RANDOM THOUGHTS – PART ONE

By:  Holly Horning

I have a habit of collecting tidbits of information about the Tigers and MLB. Tidbits that are interesting and offer a small, yet informative window into the game.

But sometimes those tidbits are too small to write about extensively and they end up sitting in a folder on my computer, waiting to see the light of day.

But no more.

They are way too important and thought-provoking to be sitting in the dark recesses of my Totally Tigers folders. And when they start to gather in numbers, it’s the perfect opportunity to sort them into topics and present them to you.

It’s also the perfect time of year to throw some of these questions out to you. After all, do we really want to discuss the changes in the logo size of the team’s caps or ponder what the players do on the bus during their goodwill tour throughout the state?

So today, let’s address some of the small, but meaty information and questions I’ve gathered over the past couple of months. Today’s blog is focused on management issues. Next week, we’ll cover issues about strategy, former players and finance.

Grab ahold of one of these topics listed below and run with it (as long as it’s 4 sentences for each individual post). Let’s create some back and forth dialog with each other.


1. On the radio the other day, several GMs were laughing about the “good old days” when certain managers had so much power that they were able to call the shots. They specifically mentioned that Jim Leyland would tell Dave Dombrowski which players he needed and gave Dave a shopping list.

2. Is it a coincidence that Detroit is filled with disappointing sports teams which rarely win titles, let alone championships, and go for decades without winning? Is it really due to a collection of owners focused solely on profits or are loyal fans who are easily appeased the real problem?

3. Why is it that many teams fire their managers even when they lead their teams to first place and into the playoffs, but the Tigers consistently hang onto managers despite multiple last place finishes that contained talented rosters?

4. Ron Gardenhire was diplomatically outspoken last year by questioning the effectiveness and lack of improvement of his players’ fielding skills and especially their bat discipline. Is this his way of showing his unhappiness with not being allowed to hire his own coaches? Is it part of a strategy to eventually force management to allow him to make some changes in his coaching staff?

5. Given the increasing public criticism of Al Avila’s hold-nothing-back communication style, why is it that he continues to be so brutally honest and open? Is there no one within ownership and management who is able to convince him to modify his style?


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BIRDS OF A FEATHER DON’T ALWAYS FLOCK TOGETHER

By:  Holly Horning

Poor Al Avila. He just couldn’t catch a break in January.

From his non-stop over-‘splainin’ about the rebuild to the media controversy over trying to trade Nick Castellanos. And now this……

First of all, let’s understand that it’s very unusual for analysts to be harshly critical of specific MLB personnel. Afterall, MLB’s tv and radio feeds are owned by MLB and they have strict control over what is said on the airwaves. Most eye-catching stories are either conveniently ignored or highly sanitized as a result.

But MLB Radio chastised Mr. Avila last week for his handling of the Castellanos issue in which Nick, finally exhausted, asked to be traded sooner rather than later and his agent chimed in about the poor handling of this situation.

And on Friday, different analysts – this time 2 former GMs – went after Al for how he and the rest of the Tigers’ organization have gone about the rebuilding process. In general, you don’t go after one of your own so this is highly unusual.

The rebuilding process has been in the news regularly for the past couple of months. Discussions about the vast number of teams rebuilding and whether all teams claiming that position are actually legitimately doing it or simply trying to save money and using the “R” word as a convenient excuse.

The two former GMs engaged in a lengthy segment about the best ways to rebuild. And in their discussion, they both mentioned Detroit as an example of how not to do it.

Ouch.

They agreed that a team should not have an all-or-nothing approach to rebuilding. Throwing everything into the pot and risking it all. Hoping for success yet knowing that if it doesn’t work out, they will experience the worst case scenario. A scenario that will create a lengthy process towards regenerating the team.

And in this case, they said that the Tigers started the rebuilding process two years too late. That they should have started tearing the team down back in 2015 when it was apparent they were going nowhere. A year in which they finished in last place and more than 20 games back. A year in which they fell below .500 early in the season and never managed to come back.

The team, they claimed should have started selling off their high-priced stars early that summer while their value was still high and before they got older. The longer they waited, the less value these players had and the older they got. They said that if the Tigers had initiated that process then, they would have gotten much better returns and started rebuilding their farm system much more quickly – and with higher quality prospects.

But waiting drove down the return value and made it difficult for Al to trade off his players. Even guys like Justin Verlander. The Tigers had to pay the Astros $16 million to take JV off their hands.

Low returns for JD Martinez, Justin Upton and others were also the result of waiting too long.

Avila has been unsuccessful at trying to trade players like Castellanos and Iglesias for over 2 years now. And now that other teams knew they have the upper hand, Iggy ended up being released without any compensation coming back to the team. Potentially, Castellanos may also be headed down that same path.

Delaying the rebuilding process also slows down the actual rebuild and tacks on years of wandering through the wilderness. Denial of the impending implosion and attempting to keep your hand in to some degree seriously impacts the draft process. Moderate success, that you know will be short-lived, results in lower draft picks that will not aid your team to the degree needed. In essence, you are filling your farm system with guys who will probably not be real difference-makers and will instead keep the rebuild needle stuck in one place.

Simply, this is one reason why the Tigers only have 3 prospects ranked within MLB’s top 100.

This from 2 guys who were major-market GMs with years of experience. They said that the best rebuild is one in which you tear down quickly, reap the rewards of high draft picks and get back in the game much sooner.

And it’s all about how strong the farm system is that is key to rebuilding. Not the Tigers mantra of having to free up payroll and be able to spend again. They said this is a poor excuse that deflects from how sound the decision-making process is within the organization. An excuse that a team uses in order to buy more time and buffer them from the increasing realization that the decision-makers may not be the best candidates for the job.

And the GMs kept going back to the focus on the farm system. How the Tigers should have been addressing theirs at least 3 years before they started. How they should have more top prospects than they do.

The GMs ended the discussion with a warning. A warning about how everyone needs to carefully watch these current prospects and see if they pan out. A warning that involves the failure to develop a successful track record of turning out players who are able to thrive.

And if these minor-leaguers don’t show real tangible progress, the GMs said that is a clear sign that the farm system is not viable and needs overhauling.

How likely is it that the Tigers would take a broom to their minors when they’ve been unable to do it at the MLB level?

It’s one thing for fans to be critical of an organization. It’s expected.

It’s a whole different ballgame when other GMs break their silence and use your team as the example of what not to do. That is not expected.


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TWICE AS NICE

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

While we continue to agonize over another listless year of a Hot Stove League that clearly needs to change its name, our writers still have an interesting Tiger topic to discuss.

Three Tigers are about to enter a pivotal season in their careers.  Any ideas on who they are?

As always, Holly and Kurt have not shared their responses to the topic below in the interests of offering a wide range of perspective. Let’s see what they have cooking this week.


Which player – Michael Fulmer, JaCoby Jones or Nick Castellanos- is under the most pressure to have a successful year?


HOLLY

Nick Castellanos has a reputation of being a solid, talented hitter which will always earn him a spot on a roster. Fulmer’s great first year and some blips due to injuries, not talent, will afford him a little more time to establish himself.

On the other hand, JaCoby Jones has only 1 full season under his belt and not much of a track record – being both blessed and cursed as an outstanding defensive player and also being one of MLB’s most disappointing hitters.

JJ is ranked #1 or #2 in most defensive analyses with a Defensive Runs Saved last year of 24 runs above the average CF in MLB – placing him at #1. He finished second to Mookie Betts in Ultimate Zone Rating which ranks players according to runs saved, arm strength, errors, double plays and range and when you think about it, Jones did it in Comerica National Park while Betts did it in cozy Fenway.

Really, who is the better defender?

Jones is listed by SABR as one of the top 25 defensive players in all of MLB and classified as an “elite” outfielder with excellent speed.

But his hitting is atrocious and without improvement is likely to be the one thing that could derail his MLB career. Daz Cameron has been quickly promoted to AAA so JaCoby is feeling him breathing down his back.

Unfortunately, the Tigers have no one else who is even close defensively to JJ’s skills and it would be a shame if the perfect player for Comerica’s acres of centerfield was removed for someone less athletic who possessed a better bat. Especially if Nick Castellanos and Christin Stewart are manning the corners.


KURT

All 3 of these players have some form of pressure to perform well this season. Michael Fulmer bought himself some more time in Detroit just by enduring yet another injury. But these injuries are stifling his progress and destroying the confidence the Tigers had in him coming off a great start to his career. So is there pressure? You bet.

Nick Castellanos has put together 2 great seasons at the plate, but what continues to drag him down is his defense. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that he has topped out defensively, but that’s where the pressure lies for him. If he could have a better year in right field heading into the trade deadline, he will quickly find himself in a pennant race.

Which leaves us with JaCoby Jones, who stands to have the most to lose if he is not able to break through offensively this season. He has all the tools defensively and on the base paths. He has a fiery personality, is a burner and can really go get it in centerfield. But he will find himself on the outside looking in if he doesn’t make offensive strides in ’19.


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MANIPULATING THE MESSAGE

By:  Holly Horning

He’s a broadcaster…….

No, he’s a special assistant to the GM!

He’s two…. two treats in one! (With apologies to Certs Breath Mints.)

The news that Kirk Gibson has taken a second job with the Tigers came as a little bit of a surprise. But then again, not.

And the news that both Kurt and Holly have been on the same page re the hottest Tiger topics for a week now without even coordinating is even more stunning. Ah, but I digress…..

So how should we feel about the Tigers most recent hire?

For me, I think it serves multiple purposes.

I am on the same page as Kurt re the intangibles Gibby brings to the table. But there is so much more going on.

Let’s start with the other reasons for bringing him on board.

Obviously, there is the baseball knowledge and experience. Kirk has also been, over the years, a short-term coach for the team during spring training.

He joins best buddy Alan Trammell and the two form the nucleus of Avila’s youngest advisors, both clocking in at the spring chicken age of 61. The rest of the advisors are in their late 70’s to 80’s. Nothing like surrounding yourself with advisors who are up-to-date with the latest and greatest trends in baseball.

Gibby, if you remember from some earlier blogs here, is part of the ever-growing FMC. Former Managers Club. An inspirational move by the club to be the first MLB organization to field an entire team of former managers, all with connections to Detroit. Gibby, Tram, Leyland, McClendon, Clark and just recently, Lamont. And maybe someday, Brad Ausmus will join them. (And I really wish I was kidding.)

Maybe Gibby is replacing the other former manager, Gene Lamont, who was part of Leyland’s yearly handshake deal with Dave Dombrowski during his contract negotiations. Lamont was Leyland’s first roommate in the minors and the two became best friends. Lamont was guaranteed a job with the Tigers as long as Leyland was manager and he served as MLB’s oldest (by far) bench coach. Lost on many was that age and injuries prevented him from actually leaving the bench.

So could this be another maneuver by Leyland to bring in his own people? Afterall, he was Gibby’s manager in AAA and also was his skipper in Pittsburg. Oh, and the two have been friends for decades.

Nah, maybe it’s just a coincidence.

But lest I come across as too snarky, maybe this is also a move of compassion and taking care of your friends when they need help. We are all aware of Gibson’s fight with Parkinson’s and his need to stay active and involved as part of the strategy to help him fight this insidious disease.

Maybe part of this decision also includes giving him the security and peace of mind of having health insurance and the financial stability a paycheck affords. Especially important considering that FSD will be sold (after being acquired by Disney who owns ESPN) in the near future and a new owner will most likely be making changes in the broadcasting booth.

It’s not the first time the Tigers have been known to take care of their own.

Speaking of which, part of Kirk’s job will be working with the minor leagues. This way, he gets to see and work with his son, Cam, often.

But the Tigers have also stated that Gibby will “have a hand in community relations.” Nothing like bringing in some of your best and most-beloved players to help soothe the fan base and keep them remembering the good times while trying to forget about the present.

He will be the PR buffer for the team as well as for Al Avila. The wagons are being circled around the GM with the Tigers’ most beloved former players protecting him.

Given all these reasons, there’s yet another reason for the hiring. And it’s the one that is truly of concern.

Having a well-placed and prominent employee of the organization also be one of the team’s broadcasters. We’ve known for years that many of the local reporters are simply extensions of the team’s PR department, but forming this uncomfortably close relationship really brings this to new – and disturbing – levels.

There are a number of broadcasters who cover their former teams. There is only 1 team with a broadcaster who is also an employee of the Front Office.

Any guesses?

Can you say conflict of interest?

Do you really think Al Avila is going to be honest with Gibby in their work together, knowing that whatever he says could wind up on the air? Don’t you think that Al – and others – will suggest to Kirk what topics to cover on tv?

From the Tigers’ mouthpiece to your ears. Direct and filtered for your consumption. Manipulation at its finest.

Don’t be surprised when Gibby’s critical analysis of the team becomes much less frequent and much more gentle. His employment and security may just be riding on it.

Yet despite all these concerns, I think everyone is on the same page in wanting Gibby to thrive in his new position – and in life.


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CANDOR VS. CAPABILITY

By:  Holly Horning

Oh, that poor Tigers Marketing Department. They really have their hands full. Undoubtedly, they are working overtime to mitigate the problems that result in a lack of demand.

Oh, did you think I was referring to the issues concerning the “rebuild?”

I was actually referring to the comments that have been pouring out of our GM’s mouth recently.

Regarding the attempted trade of Nick Castellanos:

“I talked to Nick at the end of last season. Nothing has happened. Quite frankly, there has been no interest, at this point. To be quite frank.”

“There is not a lot of people coming after him right now. It could change in spring training. It could change during the season. I don’t know, but right now, I don’t have anything going on.”

Nothing like talking up your player to generate interest and a higher return. Maybe Al should study at the feet of master Scott Boras who generated interest by talking about “mystery teams” being interested in his players when no one was not.

And then the rebuild. You know, the one that was supposed to take a couple of years, then maybe 3 and finally crickets until the communication dam finally broke?

“Is 2021 the time to start spending some money? I don’t know.”

“Then, hey, do we start spending now? That’s why it’s hard to say — is it 2021, 2022, 2023? I don’t know. Maybe, it’s a gradual build up. I can’t say.”

“The only reason I’m being honest is, because, well, how do you hide this.”

C’mon, ‘fess up. You have to admit that you are reeeeally missing Dave Dombrowski right about now.

In a rare move this week, MLB analysts (including some former GMs) reamed Al Avila for his handling of the Nick Castellanos situation. The too-frank discussion of the need to trade his RFer and how there aren’t any takers. And the frustration boiled over to the player side with Nick asking to be moved now and his agent expressing dismay at the situation.

The analysts, to no surprise, said that this situation should not have been allowed to escape beyond the organization. They said that Al should have kept silent and not have answered anyone’s questions.

And beyond Nick, Avila has now set the bar for fans’ expectations. We’re hearing terms like “nuclear winter” from the media. Worst of all, it appears that the Tigers don’t have a solid vision and list of goals they’d like to meet on a timely basis. They simply “can’t say.”

Just wonderful.

Makes you want to go out and buy season tickets, doesn’t it?

Currently, the Tigers are using up their vat of goodwill that was established during a decade of winning. But how long will it last?

They have finished each of the last two years with 98 losses. How many more years of 90+ losses will fans accept?

And how many more years of 90+ losses will keep a GM employed?

If you hark back to the day Avila was hired, he was given a 5-year contract. The Ilitches explained that those number of years were necessary in order to successfully implement a new plan and see results.

Three of those years have now been used up. Over half the time. And can we say that the team has turned the corner and starting to come around? Or, is the team still tearing down or even simply trying to find its way?

I think we know the answer to that question.

Al Avila has only 2 more years left on his contract. And he’s now saying this rebuild could go another 5 years.

Where will the team be after 2020 when his contract expires?

And that will be the biggest clue about where this organization is headed. And how fast.

If the Tigers are starting to perform better and have a certain number of positions filled for the long-haul, chances are good that Avila will get an extension as GM.

But if the needle hasn’t moved much – or at all – what should happen?

Should Al still get an extension in order to continue to oversee this long rebuild? Or should someone with a different strategy be brought in?

And if the team is not visibly better in 2 years, and Avila ends up inking another GM contract, this will not be good news.

The onus then will be on the owner.

Uncaring? Uninterested? Not willing to spend the extra time and money finding a replacement and (hopefully) an entirely new Front Office?

Or, content with the dual revenue streams of money flowing his way that are accorded to losing teams?

Or maybe, just maybe, he’s deciding to leave that decision up to a new owner.

Time will tell.


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BUCKLE UP

By:  Holly Horning

The recent update about Miguel Cabrera and the ruling in his child support case has once again reminded me that I continue to ride the Miggy rollercoaster.

A thrills-and-chills ride that takes one up to the stratosphere as you admire his superb playing skills but then plummets you down to the depths of despair with new reports of his personal behavior.

And this is the dilemma. How can you admire someone who practices loathsome behavior that goes against your own moral compass?

Is it possible to separate the two sides of this man and watch him with admiration while totally ignoring how he has conducted his personal life?

For me, it is once again a struggle determining exactly how I should feel about Miggy. And it is getting harder and harder to rekindle that love after each incident. That roller coaster has run up to the pinnacle of the tracks 3 times now and back down all in the space of 8 short years.

It all started in 2009 with the disappointing division tie-breaker game that saw the Tigers lose and for fans to find out that Miguel placed a priority on partying with the competition until 6AM on the day of that final game. Instead of getting rested and ready, Miggy was being ar-rested for intoxication and suspected domestic assault.

And then came 2011 when he was once again arrested for a myriad of major mistakes. A DUI that nearly resulted in himself and 2 other vehicles barely avoiding 2 separate head-on collisions. Threatening a restaurant manager and patrons. Yelling that he’d blow up the building. Drinking in front of police officers while behind the wheel. Resisting arrest. And all in one night.

Those were very dark days for many Tiger fans.

But then we saw Miggy make serious efforts to turn it all around. A period of stability that showed him working hard at resisting his demons while coupled with some of his best, most productive years. And it was during this time that many of us softened our opinions of him.

Who doesn’t like a great story of redemption? Who doesn’t appreciate tales of hard work to get back on track? Shouldn’t we feel more positive about those who work hard and overcome obstacles in order to be their very best?

The roller coaster, it appeared, had taken us back up to the top especially after Cabrera won the Triple Crown and MVP.

But then 2017 happened. We all saw it. Heck, we even wrote about it in this very blog. There was something wrong with Miggy. He wasn’t engaged. He wasn’t smiling. His eyes looked dead every time he stepped up to the plate. And he had the worst year of his career.

It turned out that it was the first rumblings of what was going to be a 2-year legal odyssey that obviously impacted his mental and emotional states while taking his concentration off of the game.

And for those who believe that personal lives should remain private, it is a valid point unless it slops over into your professional one and negatively impacts your performance level, your teammates, fans and the organization that signs your checks.

So it now appears that after believing Miggy had successfully put his demons in the closet between 2012 and 2017, he really had only successfully hidden them from public view. The proof is offered in the form of 2 children he had with a woman not his wife.

So can we really say that Miggy had turned around his personal life? That he had adopted admirable principles of behavior? Or did he simply channel some bad behaviors into different ones?

Have the demons really disappeared?

I ask this question not to rehash the past, but to apply it to the future because life for Miggy is not going to get easier. Actually, it will get harder. Much harder.

Cabrera now is on the wrong side of 30. Increasing injuries and loss of playing time. And when you don’t have the structure of playing ball with regular practices and game times, it is much easier to get in trouble. You don’t have managers, coaches and executives keeping an eye on you. You don’t have that needed structure.

The Tigers are now a team of relative unknowns and dubious talent with no clear end in sight. How is Miggy going to react to being on a team where everyone else is much younger and without a track record? How will he react to the mixed crowd reception when he appears at the plate? How will he feel about the silence and the empty seats? The lack of meaningful games?

How will he feel about a drop in his stats as he gets older? How will the fans feel, especially given past expectations of his performance and the fact that he holds MLB’s second most expensive contract? Big money begets big performance.

How will Miggy be able to handle all of this?

Once you’ve tasted the top, it’s hard to adjust to disappointment and dashed hopes.

There are players who have done it very well, but they were highly disciplined individuals in both work and life. Miggy is not this type of guy –and it now appears, never was. Like some of the greats of the game, including Babe Ruth, he has a very hard time managing himself. From the simple stuff like managing his weight in the off-season to setting priorities and managing his personal relationships.

And maybe this is a dialog for MLB to have amongst themselves as they address support systems for young players. Miggy was signed at the age of 16 to play professional baseball. Can you imagine allowing your son, a sophomore in high school, to leave home? Even to leave his own country? Would he have been better at navigating his personal life if he had his parents around to help guide him?

Unfortunately, there is a troubling pattern. There always was one even though we couldn’t see it at times.

Make no mistake, it will probably continue in one form or another.

And that is a sad thing to realize. To see all that talent tempered by a pattern of bad choices.

The Tigers already had one great player who awed us with amazing talent and helped bring a ring to Detroit. But his life was also marred by bad, and illegal, decisions. And as a result, his legacy was destroyed.

Let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.


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MISPLACED LOYALTY

By:  Holly Horning

It happened again.

Another former Tiger pitcher extolling the virtues of his pitching coach. Sadly, not the Tigers’ coach.

Anibal Sanchez was interviewed on the radio the other day about his turnaround. The one with the Braves in which he finished with a .538 winning record and an ERA of 2.83. In short, he credited the Braves pitching coach with seeing problems in his delivery that no one else did. Diplomatically, he did not mention Detroit.

Anibal joins Justin Verlander in lauding praise on talented coaches and organizations who helped them become better pitchers. Or at least resurrect their careers.

And when you’ve got 2 pitchers, both formerly with the same team and in less than 1 year, essentially saying that their new teams have better coaches, there is a problem. Not to mention the fact that both insinuated that their careers struggled under their former coaches.

They are talking about Rich Dubee who spent 2106 and 2017 as the Tigers’ pitching coach.

Would you be surprised to know that Rich worked under Jim Leyland when they were with the Marlins?

Would you be surprised to know that Brad Ausmus said he hired Dubee because both Leyland and Gene Lamont were very instrumental in lauding Dubee’s skills and convincing him to hire Rich?

Would you also be surprised to know that Rich had been fired by the Phillies (not an uncommon event, btw) and had not been able to land another job in MLB for over 2 years until his former boss, Leyland, came calling?

This loyalty thing has gotten way out of hand.

Sanchez, the former ERA king, spent 2 years working with Dubee and ended up with .350 and .300 win/loss percentages. Two ERAs that hovered near 6.00 and 6.50. His worst years ever. And last year with the Braves, he ended the year with .538 and a 2.83 ERA. In fact, all his stats looked much better across the board.

And, btw, he was being paid by the Tigers to do that for another team.

Many of the Tigers’ coaches go back decades with each other. Some to other organizations and even all the way back to the minor leagues when they were players. And as I’ve written previously, most of them have a connection to Jim Leyland.

They got their jobs because of Leyland. They hung onto their jobs because of Leyland. And when they left and got fired by another team, they came back to the Tigers in their old position.

Someone’s pulling the strings.

Look at the hitting coach who played for Leyland in Pittsburg and then became the hitting coach there before coming to Detroit when Jim became manager. He’s now spent 12 years in that position and continues despite several years of coaching his players to some of the worst hitting stats in MLB.

Yes, the loyalty factor is a huge concern. But most importantly, the quality factor looms large. The last time a Tiger coach was hired away for another team was decades ago with Terry Francona.

We read about how other teams are raiding each other’s organizations. But not the Tigers.

And that is telling.

And when the Tigers need a new coach? They hire unemployed ones. Or ones who have been fired by other teams.

Not lofty aspirations, are they?

And when you don’t value quality, or hold employees to performance standards, you’re going to have problems.

You’re going to waste talent.

And it’s a head scratcher when you have the vast amount of talent the Tigers had even just a couple of years ago and don’t match it in coaching, managing or in your brain trust. Instead of hiring top coaching talent to go with your stars, you go cheap and hire re-treads. Or friends.

And when you are blinded by loyalty and friendship, you don’t see what is apparent to many others. You end up putting the blame on a pitcher and cutting him from the team, paying him $5 mill just to walk away.

Instead of hanging onto the money and talent and finding another solution. I mean, really, how much do top pitching coaches earn? Certainly not millions of dollars.

If Anibal had another pitching coach in Detroit those last couple of years, what could he have done? What could the team have done?

We could also ask the same questions about the Tigers offense during that same time period.

What could have been.

What should have been.

And certainly no one understands this better than Ron Gardenhire who, as a veteran manager, was not allowed to hire 5 of his 9 coaches. He inherited them.

What a surprise. Not.


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NC TO THE DC

By:  Holly Horning

Relax folks, the title of this blog has nothing to do with solving math equations……

…but it has a lot to do with solving two teams’ problems.


At the time this blog went live, baseball was reporting that the Washington Nationals were now highly unlikely to re-sign Bryce Harper. We know things can change on a dime, especially when Scott Boras gets involved with an elderly owner who desperately wants to win a ring. Detroit fans may know a little something about this…..

But, in consideration that Harper appears not to be returning to DC, one analyst said that if that truly becomes the case, then “the Nats need to fill that right field hole with a big bat.”

Uh, paging Mr. Avila! Paging Mr. Avila!

Please call the Nats GM, Mike Rizzo, immediately!

The Nats need Nick.

Nick is the perfect fit.

No, really.

Both Castellanos and Harper are similar in more ways than you think.

First of all, the hitting. Both had very similar slash lines last year. But Harper hits in a smaller park and Nick had no protection at all in the lineup. Think what he could do in a smaller stadium surrounded by established hitters.

Then there’s the defense. Both ranked last in their leagues in RF.  Thus, there’s no need to worry about Nick’s glove.

They are the same age. The only real difference is the salary. Bryce is asking for upwards of $300 million for 10 years. Nick is now making just under $10 million for the coming year and it gives him the chance to try out the Nats to see if they fit for his upcoming free agency.

The DC location also puts him closer to home where he shares custody of his son.

And it reunites him with Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez.

But Nick would bring value added to the Nats. Qualities that have been missing with this team and the lack thereof attributed to their reason for losing last year.

Leadership.

It was often mentioned that the Nats sat in their clubhouse – silent and keeping to themselves. No interaction with each other at all. And not one single player stepped up to take charge and help build a true team.

Castellanos was the point man for the Tigers last year. He took over the leadership role and was said to have been successful – and popular.

He also has the highest work ethic. The Tigers moved him from SS to 3B to LF, back to 3B and then to RF. He never once complained. In fact, he is on record multiple times saying he would do whatever the Tigers wanted if it helped the team.

Wouldn’t you want this guy on your team? Especially if you currently lacked this type of guy?

Nick would be the glue for the Nats.

And the fact that Castellanos is not represented by Boras is a definite plus. You see, the Nats are way in over their heads with salary. Seriously over their heads.

They are going into their third year of exceeding the luxury tax, incurring substantially higher penalties with every year.  And they are expected to go over that same threshold the following 2 years.

We’ve now seen them sign 2 players, including Max, to delayed salaries that extend beyond retirement. And this was done because they don’t have the money to pay today.

Part of the reason is that the Nats, unlike most of baseball, do not have a good media contract. As baseball’s newest team, the Baltimore Orioles fought their formation because it would impact their fan base. The Orioles are majority owners of the MASN network and the 2 teams have been locked in legal battles since 2012 over millions of dollars the Nats believe belong to them.

Without Boras as his agent, Nick would more likely return to DC and sign a team-friendly contract. And don’t think that he wouldn’t jump at the chance to move to a team that is in serious contention for October baseball.

What we now need to wait for is for Harper to be signed. Boras historically always waits until very late in the Hot Stove season to make deals. But once that’s done, we should expect the rest of the free agent dominos to fall.

And what do the Tigers get? Knowing that they will not extend Nick’s contract, they risk losing him and getting nothing in return. The Nats have a decent farm system with 3 of MLB’s top prospects.

One can only hope this comes together.

Stay tuned because what happens to Bryce Harper may mean very good things for the Tigers.


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REWRITING HISTORY

By:  Holly Horning

You know how they say that given time, our perception of a President will change based upon history and the comparison with his fellow brethren? The same is true with baseball owners and GMs.

Let’s start with the case of Mike Ilitch. To many today, he was beloved. But back in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s? Er, not so much. In his first 14 years of ownership, the Tigers had below .500 records 13 of those years. Including 3 years of 100+ losses that included a record-breaking one the team is still trying to live down.

But then he started to spend and fans loved him. The Tigers started to contend and all was right with the world. Fans got spoiled from all the splashy signings and a roster filled with stars.

And it stayed that way mostly until 2015 when he released GM Dave Dombrowski as the window for winning was starting to draw to a close. And Mr. I’s reputation stayed largely intact until the rebuild started impacting the team and fans started questioning how much the owner was at fault. It’s tough when your favorite players go on to wear other uniforms, especially when they didn’t achieve the desired goals.

We read now how much Mr. I and Dave bumped heads. How Dombrowski had to navigate the poor signings forced upon him by the owner. We questioned the signings of Prince Fielder, Jordan Zimmermann and others which resulted in multiple players being moved from their normal positions in order to accommodate a new star. Not something most GMs would entertain doing.

We wonder how wise Mr. I’s decision was in filling the team with stars. Did his marketing strategy to put fannies in the seats override and/or clash with the priority of winning it all?

And the biggest question of all…..How much blame for not winning that ring can be placed upon Mike Ilitch?

For some, his reputation has come full circle.

Many may not even have considered this until GM Dave Dombrowski took his new team, the Red Sox, to the World Series in just his third year. When someone can’t meet the goals for 14 years with one team, but can do it quickly with another, you have to think about the factors – and people – involved.

When Dombrowski came to the Tigers in the early 2000’s, he was considered the savior – in comparison to those he was replacing. He quickly broomed much of the Front Office and brought in many of his former employees from the Marlins.

Five years later, the Tigers started to win – and win big. Fans were enamored of Dave for his signings and spectacular trades.

But despite a couple of World Series appearances, and a number of division titles, he could never get it done. The bloom started to come off the rose for many right about the time Brad Ausmus was brought on board.

And it was telling that with his second 3-year extension, Mike Ilitch had zero meetings with Dave during his last contract year. In most cases, if you can’t do the job in 14 years, you’ve been given more time than most others would have been given.

The criticism about Dombrowski started to gain traction. He was criticized for not building a bullpen, for not having enough defensive muscle – and who can forget, hiring a rookie manager with no managerial experience whatsoever to take a team with their World Series window closing.

But Dave’s star is rising once again with his work in Boston. He’s now done everything he was criticized for in Detroit. And he finally won that World Series ring. Twice now with 2 out of his 3 teams.

And you have to question why he was able to win two World Series with the Marlins and Red Sox and not with the Tigers.

So naturally, we now have to ask how much interference Mr. I contributed. How many signings did he force on Dave? Did he only want to spend his money on stars instead of investing in relatively boring relievers who would save games in the playoffs?

We also have to ask which one of the two were responsible for those monster contracts and extensions given to Fielder, Zimmermann, Verlander – and Miggy. Contracts that now serve as albatrosses around the rebuilding neck. Contracts that have created immense inflexibility and resulted in fire sale level trading and non-tendering of most of the recognizable faces left on the team. Creating a situation that is painful to fans and now generating bad feelings towards both the former owner and GM.

And now, there is Al Avila. Reviled at first for the perception that he stole Dave’s job. Now, disliked for all of the disappointing trades and tearing down of the team. He’s got the hardest part of the job. A painful, unglamorous duty of demolishing the product and quality before he can rebuild.

But what if Avila’s strengths are what the Tigers need the most? His strength is in scouting and he’s the first GM in decades to care about the farm system and rebuilding it. He was the first to push for analytics and is expanding the department on a yearly basis.

Maybe he is the guy who will finally take the Tigers into the 21st Century.

There is nothing splashy about his work. There is nothing we can currently point to and get excited. Unlike Dave, maybe Al has more steak to his former boss’s sizzle.

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, Mr. I’s reputation will continue to change as the Tigers go through their growth pains and potentially a new owner takes over.

Dave’s legacy will also change as he continues with Boston and potentially gets them another ring.

This rebuild, if it is indeed a real and timely one, will tell us more about who these 3 men really are. And it may not be what many fans currently believe.


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PARTNERSHIPS OVER PRODUCT


By:  Holly Horning

This past Monday, MLB announced that they set another yearly record for revenues. Obviously, it makes MLB very happy as well as the 30 shareholders who get to claim a piece of this pot.

But the news isn’t making baseball players thrilled. And when fans find out the real story, it’s not going to make them happy at all.

You see, these revenues aren’t coming from what is actually happening on the field. It’s coming from products, not play.

The reality is that baseball attendance fell last year. The sport is losing its grip on fans and fewer are showing up for games. Don’t believe the spin about it being due to the bad weather.

MLB players are finding that the gap between their share of the profits and what owners receive is only widening. And this gap is big enough that it may eventually end up creating a work stoppage after the 2021 season when the current CBA expires.

But let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Because the entire world of baseball finance is about to turn fans on their heads.

First of all, it’s important for fans to understand how their teams think. Owners place the priority on maximizing their profits as best they can. And they will choose this venue over putting a winning team on the team almost every time.


For a quick tutorial, check this out:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/its-about-the-money-honey/

Unbelievably, owners also get rewarded for their team’s poor performance with multiple streams of revenue given to them by MLB. This additional income offers no incentive to field a better team. In fact, putting a winning team on the field is actually disadvantageous to owners. Why spend more money adding talent when you can tank and rake in bigger bucks?

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2019/01/03/income-or-incentives/

Let’s add on with the latest trends. Player salaries are going down, fewer free agents are being signed and team payrolls overall are significantly trending downward. One third of teams announced in 2018 that they were in “rebuilding” mode.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. Owners don’t want to spend anything more than needed as a blog this week spelled out:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2019/01/07/contracts-and-contending/


So with this many teams not contending, it’s no surprise that attendance went down this year. There weren’t a whole lot of teams that inspired watching – especially at the prices these teams charge to attend games.

(Warning! You may want to sit down before reading the rest of this blog….)

And you may be shocked to learn that MLB and each individual team no longer need to depend upon fan attendance. They’ve got so many other ways to keep those revenue streams flowing. Profits now are no longer dictated by the play on the field. Owners no longer see fielding a winning – and entertaining – team as something they need to do in order to maximize profits.

But fans continue to believe that if their team tanks, and the seats are empty, that owners will be forced to put a better product on the field. Unfortunately, that’s no longer true. Owners are getting the vast majority of their revenue from “non-player sources.”

MLB has gotten adept at selling itself. Most of their money this past year came from selling BamTech shares (technology that allows access to content through electronic devices) for several billion dollars (so far as they still own some remaining shares) which has lined each owner’s pockets with approximately $100 million to date.

As if that wasn’t enough, MLB earned millions from partnering with foreign countries (like Korea) and other corporations. And then there are the partnerships with gambling-related organizations……

Owners now need earth movers in order to collect all this money. The same money that baseball players will never share in and will be a huge bone of contention as their association tries to negotiate with owners for the next CBA agreement. This might be the very first time we’ve felt sorry for the players and their agents.

And if that’s not enough, there’s the tv money, too. Broadcast deals that range from 10 – 30 years. MLB gets billions for signing off on the rights that expire as late as 2040. Money that comes in whether the teams are competitive or not. No wonder we always seem to see those infamous Yankees-Red Sox games being broadcast on national tv regularly instead of a contest between the Tigers and Orioles.

It’s easy money. And it’s pretty much free money. And if you were an owner, you probably wouldn’t care much about the product you put on the field knowing that this turnstile of cash was constantly dumping money in your bank account without you having to even lift a finger.

Your side businesses are keeping you very profitable, thank you very much. Just look at former owners like Jeff Loria and Frank McCourt who ran their respective teams into the ground and left baseball with huge financial windfalls.

Which brings us to the fans. We are definitely at the bottom of the heap. We’re seeing a poorer product on the field and getting scalped with the prices charged at the games. Best described by Miracle Max’s quote from The Princess Bride, “ Why don’t you give me a nice papercut and pour lemon juice on it?”

Owners are negating the lack of attendance by getting more bucks out of those who show up. Adding better seats, more restaurants and experiences and overall enhancing the “luxury” of the baseball experience is successfully squeezing more money out of fewer fans.

Attendance doesn’t really matter anymore.

And sadly, fans are losing their voices – and their importance to MLB. They’ve lost their leverage.

The bottom line is that owners no longer have a viable reason to put a solid team on the field. Why would they? It would mean having to spend more money. And it’s ideal that they can sit back and still reap millions upon millions of dollars. For doing nothing.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that recent reports show that half of the American League teams aren’t trying to be competitive or even try to improve their organizations for 2019. And these same reports also point to the new role of Front Offices – maximizing profitability. Not finding the best talent with an eye on winning.

It is a scary course of action by MLB and ownership. No longer caring about the overall fan base will eventually come back to bite them. Drive the fans away and eventually your side business partners no longer want to do biz with you. Contracts and relationships will disappear because the fan base has gone away and it’s no longer a profitable strategy for outside organizations.

And that’s why MLB needs to be concerned, very concerned with the news that attendance was down. Fans no longer care about the game the way they did even a couple of years ago.

It’s just a question as to whether baseball will see this before it is too late.


Totally Tigers loves your comments!  But please remember that responses are only published if they address today’s topic, are respectful and do not exceed the maximum 3-4 sentence response length.  All rules are at:  https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/commentsrules/.