This has been a very strange – and very different – Hot Stove season this year. It’s been quiet – and boring. And not just for the Tigers.
We were forewarned in the late fall that the names available would not be as stellar as in years past. That this was going to be an off-year in terms of blockbuster deals and flashy, expensive players.
But despite the yawns the Hot Stove season has generated, big things have been happening within baseball. A sport that changes so slowly, sometimes the evolution goes unnoticed. But not now. New trends have emerged that are sudden and alarmingly rapid.
First, the growing hesitation by teams to offer long-term contracts. Followed by organizations now loathe to offer contracts of more than 2-3 years to players already in their 30’s. GMs are now realizing that it’s not good business sense to lock down a player who has started the decline in performance and who will become generally untradeable within a year or two.
But the biggest trend we’re seeing is the overall reluctance to part with top prospects. Teams now are showing a death grip on their most promising players and refusing to cough them up. We saw more deals not get done this year because, in the end, the prospects were more important to the future performance of the club than the established player.
There were only a couple of teams willing to deal from their farm systems, led by – surprise, surprise – Dave Dombrowski. And that was because Dave moved to the Red Sox when their farm system ranked near the top with one of the largest collections of promising players.
Ironically, one of the most significant events that undoubtedly inspired teams to take a closer look at their trading habits can be traced to the Tigers. The infamous moves by former GM Dombrowski in which he traded David Price and Yoenis Cespedes and received one of the most notable hauls in pitchers Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris and Rookie of the Year, Michael Fulmer.
These Tigers’ moves were roundly recognized as brilliant and many within baseball took notice. Many analysts believe these were the catalysts that inspired the majority of teams to refuse trading their top pitching prospects in the 2016-2017 Hot Stove season.
But there are other reasons, too. A noticeable jump in pitchers’ contracts and the new focus on hanging onto young, club-controlled talent. Teams save a ton of money by developing their own players, keeping them for pennies and then allowing them to leave around the age of 30.
There are teams like the Mets with a starting rotation that has just only jumped to $11 million for 2017. The Indians pay out $14 million for their rotation. And the Tigers? $71 million.
See the problem with this?
The Tigers are now encountering the perfect storm where they have a depleted farm system and no longer have the capital to trade for top pitching prospects. Salaries are skyrocketing. Which means only one thing.
The Tigers need to start developing their own players. And in a hurry.
But unfortunately, if you go back at least 10 years, Detroit does not have a good record of drafting and developing, especially starting pitchers. Other than Justin Verlander, the only other pitcher worth mentioning is Rick Porcello. The rest of their all-star rotation over the past decade was developed by other teams.
An issue of concern is that Al Avila kept the entire scouting and drafting departments intact when he took over the job. In fact, he re-hired some older scouts who used to work for the Tigers way back when. All of them the same guys with the aforementioned track record.
Will these same people suddenly change their methodology and start making different decisions? Will the new analytics department kick in and be a game-changing element? Will the Tigers break their long scouting drought?
There’s no doubt about it – they must. It’s a whole new era in baseball.