(with apologies to Charles Dickens)
It is their last year before major rebuilding must be done. Their team has the oldest average age in MLB with most of their stars now merely shells of their former selves.
And in anticipation of the major work that needed to be done, they brought in a new President of Baseball Operations, Farhan Zaidi, to introduce new ideas to their team and re-invigorate them much as he did with his former team, the LA Dodgers.
But then something started to happen. Something horrible. They started winning.
The San Francisco Giants went on a prolonged winning streak and rose above .500 and into second place. Fans were excited. Players were excited.
And expectations grew, especially as their manager, future Hall-of-Famer, Bruce Bochy is retiring after this year. Via social media, there is an increasing segment of Giants’ fans who want their team to go for it one last time.
It is a tough decision when you run a team. You risk angering and potentially alienating the fan base if you don’t give them what they want.
Reports have had the Giants wavering on their direction. Reports that also include them, labeled as baseball’s top sellers for this trade season, holding off and potentially becoming buyers in an attempt for that last final push to win.
And this team is eerily similar to another team from 2016. Guess which one…..
This was all under discussion the other day on MLB Radio between a collection of former GMs. And it was one GM who neatly summarized why the Giants absolutely must start selling in earnest.
He said, “(sic) Hopefully, they remember what happened to the Tigers back in 2016 when they waited too long to sell and added years to their rebuild as a result.”
This GM went on to discuss the Tigers and how they created a horrible situation for themselves by not fully committing to a rebuild.
As we know, the Tigers’ rebuild (or “tear down” if you prefer) officially started in July 2015 with the selling off of David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and others in exchange for young, promising players who were expected to be part of the resurrection. Even Al Avila, in his first months, admitted that the team was rebuilding, although he didn’t use those exact words.
But then in the off-season, something happened. The Tigers changed course abruptly. They signed Jordan Zimmerman, Mike Pelfrey and Justin Upton.
This was also the last year for Mike Ilitch. It’s not unreasonable to believe that he decided to try to push this team forward one last time and changed direction mid-stream.
And this time period is when the former GMs agreed that the Tigers made a huge mistake. That they waited too long to rebuild and then didn’t fully commit to the rebuild they started. Also adding that they didn’t move fast enough.
In 2016, they were only in first place a grand total of 7 days, finishing 8 games out of first place. The GMs said it was evident that the team was not going to achieve their goal and yet, they continued to press forward. They kept all their players despite having to know they were at great risk of botching the initial rebuild.
As a result of this strategy change, the Tigers lost time, increased the length of a rebuild, wasted player potential and made it more difficult to trade expensive talent that had also grown one year older. They rolled the dice on players who had great years and should have been traded at the height of their value.
The GMs pointed to how hard it has been to trade their players since and the smaller returns they have received as a result. That is, for the players they have actually been able to trade.
Let’s go back to the end of the 2015 year when these GMs suggested the Tigers should have been busy trading talent during the off-season.
– Miguel Cabrera hit .338 with an OPS of .974.
– Ian Kinsler had the most hits of any player and hit .296.
– Jose Iglesias had a BA of .300.
– J. D. Martinez had a team-leading 38 HRs and 132 RBIs.
– Victor Martinez had solid offensive stats.
– Pitching that year, both starting and relief, was mostly abysmal with only David Price (who ended up being traded) and Alfredo Simon (but just barely) over .500.
SUMMARY – The Tigers had the opportunity to trade all 5 of these players, who had solid, often career-high stats, but chose to keep all five. We’ll also recognize that Miguel Cabrera’s contract was and is the biggest obstacle, even while he was producing great numbers. But for this year and next, there was a chance he could have been traded. Today, he is absolutely untradeable.
Now, let’s look at 2016:
– Miggy had his last healthy year, hitting .316 with 38 HRs and 108 RBIs.
– Ian Kinsler had one of his best years ever – hitting .288 with 28 HRs and 83 RBIs.
– Jose Iglesias’ stats had started their pattern of reduced production.
– Nick Castellanos, in two-thirds of a season, hit .285 with 18 HRs and 58 RBIs.
– J. D. Martinez’s production went down somewhat with 22 HRs and 68 RBIs.
– Victor Martinez had a great year with a BA of .289 and 27 HRs and 86 RBIs.
– Justin Upton had 31 HRs and 87 RBIs.
– A new pitching coach helped the starters that year with Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer having solid years. Seven relievers had winning records.
SUMMARY – This was the final year to try to trade Miggy, who had one of his very best years. Kinsler, VMart and Upton had terrific years and their value was at the highest levels. Castellanos and Martinez had solid years, somewhat diminished by injuries, but still very marketable.
The Tigers chose to trade no one, despite never seriously contending for the entire year. And this is where those GMs criticized them for not tearing down as much as possible. It was agreed that the team waited 1- 2 years too long.
Now, for 2017…..
– James McCann had one of his best years with 13 HRs and 49 RBIs.
– Miguel Cabrera had the first of his bad years, hitting .249 with an OPS of .748.
– Ian Kinsler regressed somewhat with 22 HRs and 52 RBIs.
– Jose Iglesias’ OPS dropped to .657.
– Nick Castellanos had a great year with 26 HRs, 101 RBIs and .272 BA.
– Justin Upton hit 28 HRs and 94 RBIs.
– J. D. Martinez played only one-third of a season.
– Victor Martinez’s offense dropped off significantly with only 10 HRs and 47 RBIs.
– Pitching regressed significantly with only Justin Verlander above .500 and 3 relievers just barely above .500.
– This would have been the year to trade McCann while his value was at its highest, instead of non-tendering him a year later.
– Miggy officially became absolutely untradeable and his contract will be an albatross for years to come.
– The Tigers waited too long to trade Kinsler, VMart and Iglesias, who regressed offensively.
– Castellanos, they say, became tradeable at the end of the year, but no takers were found.
– JV, JD and Upton were traded, with the latter two having regressed somewhat. Conceivably, they would have pulled in better prospects if traded a year earlier.
And on a side note, on another MLB morning radio show, a Boston beat writer came on to discuss J. D. Martinez’s potential opt-out clause. He brought up J.D.’s trade to Arizona by Detroit and mentioned that the Red Sox had actually made a better offer to the Tigers for him, but that Detroit won’t do business with Dombrowski and instead accepted the lower offer from the Diamondbacks. (You are now officially permitted to grab pitchforks, tar and feathers.)
All of this supports the GMs’ theory that the Tigers waited too long to rebuild. That they should have continued the tear down Dave Dombrowski started towards the end of 2015 as well as the trading into the 2016 season. Instead, they hung onto players and signed Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton instead.
They mentioned how strange it was to start a tear down and then a couple months later, do a 180 degree turn and start signing stars again.
It was agreed that 2016 was the best year for the trades to happen while player values were at their highest and trades would have more easily happened. The next year, 2017, turned out to be too late. The Tigers got very little in return for JV, JD, Kinsler and Upton.
And when you wait too long, other teams know that. They know you are desperate to shed salary and they get the upper hand as a result. When you trade earlier, you have the luxury of more negotiating time in order to get a better deal. Teams know that you’re not completely backed into the corner and are more likely to give you a better return.
As a result of their slow and delayed rebuilding strategy, the Tigers were unable to unload any more of their top earners last year. Nick Castellanos has been sitting on the market for 2 years now. They got no offers for James McCann, Jose Iglesias and Alex Wilson. Instead, those 3 were non-tendered with the Tigers receiving nothing in return. And the same situation could happen again after this season.
All of this makes us think about that adage where it is said a band-aid should be ripped off all at once. So quick that you don’t feel as much pain and you can move forward much more quickly. Instead, it appears the Tigers are still trying to peel it off. It still hurts and will for a long time to come.
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