OPEN MIKE FOR THE OFF-SEASON

A loyal reader, John S., made the suggestion that we present an opportunity for fans to sound off on Tiger topics that concern them. So for once, we aren’t picking the topics. You are!

What’s on your mind? What are you concerned about? What do the Tigers need to do? What caught your attention? Please sound off! And we’re giving you the opportunity to do exactly that by increasing comment length to a maximum of 8 sentences for today only. So make it count.

And if you like the opportunity to hand-select your topic, please make sure to submit yours today. A significant response rate will ensure this column appears regularly.

Sooo, what’s on your mind?

TALENT VS. TOOLS

By:  Holly Horning

I have a confession to make. I have never felt quite at peace with how the Tigers have played baseball during the Ilitch/Dombrowski/ Leyland/Ausmus years. I have struggled to look at their games and see a consistent high level of play from the team.

Sure, they won a lot over those years. They also won 4 straight division titles and a couple of league championships. And tons of individual awards. No complaints about those.

But this was a Jekyll and Hyde team. When they were good, they were very good and when they were bad, well, you know…..

But what they weren’t were, was consistent. And as the years progressed, and the highest levels of talent either left or got older, it only got worse. Games in which there was stellar pitching or multiple bombs being hit. And then, games in which bats went cold for lengthy periods of time or pitching that couldn’t get it done. It’s been a team of hot or cold for quite some time now.

And how much did this factor impact their performance in the World Series? One win out of 9 games should be an indicator of something. One win despite having 3 Cy Young Award winners, multiple MVPs, batting titles and a Triple Crown winner. The Tigers had an embarrassment of riches in the talent department, yet their World Series performances were often embarrassments. Some of us are still seeking therapy after the 2013 playoffs.

So now we are watching this year’s World Series. Do you notice a difference? How many of us are envious at how the Cleveland Indians are playing the game? This really is how the top teams should perform. These are exciting contests chock-filled with exemplary play and moments.

Should anyone really be surprised that the Indians have done as well as they have?

They may not have all the names. A couple of guys who are considered to be among some of the best at their positions.

But what they do have is consistency. A consistency that allows them to win regularly despite losing some of their very best players. Against any opponent, any pitcher, any condition. And that consistency is fueled by their tools.

When you think of the Indians, you don’t automatically think they have the best pitching, the best bullpen or the best hitters out of any team. Yes, they do have certain strengths, including their manager, but their true secret is that they have few weaknesses. They are a very well-rounded team that has a manager who understands their skills and uses/motivates them effectively. A team that is playing above their expected levels. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

But this team has tools. Lots of tools just spilling out of their toolbox. Not only can they pitch and hit, but they can field, play small ball and run. Instinctive managing, motivating, out-of-the-box moves and flexibility. And that’s why they are winning.

They are a team that has multiple solutions at hand ready to use in order to find a way to win a game. And when you are playing the best of the best, you must have multiple strategies and tools at your disposal to use against teams that are going to shut you down at every opportunity.

The Tigers have 2.5 tools – pitching (to some degree), the bashers and infield defense. They aren’t built to advance runners, the outfield is an Achilles’ Heel, the bullpen is still a perennial issue, they lack basic fundamentals as well as an experienced manager and they can’t outrun my mother-in-law with her walker on the base paths. Given all this, should we be at all surprised that this team has been so inconsistent and riding that roller coaster for a while now?

The good news is that it doesn’t take a whole lot of money to get what the Indians have. They are in the World Series having a payroll just slightly north of one-third of what the Tigers have spent. But the Indians also have invested in the human capital, which developed the vision and strategy for winning.

At least on paper, Al Avila shows signs that he is not Dombrowski II. The development of The Tigers’ Way, an analytics department and the software program, Caesar, show he’s looking at a bigger, more inclusive picture of how to rethink winning.

Let’s just hope Al is watching every single moment of the World Series and taking lots of notes.

DH RULE WILL CONTINUE TO LIMIT TIGERS

By:  Kurt Snyder

We haven’t based a blog topic on a reader’s comment in a while so today I wanted to write one to better explain my positions on interleague play and the designated hitter; as it continues to be an important topic in regards to baseball in Detroit.

A reader, Lon, in response to my post regarding how the Tigers were disadvantaged once again by having to end the season in a National League city, wrote this:


What is the difference WHICH games, so long as they play the same number as the other AL teams? The Tigers had as many games with the DH, as every team finishing ahead in the standings. When they played those games is irrelevant. Where they played those games is irrelevant. They simply didn’t play as though every pitch matters.


Well, for teams like the Tigers who have full time DHs, hitters who are among the best  in the game, the last thing they want is for them to sit in the last series of the season, when a playoff spot is still up for grabs.

It’s true, I guess, that it is just the luck of the draw. The Tigers don’t play any more games in National League cities than any other AL team. That’s a fact. But when and where they play the games can be very critical. Playing the NL on the road through the first 4 months of the season can be planned for. You can plan rest for a full time DH as you look ahead at the schedule. But you never want to add your pitcher to the lineup at the end of the season while trying to make the playoffs. That, for the Tigers, hurts a lot.

Under the current rules, the Tigers will continue to be stung both now and the foreseeable future. Victor Martinez, who stands to stay a Tiger unless they decide to swallow a lot of money, will again sit in that DH spot next season unable to play any position in the field. The Tigers are on the hook to pay him $18M a year for the next 2 years. Ouch! Knowing that is almost as painful as watching Victor run the bases.

Miggy stands to follow that path. Although he still plays an effective first base, full time DH is ultimately in his future. How soon that happens hinges on the presence of VMart.

Miggy’s going to be in Detroit at least another 7 seasons, maybe nine, at $30M a  year for most of the remaining contract. (Sorry for the additional pain.)  Most of those seasons, Miggy will be sitting in the DH spot. That is a ton of money for a future Hall of Famer who may have to sit later in his career in a NL city.

And isn’t that bad for baseball? Isn’t that the reason interleague play began? Wasn’t it so fans could be exposed to the players, and more importantly the star players, of the opposite league?

So, who more than a Tiger fan would like to see the DH rule applied across both leagues? Until the rule change takes place and baseball finally comes to its senses, it is the one variable that makes interleague play unappealing.

I believe someday the game will make the change. Someday, pitchers will no longer bat. I know that stings for the baseball purists out there who feel that the NL style of play represents the game the way it was meant to be played, and that may very well be true.

But the game must continue to expand its viewership and the younger fans must be constantly entertained. And incorporating the DH across the board is best for the future of baseball. It’s best for the game, continued interleague play and, of course, the World Series.

The Cubs have needed a spark since they returned to Chicago.  Kyle Schwarber, their DH while in Cleveland was on fire at the plate.  But he is unable to play the field because of injury.   So, he must sit while his team struggles offensively.

How ironic is it that even a National League team can be hindered by the designated hitter rule?

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, KUDOS & CONCERNS

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

Saturday’s segment is a day to touch on as many issues as possible. As the World Series gets into full swing, there is still plenty to contemplate about the game and the home team.

Kurt and Holly don’t share and it’s only for the readers’ benefit. It almost always translates into a wide array of thoughts.


KURT

COMMENT

Only in baseball must a team like the Tigers, have to sit one of their best hitters because they finish a tight Wild Card race on the road in a National League city. Only in baseball is a 103-game winner forced to start the World Series on the road based on the results of an All-Star game. Only in baseball can a great Series story like Kyle Schwarber’s be interrupted because there is no DH in the National League city; there’s certainly more to talk about at the Winter Meetings than just trades, isn’t there?

QUESTION

How does Al Avila strike a balance between major changes to a team loaded with popular players while still preserving fan interest? Fans in Detroit are not used to giving up players they have grown to love for players they know nothing about. Are the Tigers willing to face the certain reality of more empty seats in order to get their balance sheet healthier in the future?

COMMENT

When you watch the World Series as a fan of a team who didn’t qualify for the playoffs, you begin to understand why your team is not participating in the first place. The Tigers certainly proved all season they could not compete with the Indians; and the Cubs would have been no different. Sometimes you don’t find out until you watch the playoffs that your team really did not belong among the best of the best.


HOLLY

QUESTION

It may be because we were used to Dave Dombrowski being notoriously tight-lipped, but am I the only one who thinks that Al Avila shares too much information with the public? His interviews just seem to give away too much information, strategy and thoughts on players that maybe should be kept on the QT. Unless this is his way of prepping fans in advance of some big changes in order to help minimize fan and social media backlash.

COMMENT

It appears Dave Dombrowski doesn’t like to share. Less than one year after hiring Mike Hazen to be his GM, and then not allowing him to make trades, Hazen has left the Red Sox for the brighter horizons of……the Arizona Diamondbacks as their GM, going from a payroll ranked #3 to one listed at #26. DD has opted not to hire a GM for the Red Sox, making them the first team to not have that official position.

CONCERN

News continues to leak from other media sources about why Doug Fister was deemed expendable when Dave Dombrowski was forced to make a payroll cutback and it resembles more of a soap opera than anything else. Excluding the desire to get Drew Smyly into the rotation, Fister was dealt because of concern over an alleged personal relationship with the daughter of a Tigers’ coach and his vocal unhappiness over the role another pitcher had in a popular and well-respected employee being unfairly demoted due to the latter’s messy love life. If you add in the rumors about why Prince Fielder and Avisail Garcia were traded, it appears that dysfunctional personal relationships were a significant distraction among the Tigers in 2013.

THE FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST

(with apologies to Cat, Rod, Sheryl and James)

By:  Holly Horning

The clock is ticking down to the end of the World Series and the beginning of Hot Stove season. In the meantime, Tiger fans are waiting and wondering what will happen to their team.

How “young and lean” does Al Avila intend to get? Is the intent to simply shed some payroll and get the Tigers back down to more reasonable levels? Or are the Tigers trying to avoid the historic and horrific results seen with other teams who ended up having multiple older players with significant contracts on their books that strangled team performance?

Are they really just looking to trade off a piece or two or are they looking to say “buh-bye” to more than that? Are they looking to tweak, reboot, redirect or rebuild the team?

Or could the powers that be have other plans? Plans that don’t consider the future of the team beyond a year or two. Plans that require something akin to a fire sale? Plans that put a priority on getting payroll expenses lower than revenue. In other words, plans that are more focused on putting the balance sheets in order as the Ilitch family possibly prepares to sell the team.

Chances are that Al Avila doesn’t even understand the real goal but is simply following orders handed down to him. All we know is that Al would not voluntarily cut the very payroll he needs. It is a decree coming from above.

Which brings us to next week when the World Series concludes. And by the very end of next week, barring a World Series game or two that gets postponed due to weather, we should have our first clues about the direction Tigers ownership and management will take.

The very first sign will be whether KRod and Maybin are retained. The Tigers have a whopping 3 days after the Series ends in order to pick up or decline their contract options. A good sign if they do, not-so-good if they don’t.

Keeping both will tell us that the Tigers are serious about contending next year. Letting them go tells us ownership is placing the priority on the financials, not the fans. These 2 have no immediate viable replacements who can step into their shoes at the start of 2017.

Another indicator to watch is whether JD Martinez does indeed get traded. Not unexpected and while we’d hate to lose him, it is reasonable to assume that the Tigers cannot afford, like all other teams, to have 5 players all making upwards of $20 mill/year. His trade would be a headline-maker, but in the grand scheme of things, it would not indicate the club is going into rebuild mode on its own.

If Jose Iglesias gets traded, it’s also nothing to get too worried about. He is at his maximum trade value now with Scott Boras undoubtedly taking him to free agency after 2018. Trading both JD and Iggy could net multiple solid prospects and help the Tigers get younger and leaner much more quickly. They would offer a bigger bang for the buck, so to speak.

Justin Upton’s departure via trade is highly unlikely but if it were to happen, it would be seen as a positive sign for the future of the team.

On the flip side, if trade victims end up including Kinsler and/or Castellanos, then fans should be alarmed. Kinsler is an essential player who is crucial to the performance and leadership of the team. He is also a bargain for a player of that caliber and to trade him will show that the Tigers aren’t “in it to win it” next year.

Castellanos is the future and still under club control. To send him to another team will tell us Detroit is desperate to fill their depleted minor leagues with talent.

And then there are the franchise faces – JV and Miggy – and they are evaluated not just for performance but for their identity to the team and as additional revenue-making assets. They are the ones who put fannies in the seats. Most speculate they will not go anywhere but if one or both are not wearing the Old English D in 2017, it’s the biggest sign that a new and permanent cost-cutting way of life is taking over. The most dire of ominous signs.

And if a lot of players end up saying “goodbye” to Detroit, that shouldn’t necessarily send out shock signals. In recent years, it’s not unusual for the roster to have shed 50% of the 25-man limit for multiple years.

We can only hope that Al Avila learned a lot from the master, Trader Dave. Wouldn’t it be great if the players who got traded were the ones who have some of the biggest contracts and were the most disappointing in their 2016 performances?

If Prince Fielder could be traded, there’s always hope, however slight. But to quote a personal idol of mine, Judy Tenuta, “It could happen!”

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

The World Series takes center stage in October, which means teams like the Tigers must sit back and wait on making moves with their team. But there won’t be any time to waste once the Series is over. Decisions will have to be made early on a couple of players.

Holly and Kurt have been waiting to see how each other has responded to the following question. And it’s a question sure to challenge them.


The Tigers have only 3 days after the World Series ends to make decisions about bringing back both KRod and Cameron Maybin. Should the Tigers keep them?


HOLLY

KRod will be 35 by the time he takes the rubber again and while he is starting to reach the point-of-no-return age-wise for an athlete, the Tigers need to pick up his option. But not primarily for the reason most fans believe.

While there were a few chinks in performance this year in the form of 5 blown saves, KRod had the third highest save total in MLB but with a 1.13 WHIP.

Ideally, you want a closer with a WHIP of under 1.0 but these stats resemble most of his years from 2013 and earlier and aren’t a red flag. Yet.

But we need to consider the track record the Tigers have had with closers – really, the attempt to even find a viable closer.

Bruce Rondon was anointed the closer before he even threw a pitch at Comerica and we know how that turned out. While he had a nice turn around in the last half of the 2016 season, it still is really too soon to bet the farm on him once again. The same for Joe Jimenez whom Al Avila adamantly says is not yet ready. KRod is still the man until hopefully mid-season.

Just because you sign a guy doesn’t mean you need to keep him for the entire year. If the Tigers decide to release him, they will still owe him $2 million for not pitching but for an additional $4 mill, they get a full year and most importantly, as a trading chip in July when teams in the hunt inevitably need someone just like him.

In a perfect world, he does the work until June/July when either Rondon or Jimenez takes over – upon which he is traded to a team desperate for a closer in their hunt for a title. In return, the Tigers still fulfill their promise of getting younger and leaner by swapping a mid-30-year-old for a couple of young prospects. Win-win.

Cameron Maybin should also be retained for even more solid reasons. Despite being more expensive with a $9 million option and $1 mill buyout, he does play every day – when he’s healthy. But this guy is the glue of the team – the cheerleader and straw that stirs the drink.

The stats show that the Tigers won significantly more games with him in the lineup than without. Keeping him also enhances the value of the rest of the payroll.

But even if you ignore all this info, quite frankly, the Tigers have zero viable replacements for CF who can take over this year and if the rumors pan out, they’ll also need a RFer.

They are at least a year away from bringing up JaCoby Jones and if the Tigers choose not to pick up Maybin’s option, they will still need to go out into the market to get a replacement.


KURT

When it comes to team decisions, sometimes there are no-brainers.  But deciding on these two players does not fall into that category. We are talking about 2 players who made this team better in 2016.

KRod solidified the closer role which was sorely needed after the disaster of the Joe Nathan era. He was dominant at times and for long stretches removed a lot of stress from the end of ballgames. But towards the end of the season, he wasn’t quite as effective.  And he blew a crucial save in September versus Kansas City that staggered the Tigers in their run for a Wild Card spot.

He can still contribute in the bullpen and he could still be an effective closer for another year. But under the Tigers’ new strategy and in keeping with their efforts to redefine their landscape, I don’t think he fits the criteria. I would not bring him back. I would stay in house and hold a competition for the closer role in 2017.

On the other hand, there is Cameron Maybin. Wouldn’t you say we spent a fair amount of time this season emphasizing his importance to just plain winning in Detroit?

So many positive adjectives were used to describe how incredibly impactful it was to have Cam in the lineup. Kinsler and Maybin combined to form a very good 1-2 punch in setting the table for Miggy and the heart of the order. And when Kinsler was not leading off, Maybin was very comfortable at the top of the lineup.

He formed a bond in the outfield and offered intangibles to this team that really seemed endless.

So, for this version of the Tigers, I don’t think it would be wise to let go someone who offers so much to the team. And if the Tigers choose to deal Kinsler, someone like Maybin becomes even more valuable and a much needed variable at the top of the lineup.

Even as injury prone as he has been, you can’t take a major source of lifeblood off your roster.

ONE FOR WEDNESDAY? WHY NOT?

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

It’s Wednesday and you know what that means? Yeah, neither do we.  But we just couldn’t wait until Thursday to tackle another topic.

On this Wednesday, both writers will get a shot at answering a question regarding the acquisition of Justin Upton. Kurt focused on it yesterday, but there is still enough meat on this bone for two.

Let’s see how our writers respond to this question.


Given the Tigers’ reported attempt to trade Justin Upton last season, what does that tell you about Mike Ilitch?

KURT

Can you imagine Al Avila going back to Mike Ilitch suggesting they try to deal Justin Upton only a few short months after acquiring him? Of course not.

More than likely, Avila was responding to the first of the new marching orders from Mike’s son, Chris.

Little did we know, the Tigers were already beginning the “trim cycle,” long before Avila told us all last week about the intent to get “younger and leaner.” Dealing Upton during the season would represent attempt #1 in getting leaner.

Maybe they should have thought of that before the deal, before the cat got fatter, but we know who was calling the shots in the spring, and it’s not the one calling the shots now or maybe even during the regular season.

Chris Ilitch has the wheel now and the Tigers doing nothing at the trade deadline supports that notion. Could they have used some more pieces? Sure, but we know now that the last thing they would do is add more weight. The transition had already begun. It just wasn’t announced until this month.

Did they dangle Upton at the trade deadline? Maybe, but that would have really confused a fan base convinced the Tigers had a shot at the post season. So the Tigers let it ride with what they had and nearly pulled it off; threatening but still failing to bust down the door to a Wild Card.

But it’s safe now to reveal the goods; the new plan for the future. And it seems pretty clear that it began with the attempt to deal Upton; a failed attempt but an attempt all the same.

And it’s also pretty clear that Mike Ilitch’s role has been reduced to team treasurer. He is still the guy who will spend the money, will sign the checks. But he’s not going to be quite as busy as he has been in the past.

He’s going to be told what the team is going to do, not the other way around.


HOLLY

Last winter, the reoccurring concern, especially in the social media, was about who was going to fill the vacant LF position. And at Jordan Zimmermann’s signing, Mike Ilitch teased the media and the fans about the potential of opening his wallet even more to fill that need.

That was classic Mr. I and his statement surprised no one. We can assume that Al Avila had his marching orders to sign a “name” or even given the name for that slot, partly to satiate Mike’s hunger for a ring and partly to inspire ticket sales.

The move resembled a similar one by Dave Dombrowski who was forced to sign Prince Fielder and again, another classic Ilitch overpay – despite the same agent as Upton’s brother and inking a deal that was 1-year longer and $60 million more.

But the story from Buster Olney that the Tigers were trying to shop Upton, without success, to other teams during the year, doesn’t resemble any kind of pattern we’ve seen from ownership. Olney insinuates that the move towards dumping his contract was earlier in the season, rather than later.

Upton was being shopped during his horrendous performance at the plate. And that is the worst time to try to get rid of a player. First of all, there will be few, if any takers and lastly, any potential buyers will want a huge discount. And it seems unlikely that Al Avila would be trying to convince ownership to sell a player that soon.

But a sudden change of direction, coupled with a strategy in which there were no viable replacements, is yet another example that Mr. I may no longer be making the decisions. The likely suspect? Chris Ilitch.

As reported elsewhere (except in the Detroit papers), Chris was behind the move that forced Dombrowski to trade Doug Fister in order to clear payroll so he could sign Joe Nathan. He has a history of watching the Tigers’ bottom line and the attempt to trade Upton could likely have been his, too.

This could have been the first move, albeit under the radar, to cut payroll. An attempt to get rid of a player who didn’t tug at the heartstrings of fans. An attempt that potentially would have helped avoid having to trade a beloved player over the winter.

Only one thing is certain – the Tigers will be cutting payroll. And the sudden change of direction is almost always due to someone else being promoted as the decision-maker.

UPTON THE LAST HURRAH FOR MIKE ILITCH

By:  Kurt Snyder

“And then he gave me the straight order, basically, to get it done.” Al Avila on Mike Ilitch and the Justin Upton signing.


Asked if he was comfortable with his payroll commitments (following the Upton deal), Avila said that was a better question for Ilitch, but he answered it anyway.

“He is comfortable with it, Avila said, “so that’s what counts.”


So what’s the problem? You are a general manager of a professional baseball team. Your owner likes to spend money. And you can spend that money on some of the best talent the game has to offer. But that can also be a bad thing, especially when the owner decides he is going to barge in and tell you who he wants.

I think we can safely say this about the Detroit Tigers going forward: Mike Ilitch is done initiating any more deals. The deal for Justin Upton, the 6 year, $133 million dollar deal, will be his last.

It was the final straw for Mike Ilitch. And it’s a shame no one of authority could jump in and pull the pen out of his hand. It’s Chris Ilitch’s team to run now, but it appears he has burst onto the scene one signing too late.

The sad part is, that Al Avila knew the Upton deal was a big mistake. And he reportedly spent most of the 2016 season trying to unload him, maybe even before the ink was dry on the contract.

Another $20M player was the last thing the Tigers could afford to add. But GM’s don’t keep their jobs long if they don’t abide by the orders of the owner, whether they agree with them or not.

So here is another Tiger general manager sweeping up the ashes left from the fire set by their owner. Dave Dombrowski had to do the same thing after being saddled with the “now retired” Prince Fielder.

Yeah, Dombrowski had no intention of bringing in someone so outrageously expensive to compensate for Victor Martinez’ season ending injury back in 2012. Ilitch demanded an impact player, questioned who was out there who could make that impact and Fielder was the only one on the list.

So the deal was made. And I would guess that Dombrowski spent every waking moment thereafter trying to figure out how to get out from the under the albatross of the Fielder contract.

The Tigers have been their own worst enemies. Al Avila talks about needing sustainability and he makes a good point. The Tigers have been operating year to year, hoping to stumble on a trophy. But that’s just not how it works. They have lived under a simple-minded, reckless strategy and it’s all about to change.

I know we have enjoyed all the success since ’06. Mike Ilitch has been chasing his dream; and we all have shared the same dream. But when you look back at the history, all the spending, all the frivolous signing of stars, ignoring important fundamentals of the game and dare I say, the bullpen, you have to place the blame somewhere.  And you have to place it squarely on the shoulders of the owner. The man who writes the checks. The man who hands out the orders.

Mike Ilitch has been admired and revered in this town. But he’s a tired man now, unable to continue the fight.  He knows what it is like to be a champion. The Red Wings have been his pride and joy with Lord Stanley visiting Detroit 4 times under his reign. But he’s never been able to solve baseball, and it must drive him absolutely nuts.

PAYROLL, POTENTIAL, PURPOSE AND PLANS

By:  Holly Horning

Last week, we here at Totally Tigers addressed Al Avila’s statement about the team getting “younger and leaner” from a variety of viewpoints. On Friday, I identified the potential reasons why the Tigers may be taking this path. If you didn’t catch it then (there is no good excuse, btw), here it is:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/ageing-outdated/

In the first installment of this series, the Tigers’ tendency to be behind the times, coupled with MLB’s oldest combination of owner/GMs/coaches, was discussed as one reason why the Tigers have been unable to adapt successfully to today’s game especially as it is played in October. And certainly, the stars who are now in their 30’s with their long-term expensive contracts is also weighing heavily on Al Avila and ownership. Everyone remembers what happened to the Phillies.

But in reality, there is rarely one reason that inspires a team to change it up. It is usually for multiple reasons. And while the first two explanations are valid, there are also 2 other reasons that deserve equal consideration – and both have to do with the Ilitch family.

It has always been my preference to avoid talk of an owner’s illness out of respect. However, the increasing chatter within the media about Mike Ilitch’s serious health issues has pushed this topic to a point where we need to acknowledge it.

Mr. I was present at the signing of Jordan Zimmermann but despite his push for a star leftfielder, he was noticeably absent at Justin Upton’s press conference.

Shortly thereafter, the Tigers issued a press release indicating that both Mike and Marian Ilitch had made it official that their son, Chris, would be next in line to take over the reins. Mr. I has been seen only once this year and was absent for the official team photo this year.

The Tigers now no longer use Mike’s first name in any of their statements, but only use the generic “Mr. Ilitch.”

Increasingly, members of the media are saying their sources indicate that Chris is now in charge. Several recently point to 2013 when Chris secretly ran the Tigers while his father was seriously incapacitated. He has been identified as the reason for the trade of Doug Fister.

If you did not read an earlier blog with the information, Dave Dombrowski went after a bona fide closer to add to the team back after the Tigers lost to Boston in the ‘13 playoffs. His choice was Joe Nathan but Chris refused to OK the signing unless Dave was able to make some payroll cuts. The day after Fister was traded, Nathan was signed.

Media reports paint the younger Ilitch as someone who is focused on the bottom line. So last week’s statement about the need to cut payroll and trade some expensive contracts fits his m.o. It certainly doesn’t sound like Mr. I or even Al Avila. GMs never ask for budget reductions, which makes their jobs much more challenging.

But is Chris ordering this just because he is fiscally conservative or is it due to payroll exceeding revenue for many years now? Is it because the Tigers are mimicking the unsustainable habits of a major market team instead of the market they really inhabit? Is he concerned about some of the big contracts to players in their 30’s turning into financial albatrosses that will hamstring the team for years?  Probably all of the above. But there is also another reason.

Stories abound that outside of Mike, the rest of the Ilitch family is more fond of the Red Wings, than the Tigers. And conveniently, their hockey team is getting ready to move into a shiny new arena next year. Could Chris be getting the team prepared for a sale?

It makes sense to get finances in order. To get payroll down to a manageable level. To show a new potential owner that the team is not trending down, but is taking the steps necessary to return to viability without too much down time. And you do that by getting “younger and leaner.”

We won’t know the extent of the changes until late January 2017 at the earliest. Will there be a surgical extraction or two? Or will Avila be forced to trade away multiple pieces – important pieces – or even star pieces? That will tell us much more about the intent of the owner and the direction of the team.

And if you think about it, this conceivably could be a very good thing. Just not for 2017.

PLUG-N-PLAY TIGERS

By:  Kurt Snyder

After having watched Theo Epstein do the unthinkable in taking the Cubs to the World Series, it begs a question.  How did he do it?

The Cubs have finally exorcised their 1945 demons, by returning to the Series, with one more goal to attain; to get that 1908 demon put away as well.

What an incredible assignment for Epstein after he left the Red Sox. After the Cubs finished last in his first 2 seasons in Chicago, Epstein has taken the Cubs to the World Series in 5 years.

Mike Ilitch brought Dave Dombrowski on board in 2002, who almost immediately let go his current general manager Randy Smith and current manager Phil Garner after the Tigers lost their first 6 games. The Tigers went on to an American League record 119 losses in 2003; but 3 years later reached the World Series.

Sorry to bring 2003 up again, but as we wonder in horror what will happen to our team next season after the proposed roster shake up, we have to remember the days of 2003. It’s those days we don’t want to see again, not the days coming where we potentially say good bye to familiar Tiger favorites who have helped to collectively win a total of zero championships.

That’s really the bottom line, isn’t it? Most of the last 11 seasons have been entertaining. Winning is fun, but when you can never win the last game, it can become mind numbing. Getting to the World Series is one thing, winning it is another.

And both Mike Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski have received a heapin’ helpin’ of praise for keeping the Tigers on the map and making Detroit a destination of high profile stars of the game;  giving Detroit fans an exciting product, lacking only one thing, a World Championship. Appearances in 2006 and 2012 brought great excitement but excruciating disappointment in the end.  So what’s the plan to get back there? Is the current formula out of whack?

Ironically, outside of all the high priced free agent signings and trades for expensive stars, Dave Dombrowski may have done his best work just prior to leaving the Tigers. It was the trades of big time stars for big time prospects that have left the team in great shape with their starting pitching.

You would think it was something a new GM would do when arriving to help dig a franchise out of the rubble. But this was done on the way out the door, not on the way in.

While here, it seemed Dombrowski was given a bag of money every season by Mike Ilitch and was told to spend it any way he liked. That’s the way it seemed. But the message never seemed to be, let’s build a champion. It was more like, we have to win one right now.

So under those conditions, Dombrowski had quite the task. It was a Plug-n-Play approach. If we didn’t win, go buy a bat. Go buy a pitcher. Go buy a closer. Even when you thought it was Dombrowski’s decision, Ilitch seemed to always swoop in with one more dream scenario.

Fans loved how Ilitch stayed involved, but collectively, the risky spending has gradually brought us to where we currently sit, asking ourselves, what do we do now? And really, they were the same questions asked before last season. Then in came Jordan Zimmermann. In came Justin Upton.

Plug-n-Play was put back in motion. More and more signings. Never a whiff of the kind of deals Dombrowski executed at the end of his reign in Detroit.

So enter Al Avila. Enter Chris Ilitch. It’s apparent these 2 have talked. It sounds like Chris has stripped Al of the keys to the vault and has been told to, you know, do more of what that Dave guy did.

I mean, look what he did for our starting rotation. Sure, we didn’t want to lose Cespedes and Soria and Price, but look what we ended up with. A legitimate future. A stable of young pitchers sure to offer that coveted sustainability in the starting rotation.

So was Al asked to try on that hat for size? It appears so. Plug-n-Play mode has done nothing for our quest for championships or sustainability. So, the Tigers look like they will finally address their depth. Shed some money for some youth. Talented youth that only stars can bring.

When you look at the Cubs, you see a young team that was only fortified with veteran stars when they appeared ready to make the giant step. It’s a team that has that sustainability. Their youth has become stars before our eyes. And when that happens, that’s when you know you have done things correctly. They appear like they cannot be stopped.  And they look like they are here to stay.

Let’s try on THAT hat for size.