ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

The Ilitch family has owned the Tigers for almost 24 years. And for the first time in a long time, the Tigers have professed a desire to take a step back and get the franchise to a more manageable level financially while acquiring more young talent at the expense of some of their stars. This all brings about a very important question.

Holly and Kurt never share their answers to these topics before it’s time. And today is no different as we take a look at the Ilitch ownership and what this change in direction may mean for the franchise.


Do you believe the Ilitch family plans to hold onto the Tigers after they make their changes? Why or why not?


HOLLY

If you follow media that is not Detroit-based, you will get a very different take on what is going on with the Ilitch family. A number of journalists are already using the name “Chris” instead of “Mike.” I won’t go into details that revolve around the owner’s health, but what we do know is that Mr. I hasn’t been seen in months including missing those very important team photos for both his Tigers and Red Wings, recent big player signings and last week’s significant joint venture announcement with Pistons’ owner, Tom Gores.

Whether or not you believe the rumors that the rest of the family is not as enamored of the Tigers as the patriarch, there is one huge reason why the family will sell the team. The estate tax bill.

Simply put, the Ilitch family will have to pay out 40% of the team value ($450 million) unless Mike leaves the team to Marian. Which, of course, he can’t because she owns a casino and is getting ready to launch another one. We all understand the rules that forbid MLB owners from being connected to gambling and bequeathing the team to Chris will spur the 40% tax, which is the primary reason why teams change hands.

It’s really as simple as that.

(On a side note, Mike can leave the Red Wings to Marian without an estate penalty because there are no gambling rules attached to hockey and he cannot sell to the Fords because NFL rules prohibit ownership of a baseball team.)

Additionally, as supporting points, you can also add in the huge cost overruns at the new Red Wings arena and the time and energy this massive project is taking away from baseball as part of a bigger rationale for selling the team.

Tom Gores is another factor and he’s stated his interest in owning another sports team. Based in CA, raised in MI and owns a home in Birmingham, he now has a joint business venture with the Ilitch family.

His behind-the-scenes actions, of course, were never reported in the local papers, but he recently hired a sports attorney who specializes in buying/selling sports teams. And the guy he hired is best friends with Steve Greenberg (Hank’s son) who works for…. get ready for it….Mike Ilitch.

And if you think this is a coincidence, I have a bridge to sell you……..

The Ilitches couldn’t sell to a better person who now holds a combined interest in the success of downtown sports and as a natural by-product, the industries that are Ilitch-owned and feed off of their baseball, basketball and hockey. An incredibly smart business move and a win-win situation.

So really the only thing left to determine is why the team has to reduce payroll. Is it because the Ilitches were told by MLB (1 of 9 teams) to reduce payroll because their debt-to-equity ratio is reaching dangerous levels? Or are they preparing the books to help bolster their sale price? Afterall, since at least 2006, the team’s payroll has exceeded revenue every single year.

I think we’ll soon find out.


KURT

Mike Ilitch has professed for so long how badly he has wanted to bring a World Series championship to Detroit, but that run is beginning to, well, run aground.

And the new direction announced by Al Avila to become younger and leaner is some real foreign territory for the franchise and for all of us. But we have watched the cracks form for a few years now.

We witnessed the departure of Dave Dombrowski, replaced internally by Al Avila. We stood puzzled by the retention of Brad Ausmus as manager, when it’s common place for a GM to put their own stamp on the team with a new skipper, especially when given the opportunity to hire a better one.

And bit by bit the cracks have widened, contributing to the Tigers’ decision to change course. Mike Ilitch has spent a lot of money, and considering there is no trophy to justify the spending, it’s time to stop the bleeding.

With Mr. I in poor health, Chris Ilitch is now making the appearances on behalf of the family, as recent as last week when the Pistons announced their intentions to move downtown and share Little Caesars Arena with the Wings.

Chris has been said to have much more interest in the operation and ownership of the Red Wings than the Tigers, which seems to be a huge red flag when you consider his father’s apparent decreasing role. Mr. I was the driving force behind every Tiger signing, every championship attempt. But it has reached the end.

I believe every move the Tigers make from here on out will be very calculated. Every move will be made in the interests of preparing the team for future sale.

Mike was all about a new ballpark in the infancy of his ownership, but never really moved on attempting to build a winner until 2004, the year after a historically bad year for the franchise. Then heavy spending seemed to be his strategy, which hasn’t been much of a strategy after all.

So, they will sell because it is time. They will sell because we need them to do it. We have reached the point where only new ownership can breathe new life into this team; ownership that doesn’t just blatantly throw money at a problem. Let the Ilitch family concentrate on what is clearly #1 now in their hearts; the Red Wings. That’s enough of a challenge as it is.

VMART THE LEAST LIKELY TRADE PIECE

By:  Kurt Snyder

Totally Tigers has to put a hat in the ring on a particular topic. It’s a topic, but it’s also a rumor. And at this point in the Hot Stove League when there is very little player movement, site after site after site can only respond to rumors with their opinions about how much merit they have.

But we can’t get too caught up in rumor. What we can do is speak to moves that are the wisest in this off-season of transition for Detroit.  And without a doubt, finding a taker for Victor Martinez would be an absolute godsend. It’s also never going to happen.

This past season, baseball said goodbye to David Ortiz; another former member of the-soon-to-be extinct (unless you’re the Tigers) full-time DH position. The full-time DH is finding its way out of the game. The role has certainly done its job in offering aging players the opportunity to prolong their careers. Players with big bats but not much else have still contributed big and starred in that role.

But these players with only a bat to offer their teams are making too much money and limiting team flexibility. And with the Tigers, we all know we would love to see Miguel Cabrera in that spot much more than we do, which right now is almost never.

Sure, Miggy is still able to effectively play in the field. In fact, he plays a pretty darn good first base. So, he’s not a candidate for full-time DH anytime soon.

But I have to ask. How long will the Tigers gamble with Miggy? Will the Tigers have to wait for VMart’s contract to expire before Cabrera assumes that role for close to half the season? Yeah, that’s right. Half the season. It’s a big step, I know. But he is going to be a Tiger for a long time (that’s right, don’t look for any big deal involving Miggy) and it is the franchise’s responsibility to preserve their biggest investment.

Rumors are aplenty about teams showing interest in VMart. It’s exciting to hear actually. It’s surprising to hear. But I can’t find it in myself to believe any of it.

As much as I believe that unloading Victor would be one of the shrewdest of moves the Tigers could make in the interests of their bottom line, it is also the toughest of tasks. To me, you’re asking for another Prince Fielder type trade.

Victor has been reduced to a brittle player. He can still hit, but running is hard work for him and scoring with him on the bases is difficult. I hate to talk about VMart like this. He has been a great Tiger. The hardest of workers. Intensity and fire embodies him more than most in the Tiger dugout. But he is holding this team back. And unfortunately, this information is no secret to the rest of the league.

So what do the Tigers do assuming VMart stays in Detroit? Well, first they need to dispel the notion that he is the only player who can hit behind Miggy. I haven’t been given a good reason to believe that to be the case. Victor has to move down in the lineup just so 2 of their slowest baserunners aren’t hitting back-to-back.

Secondly, Victor has to sit more. I understand he is a switch hitter. I understand he makes big $18M bank. But he’s got to sit in the interests of transitioning Miggy more and more into the DH role. Who plays first base in those situations? Sounds like a good roster addition to consider.

Dave Dombrowski pulled the biggest rabbit out of his hat when he magically found a team to take Prince Fielder off their hands, and receive Ian Kinsler in return. It was by far one of the most unlikely and lopsided deals a team has ever made.

Now we sit here asking the Tigers to do something similar. And it’s a stretch. The Tigers are better off spending their time and energy establishing a diminished role for Victor. It would be best for all involved, including VMart himself.

TOPIC FOR TUESDAY

It’s Tuesday folks, which means it’s your day! Today is the day for reader feedback.

Most weeks like today, there will be a topic on which to respond, while once a month for “Open Mike,” readers get the opportunity to comment on the Tiger topic of their choosing.

This is the one day of the week where we open up the comment parameters for you, so you can really get those juices flowing. Comments on THIS DAY ONLY can be expanded to a maximum of 8 sentences.

So let ‘er rip! Let’s get this party started! We can’t wait to get your feedback on the following topic.


Are the Tigers really making the best decision to potentially start the rebuild this year instead of waiting one more year while the team is still viable?

THERE, I SAID IT – PART 5

By:  Holly Horning

Let’s continue the series of blogs based upon my observations and conclusions, so far, about the Tigers since 2006. This is about the long-standing direction of the team and why, despite the immense talent, they have been unsuccessful when everything was on the line. The premise for these points of discussion are all based upon Mr. I’s well-publicized desire and stated goal to win the World Series.

This series is meant to uncover, examine and discuss why their path never achieved the desired goals and why it’s been 32 years, second-longest in the AL Central, since the last one.

In the media, most portray the process of winning as simply getting the right players. But we know there are many more factors that play into creating a successful team – and franchise. And those factors are tangible and intangible. Just ask Theo Epstein, who has managed to break baseball’s two longest curses because of his vision and strategy.

The Tigers have poured more money into signing players than any other team, save for the Dodgers. Are there beliefs and corporate culture issues that have been holding them back? That’s a primary premise of these blogs.


If you missed the first four installments, catch them here:

WORLD SERIES

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/there-i-said-it/

OWNERSHIP

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/there-i-said-it-2/

DAVE DOMBROWSKI

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/there-i-said-it-part-3/

AL AVILA

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/there-i-said-it-part-4/


This is a series that is dependent upon you, the reader, to weigh in. My statements are only meant to be the starting point. These thoughts are meant to inspire analysis and carry us all through the month, season and coming years.

So let’s begin some great dialogues as they relate exclusively to issues surrounding former manager, Jim Leyland. Over the coming weeks, we’ll also address the Front Office, Brad Ausmus, coaching, the corporate culture and other topics.

Please pick one topic and start the conversation. Don’t forget to come back later and respond to others who have posted.


JIM LEYLAND

1. In typical Tigers fashion, Leyland has reaped the loyalty rewards of always staying or returning to the team. He spent 18 years as a player and minor league manager for Detroit before returning for another 11 years – and now going on 12. He’s survived more than a handful of several owners, GMs and managers. Over 30 years – and continuing – with one team is highly unusual and not seen in modern day baseball. And that loyalty is part of the overall problem.

2. JL was a good solid choice for a manager back in 2006 as the nucleus of the team was in its infancy and needed guidance from someone experienced. Also good for a team that had started collecting high-priced star players who needed to have their egos managed effectively. But as the team evolved, their managerial requirements needed changing. Leyland should have been replaced in 2010 at the latest.

3. Track records are indicative of a person’s likely performance. Despite managing immense talent on the Pirates, Marlins and Tigers, Leyland’s managerial record is barely over .500 – standing at an unimpressive .506 . His records with the Pirates, Marlins and Rockies were all under .500 and he won only 1 WS in 22 years. He won multiple division titles with both the Pirates and the Tigers but couldn’t advance his teams much beyond that. A manager with so much talent on his roster should have done much better than what his record indicates and the GM should have seen that he was unlikely to be successful when it came to October baseball.

4. JL is a profound opponent of sabermetrics and analytics and so are many of his former coaches, who are still with the Tigers. Why would Al Avila introduce an analytics department and introductory software program when Leyland, a special assistant to him, and many of the coaches don’t buy into it? In many ways, the game has passed him by and there are no signs he’s updated his thoughts about what it takes to win today.

5. Despite Leyland having the title of “special assistant”, make no mistake – he is the power behind the throne. Mr. I begged him to return as manager in 2015. And it’s no coincidence that every single one of his friends/players/coaches dating back to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s has been kept on the Tigers’ payroll or brought back after being fired elsewhere. He’s outlasted numerous top Front Office executives and despite a change of GMs, he has surprisingly stayed on when it’s routine to replace everyone. The Tigers will not be able to move forward successfully until they cut ties with their past.

COMPETITIVE CAN BE AN UGLY WORD

By:  Kurt Snyder

While we sit and wait, all we can do is listen. Until something breaks on the trade front, we will wait and listen. But what do we listen for? What clues do we focus on to get a feel for what the Tigers plan to do?

Attendance at Comerica has decreased for the last 3 seasons. People during this time and heading into spring training make decisions about their season tickets. Some already have. Some will renew regardless of what decisions the team makes. It’s just part of their summer to see live baseball.

But most want to see winning baseball, contending baseball. But those are not the words the Tigers have used to describe their path for the offseason. Among all the much talked about changes, they still plan, or at least will attempt to portray the next edition of Tiger baseball as competitive.

Until we see who goes, who stays and who arrives, we won’t know how competitive they will really be. And that would certainly make a die-hard Tiger fan nervous. The die-hard fan doesn’t take kindly to losing. The die-hard fan doesn’t take kindly to talk of losing long time stars who have kept their team in contention. Die-hard fans are emotional. And when you use a word like competitive as a positive goal for the season, it’s very concerning.

The word you want to hear is “contend.” Tiger fans are used to being in contention for something. A division title, a wild card spot, and many times, contention for a World Series. But take that word out of the equation in an attempt to describe the goals for the next season and you just end up making a fan base quiver.

So expect fans to wait a little longer. Waiting and listening. All the names being thrown around in the media; JD Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler – this is the team, folks! And shedding players of this magnitude to improve the bottom line is admirable, but dangerous all at the same time. Fans will walk. They will walk again if too much is shed.

I am sure the Ilitch family didn’t enjoy their first decade of ownership. There was a lot of losing. And their plan to contend wasn’t clear. There wasn’t gradual improvement. The Tigers became a stagnant franchise. Finally, Ilitch may have gotten tired of the situation. He needed the fans to care again; because for all intents and purposes, they didn’t care about them for a long time. Baseball had ceased to exist.

Opening up the bank was the solution. High priced stars and some intense young talent from the minor leagues made 2006 happen. And it changed the course and the franchise. Spend more and win more. That appeared to be the plan for the next decade. And it worked. The fans returned. Excitement returned. Baseball returned to Detroit. But the elusive championship is still exactly that. And the course will change again.

“Win Now” is now done. It’s been replaced by “Be Competitive.” Try that on for size Detroit! Watch while we tear this thing down. But still come to the games! Still make the trip down for your $9 beer and your $15 pizza! Because the Tigers are going to be competitive!

It’s not enough is it? Not for most fans. And most will wait and see. So far, all clues point towards a sale. The Tigers are stripping the floors and painting the walls and will look to pay off their debts. The white flag appears to be heading up the pole. Mike Ilitch himself has stepped aside and your stars he so desperately wanted are on the block.

So we wait. We will wait for the overhaul to begin and the dust to settle. Then we will see what we have. Competitive? Let’s wait and see what that really means.

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, KUDOS & CONCERNS

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

Saturday’s segment is a day to touch on as many issues as possible. Now that the Hot Stove League is heating up, there is plenty to contemplate about the home team and where they are headed.

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

After so much promise, Stephen Moya more than likely has more value as a trade piece than a consideration for the Tigers’ roster in 2017. Any deal involving someone like JD should also include Moya, who is still at least a year away and fading. He’s just another disappointing example of a thin farm system that has yielded very little position player talent.

QUESTION

How valuable is a power hitting threat off the bench when you consider the Tigers may indeed miss a .171 hitter in Jarrod Saltalamacchia? Talks of Alex Avila returning to the Tigers would constitute a downgrade both as a bat off the bench but also as a reliable backup catcher. It really tells you where the team may be headed when players the caliber of Avila are considered for a return to Detroit.

QUESTION

Taking everything under consideration, who could have envisioned Brad Ausmus managing the Tigers for 4 seasons in Detroit? It’s interesting how he is now more of an appropriate managerial choice in his 4th season, with lower expectations, than he ever was in the first 3. My level of frustration heading into December? High.


HOLLY

QUESTION

There are only a handful of teams in the position to take on some of the Tigers’ mega-contracts, including Boston. But will Al Avila want to risk dealing with Dave Dombrowski, who is an expert at getting the best in trades? Will the two even want to discuss a trade given the messy departure and rumored bad feelings?

COMMENT

As the jousting between some of baseball’s top media and Kate Upton continues, an official poll was done to identify the top 25 Worst Sports Power Couples. And this is an award that Justin and Kate shouldn’t be happy winning as sports #1 “most insufferable” couple, beating out the likes of Tom Brady and Gisele Bunchen, Jay Cutler and Kristin Cavallari, Aaron Rodgers and Olivia Munn and the Beckhams. They were labeled as the “King and Queen of doing too much online…..constantly feeling cheated of their due, but also constantly in a position to tell others what their inherent right are.” Ouch.

COMMENT

It seems that the Cy Young Award brings out the worst in players (or their fiancés). After inventing a social media stunt – where his wife “accidentally” threw his no-hit jersey into the trash – Max Scherzer was at it again with a fully staged, unabashed theatrical celebration of his win for live TV complete with supporting cast and exploding bottles of champagne cascading all over a jumping, screaming Max. So much for winners graciously accepting their awards and paying respect to their competition as Scherzer selfishly rubbed it in to Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester. Tacky.

A ROAD MAP TO THE FUTURE

During this holiday weekend, let’s take another look at Holly’s post from earlier in the week. What categories might the team consider to determine the path they will follow in this most uncertain of futures?

Totally Tigers

By:  Holly Horning

These are insane times for us Tiger fans. Gone are the days when we heard the yearly proclamation that the team was  “all in.” Gone are the days when we knew a big name would be signed every year. Now we’ve all become Sherlock Holmes trying to figure out which direction the team is taking.

Are they contenders, tweakers or rebuilders? Are they a team that is tearing it all down or merely refining the way they play? Are they shedding some excess payroll or having a fire sale?

Who knows right now. We could be left hanging for another 5 weeks – maybe more before we know where the team is headed. Even then, don’t expect those who run the team to tell you their strategy. Some of it, they don’t want you to know. And the strategy and spin may well change over the coming…

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM TOTALLY TIGERS

This is a day where we all give thanks. And we here at Totally Tigers want to show ours to you, the readers. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. So we send out a big roar of approval to those who read us every day, to those who binge-read us, the solid core who comment regularly and to the many who silently lurk in the shadows. Even those who read us occasionally. We love you all.

We are thrilled that you get us and why we started this blog. We love that you’re looking for conversation starters and not spin. And the fact that we often don’t give answers – and that explanations are often presented. All in a civil, user-friendly environment that encourages the sharing of thoughts and ideas.

And as we go forward, expect some tweaks from Totally Tigers. We’ll be expanding, adding new formats and other new ideas to keep you informed, entertained and intellectually stimulated. And if you have ideas and/or topics you’d like to see, email us and let us know. We won’t publish your thoughts but we will give you credit when they appear.

Thank you from the bottom of our little blue and orange striped hearts for being our readers. And may the only turkey you see this coming holiday season be the one on your dining room table – and not in the form of a player trade.

DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH

Kurt Bio PictureBy:  Kurt Snyder

They are a baseball scouting department’s dream. Low cost talent. Untapped potential. Nothing to lose. Potential diamonds in the rough.

Scouts spend their careers constantly looking for these players. They are players withering on the vine. Still young, but wearing out their welcome with their current teams. Raw talent that can’t turn the corner.

Sometimes they need a new vantage point. A new set of eyes. The proverbial change in scenery. Or maybe they just need more time.

JD Martinez was that player for the Houston Astros. He was drafted in 2009 and released in 2014. An outfielder with power but not much else. The Tigers had been watching him from afar, actually attempting to trade for him long before he was released.

That’s why 2 days after he was released, he was signed by the Tigers. Here was a player we know now, was a tireless student of the game. How much the Tigers knew that at the time is in question. But part of JD’s story was a swing change he was making prior to being released from the Astros.  And it turned out to be a change that translated into JD becoming one of the most feared power hitters in the American League.

We are not used to the Tigers finding guys like this. Diamonds in the rough. Untapped potential ready to explode. But they certainly struck gold when they found JD Martinez.

But in 3 short seasons, the Tigers are changing dramatically as a franchise. Always the spenders under Mike Ilitch, the Tigers are now looking to cut back. And their most productive offensive players are now being offered up on the trade market; with one, JD Martinez, at or near the top of that list.

What are they looking for? What does the future hold? We all have our opinions. We can only go by what the Tigers have chosen to tell us. Get younger. Get leaner. But still be competitive. Well, sometimes those ingredients don’t all go together. A good reason why most of us are scratching our heads about what is really going on here in Detroit.

Mike Ilitch doesn’t make public appearances anymore. Chris Ilitch does. And ironically, as Mr. I fades into the background, the foreground is changing. The Tigers landscape is being reshaped.

The Tigers success has had a ceiling for 10 years. At their zenith, they tap out just short of World Championships. Most of the time, they have spent big to get better. Sure, you always look for that diamond, but most of the time, teams get too impatient. Ownership and fan bases demand winning and immediate gratification. So that mindset doesn’t leave much time or room for the search for those diamonds.

Now JD Martinez isn’t perfect. He ranks as a below-average outfielder defensively. But that’s not where he is going to make his money. He will make it because of what he gives you with the bat. He will command a lot of money as a free agent after the 2017 season. And it scares the Tigers.

But they have blown it with JD Martinez. They should be commended for watching him and keeping tabs on his progress while with Houston. They should be lauded for jumping all over the opportunity to grab him when he became available. They saw something in him they liked and they were dead right.

But they blew it. Mike Ilitch has become a knee jerk owner over the years. Just when you think the Tigers have enough star power, Mike wants another. General Managers are asked to do things under Ilitch that are against their better judgment when they look at what is ahead.

The Tigers had no business signing Justin Upton, knowing what was to come for JD Martinez. They needed to take care of their own before they brought in a fresh, shiny new toy who would command the money you would need later.

Diamonds in the rough. They are hard to find. They are so very precious when you get one. And now as the Tigers set a new course, a jewel like JD may be jettisoned for players hopefully just like him when he arrived. The signing of Upton has necessitated this. The situation has shown no forethought.

Diamonds in the rough? Generally you treasure them and protect them when you find them.

OPEN MIKE!

It’s Tuesday folks, which means it’s your day! Tuesday is the day for reader feedback. And as promised, today is the one day during the month where you get the opportunity to comment on the Tiger topic of your choosing. It’s time once again for “Open Mike!”

As usual, this is the one day of the week where we open up the comment parameters for you, so you can really get those juices flowing. Comments on THIS DAY ONLY can be expanded to a maximum of 8 sentences. So let ‘er rip! Let’s get this party started! Pick a topic and let us hear from you. We know there’s a lot on your minds…