Strikeouts. Poor base running. Poor outfield defense. A lack of minor league depth and talent. These are the burdens the Tiger organization must carry as they enter another season.
Roll them all together and place them in a bowl with a $200M payroll and well, you understand the need to change. It’s not a good mix. It’s not a reliable recipe for winning. It’s taken a long time to realize it and equally as long to accept. But it’s all very real.
When my college-aged kids get overwhelmed by their studies, exams and almost endless projects to complete, I always advise them to bite them off a piece at a time. Looking at the whole pile of work can be intimidating. So you have to break things up. That’s why Al Avila has a project that could take a few years to address; it’s not gonna happen overnight.
To continue to win is not just about spending anymore, it always seems to come back to building the farm system. The Yankees have done an incredible job with it over the last few months. But they have done it in a truly Yankee way, trading away stars for highly-ranked prospects, followed immediately by spending again to quickly get back into a role of contention. I think it’s been brilliant.
They have supplemented their farm with guys that, well, won’t be in the farm long. Some were identified as stars right away and will immediately make big time, big league contributions in 2017. A couple of them have already. They have a catcher who could be an immediate All-Star.
Just last season, it looked like New York was heading into a cash-strapped period that would not allow them to contend for a while. But they did wonders at the trade deadline and even made an interesting run at a Wild Card spot, a run that did eventually fade down the stretch.
I’m sorry to have to bring them up, but they are now a model to watch. Imagine that, the Yankees having a formula to admire instead of despise.
But let me cure your nausea and quit the Yankee talk for right now. If you are a Tiger fan, the Yankees have never been a favorite topic, but we do have to recognize a big spending franchise that has been very crafty in their adjustments.
So how do the Tigers begin their own creative makeover? Well, given the market, we are kind of on hold.
Those countless non-roster minor league signings that took place over the last couple of months appeared to represent acknowledgement of a trade market that would not yield prized prospects for veteran players from the Tiger core. Avila asked for a lot, and I am glad he did.
We thought this was going to be the season that popular Tiger players would begin to pack their bags in favor of restocking the barren farm system. It wouldn’t be stocked just for restocking sake. Quality depth and potential would be expected in return. Well, that didn’t happen. Not yet anyway.
The continued transition of this franchise will be evaluated again at the end of July. If they are realistic playoff contenders, you leave the team alone.
Leaving this team alone, for the most part, ahead of this next season has to be a big sigh of relief for those who have carried the Tigers for the last several years. Justin Verlander has been vocal about not wanting to break up the band and not wanting to rebuild. Ian Kinsler seems to crave another shot. These guys still feel they have a run in them.
The Tiger core will descend on Lakeland with a new lease on life. Any turnover from last season will come from rookies who make a statement during spring training and head north with the big club, most likely supplementing continued needs in the bullpen and outfield.
The infield is completely set. The corner outfielders are completely set. The majority of the starting pitching is ready to roll. It’s a good team. But, once again, we will all hold our breath and hope fundamentals and poor health will not continue to hold this team back.
We all dream for more disciplined hitting from our team. We all dream for better base running that doesn’t cost us runs. Even a small amount of improvement in these critical areas in combination with all the Tiger talent opens possibilities. They can contend if they don’t beat themselves. Easier said than done? Well, sure! But we still have to say it. You have to hang your hat on something.
It’s a team with one more shot; a bonus if you will. So JV, Ian, Miggy and VMart have a responsibility. They must lead. They must project laser focus and a sense of urgency. Another opportunity for this core group has indeed presented itself. But they won’t get another. That would seem to be enough to motivate a team that often struggles to find it.