DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH

By:  Kurt Snyder

On holiday weekends, and in particular, this President’s Day, we like to step back and offer you a look back at some past blogs that may still have interest today. Back in November 2016, we were uncertain about who would stay and who would go.

JD Martinez was the player most talked about leaving first. So at the time, it was appropriate to remind everyone how the Tigers found JD and how he had become a star in Detroit.

This look back at Diamonds in the Rough will serve as a reminder of how much we needed to appreciate JD.  His path since leaving the Tigers has taken a strange turn, from budding star to a free agent waiting to find another home.    Let’s take a look back…


FROM NOVEMBER 2016

The Tigers had no business signing Justin Upton, knowing what was to come for JD Martinez. They needed to take care of their own before they brought in a fresh, shiny new toy who would command the money you would need later.

Diamonds in the rough. They are hard to find. They are so very precious when you get one. And now as the Tigers set a new c

They are a baseball scouting department’s dream. Low cost talent. Untapped potential. Nothing to lose. Potential diamonds in the rough.

Scouts spend their careers constantly looking for these players. They are players withering on the vine. Still young, but wearing out their welcome with their current teams. Raw talent that can’t turn the corner.

Sometimes they need a new vantage point. A new set of eyes. The proverbial change in scenery. Or maybe they just need more time.

JD Martinez was that player for the Houston Astros. He was drafted in 2009 and released in 2014. An outfielder with power but not much else. The Tigers had been watching him from afar, actually attempting to trade for him long before he was released.

That’s why 2 days after he was released, he was signed by the Tigers. Here was a player we know now, was a tireless student of the game. How much the Tigers knew that at the time is in question. But part of JD’s story was a swing change he was making prior to being released from the Astros.  And it turned out to be a change that translated into JD becoming one of the most feared power hitters in the American League.

We are not used to the Tigers finding guys like this. Diamonds in the rough. Untapped potential ready to explode. But they certainly struck gold when they found JD Martinez.

But in 3 short seasons, the Tigers are changing dramatically as a franchise. Always the spenders under Mike Ilitch, the Tigers are now looking to cut back. And their most productive offensive players are now being offered up on the trade market; with one, JD Martinez, at or near the top of that list.

What are they looking for? What does the future hold? We all have our opinions. We can only go by what the Tigers have chosen to tell us. Get younger. Get leaner. But still be competitive. Well, sometimes those ingredients don’t all go together. A good reason why most of us are scratching our heads about what is really going on here in Detroit.

Mike Ilitch doesn’t make public appearances anymore. Chris Ilitch does. And ironically, as Mr. I fades into the background, the foreground is changing. The Tigers landscape is being reshaped.

The Tigers success has had a ceiling for 10 years. At their zenith, they tap out just short of World Championships. Most of the time, they have spent big to get better. Sure, you always look for that diamond, but most of the time, teams get too impatient. Ownership and fan bases demand winning and immediate gratification. So that mindset doesn’t leave much time or room for the search for those diamonds.

Now JD Martinez isn’t perfect. He ranks as a below-average outfielder defensively. But that’s not where he is going to make his money. He will make it because of what he gives you with the bat. He will command a lot of money as a free agent after the 2017 season. And it scares the Tigers.

But they have blown it with JD Martinez. They should be commended for watching him and keeping tabs on his progress while with Houston. They should be lauded for jumping all over the opportunity to grab him when he became available. They saw something in him they liked and they were dead right.

But they blew it. Mike Ilitch has become a knee jerk owner over the years. Just when you think the Tigers have enough star power, Mike wants another. General Managers are asked to do things under Ilitch that are against their better judgment when they look at what is ahead.ourse, a jewel like JD may be jettisoned for players hopefully just like him when he arrived. The signing of Upton has necessitated this. The situation has shown no forethought.

Diamonds in the rough? Generally you treasure them and protect them when you find them.


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FULMER STILL BEST TRADE BAIT

By:  Kurt Snyder

I can’t tell you how important it is that Michael Fulmer has a great year. Owning the role as ace. Staying healthy and becoming dominant. All things that would signify that the anchor and ace is in place.

When the Yankees were reportedly looking to acquire Fulmer, all that talent in their organization got me excited. Many thought it was silly to consider giving up a guy with top of the rotation talent and years of controllable salary. Young talent is what we needed, and better yet, we had young and proven talent in Fulmer. Why look for that when you already have it?

Well, this is a rebuild, almost right down to the studs. And if you can offer your best pitcher for a slew of talent from a loaded and talented farm system, I think you do it. Especially when Fulmer is coming off an arm injury and resulting surgery. He is considered to be low risk now, but doubt is still present, regardless of what you hear, trust and believe.

And it could be that the Yankees considered that. A sliver of doubt may have held them back, and the anticipated return maybe didn’t box with the Tigers. Maybe the Yanks needed a slam dunk to give up players they considered to be untouchable. And maybe Fulmer’s surgically repaired arm made it less than a sure thing for them.

So, there was no deal. Most are good with that. But, I am disappointed they could not make a deal for a good amount of high-end prospects. When you are rebuilding, there is big value in numbers. Sure, there are no guarantees, but it’s no time to shy away when you are staring major league ready talent in the face.

We can all agree that Michael Fulmer, the AL Rookie of the Year in 2016, an All-Star last season, is quite the appealing pitcher to dangle out there. Talented pitching should be coveted not squandered. But that’s why you make sure you are in position to be the long-term winner of the deal.  One talent can potentially get you more than you had.

Always remember this is a rebuild. Remember it every day. And remember that a rebuild this dramatic leaves no one on the major league roster untouchable. You listen to every offer about every player, including your most talented starting pitcher.

But it’s Al Avila’s job to be selective with whom he begins talks.  When entering discussions about our best talent, Avila must stick with the teams who have great farm systems. Arguably, the Yankees have major league ready prospects. If they didn’t, they would not be considering starting rookies at both 2nd and 3rd base this season.

Michael Fulmer, with continued good health, must draw a package of major league ready talent; players who can arrive on our door step in 2019.

Everyone wants pitching help at the end of July. And the Tigers could stand at the top of the hill and proclaim, ‘We’ve got the best one! Show us how serious you are about acquiring him.’

I don’t think it’s desperate or risky. I think it represents the little bit of power we have left in a negotiation and would offer an opportunity you can’t always guarantee.

The Tigers can offer a young, proven talent, for a chance to get a handful in return.


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WILL VICTOR LEAD AGAIN?

By:  Kurt Snyder

Heading into Spring Training, if I ask readers to comment on the Tiger veteran who will draw the most attention, Miguel Cabrera would be the easy answer, wouldn’t he?

With Miggy coming into camp healthy and reportedly in very good shape, we would all have high hopes for a return to the kind of season we have come to expect from our future Hall of Famer.

But there is one very important variable which may impact Miggy the most; the distractions between his ears. So, I don’t know what to expect from Miggy, because I have no idea if he can put his off-the-field issues aside and concentrate on baseball. We just don’t know.


Then there is Victor Martinez. So much has changed. It seems so long ago since Victor finished second to Mike Trout for the 2014 AL MVP.

Unfortunately, as VMart heads into his last season with the Tigers, we can’t just simply focus on the positives, the things we had grown to love about Victor.

His work ethic. His preparation. His ability to make a pitcher work. His clutch hitting from both sides of the plate. And the great duo he formed in the middle of the lineup hitting behind Miggy.

Instead, what may send VMart out of Detroit on a mostly sour note, are the things that have transpired since he signed his final contract.  Unless he makes a concerted effort to go out on a high note.

After his fantastic 2014 season, Mike Ilitch brought him back for another 4 years. Hardly anyone made a peep. Because VMart was considered that important to the Tiger lineup and the success of the team.

But we know now that it was way too late in his career to commit to 4 more seasons. Four more years for someone limited to DH duty and little else.

And the Tigers have felt that limitation. The Tigers have not had the ability to get Miggy off his feet as much as they would have liked.  And they have been limited during interleague play when VMart would have to sit for an entire series because his defensive days are gone.

He has complained often about the fans and their perceived lack of support when the chips were down. He has had run-ins with his teammates and is no longer the leader we had all proclaimed him to be.  Things have gone downhill for someone who was such a fan favorite.

And now, a heart condition, though it has been addressed, is something his family hopes will no longer hinder him as he heads into his final season.   If he is healthy, it will be up to him how he finishes things up.

Where will Victor’s head be in 2018?

Does he have enough drive in him to finish strong with the team heading into Season 1 of the rebuild?

Will he be a mentor to the younger players? As such an accomplished hitter, he has so much to offer. Will he care enough to take on that role?

Will he form a good relationship with Ron Gardenhire or will he disrespect him in the same manner as he did with Brad Ausmus?

Will he lead? Does he still have enough pride to continue to fight in the batter’s box? Or will he coast through the 2018 season for the sole purpose of collecting his final paycheck?

Unfortunately, these are the things many will wonder about the most. It’s the end of a career we hoped to celebrate with him, but instead we may look for signs that he even gives a damn.


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NO TEARS SHED HERE

By:  Kurt Snyder

When I first heard over a year ago that Bryce Harper could command and even receive a $400M salary, I laughed hysterically. Well, I at least chuckled.

The bottom line is that I was amused by what I thought was one of the most ridiculous things I had ever heard when considering what new absurd level that free agency could reach. And this would not be a new high. It would be a new low.

I am not a Bryce Harper fan. I appreciate his talent, but I am not a fan. His criticism of the game and how it restricts him from being expressive helped to solidify my disdain for one of the game’s biggest talents. How do you criticize a sport that grants you the opportunity to become maybe the richest player on the planet?

With Bryce now a year away from his long-awaited shot at free agency and his anticipated breaking of the bank, the game of free agency, not the game of baseball, but free agency, has run into a brick wall. And now we can all shout out in unison – Thank God!

The 2018 Hot Stove League may go down in history as the year Major League Baseball finally said, “Enough!” It has infuriated the Players Association and there are signs that they will revolt in some way. Things could get real nasty.

But rarely does much-needed change happen without at least a little bit of pain. Right now, the players are experiencing more pain than they are used to, when it comes to being free agents and negotiating with teams for the right to obtain their talents and services.

But they have been making too much money for too long and it must stop. If there is collusion going on, that’s wrong, and the owners will feel that pain. But players have openly blamed themselves for what has transpired. So, it’s tough to claim collusion when players understand why their water is getting shut off.

Players and their agents have had it too good for too long. Agents have gotten cocky knowing they can hold owners over a barrel. ‘If you don’t sign him, someone else will.’ Well, they are now looking over their shoulder for other interested parties and no one is there.

Suddenly, agents like Scott Boras are furious, which really breaks my heart. He has owned baseball, getting players much more than they are worth at a time when they have 1-2 years before they begin to decline.

This hopefully is the new reality. Unfortunately for a lot of players who waited patiently for their big pay-day, they are not going to get the money they thought. JD Martinez, poor guy, may have to settle for $125M over 5 years if the Red Sox don’t budge.

There is an article out there centered around a study comparing JD and Yoenis Cespedes, one who is hoping to be in Boston and one who has played in Boston. It’s a fair comparison, but given the refreshing new conundrum for players, JD may have to ‘settle.’

I loved JD Martinez. He brought us so much joy and excitement while he played in Detroit. But I don’t feel sorry for him. And I certainly don’t feel sorry for Scott Boras. If these guys shed a tear over having to swallow their pride and accept a deal for ‘only’ $25M a year and consider it a failure or a crime, it will be time for them to look in the mirror and consider who in the hell they think they are.

And poor Bryce Harper? He may have to live with just being richer next year instead of completely crippling the team that signs up to pay him.


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HOT STOVE LEAGUE IS REALLY … SOMETHING

By:  Kurt Snyder

It’s the biggest story in baseball. And it’s like Seinfeld. It’s a story about nothing. The 2018 Hot Stove League has been a story about nothing. And that’s why it’s so big.

The Hot Stove League in baseball over the course of the off-season provides almost, but not quite, the kind of excitement that the NFL Draft provides. Some teams are going to get a whole lot better and some are not. But it provides a high level of intrigue along the way.

Few teams have ignored the luxury tax concerns and analytics, both of which are impacting their decisions on who to sign, if anyone.

It makes me wonder how the old Tiger regime would have handled things.  I wonder how Mike Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski would have operated in this environment. In their typical win-now mode. Wouldn’t this be their dream off-season?

Mr. I and Dave Dombrowski would not have followed along with the rest of the pack of teams who have shied away from spending big, would they?

With so many opportunities and so many players available to sign, the Tigers would have had the pick of the litter. And surely they would have responded. Do you remember Mike Ilitch after he signed Jordan Zimmermann? He laughed at the notion of violating the luxury tax.

But owners are not laughing now. Times are changing. And because they are changing, things may get real ugly with the Players Association. Collusion didn’t get brought up for quite a long time. But as the calendar has changed from December to January and from January to February, we have found that many of the moves teams are making are the low impact minor league signings.  And things are about to blow.

Oh, sure, there has been a Lorenzo Cain here and a Wade Davis there, but the number of these kinds of high dollar signings could almost be counted on one hand. Who could have predicted that one of the most sought after free agents on the market, JD Martinez, would not be sought after at all? And that on February 5th, he would still be standing looking around for a uniform?

To me, it’s absolutely fascinating. And during a year when the Tigers weren’t going to make any kind of newsworthy moves anyway, it’s entertaining as well.

Hey, what can I say, I love Seinfeld. I love shows about nothing. And so, it appears I am beginning to enjoy the now frigid, Hot Stove League too; an off-season show about nothing.

But still, I have a hard time believing that Mike Ilitch, teamed up with Dealin’ Dave, would participate in all of this. They would be pouncing on opportunities to sign players at prices they never dreamed they could realize. I have a hard time believing they would be sitting back with the rest of baseball, scared to make a move; scared to make a mistake. That was not in their DNA.

Dealin’ Dave is still out there on the prowl, jabbing back and forth with Scott Boras, trying to get an ‘affordable’ deal done for JD Martinez. But, is it different for him now? In 2018, I can say definitely yes. Prior to this season, he was still the GM with the wide eyes, spending cash and burning minor league prospects. David Price is going to make $30M this coming season under DD. Craig Kimbrel is going to make $13M as their closer.

Are those days ending for even Dave Dombrowski? Given that even the Red Sox haven’t made any noise, is it a sign that the majority of the owners are indeed gathering as one and taking advantage of what the Players Association agreed to in the last CBA?

It turns out that just like Seinfeld, all this nothing is becoming quite something. Players and their agents are no longer ‘Masters of their domain’ or ‘King(s) of the county’ or ‘Lord(s) of the manor.’

‘Let the airing of grievances’ begin!’ To all you free agents out there who were hoping to be laughing all the way to the bank by now; well … ‘no soup for you!

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.’


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20 JANUARY THOUGHTS

By:  Kurt Snyder

Back by popular demand! The first installment of 20 Thoughts for 2018!  Welcome to February, a time when your team begins the trip to Lakeland for another spring training. But hang on! Don’t get ahead of yourself! Give the excitement of January what it deserves!  Translation:  Wake from your slumber and read this.

Keep in mind that not everything you see in these monthly segments is about events from the past month. These are random thoughts, some having to do with the previous month and some that do not. I will do my best to strike a balance between the good and the bad, but heading into a rebuild, that won’t be easy. Anyway, here are my 20 January Thoughts.


1. I don’t care whether you like Ron Gardenhire or not, but you have to admit that it sure is nice to finally be done with the frustrating tenure of Brad Ausmus.

2. Ron Gardenhire has passed 2 hurdles so far; his introduction and opening presser as the new manager and of course, the Winter Caravan / TigerFest. But those were the easy ones; big challenges await.

3. Most of the focus at TigerFest was on the players who weren’t there versus who was there. But even though the absence of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez stole the show, Nick Castellanos made his case for a leadership role this season (more on that later).

4. An entire week went by since the latest contract offer to JD Martinez from the Red Sox. The result? Crickets. This off-season is either the start of a new era in baseball or at least the year that helped to defined it. What this quiet off-season has done is give competitive small market teams the opportunity to acquire players they normally would not be in position to grab. The Brewers, unlike so many teams, have shown the desire to spend and are reaping the benefits of the slow market. Signing Yu Darvish would put the cherry on top.

5. Scan the Tiger infield – it’s really, pretty good. (Carry over from December 2017)

6. About Miggy: The no-nonsense approach of Ron Gardenhire should be good for him. We can’t afford to have Miggy rule the roost like he is used to doing. He’s not in charge. He doesn’t make the call on when he plays and when he doesn’t and that should be made clear. (Carry over from October & November – will ring true until the season starts.) Update: Given that Gardenhire and Miggy have yet to talk signals that this will be the elephant in the room and Gardy’s biggest challenge heading into spring training.

7. The most amusing quote that emerged from TigerFest came from the mouth of Al Avila, who did say this, no lie! “This is an exciting time.”   Who else fell off the couch and spit their beer across the room when you read this?

8. Optimism about Ron Gardenhire based on the information gathered prior to him stepping in the dugout can be premature. What’s not premature are statements based on his experience in rebuilding. “I hate sloppy,” speaks volumes at least for me. A manager who has a disdain for bad baseball is a good place to start.

9. Whitaker and Trammell in the Hall of Fame. Doesn’t that sound good? When will it be true?

10. Early last season, before the purge of most of the Tigers’ stars, I made a statement about the Chicago White Sox and their success in stockpiling talent. I was jealous of them and their off-the-field transformation. They have accumulated some of the best and most promising talent in the game. Does anyone want to question that jealousy now like it was questioned then?

11. Fast forward to this year’s trade deadline in July. The Tigers will certainly be active. Among the players the team is willing to deal, who will offer the best return based on what you know now. Shane Greene is my choice. Who is yours?

12. As far as our middle infielders go, holding onto a still relatively young Iglesias and pairing him with an athletic Dixon Machado at second base would be a nice combination for a team rebuilding. They should play very well together. But don’t blink, because it has been made perfectly clear that Iggy ain’t stayin’ long.

13. There are 5 teams I will be watching intently in 2018. All 5 will have new managers. The Tigers,of course, with Ron Gardenhire, the Nationals with Dave Martinez, the Red Sox with Alex Cora, the Phillies with Gabe Kapler and the Yanks with Aaron Boone. (Essential a carryover from November and December ‘17)

14. I have seen teams heading into a rebuild looking a lot less talented than this current Tiger team. Is it so outrageous to suggest that the team could improve on last year’s record? After all, they did lose 98 games.

15. We have real trouble with Jordan Zimmermann. Since the discovery of his nervy neck issue in the spring, he has been much more bad than good, and with lots of years left on his contract. Even though he did return for a couple starts at end of the season, we should be very concerned with his health and contributions going forward. (Holdover from September, and may stay on this list for a while – yep, staying on for November too – and December) Update: No reason whatsoever for this topic to leave 20 Thoughts in 2018.  At least not yet.

16. Now that you have thought about #14 for a minute,  here is what I believe would be the reason for the Tigers not improving on 98 losses: Depth.

17. If you are not in favor of the Ron Gardenhire hire, what would change your mind in 2018? (Carryover from December 2017)

18.  What has disappointed me the most since the hiring of Gardy?  Outside of Chris Bosio,  I am not at all thrilled with the coaching staff.

19. Does Nicholas Castellanos have the ability to turn the Tigers into his team in 2018? This was a question from December’s version of 20 Thoughts. Here is my answer: No. This is a player with still so much to learn. He is a poor baserunner. He is a poor outfielder. He was a poor third baseman. With so much to improve upon, taking on a leadership role cannot be part of his lengthy list of goals in 2018.

20. I think we can all agree that the biggest concern heading into Spring Training is Gardenhire’s relationship with Miguel Cabrera. It’s not that it’s a bad one, it’s the absence of one.


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TIGER FEST NOT FOR EVERYONE

By:  Kurt Snyder

Tiger Fest. It’s an event I have never attended. Not yet.

But something tells me, I may get this assignment in the future. Holly may ask, “Hey, how come you don’t go to Tiger Fest?” or “You may want to consider going, it would be good for Totally Tigers.”

Well, I have thought about it. Which is already a step in the right direction. It is something I am mulling over for next year.

So why haven’t I gone? And why am I suddenly considering it for the future?

Thanks for asking!


Tiger Fest is tailored to a certain kind of fan. They are the fans who will love the team no matter what, and crave the ability to get up close and personal with the players. I think it’s an event that is more tailored to families, because, remember, it starts with the kids.

The chance to ask a player a question is a dream come true for many. It’s an event for autograph hunting, photo ops and a valued handshake from your favorite Tiger.

Ron Gardenhire walked through the throngs of people outside the park, shaking hands, taking photos, even playing a hand of cards with a group of gents.  He did everything but kiss babies like a candidate for office.

This is an important event for teams all over the league. Every season, the marketing department has a job to do. They must promote the team, even bad teams. And the first big opportunity is Tiger Fest. But it’s a taller order when the team is headed into a season where very little success is expected.

Tiger Fest is all positive, folks. Which is fine, but I am really not interested in an event where they are blowing smoke from every angle.  However, I am now willing to hunt for the value.

I sifted through a radio interview with Al Avila and one with Ron Gardenhire, both live from the event. Al contributed what you would expect from him: a predictable, overly expressive diatribe about what he described as “an exciting time.” Geez, take it down a notch, Al!

Gardenhire on the other hand is very engaging and is a much more savvy speaker. You can be swayed by someone who seems more genuine and doesn’t scramble around when he talks. Avila constantly struggles with that.

Anyway, I listened for something new during these interviews. And it isn’t easy, because gathering tangible information from a fan fest is tough duty. You can’t be distracted by the fluff and the attempts to hype a bad team.  Instead you must search for something concrete. Something you can listen to and decide, “now that offers substance.”

The word ‘analytics’ these days, gets thrown around more than Jim Price says “Wow.” Saying we are using analytics is not enough. Saying we have a department is not enough. Explain please.

During Tiger Fest, Al brought up biomechanics. Now we are getting somewhere! Biomechanics is a tool for players, particularly pitchers, used to discover stress points and weaknesses in the delivery of the baseball. A wearable device pinpoints, first, if there are stresses, and if there are, where they are. It’s a valuable tool in forecasting injuries before they occur, or it can discover a flaw in the delivery that if corrected, can potentially improve performance.

Fluidity in a delivery would have to be key in grading well under the guise of biomechanics. It’s why I fear for the future of Michael Fulmer, who throws with a hitch that appears to put so much torque on his arm. I wonder how he would grade out.


The interview with Ron Gardenhire gave me a taste of how the Tigers will benefit from having him on board as the new manager. Of course, the dreaded lineup question came up. After first saying he would like to bat Miggy first, second and third (which was funny), he discussed a philosophy that focused on the bottom of the lineup, not the top. What? Yep, the bottom.

It wasn’t a new perspective or new idea. It was just a refreshing dialogue that wasn’t centered on who needs to bat where and who needs to be protected in the lineup. He simply said that it is important to have high OBP guys at the bottom of the order so the lineup rolls over for the hitters at the top.

Who those players are or who even qualifies is another story, but it’s a sound philosophy mainly borrowed from Money Ball, where OBP was the most dominant statistic attributed to selecting who sees the field.

Those are the types of things you hope to get at an event like Tiger Fest. They are the kind of topics that give you hope, other than, hey, we might get lucky.

So, I know you have been waiting. Why am I considering going next year?

It’s all about reading people. It is an area where Holly specializes, but I dabble in it during games while looking for things on the field or in the dugout that are not areas of focus from the broadcast team.

Body language. It’s one thing I would concentrate on at Tiger Fest.

Heading into a season that has the makings of being very difficult, I would have liked to have seen how someone like Al Avila and the players carried themselves. Were they engaged, interested, enthusiastic? And if so, did it seem forced? Did it seem contrived? Or did it seem genuine? You get all that by attending.

So yes, Holly, I am going next season. Why don’t you meet me at the gate?


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SAFER – BUT NO NET GAIN

By:  Kurt Snyder

It’s amazing what the game of baseball must try to do. Where it must go. How far it must go to improve the game, to make it more desirable.

There have been some good ideas in the interest of improving pace of play and shortening the game, and then there have been bad ideas.

There have been good ideas to make the game safer for the players and coaches on the field, but then there has been an equal number of rules enforced in the name of safety that , frankly, has made the game less exciting.

The rules instituted to eliminate collisions at second base and at the plate have made the game less desirable for new fans and old, the very opposite of what the Commissioner is trying to do.  Self-inflicted wounds on the game they are trying to improve. All because a couple of players were injured. Imagine … injuries in sports! Shocking!

Now MLB has moved from the field to the stands. Again, there have been good initiatives as select stadiums around the country have taken steps so fans don’t lose their lives falling out of their seats. Those were obvious stadium design flaws that needed to be addressed.

But now I am about to sound like the most insensitive fan out there. The extending of netting from home plate past the dugouts and potentially further down the lines, is not good for baseball.   Great for safety, bad for the game.

It might be good for the game’s reputation and perceived compassion for the safety of fans, but the very last thing I would want is to have to watch the game through netting from the very best and most expensive seats in the park.

Was I moved and sympathetic over some of the awful events during the last few years where fans were severely injured? Of course! I don’t like to see anyone get hurt when they are there to enjoy themselves.   I don’t mean to appear callus.  But if you are going to sit close and you are not behind the plate, don’t you sign up for that risk?

I guess I had it all wrong when I watched games from some of the best vantage point inTiger Stadium.  Fans were so close to the field. I really thought, the closer to the action, the better. But I guess I was off-base. I guess I should have been concerned for my safety.

Now, I don’t know the circumstances of every incident where fans were severely injured from a batted ball.  Some, I am sure, were unavoidable. But some, I am sure, could have been. Parents! Protect your kids! You need to pay attention just as much as they do!

To be frank, the game has become a slave to litigation, but  MLB can now take a deep breath. They will provide greater safety for the people sitting in the best seats.  Fewer people will get hurt and that’s a good thing.

But what does all this mean? Well, the fan experience will now be compromised, but safer.  Many will applaud the fact that MLB is now acting on something that, for over a hundred years, they never worried about before.  When it happened, teams dealt with it. When there were law suits, teams dealt with it.

But, fans have changed and the game must change along with them.   It’s the way businesses work. You must provide more, to attract more.   And the game must now account for the distracted fan.  They must protect them.

Well, now they have a net.  They can feel safer.   And if you aren’t interested in baseball, you can now ignore the game without a worry in a world.


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YOU WANT THEM TO WATCH? GET THEM TO PLAY

By:  Kurt Snyder

Everyone played baseball when I was a kid. Everyone. It was what filled our summers. When we weren’t playing Little League games, we were playing at the park or in our yards or just playing catch with our parents and siblings.

But all of that has changed. Take a drive down any neighborhood during the summer and just try to find kids playing baseball. You won’t.

And to me, the fact that kids play the game less, diminishes their interest in watching it when they get older. They might go to a game, but the real interest isn’t there. They are more likely to desire constant entertainment and less likely to form interest or intrigue.


So, what is best for baseball?

Well I wonder if Rob Manfred has considered developing a strategy to improve the roots of the game. It all comes back to the kids, doesn’t it?

His time on the soap box since he has been Commissioner has been spent analyzing pace of play and the length of games. And it is his duty to continue to entertain these ideas, popular or not.

A pitch clock is back in the discussion. Limiting mound visits has also been discussed. And these topics will stay in the news as the Commissioner and the Players Association duke it out.

But the players are in no mood. Countless quality free agents are still available; an unprecedented issue considering we are heading into the latter stages of January, and that dirty “collusion” word is being muttered under the breath of many.

These are the issues facing the game today. And I would argue that the only people who care are fans like us. That loyal group who grew up playing baseball in some form.

In the meantime, the Commissioner will need to be creative to improve the interest of the fun-loving millennial crowd who more than likely didn’t play much baseball when they were young.

I understand the initiatives being attempted. Just as long as Manfred attacks this from both ends. The youth in this country need to find their way back to the diamond. And if MLB is involved already in that initiative, they may want to kick it up a notch.

For now, Rob Manfred must find a way not just to entertain. He must find a way to make the game fascinating for the new fan. He must find a way to make the game interesting for them to follow.

And, sadly, I don’t think that is at all possible. Not without the help of parents who teach their kids the game and get them to the point where get the fever. The fever that can’t keep them out of the ballpark to watch the big boys play.


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BUILDING BLOCKS

By:  Kurt Snyder

Three 100-loss seasons and one 90-loss season. That’s what the Houston Astros endured. The following season they went to the playoffs but lost in the Division Series. Two years later, they won it all.

6 years. 2 playoff appearances. 1 World Championship.

That’s impressive if you ask me. The Tigers, too, have been projected to be quite bad for the next 3 seasons. And as bad as that sounds, that’s on schedule with the Astros’ journey to the top.

Three horrible seasons where they drafted high, and of course, most importantly, drafted correctly. Those players, in turn, became stars. They became stars and building blocks.

And the Tigers will get their first opportunity in June to grab one of those building blocks, with the first pick in the draft.

Yes, the future is in the draft.  But there are decisions to make with this roster this season which will help shape the future as well.

So let’s start with pitching.


Shane Greene may never see Opening Day for the Tigers. The stability he delivered as closer in the final weeks of the season last year surely did not go unnoticed around the league, making him a high commodity.

He is an important trade piece, given the increased emphasis on baseball’s new pitching strategy and catch phrase, bullpenning. Teams are loading up on relief pitching. So, the only consideration is when to trade Greene, not if.

Is he more valuable now or later? It’s a tough call. You don’t know the future. You don’t know how healthy he will be in July. But you do know his DNA. You do know what he brings to the table. He’s a bulldog who has grown to love it out of the pen.

And he fits the bill as one of those potential difference makers for a contending team at the trade deadline. That’s why Al Avila makes the big bucks.

His decisions? Sell low now or roll the dice, hope Shane has a good year, and sell high at the deadline. If it’s me, I wait. Trading him early may cost us.


OK, who else?  What pitchers, despite the rebuild, have a lot riding on 2018?  Arms that offer the team a future.

Well, they must decide how patient they will be with Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd, who could have a very defining year.  It may define their future in Detroit or some other baseball city.  It all depends, doesn’t it?

If they break through and perform, then you have two more building blocks you can count as part of your future. But if they don’t perform well, you begin to question if they are worth more of your time. Getting knocked around and finding themselves spending more time in Toledo, will test the level of patience the organization will have during this rebuild.

I would remain patient with Norris and Boyd. Some players develop later than others. And the last thing you want during a rebuild is to give up on young talent you acquired for your future.  Young pitching you fought to acquire.

So this is a critical year approaching us very quickly.  A year where patience and sound decision-making will be big in getting this ball rolling again.  Any missteps will be unacceptable.   Mistakes will make the road back far longer.

The Astros made one with JD Martinez. I can’t think of many others.


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