A TIGERS’ TOP TEN TARGETS LIST


By:  Holly Horning

We all know what teams need to do each year in order to call the season “successful.” And it all usually revolves around the “ace pitching, shut-down closer, big bats, solid defense” mantra.

But is it enough for a team to simply focus on these goals? Is this what the best teams do each year? Or do teams that constantly find themselves in the mix go a step beyond? Do they work “smarter, not harder”?

We will never know what goes on behind closed doors. Whether GMs or managers sit down with their players and explain what last year’s numbers really meant. Whether they identified the shortcomings that held them back and came up with a new game plan.

But one would hope that their team’s management collected a list of the top concerns from the previous year with the intent to put new strategy in place for the new year.

A lot went wrong for the Tigers last year. Yes, injuries were one of the biggest factors. But there were also entire aspects of the game that went MIA. There were strategies that were never implemented and left by the wayside.

Hopefully, this will be a year of redemption. A year in which a new GM appears to be looking at the broader picture and not just filling the scorecard with impressive names.

So what do the Tigers need to do in 2016 to be more successful? Here’s my top 10 list of where they must improve…….

1. BASERUNNING – One of the top teams in most offensive categories and dead last in baserunning for 2015 which resulted in a drop to #15 in runs scored. This is why the Tigers so often were unable to score more than 2 runs in games.

2. STARTING PITCHING – Even with David Price on board, starting pitching was near the bottom in most categories. The Tigers ranked #27 and had a collective whopping 4.78 ERA.

3. BULLPEN – No need to go into detail here. Once again, near the bottom with opponents hitting .271 against them.

4. MIGGY – You only remain injured for 3 straight years because your management team hasn’t implemented the necessary strategies or safeguards into ensuring one of baseball’s most expensive and talented players remains in the game for the long haul.

5. VMART – Having both a healthy Miggy and VMart is like owning both Boardwalk and Park Place with hotels. Like Miggy, management needs to ensure that keeping Victor healthy is always the top priority and takes precedence over adding anything else to his role.

6. INJURIES – Sadly, a separate category beyond Miggy and VMart. One of the leaders in the sheer number of injuries but near the bottom in putting players on the DL. Even if you exclude both starting and relief pitching, over half the positions last year were negatively impacted by guys who were playing with injuries.

7. SEVENTH INNING – Studies show that Brad routinely kept his starters in the game too long. Stats show that the bullpen actually put up better numbers than the starters, including David Price, in the 7th inning, but Brad favored sticking with his starters in that inning.

8. SITUATIONAL HITTING – Other than bad baserunning, failure to move runners along was a primary reason why the Tigers were ineffective in scoring runners on base. Even Iggy admitted in an interview that too many players (including himself) were focused on enhancing their stats instead of hitting to get runners in.

9. INSTINCTIVE MANAGING – Many skippers go by the book or the stats in making all their decisions. But the best managers like Bochy, Maddon and Showalter use their instinct or gut in the most high-leverage situations. A manager in his first two years on the job can’t be expected to perform with skills that take years to gain.

10. FOCUS – Runners being picked off base, players yawning in the field, half-hearted fielding attempts and pitchers leaving the game and no one noticing. Too many players sometimes appeared to be going through the motions and only James McCann appeared to be concerned about it.

Will the Tigers address these concerns? We’ll keep track of this target list throughout the year. What happens, or doesn’t, will speak volumes about the new Front Office’s vision, the manager’s development and the players’ passion about winning.

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

Spring training is drawing to a close and the Tigers still have much to do to get down to a 25-man roster. Plenty of opportunities are still available for players hoping to make the trip to Miami.

Kurt and Holly will jump right in and discuss the state of the roster heading into April.


With only 3 days left of Spring Training, the Tigers still need to make a number of roster cuts. Is this a good or bad situation to be in?

KURT

Injuries this spring have driven where the Tigers are with their roster and the cuts still remaining to be made. And unfortunately, there are still decisions to be made in the last few days.

The last thing we expected or wanted was to have to make a decision on the rotation in the final week of the spring. But down went Daniel Norris and enter a competition between Greene and Boyd among others.

Anibal Sanchez was ailing with an arm problem throughout the spring causing him to miss a fair amount of time. Only last week did we begin to feel more comfortable with his recovery. It’s a rotation that should have been settled long ago, so these are not good signs for a team looking to compete for the division title.

The bullpen, considered to be in decent shape at the beginning of the spring has also been hit by the injury bug. Because of the guys that have gone down, there are still spots to fill. Blaine Hardy will not be ready on Opening Day. Alex Wilson will not be ready on Opening Day. Bruce Rondon did not make the team. Nor did Bobby Parnell. And really Shane Greene was a guy we thought would be real valuable in a couple different bullpen roles, both short and long relief. But that will have to wait.

And finally, we found ourselves discussing centerfield and who would team up with Anthony Gose until Cameron Maybin returns. In the process, Wynton Bernard stayed in the game a little longer than expected and it also opened up an opportunity in center that Tyler Collins wouldn’t have normally gotten.

This was a roster that for all intents and purposes was pretty settled when pitchers and catchers began to report. But here we are at the end of spring still looking for some answers. It’s not at all how we envisioned things and not at all a good thing.

HOLLY

This is one of those topics where I can’t pick one side or the other because I see viable arguments for both.

On one hand, for the first time in at least 3 years, the Tigers have depth again. Gone are the days when Dave Dombrowski assembled the roster with few surprises and then went dumpster-diving for the bullpen.

At least on paper, there was a viable competition for 2 positions and both starting and relief pitching. Now it appears that pitching will be the final area to determine.

But I think the Tigers, now that Avila is in charge, are finally taking a longer look at some of the minor league players. Getting a better sense of their talents with an extended viewing. Giving them a better sense of how the minor league teams will fare this year and how they may possibly help the MLB team in late summer.

But on the flip side, not yet deciding on your starters and relievers can also be seen as an area of concern. Injuries have made this a longer process no doubt. And now, there is a huddled group of relievers who are having a hard time standing out from one another and making the selection process more difficult.

And then there is the issue of gelling as a team. The team will have almost an entirely new bullpen and 3 new starters. On the field, there will be 5 new players. They need time to play together – and come together.

Joe Maddon said the other day that it’s important to get your team assembled in time for the last 10 games of spring training. He uses this time to allow his players to solidify as a team and get them into the regular season mindset. In other words, he wants all the adjustments to have taken place before Opening Day so they can hit the ground running with the first pitch of the season.

With only 3 games left, the Tigers need to make approximately 10 more cuts. At this point, the focus needs to turn away from the future and turn towards the present by getting the official 25-man roster finalized and working together in advance of the season that counts.

NO HOLADAY FOR BRYAN

By:  Kurt Snyder

The Tigers mercifully traded Bryan Holaday on Tuesday. It was a necessary move. No surprises for a guy out of minor league options. No surprises for a Tiger team that had decided the fate of Holaday the minute they acquired Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Holaday has not hit much in the major leagues. His claim to fame has been this spring, a commendable performance that in the end meant nothing for the Tigers. And Bryan had to know it would end this way.

There really was no back-up catcher competition though, was there? All Salty needed to do was stay healthy. He was the experienced back up they desired in the absence of Alex Avila.

Salty, a switch hitter, offers stability and versatility with his ability to play first base. But his veteran presence is what won him the job before we were all lulled to sleep by some faux-competition.

What this all came down to was what was best for James McCann. If all goes well, the Tigers have a catcher that they will be running out on that field most nights for the better part of the next decade. And to help foster the development of this young 25-year-old catcher, there is no substitute for veteran leadership.

Now I won’t pretend that Salty is headed for the Hall of Fame someday. He’s not. I won’t pretend that he is a big offensive upgrade over Alex Avila. I can’t. He’s a .240 career hitter. But he is a veteran who has been to the mountaintop. He’s won a World Series. Don’t think for a minute that the Tigers didn’t consider that when they decided to bring him aboard.

Having won it all is a big deal. The Tigers have been trying to do it for years. And one good spring training by a perennial minor league catcher like Bryan Holaday wasn’t going to change anything. Salty was brought here to be the backup (a veteran  who’s been there) for James McCann.

Holaday knew he was playing for a spot on another team. And the fact that the Tigers got 2 players for him in a trade says a lot about the spring he’s had, regardless of the players. He’s been impressive and you have to give him extreme credit for continuing to work hard, knowing there was no longer a place for him in the Detroit organization.

So the Tigers have checked the box on the catcher position. It’s official now. This scenario is what you want. A young, developing player with “off the charts” leadership qualities in combination with all the tools to make him one of the best catchers in the league someday. And all backed up by someone who has been through the wars.

Salty offers Veteran Leadership Plus: A guy with a ring. A guy who can play first base. A switch hitter. A guy who can hit a home run, pinch hitting off the bench. Oh and cheap! No one wants to tie up a lot of money in a backup catcher; one of the reasons Avila is no longer here.

If you pay attention to games this year, you more than likely will see McCann speaking often with Saltalamacchia. And if that happens, you will know the Tigers have done the kid right.

The trade of Bryan Holaday helps a lot of people. Number one, it was a necessary move for Holaday himself. It settles things for him and his career. But most importantly, it was the best move for James McCann. It’s always been about him.

TWO TIMES TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

With spring training mercifully drawing to a close, it’s time to start putting together a list of highlights and lowlights. You know, things that have caught our writers’ fancy, on both sides of the ledger.

So what do you want first, the good or the bad? Well, let’s hit the highlights first, just to get rollin’ on a high note.


5 highlights from Spring Training

HOLLY

1. VMART – He’s hitting again with authority from the left side and showing signs of his old self from 2014. Even with the hamstring issue, he’ll perform well if he stays healthy.

2. PELFREY – He’s been the best performer of the team’s starting pitching, even with his last uneven start. Much better defense behind him will show he’s a better pitcher than his previous stats with a lesser team show.

3. BRAD – For the first time seen in print, he’s become more in-charge and authoritative with the players. When VMart and JV pushed him to allow them to take more risks in-game, he steadfastly refused and clearly re-stated the parameters they were to follow.

4. SANCHEZ – He changed his pitching form and has pitched masterfully. His performance this year is crucial to the team’s success and the tweaks put less strain on his pitching arm.

5. COMPETITION – For the first time in years, there is real competition for CF, C, starting pitching and relief. Positions that need to be won, not given, and kept by performance, make any team better and hungrier.


KURT

1. MIGGY – With all the discussion about injuries, they never once included any concern involving Miguel Cabrera. Thank goodness.

2. IGGY – With all the discussion about injuries, they never once included any concern involving Jose Iglesias. Thank goodness.

3. VMART – He’s only listed here because he is showing signs of recovery. Who knows how long we can trust it, but good news is good news.

4. UPTON – Part of the reason I don’t like following spring training is overreaction to performance. Justin shut everyone up with his first 2 home runs in a game last weekend; everyone OK now?

5. SANCHEZ – He was a serious concern early in the spring, but appears to have righted the ship with his arm injury. He looks ready.


5 lowlights from Spring Training

HOLLY

1. STARTING PITCHING – It once appeared that the Tigers had more candidates than openings. Now, it looks like the final spot may be filled by default, rather than the best talent.

2. RELIEF PITCHING – Injuries to 4 relievers may, like starting pitching, result in a bullpen that is based more upon healthy pitchers instead of the best-qualified. April may be a month of trial-and-error until 1 or more of the relievers on the DL are able to return.

3. DEFENSE – I was very surprised to see a drop in defensive skills from mostly the regular players. Outfield collisions that injured Upton (and almost JD), multiple pick-off attempts that went horribly awry and throwing to the wrong bases.

4. VMART – His ability to get hurt during normal baseball effort scares me. Even more so is the amount of time needed to rehab a “mild” injury when I know he tries harder to get back in the game than anyone else.

5. NORRIS – An injury that happened to a guy who is known to be one of the most highly competitive players on the team and yet receives no cautionary oversight. Anyone who tells us that multiple displaced fractures to the spine aren’t serious and that he could return to throwing in 5 days is seriously spinning.


KURT

1. VMART – Another Martinez injury has headlined another spring ravaged with them. I will remain uneasy until he shows continued progress through April … and May …. and ….

2. NORRIS – This was one of the more disappointing injuries as Daniel, having had such of challenging off-season, deserved better. Starting the season on the DL is very disappointing.

3. MAYBIN – It all started with this one, but a Maybin injury is nothing new. This opens up a real competition for centerfield that I’m not sure we wanted.

4. PARNELL – The Tigers’ acquisition of Bobby was an intriguing one, and when he came to camp throwing hard, he seemed to have a shot at the club. Unfortunately, he didn’t move the needle quite enough.

5. RONDON – There is always something missing with Bruce isn’t there? This spring is no exception, healthy, head presumed on straight, but inconsistent.

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST

By:  Holly Horning

Does it sometimes appear that we should add “Tiger injuries” to the list that includes “death” and “taxes”?

With Opening Day one week away, the casualty list has been trending upwards for our team again. The starting pitching, once considered to have more candidates than openings, now appears that selection may be based upon “last man standing.” And the bullpen, with its plethora of options, also seems to be going in the same direction.

The Tigers now have 7 guys unable to play. Six of those 7 are young and 5 of the 7 are pitchers. Daniel Norris joins VMart, Maybin, Alex Wilson, Nesbitt, Robertson and Hardy. So much for the common thought that it’s mostly the ageing core that fall prey to injury.

But there are a lot of different ways we can look at this. If we compare the Tigers to the other 29 teams, here is the current injury list:

– 4 teams with no injuries
– 2 teams with 1 injury
– 3 teams with 2 injuries
– 7 teams with 3 injuries
– 8 teams with 4 injuries
– 3 teams with 5 injuries
– 1 team with 6 injuries
– 1 team with 7 injuries (Tigers)
– 1 team with 13 injuries

While the number is high compared with all the other teams, we also need to consider that all injuries are not created equal. To get a true picture of the impact and level of concern, we also need to consider:

– Was the injury “self-created” or was it the fault of the opposing team?
– What is the severity of each injury and how much time will be lost?
– Does the injury still allow the player to positively impact play or is a stint on the DL the best recourse?
– Are the injuries with top players who are crucial to the success of the team?
– Does the team have the appropriate depth to cover for the injury?

So really, how concerned should we be?

It’s understandable to be worried over these current injuries because the team has been dealing with significant health concerns, both in severity and frequency for 3 years now. Reasons for unsuccessful October baseball during these years was squarely blamed on an injured Miggy and VMart among others (and the bullpen, but you knew that).

Brad Ausmus kept his job after last year because of the injuries. Al Avila supported the stay of execution because “This has been a flawed team coming out of spring training because of all the injuries.”

But 3 years of it constitutes a pattern, and patterns indicate there are weak links in the system.

But where should we be focusing the blame? Is it as simple as one group or one person?

While we would never pretend to be doctors nor know what is going on in the privacy of training rooms or the Front Office, we can speculate given the information that the Tigers release to the media. Here are some key pieces that we do know:

– Multiple players who later confessed that they knew they were injured but kept the information to themselves for fear of not making the team or being put on the DL.

– Shane Greene admitting that he knew he was injured last year because his pitching fingers turned blue when he threw. Yet no one, not even the pitching coach, managed to notice his hand had changed color.

– Two pitchers, both injured in the weight room in less than one month due to “workouts gone wrong.” Daniel Norris admitted that there are no trainers overseeing the weight room while players are working out.

– Norris hid his injury from the team until the day before he was scheduled to pitch. Rather than see a doctor, a trainer wrapped his lower back until his next hill appearance – the one in which he couldn’t get through the first inning and had problems walking off the mound. Almost 2 weeks after being injured, did the Tigers run tests and call in a specialist.

Is it logical to blame Kevin Rand or a training/conditioning coach for every injury that they may not even know about or see? Or should we be looking at the overall corporate/cultural approach to health that is developed and supported by the entire organization?

Obviously, we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors so we can only speculate. But we can ask questions. Questions that the Tigers need to address in order to evaluate whether their current system is effective and producing the desired results. Questions that include:

INITIAL QUESTIONS

– How has the team addressed avoiding significant injuries that plagued the Tigers over the past 3 years?

– When was the last time the Tigers updated or amended their overall medical/training/conditioning program?

– How many injuries in the past 3 years (or more) have been due to being out of shape, out of condition or lacking balance in the types of training?

TRAINING OVERSIGHT

– Are the players coming to camp in shape?

– Does the medical/training/conditioning staff have any input or give any guidance during off-season training?

– Are players being monitored during the off-season?

– Do minor leaguers and rookies have the same or greater level of support and guidance re training that the established players do?

UPDATED STUDIES/METHODS

– Does the team focus on the big picture of fitness – meaning conditioning, stretching, etc. – and not just weight training?

– Do the Tigers have required conditioning classes like other teams?

– Is the overall approach to fitness modernized and take into account what recent studies show about preventing injuries?

– Have the Tigers added programs like yoga or pilates that are shown to reduce the chance of injury?

TEAM ATTITUDE/FOCUS

– How can the team encourage players to report injuries and receive help?

– Do the Tigers foster a culture of team-first which prevents players from taking unnecessary training risks?

– How well do players prioritize team goals over their own?

– What is the relationship between team and player regarding playing time while being injured?

– How much input and power does the manager have in sitting an injured player who doesn’t want to sit or go on the DL?

PROACTIVE POLICIES

– How proactive is the team in recognizing and addressing potential injuries so players get on the road to recovery much more quickly?

– Are there safeguards, including monitors, in place to prevent players from taking unnecessary chances as they challenge themselves while training?

– Does the team impose specific limits on certain players to help prevent injury?

– What strategies has the team put into motion to protect the investment, esp. with players with expensive contracts or ones crucial to the team’s success?

– Is there a sense of urgency when injuries occur to get the player diagnosed, treated and safely back on the field in the shortest amount of time?

This truly is the make-it-or-break-it year for Detroit. If they are going to compete in October, they need all hands on deck. While injuries are part of the game, we all know that the teams who make it to the post-season have minimized their injury probabilities to the best of their abilities.

At least the Tigers don’t resemble the Dodgers with an unlucky 13 players, some critical to the team, injured. Their season may have already ended before it started.

TIGERTOWN: ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY

By:  Kurt Snyder

We don’t have much longer to talk about Lakeland, which is a good thing because it means  that the dawn of a new season is fast approaching.

For those who got to spend some quality time pouring over Holly’s spring training adventures this month,  let me take you back a few decades to Tigertown in the 1960’s,  when things were a whole lot simpler, so I’ve heard.

If you missed this post from a couple of weeks ago, I hope you enjoy it.


It’s been a long time since I have been to Lakeland. Like 50 years! Even though I’ve been there, it’s nothing I remember considering I was only 2 or 3 years old.

But thanks to my brother, Doug, I am able to share with you stories about a time when things were so simple. Tigertown and the players themselves have changed more than you can imagine. The game was so much different in the 1960’s when my father worked as an Assistance Scouting Director for the Tigers. It was a completely different world; a completely different atmosphere.

There were no multimillion dollar contracts. There was no free agency. The players were literally employed for life with one baseball team unless they were traded. That was really the only way they could play for another team.

Players really didn’t make that much money back in the 60’s. They worked second jobs in the office season, just to make a living.   This practice went on for quite a long time, well into the 80’s.  Dick McAuliffe was in the vending machine business while Mickey Lolich owned a donut shop.

I remember Richie Hebner, who played third base for the Tigers for 3 years, used to dig graves in the off-season. It might have been his way of staying in shape, but it was a second job all the same.

These jobs weren’t hobbies. In most cases, the players needed second jobs because they needed the money. So there was very little arrogance. It brought a certain humbleness to their character. There were exceptions of course, but for the most part, players didn’t feel like they were above anyone else or that they were too big to hang with “regular people.” And the atmosphere at spring training was a perfect example.

My father would leave home for Lakeland every February. Mom stayed home to be a wife, mother and homemaker for 3 sons and finally the all-important 4th son, me!

A few weeks after my dad headed to Florida, we would head down to Lakeland to see him and stay for a couple of weeks. Rumor has it I was there once or twice, but way too young to have the kind of experiences my brothers had during their almost annual trips to spring training.

It was great for them because they got two weeks off of school even though homework and lesson plans went with them while they were gone. It was a small price to pay for experiences that would last a lifetime.

They met and would often hang with a lot of the players. My brother shared a story about their daily trips up to the pool at Tiger Villa.  You see, they had to run up a grassy hill to get to the pool, only to be met more times than not, by Norm Cash himself.

Stormin’ Norman apparently loved to mess with the kids when they wanted to swim. When they arrived at the top of the hill, out of breath, Norm would  roll them back down the hill. After a while it became a game and was all part of the fun of going swimming. Not to mention the fact that one of the Tiger greats was even giving them the time of day.

It was a great family atmosphere at Tigertown in the ‘60’s. Everyone’s families, players or not, generally ate meals together. Not just in the same places but a lot of times right at the same tables.

Everyone would eat meals in a barracks-style cafeteria, and all the families would be in the same lines with the Tiger players grabbing food from the buffet. While my brothers would grab their food it was not uncommon for a Tiger player to be in line behind them. At one point, they turned and looked, and with wide eyes, gazed at the huge man behind them. There he was, as big as life; it was Willie Horton!

Players along with team management and their families often hung together, ate together, swam in the same pool and played games together. It was a kids dream; one my brothers have never forgotten.

The players were just different. They were just like regular people. My brother Doug recalled playing ping-pong with Chico Fernandez in the rec room. Fernandez, a Cuban born shortstop, who played for the Tigers in 1960-63, was a relative unknown right? Well not for Doug, who, as he told this old story, immediately blurted out his name as the guy he played ping-pong with more than 50 years ago, as if it was just yesterday.

It could have been anyone, but he was a player, whether it was Al Kaline or Chico Fernandez, my brothers were in awe of how they were treated and included in just about every activity, sometimes even on the baseball diamond.

That’s right, my oldest brother Gary, at the age of 16, actually played third base in a minor league game at Tigertown! How does something like that happen? Well, my dad just asked the manager if he could play a few innings. “He’d get a kick out of it,” my dad said.

Come on, are you kidding me? Well, it just wasn’t a big deal. All they did was change his name to Gary Brown on the stat sheet so the name Snyder didn’t cause any undue suspicion.

But that was it. Nothing like that ever happened again. The minor league career of Gary Brown was very short, but for a fleeting moment, it’s all he ever wanted.

These were the kinds of experiences our family was able to realize during my dad’s long career with the Tigers. I have so many memories that I have been able to share and will continue to share about the days my dad spent as Tiger Stadium manager. But those years only represent the second half of his career.

His 23 year career in scouting was the first half. And it all started when he responded to a “want ad” on a bulletin board for an Assistant Scouting Director position with the Detroit Tigers.

We sure are glad Dad got the job, especially Gary “Brown.”

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS AND CONCERNS

By: Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

Saturday’s segment is a day to touch on as many issues as possible. Once again, readers have the opportunity to read and think about a wide variety of topics.

Take a look and see what our writers have on their minds during this holiday weekend.


KURT

QUESTION

In my 20 March Thoughts a few days ago, assumed bullpen arms included Hardy, Verhagen, Parnell, Greene and Alex Wilson. Well, with Hardy out and Wilson out and Greene more than likely heading to the starting rotation, inserting Rondon and Ryan to fill 2 of those holes seems like a fair bet. As for the remaining vacancy, is Michael Fulmer a candidate again for bullpen duty?

QUESTION

If the Tigers are forced to start the season with VMart on the DL, who’s our DH? More importantly, it’s a matter of adjusting the lineup so the meat of the order remains strong. Something to consider would be shifting Iglesias to lead off and Upton to fifth in the order, with VMart’s replacement spotted somewhere 7th or 8th in the lineup.

COMMENT

It looks like we can quit worrying about the ever popular topic of the shift of Miggy to third and VMart to first in Miami to start the season. The Tigers poor health has “bailed out” Ausmus again. He won’t be allowed to consider that move.


HOLLY

QUESTION

Daniel Norris joins fellow pitcher Montreal Robertson on the DL – both having injured themselves in the weight room in “workouts gone wrong.” The Tigers have been picking up speed in the injury department and now have 7 guys unable to play, with 5 of them being pitchers. Injuries are part of the game, but doesn’t it seem that the current system has gotten a little sloppy in oversight with no sense of urgency about diagnosing and treating players – esp. given that Norris injured himself 2 weeks ago?

COMMENT

The Tigers certainly dodged a bullet in not going after Yoenis Cespedes. He allowed the opponents to score an inside-the-park HR because he refused to retrieve a ball that had fallen in fair territory by the fence, was not trapped and easily retrievable. Even after an umpire jogged out and physically showed him that the ball could easily be picked up, Yoenis simply shrugged and smirked.

CONCERN

In a recent interview, Al Kaline expressed concern about Bruce Rondon’s mental fortitude as a reliever. Quite shocking for a company man like Kaline to go public with his thoughts within an organization known for keeping a tight lid on comments to the media. And ironically, Rondon may just make the squad given that 5 pitchers are currently injured.

GREETINGS FROM LAKELAND

By:  Holly Horning

As we head into this Easter weekend, we also are entering the last week of Spring Training.

No matter how you may feel about this exhibition period, visiting Lakeland or any of the other cities in which the Tigers travel in Florida, is a special occasion. The vibe is different, the stadiums are intimate, the views are great and hope is alive. You should put a visit on your bucket list.

The view from Holly's seat.

The view from Holly’s seat.

And if you have yet to visit, never fear – I have you covered. I recently spent a week down there following the Tigers from city to city and managed not to get labeled as a stalker.

I recently completed a series of blogs covering my adventures – from the players to coaches to management, the stadium comparisons and cultures, player personalities on and off the field as well as some up-close updates on our favorite Tigers. Woven among these stories are observations about team performance. And I saved the best for last – the phunny, the phrivolous and the phurry. And yes, I was inspired by a certain mascot.

The Philly Phanatic tries to get the Omar Vizquel arrested.

The Philly Phanatic tries to get Omar Vizquel arrested.

If you haven’t read the series, well, first of all, shame on you. But redemption is at hand – you can catch them here via the links. And if you did read them the first time ’round, as the expression goes “So nice, you gotta read them twice.”

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/greetings-from-lakeland-part-1/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/greetings-from-lakeland-part-2/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/greetings-from-lakeland-part-2/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/greetings-from-lakeland-part-4/

ONE TOPIC TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Another spring training and another injury for VMart.   How will the Tigers handle him this year?  How careful will they be?  Our writers will mince no words on the subject.

What should the strategy regarding Victor Martinez be going forward?

Holly

VMart concerns me on two fronts – his injury frequency and the need for his role on the team to take this into account.

I’ve heard from multiple physical therapists, personal trainers and chiropractors that when a person accumulates a pattern of injury, there is a reason why this is happening and it has little to do with age. If injuries happen after routine movement, such as Victor’s simple acceleration on the basepath and game of catch last year, the experts unanimously agree that this is part of a pattern requiring special attention.

And these experts who deal with injury point to possible factors that are often the culprits – spinal alignment (each vertebrae is directly tied to the health of a specific body part), lack of adequate core strength (which supports proper movement) and stiff or shorter ligaments/tendons/muscles/Iliotibial band (which increase the chance for knee and calf injury) – all with the ability to create an imbalance in the body that makes it more susceptible to injury.

Obviously, we don’t have access to Victor’s medical records, nor are we privy to the Tigers’ discussions. But it worries me that the official word has been “rest”, “no running” and “soft toss” as the solution – instead of hearing “specialist”, “chiropractor” or “diagnostics”. His recent injuries have occurred after simple exercise which should merit a review by medical professionals to determine the root cause.

Until that happens, any strategy re VMart’s role needs to be based upon how easily he gets injured. And this means not putting him at first base where he hasn’t played in over a year. No first base early in the season when he’s not fully acclimated and definitely not in cooler weather when it’s easier to pull something.

If Victor can’t even run a straight line without getting hurt, how could he be expected to play a position that would require him to dive, lunge, twist, jump and make lateral moves?

The risk of putting him at first base has to be very carefully measured with the reward. The Tigers have only 7 games this season where NL rules will be used. Will moving your top 2 hitters into unfamiliar positions significantly increase your chances of winning? If your team is full of talent, one player shouldn’t be the difference between winning and losing most of those games.

Despite being a DH, Victor can still hit in those NL games and be a significant factor. The Tigers can maximize his impact by pinch-hitting him in situations with runners in scoring position.

We know that VMart and Miggy will accept whatever role suggested because they are gamers and team players. But while Brad has correctly stated that “Victor needs to be saved from Victor”, in the next breath he wants to put him in a riskier position.

We’ve just seen what a year without a healthy VMart is like. Is it really worth the risk again this year when October baseball is a must for the Tigers?

Kurt

Well, there is no need to ask how important VMart is to this team and this lineup.  Last season the Tigers were hell bent on rushing him back in time to be in the lineup on Opening Day.

They are in a similar position this season.  But you can only hope they have learned their lesson .   It only took the average fan to see on Opening Day that he was nowhere near 100%.   He belonged on the DL, not in the lineup.   But it took a manager, a GM and the owner to determine that he needed to sit.

With  2 weeks until the Tigers begin the season in Miami, this is what we know for sure;  Victor will come nowhere near first base, as it should be.   Miggy will come nowhere near third base, as it should be.  Victor should be sitting on the  bench, healthy or not.

In April, I take no chances with a player so critical to the success  of this team. Victor goes on the DL until he is 100% .  But if he is magically medically cleared to play come April 5th,  I will just shake my head.

I am concerned about a player who continually gets injured through the normal course of business on the field.   I am concerned again that the Tigers are screwing around and poorly addressing the health of their players.  What in the heck is going on?

Al Avila has done some great things with this franchise.  But he needs to get his arms around how the team prevents and addresses injuries.   It’s absolutely exasperating how we must deal with the same things every season before the first ball is thrown.    You start with Victor on the DL and get to the bottom of it.

 

 

 

THE FACE OF THE GAME

By:  Kurt Snyder

“Baseball’s tired, it’s a tired sport, because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do … ” – Bryce Harper


When we look at the game of baseball today, the discussion begins with money and ends with the stars.

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper represent the best young talent that baseball has to offer. For lack of a better term, they are the faces of the game. And it’s a nice development for Major League Baseball; two young stars in two different leagues, both have had MVP seasons, both possess talent which has provided great excitement.

But I have a question. Which of these players (assuming these are the guys) do we want representing and speaking for the game? Well, I can tell you who we don’t want. It’s Bryce Harper.

Bryce needs to be very careful about what he says about a sport that pays him the kind of money that most people on earth can only dream about.

Baseball is a kid’s game. In fact, in all sports, they idolize the stars. Whether it’s Steph Curry or Cam Newton or Bryce Harper, kids watch these guys closely. But they can be influenced by different things. And they seem to be influenced the most by how a player reacts to something they did on the field.

In football and basketball, players tend to celebrate plays by pounding on their chests, singling themselves out, figuratively screaming to the masses, ‘Did you see what I just did?’ It’s what they do in those sports and it’s apparently how Bryce Harper would like baseball to be.

Well, Bryce, maybe you should have played football or basketball, because hopefully baseball will never stoop to some of the garbage going on in those other sports.

If you look at baseball today, it’s incredibly hard to compete without spending a lot of money, because so many franchises in larger markets are dominating the landscape. TV contracts and owners with deep pockets provide teams with great competitive advantages. And the players benefit big time.

But money can change you and some players have begun to take it for granted. When you are blessed with tremendous athletic talent that allows you to be paid more in one season than most people will see in a lifetime, it can change you or bring out your true colors.

Bryce Harper has the audacity to criticize a game that will make him want for nothing. Soon, he is going to have his payday. And because he is a baseball player, he will be paid more handsomely than in any other sport. But he yearns for the flair that other sports have.

Instead of truly appreciating a great game that has set him up for life, he spends his time worrying about flair, freedom of expression and baseball’s supposed intolerance for either.

I guess that’s what happens when your vision gets clouded by the almighty dollar. You never consider that the talents you were blessed with didn’t necessarily have to end up in the lap of Bryce Harper.

Did this all start with the Jose Bautista bat flip last year in the playoffs? If so, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Bautista didn’t plan that. That chucking of the bat was brought on by pure adrenaline. It was a huge home run in an emotionally-charged baseball game. I had completely no issue with it.  I love emotional players, the ones that get caught up in the bigger moments of the game. But there is a fine line and there is a time and a place.

In game 40, if you flip your bat and stare down the pitcher after hitting a third inning home run; and you do it to show flair and expression, you better get ready. Because the opposing pitcher may express himself your next time up by hitting you in the ribs with a 95 mph fastball. You want freedom of expression while you play the game? Well, sir, that goes for everyone.

Baseball has changed a great deal over the years. There have been rule changes instituted to protect players and to speed up the game. They are mostly bad ideas that, ironically, remove excitement in the interests of safety, and discount strategy integral to the game within the game.   But that’s for the Commissioner to figure out.

Today’s baseball player has one job and one job only. When you are blessed to be a player in arguably the greatest game ever invented, you are obligated to respect its great history. And you do it by example.

You don’t hear Mike Trout talk. He gets it. He’s not yearning to express himself. His play does all the talking. His play is responsible for the greatest of expressions.  He’s the face of this great game.