By: Holly Horning
Now that the All-Star Game is over, TV and radio shows have turned towards predicting what will happen in the second half of the season. Who will pick it up? Who will fall? And who will remain stuck?
Normally, I don’t like predictions. I prefer to look at the body of work and continue to watch as the season unfolds. Yes, I have hunches, but remain eternally – and cautiously – optimistic. But I happened upon a show where two former long-term GMs were identifying the factors that make for a team destined for October baseball. And why other teams, no matter how well they tweak their rosters, simply can’t match the expectations seen on paper.
And during their discussion, it really hit me. They were describing the Tigers.
The first part of their discussion centered around teams that go out and buy great talent. Lots of talent. Talent that has a stellar pitching rotation. And talent that has a mighty offense.
But then all this talent is seen as underperforming. Expectations are high but go unmet. And not just for a year or two. They talked about a team with high-priced talent and an even bigger payroll. Lots of stars. But unable to play meaningful and successful October baseball.
Sound like the Tigers? In actuality, they were discussing the Dodgers but then added that LA was one of the “usual suspects” seen every year employing this unsuccessful strategy. Can you guess the others?
And then they pointed the blame. GMs and Front Offices who don’t have a cohesive vision or strategy for winning. GMs who go out and spend money on pieces instead of developing a thoughtful plan. GMs who believed that pieces would combine on their own to produce a winner.
And one of the tell-tale signs that these pieces had not come together correctly was described as an inconsistency in play. An inconsistency in run production and a lack of coordination between pitching, defense and offense.
Then, they talked about what successful World Series participants do. Owners who bring in GMs who develop a plan and then commit to actions that support this plan. Drafting certain players. Trading and signing certain players – not always the best or most expensive but players who bring other things to the table. Collecting players who fit into specific roles that end up making a whole. And yes, they look at the intangibles, too.
They also identified who these top GMs are. Brian Sabean (Giants), John Mozeliak (Cards), Theo Epstein (now with Cubs), and Brian Cashman (Yankees). But no Dave Dombrowski.
Should we be surprised? And why are we still talking about Dave?
Well, make no mistake. This is still very much a team created by Dave and will continue to be for a number of years until multiple big contracts to ageing stars have expired and a farm system has been resuscitated.
And while Dave was one of the best at trading, how much of his overall reputation was due to having one of baseball’s largest payrolls? He signed great players but had no strategy regarding defense, baserunning or the bullpen – strategies crucial when playing the top teams in October. But boy, he did acquire some of the best bats and pitching around. Looking back, we now see it was a simple plan that didn’t take into account all the factors.
But the GMs didn’t stop there in their discussion about winning strategies. They said the intangibles were just as important as the athletic skill sets.
They talked about great players. Great players with tremendous skill sets. And great players who put up stellar stats.
And then they both agreed that these great players don’t automatically translate into great competitors. Both mentioned that it is false to assume that the best in the game automatically come with a winning attitude. They may be fun to watch, but whether or not they have the highest levels of competitive fire to beat their opponents on a regular basis has no correlation to their performance.
And they both said that they would prefer to have a good, solid player with a strong winning attitude than a marquee player with better stats who didn’t fight to the bitter end when his team was down.
Could all of this be part of what has been going on with the Tigers for the past 11+ years? They certainly fit all of the benchmarks these GMs offered.
Despite the multiple division titles, will we really be happy if the Tigers end up being known as one of the top two baseball dynasties to never win a World Series? Let’s hope that Al Avila was listening this morning.