenly made the mistake of not giving him more time. However, the Tigers have given that to him and I don’t see these negotiations as anything remotely close to ugly. I feel Al Avila would have nailed down a contract extension for Martinez already if not for Ilitch’s desire to fire up the money machine for Justin Upton. Arbitration is not the end of the world for Martinez or the Tigers; He has to know this is all about “winning now” again for his team.
In the end, players want to win, and given the trust the Tigers showed in JD’s future, it would seem he ought to trust in the Tigers’ plan to reward him in time for what he has brought to their lineup. I see an arbitration settlement now, with a long-term contract shortly down the road.