20 MAY THOUGHTS

By:  Kurt Snyder

After 2 months of the season, things normally start to take shape. You start to get an idea of the kind of team you have … or don’t have.

May’s 20 Thoughts will concentrate mostly on what we don’t have. Sorry, but I won’t call it anything but what it is. And right now it’s not so good. 🙂


1. Jordan Zimmermann, after 2 months, has not been good. He’s benefitted from some good run support, but the long ball is a major problem for Jordan.

2. So, have you heard who’s leading the All Star voting at first base in the American League? It must be a down year for first basemen this season. Because Miggy certainly doesn’t qualify right now.

3. So happy to be done with this road trip, so we don’t have to hear about the road trip anymore.

4. In March, I watched an analysis of the Tiger starting rotation on the MLB Network. Words used: Deep and potentially dominant. When depth came into the conversation, Anibal Sanchez came up. He was then mentioned as a potentially late game bullpen piece. STATUS: Deep? No. Potentially dominant? After Verlander and Fulmer, sorry, but no. Anibal Sanchez? In Toledo, trying to become a starter again.

5. Mikey Mahtook … what keeps him out of Toledo?

6. Under the category of Beating a Dead Horse: In May we saw the return of Miggy and JD to the lineup. JD set the house on the fire early and certainly proved worthy of “protecting” Miggy. But, VMart has not been moved from the 4 spot and all that ‘being nice to Brad’ stuff is now over.

7. There has been weak hitting all over the lineup. And it’s almost every position. That includes everyone in the infield outside of when Avila plays and anyone who plays centerfield. JD has been the only consistent threat.

8. Justin Verlander has had an odd season. He has looked dominant on many occasions but has also pitched poorly enough in other outings to keep his ERA above 4.00. So we have to be careful not to gush too much over him.

9. Michael Fulmer? Future ace of the Tigers. No sophomore slump. Improving every start.

10. How’s the ‘Win for Mr. I’ battle cry going? So far it’s only words. It’s been a poor brand of baseball in April and May. And I think it was determined (on this site) that the goals of the front office and the goals of the fans are completely different. Winning? Well, it will come by accident, because the organization has no plan to help things along. (Carryover from April)

11. The artist formerly known as KRod, was removed from the closer role soon enough to remove any trade value he might have had at the deadline. Maybe in the interests of rekindling something, he is now being used again in high leverage situations. Brad thinks he pitches better when the games are on the line. Am I talking in circles? Sorry, just reporting the news.

12. Ian Kinsler has picked a bad season to hit poorly and struggle with injuries. Another potentially valuable asset who may not bag the team as much as they hope at the deadline.

13. May saw the departure of Tyler Collins. Anyone bothered by this?  Me neither.

14. Carryover from April. Write it down. Nicholas Castellanos will be an All Star this season. Oh and he’s on my fantasy team. STATUS: Nick will need a ticket (yeah I said Nick) to get to the game and he’s no longer on my fantasy team.

15. Speaking of Castellanos. His swing has gotten as long as his first name. He may want to consider “Nick” again.

16. Justin Wilson hasn’t been perfect as closer, but he has calmed things down in the ninth while Alex Wilson, Shane Greene and Blaine Hardy have been exceptional in the late innings. The pen has suddenly turned into the strength of the team.

17. It’s now June and the only baseball game I have attended was at Wrigley Field. I will now work really hard to make that an annual trip.

18. Injury report: Heading into June, the Tigers desperately need 2 things: A healthy Ian Kinsler. A productive Ian Kinsler.

19. Note to Dave Clark – VMart still can’t run, stop sending him home.

20. As poorly as the Tigers have played, they are fortunate to only be 4 games behind the Indians in the Central. A June loaded with home games will say a lot about their will to win and ability to stay in it.

RECLAMATION AND RESURRECTION

By:  Holly Horning

I was always of the belief that the Tigers would hang onto their latest pair of problem-children pitchers, Anibal Sanchez and Francisco Rodriguez. Afterall, they had just recently jettisoned Mike Pelfrey and Mark Lowe, who are now pitching for other teams on the Tigers’ dime.

In agreement with analysis by Jim Palmer and John Smoltz, I thought it was highly unlikely that a single team would dump 4 pitchers to the tune of almost $40 million dollars. One fourth of your entire pitching staff and 1/3rd to 1/4th of most teams’ entire payrolls. Not only does it seriously deplete your available pitching staff but it also makes your entire organization look very bad – and bordering on inept.

But it appears that payroll and roster spots are not the only reasons. There is increasing evidence that the Tigers had another important reason to keep the two.

Despite the horrific performances we witnessed, both Sanchez and KRod possess what pitchers in the minor league system don’t have. Experience in the bigs. Say what you will about their abilities, but the young pitchers in the minors have significant growing pains once they reach the bigs. Stats don’t tell the whole story.

But the trickle of indicators is growing rapidly now. A trickle that tells us that the roster of viable pitchers in the minors is really slim. Desperately slim. And the key indicators are:

– Even with their poor performances, Sanchez and KRod were still being used and recently pitched in some higher leverage situations less than a week ago.

– Even with his 5-year rights, Anibal Sanchez is making the uncharacteristic move back to Toledo to work on his skills in the hope of making a return.

– Brad Ausmus is being quoted regularly that it is the team’s goal to have these two pitchers back and significantly contributing.

– Warwick Saupold is being converted from a starter into a reliever as he appears to be the best fit to replace Sanchez.

– Anthony Gose has recently switched from CFer into a pitcher with every pitch, and MPH, being reported by the Tigers.

– And despite multiple issues with behavior, work ethic, pitch location and significant weight gain, Bruce Rondon is still with the team. In fact, Al Avila recently traveled to Toledo to meet with him in an attempt to light a fire. If you have other options, players with multiple strikes against them would usually be gone at this point.


The real message to be gleaned here is the pattern of going beyond the normal effort in an attempt to resurrect and patch the overlying concern. When 2 pitchers who have lost it for longer than a reasonable amount of time keep being inserted into games, when you start converting players or changing their long-term purpose and when you hang onto “problem children”, it points to scarcity.

A concern that the Tigers are uncomfortably short of viable pitchers and have to try to re-create something from what they already own.

Now add in the concerns about Jordan Zimmerman and the new struggles of Matt Boyd. Could the Tigers also have some questions about them? If last year is any indicator – in which 12 different starting pitchers were used – then they may need as many warm bodies as they can get.

And if some of these experiments fail and they come up short in the pitching department, then Al Avila may have to resort to trading some human capital in order to solve the problem.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Like many of you, I’ve become rather fond of our rightfielder, shortstop and second baseman.

TOPIC FOR TUESDAY

microphoneHappy Tuesday!  Surprise!  Holly and Kurt have decided to give the readers an early opportunity this week to let them know what you’re thinking on a selected topic.

Comments can be expanded to a maximum of 8 sentences.  We can’t wait to get your thoughts on the following topic.


 Is Nicholas Castellanos’ poor stretch of hitting causing you to question his long-term future with the Tigers?   Why or why not?


 

 

 

BASEBALL STOPS WHEN THE ARMY CALLS

By:  Kurt Snyder

On this Memorial Day, it is our duty as Americans to treat the holiday for what it is. To honor those who have fought for our country and protected our freedoms.

Join me in taking a look back at a piece written last year at this time. It is appropriate for this holiday and future Memorial Days to come.  Enjoy your day today!


https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/baseball-stops-when-the-u-s-army-calls/

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, KUDOS & CONCERNS

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

After 47 games (22-25), there are plenty of storylines playing out before our eyes as we approach Memorial Day and head into the summer months.

Saturday’s segment is a day to touch on as many issues as possible. Let’s see what Holly and Kurt have on their minds this week. They don’t share their Saturday topics and it’s only for the readers’ benefit. So, expect a wide array of thoughts.


HOLLY

COMMENT

With the increasing disappointment in the team’s underperformance and visible arguing with players, John Farrell’s job as manager of the Red Sox is in jeopardy. This has led analysts to speculate on who would replace Farrell, but one of them has clearly been living under a rock for the past 4 years. He said that Dave Dombrowski, having a team in “win-now” mode coupled with one of MLB’s highest payrolls, would never hire a rookie manager.

CONCERN

A couple of players in hitting funks is usually to be expected, however when most of your starting lineup is in one, and an extended one, it’s time to start looking for the root cause with one-third of the season already played. The team ranks next-to-last in the AL in batting average, hits, and slugging percentage…12th out of 15 in HRs and runs…and one of the leaders in strikeouts. A good place to start is with Lloyd McClendon.

KUDOS

(File this under “You sometimes find the best information in the most unexpected places.”) In an interview during his participation in Dancing with the Stars (ok, yes, I watch it and not ashamed to admit it), Cubs’ David Ross described his evolution from baseball’s bad boy to one of MLB’s most beloved players (and hero of the 2016 World Series) and gave full credit to Theo Epstein, his boss with both the Red Sox and the Cubs. He said that Theo saw his potential and a long sit-down talk between the two in Boston motivated Ross to change course so he could reach his full potential – and the rest is history.


KURT

COMMENT

It looks like Dave Clark is at it again. Wouldn’t you much rather have him take a risk sending someone home with actual speed than the likes of Miguel Cabrera? Besides setting him up for a potential injury at the plate in a close play, the only real question was if it would even be close at all; which it wasn’t and certainly no surprise to anyone.

CONCERN

Who has been more of a disappointment this season than Nick Castellanos? Offensively, he has regressed. Defensively he has regressed, and I am now questioning the concentration level of just another Tiger, which seems to be going around.

CONCERN

Since Tiger management has clearly put this team on cruise control, how can fans follow this season with any kind of enthusiasm? Secondly, how enthusiastic can the players be? This is a lame duck team waiting to be dismantled and we are only left with the anticipation of what may happen at the trade deadline – am I alone in that regard?

OPEN MIKE!

microphoneIt’s Friday folks, which means it’s your day! This is the day for you to be heard. Today is the one day during the month where you get the opportunity to comment on the Tiger topic of your choosing.

Today 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, pick a topic and let us hear from you. We know there’s a lot on your minds…


 

 

TIGERS NO LONGER WORTH LUXURY TAX

By:  Kurt Snyder

It’s real easy to talk about the team in a negative tone given all the troubles the Tigers are having in Houston. If the team went into this series looking like a contender as Cleveland did last weekend, it would be a different story.

It says a lot about the Indians when they can walk into Houston, during a season where both teams have legitimate title aspirations, and sweep the Astros’ doors off in their own building.

But the Tigers are a different story. It’s during these times that you discover how the flaws are too large to sustain anything positive. They are too large to get on a roll. The flaws are exposed by elite teams, particularly on the road.

And Tiger management knows it. They see it with the same eyes we do. Poor defense loses games. Poor offense loses games. Poor execution. Poor baseball.

When the power light goes on, all things are well and good with the Tigers, but when you shut it down, out come the ghosts, and they are pretty scary, don’t you think?

So as we continue through May and soon head into June, you realize that all the money, the high payroll, the luxury tax penalties the team pays to keep a flawed team afloat, doesn’t make sense anymore. Afloat doesn’t equate to championships. Afloat may mean competitive, but that’s all. And as we have learned, the luxury tax becomes less about luxury the more you are unsuccessful in your attempt to win.

Heading into Houston, you see a team you want to become. Watching the Cubs play at Wrigley opened my eyes to a team and an environment that we should crave. And, of course, Holly’s deep dive into how Theo Epstein built the Cubs makes you hungry for that kind of success. It makes you want your ownership to open their eyes to the process that has made other franchises succeed. You don’t have to forge your own path. You just need to follow the one that exists.

So brace yourself. The flaws and the lapses that we see over and over again should only lead us in one direction. The team may indeed make the playoffs. But they are going to have to do it after selling off some of our favorites at the end of July.

That’s when the best deals are done. That’s when the Tigers will begin to get out from under their malaise. Look at what the Yankees were able to do at one deadline and have now, in one offseason, opened the eyes of their fans to a fresh, new and potentially dominant, new group of talent.

So the Tigers must take the painful step, regardless of where they stand in July. And it will be painful, there is no question about that. You can get attached to a team like this, who can look so exciting and dominant in stretches. But we can’t be blind to the anemic stretches that hold the team back.

So, I am tired of this ride. Sure it seems premature to get this discouraged during 1 series in May. But the signs are all too clear when you face the cream of the crop on the road.

We know the ceiling of this team. We know its potential. And what they are able to give us is nowhere near worth the price the franchise pays for mediocre team results.

The luxury tax is meant to help even the playing field across the league so teams that have the ability to spend frivolously, pay a penalty for that “luxury.”

But the Tigers and ‘luxury’ don’t belong in the same sentence.  Not anymore.

BUILDING A WINNER (PART 2)

By:  Holly Horning

Last week, we explored the evolution of the Chicago Cubs that started with the hiring of President Theo Epstein. Catch it here at:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/05/20/building-a-winner-part-1/

Today, we’re going to dig deeper into Theo’s philosophies and the specifics he introduced to the entire Cubs organization. And unlike most organizations, he didn’t look at the stats first. Theo started with the philosophy of the team, the mindset – and what many would call the corporate culture. And he didn’t like what he saw.

As fans, we are told – and we believe – that baseball players live to play baseball in October. So wouldn’t you be stunned to learn that’s not necessarily the case?

Epstein learned that there were players who actually couldn’t care less if they were in the playoffs. And their reasons were primarily based upon not getting paid for extra days of work beyond their yearly contract, the long season and the desire to get home.

Avoiding this mindset was a crucial cornerstone to developing what Theo calls “Character and Chemistry” – a philosophy where a player’s character and leadership were given significant weight in which players were signed or released. A checklist was given to all of the evaluators (scouts and Front Office) that identified the areas of the player to be explored: how they handled adversity off the field, what their family life was like, how they treated people in everyday life (including when others weren’t watching) and their motivations for playing baseball. Friends, enemies, parents, siblings, teammates, counselors and girlfriends were interviewed. Not mentioned is whether ex-girlfriends were included in this group.

To Theo, it was all about the mix of stats and character that determined who was signed, not just the numbers.

But he also evaluated everyone who worked for the Cubs. Scouts and coaches were evaluated for their work several times a year and the willingness to do what it took, coupled with new philosophies, technology and increased challenges to their jobs were part of the review. All of this was added to their body of work and accomplishments – or lack thereof. In the beginning, there was a lot of turnover.

The medical, training and conditioning staffs also fell under this system. They were tasked directly with overseeing the entire health and safety of the players on and off the field. And their jobs run 365 days/year, not just during the season. Of Theo’s greatest priorities, these departments were required to ensure that every player was in shape upon arrival to spring training. Players understood that they needed to meet certain requirements in order to play the first pre-season games.

It’s interesting to note that Epstein spread the recognition and credit around. Everyone who did their job getting the players to the desired levels, received acknowledgement publicly. Which brings us to another Epstein tenet: “Connection.”

Another “C” word. Theo believed that when everyone is connected to one another whether it be with teammates or anyone else within the organization, it creates a feeling of belonging. A human need often overlooked especially in sports. And the strong ties to studies done that show people who feel like they are truly part of a group go beyond their expected capabilities and push to do better.

But of course, Theo needed a mouthpiece to help get the message out, especially to the players. Someone who believed in the same things and was capable of providing regular encouragement and guidance.

Joe Maddon. But you knew this was coming.

Maddon mirrored his boss in teaching his players to embrace expectations and the pressure that comes with it. He taught them never to quit and helped them understand how to prioritize winning. He knew how to enhance respect of players which, in turn, created a more disciplined and better athlete. A guy who also believed that while stats are important, it’s the heart that wins it in the end.

The heart that was perfectly exemplified in the last game of the 2016 World Series. A game in which the Indians rallied from a 3-run deficit to tie the score in the 9th inning and take the wind out of the Cubs’ sail. At least temporarily. That is until one Cubs player called a team meeting during the rain delay to remind his teammates what this was all about.

And the rest is history. But then you knew this was coming.

TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

It’s been one of the biggest elephants in the room for the Tigers.  We’ve been waiting since the weekend to discuss it. So, Lynn Henning’s brief article in the News on Monday didn’t just now put a bright idea in our heads, just so you know.

The Tigers’ hottest hitter has heads turning all over Major League Baseball. So it’s time to talk about ‘you know what’ and ‘you know when’ in reference to JD Martinez.

As is the norm, Kurt and Holly have not shared their answers to the following question; the best way for our readers to get the best bang for their buck. So let’s address the elephant.


Could a continued big year from JD cause the Tigers to rethink offering him in a trade this season?


KURT

I’ve mentioned this before and I really haven’t gotten over it. I have felt up until now that the Justin Upton signing ranks up there as one of the most irresponsible signings the Tigers have ever made.

Did I say it at the time? No, I didn’t. Sometimes you are influenced by that inner fan that whispers in your ear and says, they know what they are doing, this may be the move that takes your team over the top.

This question today actually brings more questions, an old one and a new one.
Was JD’s future at all considered when they made the Upton signing? Would the Tigers bring JD back even if they hadn’t signed JUp?

Whatever the answers, sadly, the Tigers have made their decision. If they mean what they say about getting younger and leaner, JD is gone and they will have made their biggest outfield investment in the lesser hitter.

JD has become a great hitter; the ability to hit .300, the ability to hit to all fields, and the ability to hit to all fields with tremendous power.

He would be quite the prize for a team at the deadline looking to add enormous punch to their lineup. He would be an even better prize than Yoenis Cespedes was when the Tigers put him on the block and were rewarded with a package that included Michael Fulmer.

If JD were to go on to have his best season, it’s really a good news-bad news story. Given their future franchise aspirations, Martinez is someone who will give them what they need. He will be at the point where he would have the most value. In return, the Tigers will get quality youth and they will save a boat load of money.

They really don’t have a choice. JD has a $20 million price tag on his back, and at 29 years old, the Tigers can no longer play this game. It’s a game of continuing to pay handsomely, while continuing to finish the season losing their last game.


HOLLY

I’d like to think that JD could stay but the signs and new situations continue to say otherwise and there are just too many of them to overcome. A whole lot would have to go right for the team to take a chance on keeping him for the rest of the year because the risks associated with losing would be tremendous and long-lasting.

The team would have to suddenly pull everything together – starting pitching, the return of JZimm, the elimination of injuries and pulling away from the others in their division. Oh, and the bullpen would have to become shut-down. Yeah.

And once you achieve all of that, you have to remember that the Central is one of the weakest divisions and not a true indicator of how the Tigers would perform against some of baseball’s best teams in the playoffs.

Combine this with the evidence that JD and the Tigers are highly unlikely to be partners next year because the move to re-sign JD 2 years ago to an extended contract failed and there have been zero talks since then. Even though Al Avila is the one directly responsible for saving JD’s career, it appears that JD is not willing to extend a “savior’s” or even friend discount. And with the signing of Justin Upton, for over $22 mill/year, JD would want something in the neighborhood, or more.

If he continues to dominate this year, it will only drive the price up on any new contract he would want and we have to remember that Mr. I is no longer in charge. Despite the dire need for a new closer and CFer, the wallet did not open once and all signs point to Martinez heading for greener pastures next year.

But, on the other hand, a great season will make him more desirable to other teams and drive up the quality of prospects the Tigers would receive in exchange.

Are the Tigers willing to roll the dice, all or nothing, keeping JD – knowing that he will be gone after this year? No way, especially given the dire need to replenish the farm system. The July trade deadline is the most opportune moment to get maximum value for a player.

The new CBA agreement is the final nail in the coffin. Gone are the days when you tendered an offer to a player and if they opted for free agency, you had yourself a nice little draft pick compensation but the new agreement would have the Tigers receiving only a sandwich pick.

But the minor leagues are depleted as we’ve seen with the signing of older established players for Toledo. Would the Tigers prefer to get a more dicey single pick or trade JD for a bushel of promising athletes? I think we all know the answer to that one.

But if it’s not the case, and the dice are rolled and the Tigers lose, then we need to be looking at replacing some people in the Front Office instead.