SINKING SHIP OR SEEKING NEW OPPORTUNITIES?

By:  Holly Horning

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the clues that would start to appear over the winter. Clues that would tell us in which direction the Tigers were headed. Clues that would tell us more about whether the team was simply tearing down, rebuilding or getting ready for a sale.


https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2018/10/21/clues-to-use/


And less than a week after the World Series concluded, we have our first ones.

Al Avila’s top 2 lieutenants, David Chadd and Dave Littlefield are interviewing for positions with other teams.

These are the guys who are in charge of implementing Avila’s rebuilding vision and plans.

Granted, it’s always good to be ambitious and want to elevate your professional standing. But in this particular case, and during this particular time, it’s a little curious.

In MLB, a team has to grant another team permission to interview an employee. For years, both Mr. I and Dave Dombrowski refused other teams’ requests to talk employment with Tigers’ employees. But now, things have changed.

Normally, it wouldn’t be suspicious if one executive became a candidate for a position. But two of them? Two of the top 3 executives? More than likely, something is going on.

Especially when you consider that both Daves have interviewed for GM positions with two of the most dysfunctional organizations in MLB. The Mets and Orioles. Littlefield was turned down by NY, btw.

It’s one thing to seek employment. It’s another when you are willing to leave the familiar and take on the chaos and less-than-ideal working conditions of another organization.

The Orioles in particular. A once-proud team with the owner’s sons now running the business and universally described as clueless. A team in which their former GM, Dan Duqette, tried to escape his contract and flee to Toronto several years ago until the owner went to court to force him back. And his manager, Buck Showalter, also tried to find a legal way to exit.

I mean, has this ever happened with another team? It’s really bad when it comes down to this.

There has to be a compelling reason for both VPs, not just one, who are willing to jump ship into these uncertain and troubled waters.

It’s not likely that they are being pushed out given their long history, going back decades with both Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila. And they have instrumental roles in helping Al rebuild the roster. Avila would not put himself in this position at this time, jeopardizing his own job as well.

It’s probably more likely that they want to flee. The question to ask is why?

Do they simply not want to be part of the rebuilding process?

Do they see the resources and talent currently available and believe they will not be able to meet the goals of becoming competitive for quite a while?

Are they unhappy with the rebuilding plan?

Do they see Al Avila as GM-for-life with no upward career path for them?

Do they believe that Al Avila’s contract will not be renewed in less than the 2 years remaining so they are looking for new opportunities now?

Are they unhappy with the organization ever since Mr. I passed and Dave Dombrowski (their long-time boss) left?

Has Chris Ilitch asked them to make significant cuts to their departments that will make their jobs harder to do?

Or do they see signs that the team will be sold in the near future and a new owner will bring in his own people to replace them?

There has to be some compelling reason for them to find it desirable to desert one ship for another that is having visible problems.

This is the first time we have experienced anyone within the Tigers’ organization wanting to leave voluntarily. The Tigers  tend to offer lifetime employment as we painfully know.

But if you believe this is a good thing that may be happening, be careful for what you wish. Is it better to keep those veteran executives in their positions or potentially promote their underlings into jobs where their first test is the most challenging?

The Tigers rarely bring in outsiders and it is unlikely that Chris Ilitch would expend the vast amount of money it takes to find, recruit, interview, hire and train to fill these positions.

What we do know is that the entire Front Office has 1 – 1.5 years left to prove that they can show measurable progress in rebuilding the team. If that is indeed the goal.


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MANAGING THE MANAGERS

By:  Holly Horning

We are now living in an era where the game of baseball is changing and evolving more rapidly than ever. From all of the new stats that more accurately describe the value and habits of a player to the analytics departments that churn out information and strategy.

And it’s that latter group which has impacted the role of the manager. They, too, are changing before our eyes.

The older managers who worked their way up through the minor leagues are becoming extinct. Replaced by guys who are much younger and only just recently retired from playing the game. Their post-playing resumes are rather short but almost all of them have a coaching background of some kind within MLB. (Not to be confused with a certain manager who had no managing background whatsoever when he was hired the first time.)

In most cases, one would believe that these new managers should have much more extensive managing backgrounds. But some of the most successful ones this year don’t. Alex Cora – 1 year as Houston’s bench coach. Aaron Boone – no managerial or coaching experience but he comes from baseball royalty and grew up watching his dad manage in MLB.

Gabe Kapler is also one of those “new guys” who came from the Front Office, not the dugout.

It appears that everything about the managerial role is changing.

Not so long ago, the manager was the top dog in charge of everything that happened in the clubhouse, in the dugout and on the playing field. And he was paid handsomely to do so. Approximately 5 years ago, the average skipper’s salary per year was approximately $3 mill.

Today, there are only 4 out of 30 managers who make more than $1.5 mill – Bruce Bochy, Terry Francona, Joe Maddon and Don Mattingly. Two others, Mike Scioscia and Buck Showalter, were also in that group until just several weeks ago. On average, they were each making $4 – $6 million per year.

If you take those salaries away, the average managerial salary today is less than $1 million per year.

So what’s going on?

Their job description is being dumbed down in many cases.

Most MLB teams are removing much of the power and influence assigned to managers and putting it elsewhere. To be exact, the power and decision-making is shifting to the Front Office.

Manager payroll is being slashed with the savings being plugged into the analytics department for new hires, software development and hi-tech tools. Front Offices are expanding and increasingly taking over more and more of the decision-making and strategies that used to be made in the dugout.

And the manager now is expected to buy in and communicate the information and behavior suggested by the analytics department. They are more like a conduit now instead of the conductor. In other words, the manager has evolved from Patton to puppet with the Front Office pulling the strings.

Today’s new skipper has the primary role of communicating, convincing and cajoling the team to follow the Front Office’s suggestions for how to play.

Increasingly, organizations have placed a bigger emphasis on hiring managers who are great communicators and “people persons.” Guys who can foster good will and team play while inspiring players to give their best. And the decision to select someone who is young and not far removed from his playing career is intentional. He and his players can more easily identify with each other.

Out of the current 29 teams with managers, one is in his 30’s. Almost half of the skippers are in their 40’s. Nine others are in their early 50’s and the remaining 7 are in their early 60’s. Gone are the days when having a crusty curmudgeon equaled credibility.

One of the best examples of these trends is the Yankees decision to not renew Joe Girardi’s contract last year despite his formidable success record. The Front Office thought him to be too old school and not as user-friendly. His replacement, Aaron Boone, is a modern guy with one foot in the baseball world and the other in broadcasting. He was deemed to be the perfect mouthpiece for the organization in both accepting and relaying analytics while forging bonds with players.

And the youth movement is also happening within the Front Offices. General managers and Presidents of Baseball Operations are increasingly younger. Stats that show that just over half of them are in their 30’s and 40’s while most of them now do not come from the baseball world but from academia and business.

But interestingly enough, baseball fans are skewing older. Will they continue to identify with how the game is changing? Is this one of the reasons why baseball saw an overall decrease in attendance this year?

MLB has reached a solution in how to connect management and players more effectively. Now they have to work on connecting better with the fans.


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AND THEN THERE WERE FIVE

By:  Holly Horning

Did you see it? Four buddies sitting together in the Boston dugout. Porcello, Kinsler, JD and Price.

Seems like old times, doesn’t it? Er, that is, except for the different uniforms and the location.

And if you’re a Tigers fan, you could not help but think about what could have been.

What should have been.

What should have happened at least once over the past decade, give or take.

I’m not the only one. The national media has talked about the “Tiger effect” this entire post-season. They discuss the 17 former Tigers who were playing in October and making a difference for their teams.

But ironically, these same players couldn’t make a difference for Detroit. Even with baseball’s top starting rotation. Tell me the last time any team in the history of baseball had an entire starting rotation of pitchers who either had won or were about to all win the Cy Young Award.

Or a team that during this time also won 3 MVP Awards, a Triple Crown, 2 Rookie of the Year Awards, a Manager of the Year, 15 defensive awards, 11 Silver Slugger Awards and variety of other accolades.

All of this, but no ring.

And you have to ask why.

Especially now that the Tigers are identified as 1 of 3 of baseball’s top dynasties who never won it all. It’s not an honor that anyone wants.

And you have to ask why.

There are some who are willing to let this all go. It’s over, they say. Time to move on. Let’s forget it and focus on the future. (Such as it is.)

But I’m here to say that the mental wiping of the slate is the worst possible thing one can do. And George Santayana agrees:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Especially when those in charge during the last decade are still the ones in charge.

Dave Dombrowski was spiritually in Boston’s dugout the other night with his former, now once again, current players. And somewhere in that champagne-soaked locker room, he was having the last laugh at the expense of the Tigers.

It appears that he actually is capable of building a bullpen, placing an importance on defense and hiring a capable manager.

And winning it all once again – 15 years later.

Yes, lots of money can solve a lot of problems, but Trader Dave was also given a similar budget in Detroit and he couldn’t get it done.

He couldn’t get it done with Porcello, Kinsler, JD, Price – and Miggy, JV, Max Scherzer, VMart, Cespedes and others too numerous to mention. A starting rotation of JV, Price, Max and Porcello couldn’t win a single playoff game in 2014. That is unbelievable.

And you have to ask why.

The answer is not going to be simple. It’s not going to be 1 or 2 things.

It’s going to be a nasty big-ass (can I say that?) pot of bubblin’, troublin’ issues that involve ownership, outdated methods and scouting, flawed strategy, huge holes created by sloppy defense, no speed and a dumpster fire called a bullpen. It’s going to be about no sense of urgency, a flawed approach to buying a championship and the failure to pull the trigger when worrisome patterns appeared.

It’s also going to be about the inability to consider human traits as pivotal in creating a winning culture as the actual physical skill level. Many of which were seen in the selfish approach to the game by the players, the in-fighting and physical altercations and the hiring of a manager with zippo experience of any kind in managing/coaching an MLB-level team.

One look at the Red Sox team and you see the difference. You hear the difference. It is an attitude of winners and as we know, it is a quality that trickles down from the top.

Alex Cora talked about how there are no egos on the team. He talked about how the players aren’t selfish and are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the team. David Price finally accomplished what he couldn’t do on other teams. Win. And on short rest, too.

Other pitchers were defiant about leaving the mound. More than one offered to pitch on short rest while others asked to be used in any way their manager saw fit. Compare that to the playoff game where Max Scherzer, pitching masterfully, asked to be removed – and with that bullpen waiting to blow things up. We know how that ended.

JD Martinez talked about how his new team battles at the plate. How they never give up on any pitches. How they all go to the plate with the mindset of working the count no matter the score of the game or how late the evening. An organization that is the polar-opposite of his former team.

This is all why the Red Sox won 108 games – and a ring.

Two teams with 4 players and a GM in common. Very different results.

Let’s also note that when Dave Dombrowski left Detroit, he took not one single Tigers employee with him.

And you have to ask why.

That action – or non-action – is telling.

Yet all those who worked under him in Motown have remained with the Tigers. All the same people responsible for a decade+ of achieving a total of one World Series game win. Heck, many of them even got promoted! Scared yet? It is almost Halloween afterall…..

And that’s why we can’t let it go.

It’s why we can’t forget the past.

Do we believe that these same people can actually suddenly, magically, change their beliefs and patterns?

What is it they say about old dogs and new tricks? Or the definition of insanity?

And that is why we can’t let it go.

If we do, then we are doomed to repeat history.

Other cities, other fans, other media are capable of holding their teams’ collective feet to the fire in order to inspire change.

Why can’t Detroit?

WILL LIGHTNING STRIKE TWICE?

By:  Holly Horning

If you squint really hard, that big “B” on their chests can sorta look like a “D”.  And it helps to be colorblind so that the red looks like blue. Or as the new Magnum says “Detroit Tiger blue.”

They certainly look the same despite the serious beards they’ve all grown since leaving the Tigers. Two of them have really bloomed since the move from Detroit, one is starting to show his age and the other has been struggling and dealing with injuries. Something we know about in Detroit very well, btw.

JD. Porcello. Kinsler. Price.

And don’t forget Dave Dombrowski.

In this year’s playoffs, 17 former Tigers participated.

Seventeen! And that’s not including Max Scherzer who is currently overseeing a $5 million home renovation and consoling himself by looking at his bank account balance.

Some of them left as full-blown stars. Dealt to teams on an upward trajectory towards October baseball. Many of whom were the deciding factors in their teams’ success.

Others, like Eugenio Suarez and Corey Knebel, were sacrificed in the attempt to win it all.

With the trades involving JV and JD, we still don’t know how valuable the return will be. Other trades that netted Fulmer, Norris and Boyd are still keeping us guessing. But other than that, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with any players Detroit got in exchange who are performing better than expected.

Jeimer Candelario is the closest.

This is what happens when you push all your chips to the center of the table in an attempt to win it all. Taking a huge risk. Risking it all. Just for that pot of money – or in this case, a ring.

Say what you will about multiple years of winning AL Central titles and some regular October baseball. Yes, they were fine years. But the Tigers wanted one truly great year.

And they didn’t get that. They were blown out of 2 World Series appearances.

The bottom line is that Mr. I gave Dave Dombrowski a goal of getting him a ring and he couldn’t deliver. He was given 14 years in which to do it. Most teams wouldn’t have given him anywhere near that long a leash.

Was Mike Ilitch to blame? Probably. It’s been written that he and Dave often bumped heads. It also didn’t help that Mr. I forced the signings of stars like Prince Fielder.

Was the organization known for being outdated to blame? I think we can say that it was a factor. For example, no one saw the importance of having a real bullpen. And some will argue that the organization still doesn’t see it.

Was Dave Dombrowski to blame?

We can answer “yes” to this one, too.

As great as Dave was at trading and collecting pieces, he practiced a very old school way of assembling a roster.

There was very little righty-lefty balance in the batting order. An emphasis placed on power pitchers and hitters. No speed and little/spotty defense. No depth on the bench. And a strategy of winning that only involved either great starting pitching performances or launching baseballs into the seats. Even putting together what could arguably be baseball’s best starting rotation of Verlander, Scherzer, Price and Porcello – all Cy Young Award winners – wasn’t enough as we saw in the battle for the AL crown.

His idea of a bullpen evolved from afterthought into signing a 40-year-old, with his best years behind him, to an expensive contract.

But beyond the roster, Dave did little. He invested nothing in the farm system. Rather, he used it as a human equivalent of a cash machine and depleted it until it was one of the worst in MLB.

He refused to have training/conditioning methods updated. And infamously, he refused to adopt analytics.

He pushed all the chips to the middle of the table. Risked it all. And came up short.

But before he left, Dombrowski did was he did best.

Trade.

Price, Cespedes and Soria left for players who would hopefully be part of the future.

And he was pretty good at running up the payroll, too. A payroll unsustainable for a mid-market team.

While Dave was here, fans were happy. We were living in the moment and ignoring the train coming down the tracks. We were focused on the present and not considering the future. Many believed that winning it all would be worth it. We didn’t want to consider what would happen if the ring remained elusive.

Fans liked Dave for the most part. He spoke decisively, played his cards close to the vest (unlike Too Honest Al) and regularly surprised us with some great trades. Having Dombrowski as the GM was like having that relative who spoiled you with gifts every time he came over. You always like people who give you things versus the ones who take things away.

The Tigers were winning and we were having fun. Damn the consequences. For many, this risky path would be worth it if that flag was raised over Comerica.

The red flags were there in 2015. If Dave’s departure surprised you, it shouldn’t have.

He was in the final months of his latest 3-year extension and Mr. I had yet to schedule a single contract extension talk with him. The Tigers were now under .500 and had been swept out of the playoffs the previous year despite having baseball’s best starting rotation.

Even Dave knew it. Many reports had circulated that he had started looking for a new job while still the Tigers’ GM.

And then the party came crashing to a halt. Actually, the bar had started “last call” after the final game of the 2014 playoffs and the party continued to shut down during 2015. That window had finally closed and nails were being hammered into it by July.

Dombrowski accepted a new job in Boston less than a week later (but not announced for another week) and Al Avila was forced into the janitorial role of sweeping up the mess created by Dave’s moves. He escaped, reputation mostly intact.

Ironically, it is Avila who is receiving the majority of the blame. Some of it deserved, but much of it not. He was left with immovable contracts, little flexibility, a significantly slashed payroll and an exodus of talent.

He inherited a very messy situation. An unhappy one. And fans are having one of the worst hangovers ever. Forgive us if we are now just really cranky.

But in the meantime, Dave skipped town for a new location. A fresh start.

And it didn’t hurt that he once again had essentially an unlimited payroll and one of MLB’s best and most plentiful farm systems. He immediately got to work signing some of the sport’s most expensive players and jacking up the payroll in just 2+ short years to almost $230 million – and MLB’s largest.

Along the way, he made some great trades, signed baseball’s most expensive closer and started emptying the farm system. So much so that a year ago, the Red Sox owners told him that, going forward,  he could only trade prospects with their approval.

But to his credit, Dombrowski appears to have learned some lessons from his days with Detroit. He’s addressed the bullpen to a great degree (insert your jokes here) and placed an importance on defense. And he grudgingly has accepted analytics after an initial first year of fighting them.

But there are also a number of similarities between his newest and former teams. And the onus is on the Red Sox to win it all this year. Not just for their MLB-leading season wins but also for the number of stars and the sky-high payroll.

Going forward, Boston will lose a number of players to free agency after this year. Payroll will remain extremely high and the Red Sox have a number of very expensive, long-term contracts with players who are now on the wrong side of 30.

We know how that rolls.

Boston fans are now where Tiger fans were back in 2012 and 2013. Everything is looking pretty good right now. They are focused on this year, with nary a thought about the future.

But if you look off in the distance, some dark clouds are starting to form. The question is whether those champagne corks are popped before these clouds roll in.

Whether the Red Sox win it all or not, the day of reckoning will eventually come. Promising players will be traded off, contracts will be dumped and today’s favorite players will suffer at the hands of fans as they age, putting up disappointing numbers – all while still collecting some the team’s biggest paychecks.

And Dave Dombrowski, given ownership’s penchant for regularly replacing GMs (his role even though that is not his title), may once again be headed out of town for another team with hefty payroll opportunities.

And leaving someone else to sweep up the mess once again.


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CLUES TO USE

By:  Holly Horning

The 2018 season is over – for the Tigers, that is.

Or is it?

While there were few surprises this year, this off-season may prove to be the most interesting time because it will give us some clues as to where the Tigers are headed – or not. And it will be based upon the moves they make – or don’t.

How busy will they be?

Will they make any trades?

How successful will they be in trading some of the more expensive players? How will they treat the arbitration eligible players?

Will there be changes in the Front Office?

Will the analytics department continue to grow?

Will we finally see new doctors, trainers and conditioning coaches?

Or will we see the same old, same old?

Two years ago, Al Avila said the rebuild would be around 3 years. Last year, it would be more like five. This year, crickets.

Which brings us to the question of what, really, constitutes a rebuild? Should we also question whether the term “rebuild” is being used as a disguise for something else? If it is a rebuild, where does it begin and where does it stop?


It’s fair to classify the term as a three-part process:

1. The tear down – trading away as many players as necessary in exchange for prospects

2. The building – adding and experimenting with new players in order to judge potential and fit

3. Competitiveness – achieving a level of performance that will prove the team to be a worthy opponent of most other MLB teams

It is ironic that Avila (let’s call him “Too Honest Al”) has a tendency to lay out all his cards about trading away his players yet he is close-lipped about the rebuilding process. And this cannot be good news. For him to be silent about the timeline of the rebuilding process either means that he has no idea or that the Front Office is thinking it is going to take longer than 5 years.

What he has said is that the team will continue to reduce the payroll while also getting younger. This is code for the intent to continue to try to trade away more players, especially those who are making more money. It means that the players not named Miggy or Zimmermann (who are untradeable) or those not making league minimum will be targeted. We’ve already seen Jose Iglesias say buh-bye to the fans and making it a certainty that neither he, or his salary, will be welcomed back.

The Tigers’ GM has been telling us for awhile that he has been trying to trade Nick Castellanos who has a salary equal to Iggy’s. But now he’s also targeted the future of James McCann who made over $2 mill this year and expected to earn approximately $3.5 million in 2019. Logically, we can then also expect that attempts to trade Shane Greene and Alex Wilson will be made. They now make similar salaries that ironically put them near the top of the Tigers’ payroll.


Just how far down the paring will be is anyone’s guess. The stated desire to continue to reduce payroll for 2019 is complicated by 2 factors:

1. Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann will be taking up just under half the team’s total expected payroll next year. Both are untradeable.

2. The Tigers are still paying out salaries to Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder, totaling $14 mill and still a significant chunk of the year’s payroll.

That makes four players making $69 million next year – and 2 of them are no longer playing for Detroit.

And when you have this much salary taking up so much space, something has to give. Little payroll flexibility, combined with the stated desire to reduce, means that many more players’ futures will be impacted in order to make the necessary cuts.

In addition to all of this, we can expect next year to be increasingly challenging with more of the established players gone. The Tigers were not able to get anything in return for letting Iggy walk, even when combined with the fact that they are desperate to find a qualified shortstop.

And will the lack of a stated vision and timeline mean that they will need to trade off viable young and controllable talent like Matthew Boyd? This would mean that the organization doesn’t see an end to the rebuild until these players are much older and making much bigger bucks.

Will the team need to resort to keeping some of the least expensive talent like Ronnie Rodriquez due to salary restrictions or lack of readiness in the minors?

Who makes the roster will tell us much more about where the team is headed and how fast.

But there is also another rationale to consider. The team may be in the process of being readied for a sale. And when that is in the cards, ownership doesn’t care about the vision or timeline. They care about the books.

And this means that the team goes on life support. Little to no money is given out and the Front Office is no longer being made accountable for results. They are simply living out their sentence at this point.

Ownership no longer cares about a timeline. They only care about the bottom line.

If this is the case, employees keep their jobs until a new owner takes over. New hires aren’t made. People aren’t fired and departments don’t expand. Top quality personnel aren’t being sought out. For an owner, this is the least expensive path to take. Hiring and training costs a lot of money.

For all the criticism Ron Gardenhire has made about the team’s poor hitting habits and stats this year, Lloyd McClendon remains the hitting coach. He has one year left on his contract. In fact, it was announced that everyone on Gardy’s staff will return next year. And Lloyd wasn’t the only one with questionable performance.

Is this really that dang loyalty factor rearing its head again? Or could it be something else?

Additonally, Dave Littlefield, VP Player Development, in charge of this rebuild, may have seen the signs of something ending. He just interviewed with the Mets for their open GM position. Despite the Tigers’ rebuilding plans, the team gave permission for the guy who is heading up the rebuild to meet with the Mets.

The plot thickens………….

Rebuild, restructure or really selling?

The clues will be coming shortly.


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SYNCING THE STRATEGY

By:  Holly Horning

For the first time in almost 20 years, the Tigers are finally developing a team to match their ballpark. Al Avila, only the third GM to man the helm since Comerica Park opened, has stated that the team is now focused on players who are faster, more athletic and defensively solid.

What took them so long?

Haven’t you ever wondered why the organization, given its infamous “Comerica National Park”, never matched the types of players to its stadium?

It’s one of life’s great mysteries along with why the Tigers hired Brad Ausmus.

Or is it?

Let’s think about this….


Mike Ilitch certainly had a ton of input in helping get this stadium made. He fronted 62% of the money required to build CoPa so he certainly had the overwhelming say in the selection of the architect, the design of the stadium and the desired features.

Mr. I also played baseball in his younger days so he was well-aware of the design elements that provide challenges to playing the game. And he built one of MLB’s biggest outfields. An outfield that eventually was pulled in because of the problems seen – and because some players publicly stated that they would never sign with Detroit because of it.

You would assume that such a large expanse of grass would automatically require the scouting and signing of players who could cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Players who would also be regulars on the short list for a Gold Glove.

Instead, the team signed players who were quite the opposite. No need to pull up old memories and names. Especially when we’ve all been doing so well in the recovery process from our therapy sessions. You know who these players were – and are.

Given all of this info, it just doesn’t make sense.

Or does it?

Could the decision about the types of players Detroit acquired for their outfield be based upon something else?

In a word, yes.

Marketing.

Mr. I always loved his stars. Watching them hit home runs filled the seats. And that’s what drove the selection process of the athletes.

Marketing – and the resulting attendance figures – trumped winning. It was made the priority.

Afterall, having star players went hand-in-hand with high attendance figures. The latter was required in order to pay the high salaries.

And when you have great attendance figures, your earning potential goes way up when those same fans buy food and merchandise and park their cars within your facilities. Not to mention frequenting your other establishments nearby before and after the games. There’s a reason why the main doors at Comerica open up directly facing the Fox Theatre.

And then there are the tv contracts. Revenues that are dictated by viewer numbers.

And Mr. I’s strategy paid off handsomely. For him.

He bought the Tigers for $85 million. Today, the team is ranked near the upper third of all MLB teams and valued somewhere around $1.5 billion.

As we’ve seen, having these star-stuffed teams made for some exciting times. But it was a flawed strategy in so many ways.

It was a team built to slug. Even Jim Leyland always had some bon mots about how home runs would take care of everything.

But Comerica was, and is, one of MLB’s most slugger-proof stadiums. Even with lineups that featured Miggy, VMart, JD, Prince and others, the Tigers often had problems scoring consistently.

And the team played half their games at CoPa.

During their most recent best 5 years, they never led the AL in home runs. Their very best years saw them finish tied only for 7th in dingers. And most of those HRs were hit in other ballparks.

And I don’t need to remind you that this team of incredibly talented players never won a World Series. Even when they had baseball’s best starting rotation that could not overcome the flawed hitting strategy.

That in 2 World Series, they won only 1 game. And they had trouble scoring runs in both events.

Remember the station-to-station hitting that we saw, especially in the latter years? The all-or-nothing hitting philosophy, that when faced with superior pitching, the Tigers couldn’t hit home runs and had great difficulty getting players around the bases.

Slow players. Players who couldn’t steal bases or even take an extra base on a hit. Players who belly-flopped trying to get to third base.

Players who couldn’t manufacture runs.

And players who misplayed balls consistently in the outfield which allowed opponents to score on them. Tiger outfields that generally were in the negative numbers when it came to defensive runs allowed.

Ron Gardenhire was the first one to publicly give up the ghost. He recently mentioned that greater defense and speed are how the Tigers need to play. He also reminisced about his days with Minnesota and how his team loved to come to Comerica. All because his teams were speedy and played small ball well. He had players who could manufacture runs.

Remember how pesky his teams were? How they used to drive us crazy?

And now the Tigers are finally adding players like Cam Gibson, Danny Woodrow, Jacob Robson, Sergio Alcantara and Will Castro.

‘Bout time.

We now have a rationale for why Mr. I’s teams never matched the requirements of Comerica. And now we see the Tigers finally syncing a strategy that uses their ballpark to their advantage.

Did they just get smart about it? Or is Ron Gardenhire finally the man to influence the Front Office?

Or is it because the Ilitch family no longer subscribes to the philosophy of spending money and upping payroll to bring in stars?


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THE LITMUS TEST

By:  Holly Horning

What do the following players have in common?

 

Justin Verlander                                                                        

Miguel Cabrera

Jordan Zimmermann                                                              

John Hicks

Christin Stewart                                                                        

Daniel Norris

Jose Iglesias                                                                                  

Ryan Carpenter


They have all had significant core muscle injuries. All but two have undergone surgery to repair the damage while the others, Iglesias and Carpenter, remain injured and awaiting final evaluation from a surgeon who specializes in this area. (Three others injured their cores during the season and spent approximately 15 days each on the DL.)

In the past 4 years, the Tigers have lost, on average, one player to core muscle surgery every year. Remember when Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera both had the same operation within a couple of weeks of each other just before the 2015 season?

But this year, the Tigers have had 4 players who underwent the same surgery. And in the case of Jordan Zimmermann and Christin Stewart, the injuries are now coming in bunches.

What else do all these players have in common?

Being part of an organization with the same training and conditioning personnel that has been intact since the early 1990’s. And while Al Avila talks about the changes being made within the organization, he has never mentioned improvements and advancements to the program that is supposed to care and protect their players. A plan that is crucial to a rebuild.

The guy who has overseen the entire program for decades, Kevin Rand, got promoted last year to oversee the entire conditioning and training program of all levels of the Tigers’ system. Please, please, please tell us Al what wonderful goals and achievements earned Kevin this new job…..

(This is where I now beg you, dear readers, to step away from the ledge….)

You’ve heard me rail against this supposed program for an eternity now and I only continue because things are getting markedly worse. The same injury, only picking up speed, is stupefying.

The Tigers wouldn’t sign a visibly out-of-shape player so why would they have their primary trainers not walk-the-walk when it came to health and fitness? They are part of an old entrenched system. It is particularly embarrassing when you compare Tigers personnel in-game with those on the opposing team. The other teams have young guys who take the dugout steps two at a time and run to the injured player.

And if you want more info, check out these earlier blogs with additional details:


https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2018/09/15/walking-the-walk/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/loose-lips-sink-ships-2/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/the-long-journey-to-discovery-2/


So how do the Tigers fare re core injuries when compared with other teams? Well, core injuries are not uncommon but it’s the frequency, cause of the injury, recovery time and end results that matter. Core surgeries throughout MLB are occasional but the Tigers blow everyone away with their terrifying numbers. No other team has players regularly undergoing the knife for this injury.

And when you have two players who suffer severe core injuries requiring surgery by simply running to first base, it tells you that there is a significant problem within the organization.

In previous blogs, I have mentioned my observations when I’ve viewed pre-game workouts in Lakeland. Old-school methods that don’t address flexibility or core work. Strategies that place the emphasis on weight-lifting and not much else. And other readers here have testified to seeing the same. And when you don’t address your core with targeted exercise, it gets weak and easily injured, resulting in surgery. The core is the center of the body and all parts of that body are dependent upon a strong, healthy core to remain injury-free. The core simply is akin to the foundation of a house.

Even Miguel Cabrera, after his multiple injuries in 2017, finally was sent to an outside trainer to work on his core. After how many years of playing? It was mentioned that this was the first time he had ever done training that was not weight-related. Just….absolutely….shocking.

The Tigers now remain as one of just a couple organizations that do not require their players to practice yoga or Pilates as a way to increase flexibility and strengthen the core. And in my viewings during spring training, I’ve yet to see anyone even break out something as simple as elastic bands.

One young Tiger player was actually interviewed on tv last month and admitted that he first learned about the importance of a strong core from a doctor outside of the organization. This, on the heels of the infamous interview with Justin Verlander, who also questioned the level of care he received as a Tiger.

The Tigers actually had the audacity to go after JV and tell him he was wrong.

And this, really, is the most troubling part. An organization mired in the past and refusing to see the long-term troubling pattern. An organization that refuses to make changes and instead, doubles down in giving the former head trainer more power and oversight.

An organization that refuses to upgrade and modernize until once again they are forced to do so.

This year’s four core surgeries represent the defining moment for this team going forward. They are something that cannot be ignored. They are the biggest wake-up call for the owner and Front Office.

If we are to have any hope about this “rebuild”, Al Avila has to overhaul the entire training and conditioning program (such as it is) over the winter. And if he doesn’t, I don’t think we can expect this organization to successfully rebuild. It means that the old entrenched system that rewards loyalty and looks the other way when it’s apparent that changes need to be made is given priority over meaningful change and advancement.

Taking action – or not – will be the litmus test of this organization. And if we don’t see changes being made, it will really becomes apparent.

That the only way real change will happen is when a different owner brings in new people with fresh and modern perspectives and methods.


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IDEAS, ACTION AND ACCOUNTABILITY

By:  Holly Horning

Things appear to be hoppin’ within the Tigers organization now that the season is over and teams have a plausible excuse to slow things down until the playoffs are over.

It’s good to be reading about what the Front Office wants to do differently. It’s just a little disconcerting reading about who the catalyst for change is.

Ron Gardenhire.

Not Al Avila. Not David Chadd, nor Scott Bream. Not even Dave Littlefield.

We’ve been peppered over the past week with interviews focused on what the team should be doing differently. Extensive interviews with Gardy who points to the frustrations of the year and how things need to change.

We saw how horrible the team was with their fundamentals this year. We heard the interviews with their manager who expressed deep frustration with their habits. We also read about the special coaching sessions Ron held with players throughout the year to try to improve their play.

But then Gardy mentioned indirectly that his feedback was the catalyst for in-depth meetings in Lakeland with all the powers that be. Journalists mentioned that these meetings were a direct result of his feedback and requests to the Front Office. And these meetings will focus on a program to address fundamental play in a major way including teaching and enforcement.

Does this sound like,  as Yogi Berra would say, “déjà-vu all over again?”

Remember, back in 2015, Al Avila did his promo tour for the introduction of the Tigers Way manual. Nevermind that most teams already had their own manual of how to play decades ago. Al said this book would be the “bible” and the centerpiece of how all Tigers will play the game. From the lowest of the minor league teams all the way up to Detroit. That it would create a uniform teaching environment where every player would play the same way.

That was 3 years ago.

I dare anyone to even speculate that the Tigers used this book at all. And even money that probably no one even cracked the binder.

We didn’t see it in Detroit, nor did we see it in the minors. Where were Avila and VP of Player Development, Dave Littlefield?

Was the manual just a beautiful little piece of window dressing or is there a failure within the Front Office to implement and oversee a crucial part of how to play the game well?

And it took an outsider, in the form of a new manager, to push it forward.

Hopefully, that is.

And shortly on the heels of this interview, came the jaw-dropping revelation, again by Gardy, that the Tigers weren’t matching the skills of their players to the size and requirements of Comerica Park. Something that many fans have known and pushed since 2000.

But apparently, this is new to the Tiger brass. Or, conceivably, putting defensively-sound and fleet-of-foot players into a park made for them took a back seat to signing big, bulky lumbering players who fielded poorly but hit home runs that brought in the crowds. A marketing maneuver that most probably came from ownership, and for years (including the present), is probably still being pushed by a former-manager-turned-special assistant who was infamously quoted about not worrying about the finer aspects of the game because home runs would rule his team’s success.

Gardy then proceeded to describe the type of players the Tigers need to sign and develop if they want to have successful seasons once again.

Yes, it’s great to finally have a manager who “gets it.” But shouldn’t the vision, plan and strategy be coming from higher up? Shouldn’t the GM and the Front Office set the tone instead of the guy who reports to them?

From the interviews we’ve read, it appears that the manager is the one pushing for change. Not the GM. And isn’t it just a little scary that the skipper appears to be schooling the GM?

That’s not the way it should be.

A winning formula always comes from the top and trickles down. Not the other way.

When these meetings in Lakeland are held, the biggest question that needs to be addressed is not how to teach the fundamentals. It’s how to put idea into action. How to put action into accountability. And whether the members of the Front Office are capable of doing it.

Successful rebuilding, and that new player pipeline, are completely dependent upon them doing the jobs for which they were hired. And maybe part of that equation should be an evaluation process of those who don’t wear the uniform to determine what exactly they bring to the table.


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TRIGGER FINGER

By:  Holly Horning

The Minnesota Twins just fired Paul Molitor as their manager.

So, you’re probably thinking what exactly does this have to do with the Tigers?

It is just another reminder that, historically, and especially since the early 2000’s, the Tigers have an entrenched decision-making system (and I’m being most generous here) that consistently puts them at a disadvantage competitively.

In the case of the Twins, they hired Molitor to take over as manager in 2015. In 2017, he helped lead them to the playoffs where they lost to the Yankees. Paul was named Manager of the Year last year and the Twins rewarded him with a 3-year contract extension through 2020.

But this year, the team finished 6 games under .500 – in second place. And they fired him as skipper. (To be determined is whether he stays with the organization.)

From recent interviews, it appears the long-time owners decided they were fed up with making changes slowly. They wanted to shake up the organization so they hired new Front Office personnel who would kick the organization into speeding up and modernizing.

And yesterday’s decision was made quickly and without regard to the fact that they are still on the hook for 2 more years of salary to Molitor. They made this decision despite the fans’ love for him, his Hall of Fame stats (first year inductee) and the AL Manager of the Year Award given to him less than a year ago.

OK, so maybe the Twins aren’t the best example of teams that pull the trigger sooner rather than later. However, I will point out that they have won the World Series twice since the Tigers did it in 1984. What’s important to note is that they now want to be that time-sensitive, decisive team going forward. Rut roh……

It’s especially alarming when they join other teams within the AL Central in changing their decision-making process and leaving the Tigers behind.

On the other hand, the Washington Nationals are trigger-happy. They change their managers as often as relievers are brought into a game. But one recent season, when they had a plethora of injuries that derailed a very promising year, they swept the entire medical/training/conditioning staff out the door and brought in a whole new team. They may have problems still, but they no longer include the overall health and well-being of their players.

Now, let’s look at the Yankees. The team we love to hate but quite frankly, wouldn’t we want to emulate their work habits?

Brian Cashman stated that his team could not possibly do a rebuild that would take more than 2 years. He did it in less than 12 months. Ageing players were quickly cut despite their significant salaries and the youngsters were brought up in droves. And this has nothing to do with whether a team has talent in the minors or not.  The real issue is about management making new decisions and changes that carry a certain amount of manageable risk.

There is nothing timid about the Yankees decisions and resulting actions. They ripped that bandage right off. They were bold. And they came within 1 game of going to the World Series last year.

And what did they do after they were sent home last year? They released Joe Girardi. Their manager with 4 World Series titles, Manager of the Year and a .554 win/loss percentage in the regular season and a .538 winning record in the post-season.

Very simply, the Yankees thought they could do better. Thought it was time to modernize and hire someone younger who could connect with the players and work cohesively with the Front Office and analytics department.

These are all characteristics of organizations that each have a winning culture and success record.

And if you go through other regularly successful teams like the Giants and Cardinals, you’ll see the same pattern.

Decision-makers who aren’t afraid to pull the trigger at the right time. Not too early and definitely not too late.

Contrast these teams to the Tigers who have always been known as among the very last to integrate, adopt technology and bring in analytics. It is an organization that is loath to pull the trigger even when they see all the warning signs and watch things crashing down around them.

Unlike the Twins, the Tigers kept Jim Leyland well after 2006 despite 4 consecutive years of diminished performance and no playoffs, including a last place finish. They kept him despite achieving only one game win in 2 World Series. They kept him despite having what could have strongly been MLB’s best roster including JV, Max Scherzer, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, Prince Fielder – and of course, Miggy.

All those personal awards – multiple Cy Youngs, MVPs and a Triple Crown. It was a stupendous amount of talent. But no ring. And no changes within leadership.

Then they repeated their pattern of not pulling the trigger with Brad Ausmus. The signs were there, and increasing every year, but he stayed all 4 seasons. Two last place finishes and he stayed. One division title and one post-season that was a complete bust. And yet he stayed.

And while the Yankees weren’t afraid to pay off multiple players’ multi-million dollar salaries to leave, it was reported that Chris Ilitch didn’t want to pay out on Brad’s remaining salary which was estimated to be $600,000 to $700,000.

A clubhouse in increasing disarray from the first year on and fights breaking out in the clubhouse, in the dugout and on the field. Yet, he stayed. And his option year inexplicably exercised by management. Do any of the top decision makers even know where the trigger is?

To quote Darryl Rogers, “What does a coach have to do around here to get fired?”

I can only think at this point that it’s gotta be a Detroit thing. Maybe something in the water. Where I live, torches and pitchforks would have come out a looooong time ago. It would have gotten really ugly really quickly here.

Most teams would not have kept their GM for a whopping 14 years (3 contract extensions) with one explicit goal that was never met. Especially when that GM was given every available resource. Most teams would have pulled the trigger sooner on their GM especially with only 1 World Series game win to show for it. And most GMs would have built a real bullpen before 11 playoff series were played.

None of those triggers were ever pulled.

And today, despite the rebuild (or whatever you want to call it), this team still runs around with the safety catch firmly secured on their gun. Years of alarming increases in players getting – and staying – injured from things so simple now as running to first base. Ex-players speaking out and questioning the quality of the care they received. One of baseball’s most expensive and prolific player’s health not taken as seriously as it should have been.  The trigger should have been pulled as far back as 2012.

And now, the latest example is the Tigers’ Way manual. Of course, Detroit is one of the very last teams in MLB to develop one. Other teams pulled the trigger decades ago on theirs. A new document lauded by Al Avila back in 2015. He said it would be the team “bible” on how to play the game and that everyone would use it.

But are you surprised to find out that no one within the organization pulled the trigger on teaching it within their minor and major league teams?

It’s a pattern. And when you can’t pull the trigger on a timely and warranted basis, your team – and your fans – suffer. It results in losing more often than winning. It contributes to the dearth of flags flying overhead and rings. It results in…….. droughts.

Which is why, tomorrow, I am driving over to the NRA’s National Headquarters to ask for help. We need an instructor to go to Detroit to show everyone in charge just how to pull that #^&(@*$# trigger…


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GREAT (OR NOT) EXPECTATIONS

By:  Holly Horning

Is a manager just a manager? Are all managers created equal? Can any manager be plugged into just about any team?

Or do they constitute a wide variety of types? Do some work better with different kinds of teams?

Many fans tend to think that managers are a singular breed. They don’t consider the different personalities, resumes, preferences or skill sets.

And it’s only getting more complex given the fast and significant changes happening in baseball during the past 5 years.

Baseball currently has some remnants of the older, crusty and traditional manager. Increasingly being replaced by the younger set that is modern and embraces analytics. And now, the rise of the non-manager manager. The guys who never ran a clubhouse and are chosen for their ability to create a positive working environment and successfully juggle different personalities while also ceding power to the directives of the Front Office and analytics departments.

Then you’ve got to consider the areas of expertise of each group. Those who can successfully handle the teams full of expensive and opinionated stars. Those who are more nurturing and best suited for teams with younger rosters. Some managers welcome the stress and expectations of teams considered worthy of winning it all while others prefer the process of teaching and building teams.

And let’s not forget those who have playoff and World Series experience on their resumes. It’s another level of expertise requiring a more-advanced skill set.

So when any team needs a new manager, they don’t simply select the most accomplished guy for the job or the one with the shiniest resume. He may not fit.

For teams rebuilding, you may need a teacher . For teams just existing or going nowhere, a caretaker or placeholder. And for teams in the mix, you need a savvy, motivational leader.

For example, you would never hire Joe Maddon or Bruce Bochy when you are tearing down your team and rebuilding. And you shouldn’t hire someone who has never managed before to take over a team full of expensive veteran stars expected to get you that ring. (Rut roh….)

Except, a few teams have done that. Boy, have we Tiger fans experienced that painful history with the infamous and inexplicable hiring of Brad Ausmus. So far, that formula has failed miserably in this modern era of baseball.

But with each hiring, comes expectations. The more pressure to win, the higher the level. And the higher the level of analysis and criticism.

And when your team is expected to go nowhere, the expectations are almost non-existent. And critical analysis of their actions goes way down, too.

Take Jim Leyland for example. There were few expectations placed upon him in his first year as the Tigers manager. But when he took the team to the World Series in 2006, expectations skyrocketed going forward. He had already won a World Series and his first year showed that the Tigers were ready sooner than expected.

But that level of expectations created an unforgiving spotlight on him that unfortunately never went away. You are judged by the talent – and timeline – you are given. As a result, fans expected much more of Leyland than he was able to give.

The Ausmus era was a total mismatch of expectations created by one of the poorest decisions ever made by the Tigers organization. Hiring someone with no managerial experience whatsoever to take a team with a ticking championship clock to the World Series. And in his first year, no less.

Despite the media’s priority of concealing the problems going on in the clubhouse and in the dugout, instead of doing their jobs, we later learned just how disastrous this managerial stint was.

And unfortunately, most fans held Ausmus primarily accountable instead of the decision makers who hired him. Brad was forced into a position of the highest expectations. And when you are unable to deliver, you are on the receiving end of much criticism. You are the most visible symbol of the failure, not the ones hiding in offices within the confines of CoPa.

Now take the case of Ron Gardenhire. A different manager for a different roster in a different time with different goals. He was selected for a team entering the first phase of rebuilding with no stated timetable for completion.

He was selected for providing stability in an uncertain time. For a team expected to lose over 100 games. For a roster that was turning over into one primarily loaded with greenhorns.

He is, simply, the placeholder. The guy who will watch over the players until management decides that the team they’ve developed is ready to successfully compete. Hopefully.

And with his status, Gardy has almost no expectations placed upon him. Which is why I don’t put him under the same microscope as his predecessors. Quite frankly, there’s nothing much to grade or analyze in 2018.

His hands are, for the most part, tied. He can only work with what he is given. And he’s not being given a whole lot. The only thing that we can judge him on going forward, is whether he is finally able to overcome the long-time Tigers’ m.o. of ignoring fundamentals.

Which is why he garners little criticism right now. Why we all give him a break. It’s not fair to judge him on the same criteria, talent and standards of past teams. He has much, much less with which to work. And you can’t judge a performance when your Front Office is depleting your talent and has yet to publicly state its goals or timeline.

What fans really should do in this case, is to stop focusing on the evaluation of the manager, and start to focus on the executive ranks and ownership. For it is them, not the manager, who actually determines the course and goals of the team through their actions. Or lack of them.


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