LOYALTY RUNNING ITS COURSE

By:  Kurt Snyder

Scan the news. Go ahead do it. Maybe you already have.

Maybe you, too, have been in search of an opinion or some sort of encouraging word that professes that the 2019 season will be different from the last.

But even the most enthusiastic of fans have a hard time believing that it will. They are waiting.

They are waiting for that return of the days when the signings begin. Waiting for the big blockbuster trade. The kind they have grown accustomed to over the last decade of Tiger baseball.

It’s hard to wrap your heads around it, isn’t it? That Tiger baseball has come to this. That a complete rebuild would be the only course of action.

The Ilitch family has taken the Tiger fan base on a whirlwind tour of emotions. There have been long stretches during the longest rollercoaster ride even ridden.

Upon the purchase of the Tigers in the early 90’s, Mike Ilitch did little with the team; they languished at the bottom of the league for over a decade, with fans wondering where all of this was headed.

Questions about the priority of the Tigers during a time when the Red Wings were doing so well, dominated most of our opinions.

But when you fast forward from then to now, the dynamic of the ownership of this team has taken a dramatic turn. And we have to decide if the shift we are experiencing is acceptable.

The Mike Ilitch ownership was driven by the love of competition, it just took a while to gain success. And until we sit in that driver’s seat, it’s difficult to understand why it would take someone so long to realize that a jumpstart of sorts would be required.

Why did it take so long for Mr. I to bring in someone to run his team who had proven success with another franchise? Why did he wait? Well, we learned quite a bit about Mike over the years.

He was extremely loyal and quite patient. And what we might have experienced during the first 12 years or so of his ownership was an owner searching for a map.

It was his dream to own the Tigers. He played in the minor leagues with them. Hockey had dominated everything, but baseball had a special place in his heart. Purchasing the Tigers was a dream come true.

But taking them to another title almost a decade after the last one became a difficult task. A hurdle never eclipsed.

Dave Dombrowski did come along and stabilize the ship, but only after the bank vault opened. Throwing money at the franchise became the new norm. And it worked. It was risky but it worked.

So we thought.

The ship was cruising along at breakneck speed, taking all of us along for the grand tour on the way to the pinnacle of baseball.

So we thought.

Little did we know that the ship had a slow leak that would eventually put a drag on the system until the boat could no longer stay afloat.  Though money was spent on the pretty parts, down below in the minor leagues, less and less was provided.  More and more was taken away.

For 14 seasons, Mike Ilitch rode the wave with Dave Dombrowski. An incredible stretch of loyalty and patience. And when Dave finally said the ship was in trouble, the loyalty ended. The patience? Done. Gone.

We all know this story, but it is still so important to remember how we got to where we are today. Mr. I started anew, promoting Al Avila, still giving him the freedom to continue to spend money on a ship that was still leaking – more and more all the time.

That was the Mike Ilitch ownership. A long stretch of failure, followed by a long stretch of success, only to fall short of the ultimate goal and head back down again.  So when we have been so close, experiencing teams with players who have been among the best in the game, it is difficult to have to head down this path.

The Ilitch loyalty brought us here. It offered us fun and heartbreak. But now that it is back to the drawing board, unnecessary loyalty needed to be scrubbed and examined.

When done right, the progressive steps of a rebuild can be rewarding;  the development of the stars of tomorrow and hopefully, a championship.

But, what we have gleaned from the actions of Chris Ilitch is a perception that he doesn’t have the same drive as his father. He doesn’t have the same passion to win. That is the perception. The zest for that same competitive spirit is not yet evident.

But one thing remains the same. The loyalty.

Keeping Al Avila as his first order of business was blatant and unnecessary loyalty.

We don’t have any idea how long Chris will wait. We don’t have any idea what his motives are for this franchise. We only know that this is still an Ilitch-owned baseball team.  One still yearning for that elusive championship; that taste of success realized so many times on the hockey side of the ledger.

And we will yearn, too. We will wait for some sort of realization that loyalty really isn’t the best of things. Impatience with loyalty must force its way to the top.


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MAKING THINGS NEW

By:  Kurt Snyder

What do the Tigers have to offer fans in 2019? What will make them come to Comerica Park?

The team will be up against it this season. There will be no number retirements and no milestone anniversaries of past champions to celebrate. These were the highlights sprinkled amongst the rubble of a team in a deep rebuild.

The ugly part. The dismantling part. The part that will continue for another year. This makes 2019 even tougher for a franchise that will struggle to fill the seats.

Attendance should be expected to take an even deeper hit than it took in 2018. Miggy’s return could help a tad, but unless he comes in and turns back the pages to his dominant years, don’t expect one player, even if he is the franchise player, to move the needle.

It all comes down to winning. The Tiger fan base is not interested in watching the phases of a rebuild. They would rather fast forward to the winning. And I guess you could say that for all of us. We are all impatient.

On the other hand, while we wait, there is something appealing about a team that is starting over, and has made strategic moves within their ownership or front office staff. There is something appealing about an established plan, and then watching the execution. And, of course, it’s also appealing to hear of a philosophical change as part of the rebuild.

In the end, isn’t a rebuild the result of a failed philosophy? Or isn’t it at least a major part of the reason? Typically, that new philosophy would drive changes in organizational structure; new people with fresh ideas. New people not set in their ways who bring open-mindedness to the process and are not resistant to change.

Talent and roster aside, it’s what rebuild normally means. It’s what a rebuild requires.

Sorry, but none of this has happened in Detroit. There has been little restructuring and no established (or publicized) plan as they address the rebuild.

Much of what we talk about in preparation for the coming season will weigh heavily towards speculation. Because every move cannot be taken at face value. We will always have one ear to the wall of the same old people in charge of making things new.

But are they making things new? Are old resources in the executive ranks, the same who have failed to reach the ultimate goal, capable of making things new and fresh?  Reaction to changes made by those same people will be guarded, at best.

Ron Gardenhire just recently spoke out about how this team should be built. They ought to be built for their large park; the very same thing baseball fans in Detroit have been talking about since 2000. But it came from the manager during a casual conversation.

Did we hear Al Avila proclaim that finally, the philosophy will be to build the team around the park? No, sir. It was an off-the-cuff statement from the manager, speaking from experience.

We don’t know what to look forward to in 2019. We only know what hasn’t changed. We only know that there are individuals in the front office still influencing the next move. Translation: Holding the franchise back.

We can look forward to the continued development of the young players who had their first real experience playing over the course of a 162 game schedule. We will look forward to stop-gap free agents arriving to hopefully become trade pieces in July and to September to see some more new faces who have impressed in the minors all season.

Sound familiar? It’s what we did in 2018. And if that is part of the process, fine. But with no confidence in the people in charge, continued confusion and pessimism will reign.

Pessimism because the rebuild has skipped important steps. Rebuilding the organization before building the team was very critical.

If it just meant that the process will now take longer because of it, that would be putting it very simply. But it is so much more than that. Skipping that step will render the rebuild impossible.

Chris Ilitch may wake up one day and realize that there was no way of rebuilding without addressing his executive staff. And when he realizes it, things will start over.

If the proper steps are then taken, those new people will change direction, making everything they just did a complete waste of time.

From a Tiger standpoint, and the rebuilding process they have chosen, this may just be the ‘waste of time’ phase.

Give us strength.


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LEARNING FROM A CHAMPION

By:   Kurt Snyder

When a season ends and a champion is crowned, copycat season often begins.

In 2017, the Houston Astros put a bow on their rebuild with the final destination, a World Championship. They did it primarily through the draft and then spent when it was time,  then spending would help put them over the top. But their core had been established. They had drafted remarkably well and other teams have now made them their model for success.

But what about this year’s champion? Are the Red Sox a model for success? Can just any team look at them and decide, yes, if we follow their model, we have a shot at duplicating their success?

Well, when it comes to the Red Sox or even the Dodgers whom they defeated in the World Series, these are big time, freewheeling, free spending juggernauts of the game. They represent the cream of the crop. Big market teams with big market dollars.

And although there was still plenty of homegrown talent, much of their core was supplemented with expensive free agents. And if they weren’t free agent signings, they acquired high-end talent in exchange for high-end minor league prospects; something Boston’s Dave Dombrowski has practiced often and in doing so has made a name for himself – Trader Dave.

But, teams still searching for that championship, along with teams in the midst of a rebuild, have an obligation to look at recent champions and see what they did, how they build and what they built their team around.

There is always the emphasis on fundamentals. You build with pitching, speed and defense. On-base percentage has been a huge stat now as teams look at analytics and every potential intangible a player has that can help them gain an advantage.

But in the end, what do champions always seem to have? Well, they are relentless hard workers who give a tremendous effort. Is that enough? Well, it is a great place to start without question.

In baseball, teams can work their tails off but talent eventually shines through or the lack of it eventually drags teams down.

Teams that win championships are relentless at taking advantage. They are opportunistic, always looking for an edge; an opportunity to win the little battles.

But the icing on the cake, especially this season was quite obvious. The Red Sox were a true team. A group of guys who genuinely enjoyed each other, were excited to share in the success.  They had built a family-like atmosphere.

Do general managers consider fit when they draft, when they make trades or when they sign a free agent? Are players just expected to get along? Is it on the manager to take a group of professionals and build the bond?

It’s hard to know. It has to be difficult enough for a  GM and his scouts to find talent that will fit the park they are going to play in and fill the needs where the team may be lacking. But can they possibly make a decision based on their potential fit with the other players?

To me, it’s not possible, or at least very difficult.   You can check a player’s background for any previous behavioral issues, but that’s about it.

That’s where the manager has to perform his magic. It’s when a team finds out what they have in a leader. Can he not only build a bond with his players, but can he foster that bond between his players. Team sports are exactly that.

It is often said that a team cannot win with a bunch of individuals. They must win as one. Even losing as one builds a tighter bond for the future.

In Detroit, the Tigers appeared to have a team that was quite tight in 2018. They appeared to have a bond and genuinely enjoyed playing with and for each other. You could see it.

And much of that, if not all of it, was due to the efforts and tutelage of Ron Gardenhire. But Gardy was brought in for this type of situation. He was brought in because he had experience in getting the most out of players, maximizing potential and getting players to play for each other, especially during a rebuild.

Someday, the Tigers will gather enough talent to compete again. Players will come and go and before you know it we will have a whole new mix and a whole new core.  However, they could be very talented but with no real bond between the players.

I think we have experienced that before and it became the downfall of what was a very talented team.

So who will be our Alex Cora when it becomes time to bond the team that has been formed? That’s a question for years down the road, but it is just one more reminder that talent alone can’t win it. You need great effort and a willingness to play for each other.


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20 OCTOBER THOUGHTS

By:  Kurt Snyder

The off-season is now officially here. For everyone. The Red Sox have claimed another championship in dominant style and now we will watch everyone try to be just like them.

The Tigers, on the other hand, will now contemplate how to plug holes with temporary employees who will only kill time until the new kids mature.

But before we go there, let’s put a capper on October, the playoff season and whatever randomness in Tiger Land struck a nerve.

All thoughts while contemplating the month are captured here. Holdovers are topics we need to continue to follow and ponder, and are necessary in the compilation of 20 more monthly thoughts, of course, for your pleasure.

Let’s begin.


1. Let’s start with the owner of the Tigers who also owns the Red Wings. How concerned are you about the sanity of an owner who tears out all the red seats in his new hockey arena because black seats do a better job of masking low attendance. We should be worried.

2. I believe the Indians, despite their playoff experience, are poorly prepared to just turn it on in October. This division was decided fairly early and I think it works against them regardless of their roster upgrades. (This was held over because I think it was proven to be true. By no means were they ready to flip the switch and play a meaningful playoff series against the defending champs; not to mention the fact that Houston was a much better team).

3. October means playoff baseball. A month when we left the game alone, put aside all the initiatives to change it and allowed fans, old and new, to watch what was truly a great and exciting portrait of baseball. Outside of the craziness of one 18-inning marathon, games more than likely averaged 3 ½ hours of tactical and strategic managing coupled with great play by the greatest teams the game has to offer.

4. Watching the Red Sox stable of outfielders, all excellent defenders, signaled how far the Tigers need to go just in the outfield, in order to properly defend their home field. You didn’t see a poor play by the Sox in the outfield during the entire playoffs until the World Series, when JD lost a ball in the California twilight.

5. When it came to pitching in October, have we ever seen anything like how teams worked their way through nine innings?  From bullpenning to starters turning relievers and back to starters again – managers really had their creative hats on for sure. In response, the Tigers should take a hard look at the entire pitching staff and really see what starters may be more suitable in the pen.

6. With VMart now gone, conversation has now perked up again about who plays first base and who DH’s. I have pretty soundly expressed a desire for Miggy to DH a lot this season. But I have one thing to ask of everyone. Stop it with the Castellanos to first base commotion. Just quit. If he indeed stays in Detroit for this season, let him reach his zenith defensively in right. Jerking him around even more and experimenting at yet another position is not the way to go for Nick.

7. Well, well! Brad Ausmus got another job. Much will be expected of him from the Angels organization. His flaws were on display for 4 years in Detroit without a shred of improvement along the way. So obviously, it would be their hope that a smart guy like Brad will have learned a lot from the experience. I’m just leaving it at that.

8. Of all the former Tigers we watched perform, and perform well, in the playoffs in October, there was only one that truly surprised me. Just the appearance of Anibal Sanchez as a starting pitcher. Sometimes you just need a fresh start. But should I let the Tigers off that easy? Nope, can’t do it. It cost the Braves one year and one million for Anibal, just to see if he had anything left. What did they find that we couldn’t?

9. Just when I thought I had seen enough former Tigers fill up rosters all over the playoffs, out of the dugout in Milwaukee comes Prince Fielder to throw out the first pitch. Another reminder of the Tiger who quit on us and the millions of dollars we are still paying him.

10. What did we discover about Ian Kinsler in the World Series? He is still a lousy baserunner.

11. If you liked David Price while he was a Tiger, how do you feel about him now? After watching him perform so well in his last 3 starts and then listening to him after they won the title, how do you feel about him?

12. Boston’s Joe Kelly was a huge presence and played a major role in helping deliver another championship to the Red Sox. Yet another example of a converted starter who has found a niche in the pen. He had an average regular season, but a monstrous playoff.

13. On the subject of relievers and building bullpens, Shane Greene is an example of someone who was a starter but was converted to a reliever and eventually a closer. But he took a step back this season and I believe his future value has been compromised. Let me ask you – his value to the Tigers when he was acquired was his future prospects as a starter. Should he head back to that role? I have a suspicion that if he is traded by the Tigers, he may start again, for someone.

14. Back to the outfield. The Tigers are so due when it comes to a position player emerging as a star out of the minor leagues. And Daz Cameron appears to have the best shot at being that player. And it’s where the Tigers need one; in that outfield, with speed, defense and athleticism. And he can hit. Hopefully he has enough talent to make it happen at the next level. And soon.

15. Nick Castellanos, like last season, had a tremendous September, coming up just shy of hitting .300 for the season. He is now a rising star at the plate who should garner more trade talk than ever this off-season. Should we trade him? Well, we should listen. (Holding this over because the he will be the subject of plenty of trade conversation in the coming months, so he stays at the forefront of my mind.)

16. Simply put. If James McCann isn’t going to hit. Good bye. (Holdover from Sept and Aug: Al Avila pretty much confirmed it. His chances of staying are not good.)

17. Many thought Chris Sale would get the start for Boston in Game 5 with the opportunity to close things out. But with David Price on a roll, it turned out to be a great decision. But Alex Cora did a special thing. He still allowed Chris Sale to have that moment and close things out in the ninth. It’s the little things. And Cora gets it.

18. One good thing I have noticed about many of the position players who have come up to Detroit this season. Speed. Guys that can run should be just as important to the Tigers as it has been to the Kansas City Royals. KC, who has now begun another rebuild, are concentrating on speed once again. (A holdover for sure. Something we should keep track of as more players come in.)

19. Who do you see emerging in the spring as a surprise addition to the major league roster heading out of Lakeland? Will they be a pitcher or a position player? Keep researching the young guys and keep this in mind as we get closer to Spring Training.

20. It was a great month of October. The playoffs were exciting and the best team won. And although they may have sent many of us on an emotional roller coaster, the playoffs only reinforced how great the game is and how there are even more ways to skin a cat.


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A WORK OF ART

By:  Kurt Snyder

The game within the game.

Those who follow baseball use the phrase more than fans of other sports.

Baseball is the only game without a clock, but time restrictions are beginning to force their way in, to speed up play, and it threatens the uniqueness of the game.

I find it interesting how fans can look at the routine of a hitter at the plate or a pitcher on the mound and determine what isn’t necessary and only prolongs the game.

How do we know?

We don’t.

I believe we are naïve to think that anything that takes extra time between pitches is unnecessary when the mental part of the game plays such a huge role.

It must. As a hitter, you have a fraction of a second to determine whether to swing or not, and it demands a strategy. You need a routine. You need time to reflect on the previous pitch, what the count is, what the pitch pattern has been, and on and on it goes.

But we sit on our couches wondering why batters have to step out of the box and mess with their batting gloves each and every time.

We want to take all that away, but we don’t want performance to be affected in any way. We don’t want the game to be affected in any way. We only want things to go quicker. The games need to be shorter is what we hear at every turn.

I say ‘we’ because I want to speak to all fans, not just the ones who currently follow this forum. We are all baseball fans. Some more serious than others.

Justin Verlander tweeted the other day, speaking out to fans who still feel baseball is boring. He advised them to educate themselves more about the game. And I think it is a valid suggestion.

There is nothing more boring than watching something for hours that you don’t completely understand. The underlying issue though is much more complex. People have to want to learn. New fans are more casual, and if more educated they would realize there is so much more to contemplate while watching.

How you view the game, how you watch a game and what you watch during the game outside of the play itself, to me, represents a great expanse.

The game within the game. But that’s just me.

I learned it watching all those games at Tiger Stadium when my dad, more than once, would say, ‘that sounded high,’ when the ball hit the catcher’s glove. What? It sounded high? Yeah.

And when you start watching games with that much depth, you open yourself to even more interest and realize that there is so much going on over the course of nine innings or even 18 if you watched all 7 hours of Game 3 of the World Series.  If you truly love the game,  it is far from boring.

There are no rules when it comes to what intrigues you. I’m a big people watcher, so I wondered throughout the playoffs about the guy with the Marlins jersey and visor, who we began to see in Milwaukee. And then again in the World Series. He was seemingly just a baseball fan with no affiliation to the teams on the field. Maybe just a guy with a lot of money from Miami who loves the game.

I wondered about the woman who sat behind the plate in Milwaukee. A Brewers fan, who was doing more than keeping score. She charted every pitch and cheered and applauded while recording every moment and every stat.

The faces of fans at playoff games tell the story. Without knowing the score, you know who is winning and who is not. You can see it on the faces and in the eyes of players especially.

As the final game of the Series moved along in LA last night, emotions and facial expressions told the story. Concern, worry, confidence, excitement, adrenaline, exasperation, joy and in the eyes of David Price on the podium, relief.

No smile.

Just an expression of reflection. The staring into space and the deep breaths told the story.

Yeah, I look at all of that. If you want to be passionate about something, you crave the details. As a writer at Totally Tigers, I know I am not alone. You, the readers, have shown that you have the same interest and same depth of passion for the game.

Now the challenge for the Commissioner is to grow baseball.  A whole different and much more imposing animal.  He’s got a tough job. There is so much to consider when you look at the game, and what can be changed, but improved at the same time.

So incredibly complex. Like a work of art.

Have you ever looked at a painting, decided it’s a whole lot of nothing and walked away? Yes?

But what happens when you are really interested? You look longer. And before you know it, you start to see things in that painting. Detail. A story. Maybe emotion.
That’s baseball. And if you really want to love it, listen to JV.

Learn it. Live it. Love it.


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DON’T IGNORE THE D

By:  Kurt Snyder

If you take a look at our 2 Saturday surveys so far this off-season, there is an underlying topic. One so easily overlooked.

Within the last week, Ron Gardenhire has spoken out about the desire for a team that fits Comerica Park. A novel idea after 18 years of play. The dimensions at the place the team has called home since 2000 have been craving an athletic team, a team with speed, players who hit the ball in the gaps and, of course, great defense.

Yes, great defense. Something every team needs.  Something always on display in the playoffs. Something the Tigers have been trying to get by without, especially in the outfield, for many years.

If you have watched the Red Sox, JD Martinez has had a hard time finding much playing time in the outfield in Boston. He has belonged at that DH spot. There has been little need to trot him out on that outfield grass at Fenway. JD was in the lineup for 150 games in 2018. He played in the field in 57 of those games – that’s it.

Why?

3 reasons.

Andrew Benintendi. Jackie Bradley Jr. And Mookie Betts.

JD cracked that lineup to play defense for no other reason than to give one of those boys a breather. That’s it. When you have a choice. You pick defense. When you don’t, you have guys like JD playing right field full time, which isn’t ideal.

In Detroit, Nick Castellanos plays right field because we have no choice. It may be a reason why they should trade him. If we want to do this rebuild right, you get him off the field. And if he can’t DH, well, then maybe he has to go.

Defense.

It’s another reason why we should not be considering Christin Stewart for a spot in left field. Rebuilding the lineup with youth is fine, but must include speed, athleticism and defense.

It’s what Ron Gardenhire would say. It’s what I am saying.

Watching Benintendi save Game 4 against Houston with his diving catch to win the game, immediately made me think of Christin Stewart. He can’t be our long-term answer in leftfield.

Seeing Mookie Betts reaching into the crowd for a certain catch, if not for fans closing his glove, made me think of Castellanos. He can’t be our long-term answer in rightfield.

If we are going to listen to our manager and push for a team built for our stadium, outfield defense has to reflect the kind of athletes the Red Sox put on that grass. The kind of athletes the Royals put on the field during their championship run.

The insertion of Christin Stewart appears to be a mistake waiting to happen. This is not a current veteran thrust into the outfield while we wait for a young, athletic outfielder to mature. He is that young outfielder.

Sorry, this is no way to start. Put me in charge. Package Christin Stewart as part of your next trade opportunity. Don’t be mesmerized by the power potential. Be afraid of the defense that may cost you games. Shore it up – don’t try to compensate for the lack of it, offensively.

We have no opening for Nick Castellanos at DH. We don’t have that luxury where we can just plug him in there and watch him hit. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Boston had that luxury and JD couldn’t have been a better pickup for them to more than compensate for the void that had been created since the retirement of David Ortiz.

My only hope is this. We are still early in this rebuild. And maybe Nick and Christin will not be long-term pieces. Maybe Al Avila will indeed build for his ballpark.  If he does, Castellanos and Stewart will not be occupying the corners at Comerica Park.

Ask yourself this question?  How much offense do the Red Sox get from Jackie Bradley Jr.?   Not a lot, right? (At least not during the regular season).   But do I need to tell you why he is their centerfielder?   The same reason JaCoby Jones is ours.


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PULSE CHECK

By:  Kurt Snyder

I have a few things to ask you folks. Feel free to forward where you are on one or two. And use the rest as issues to contemplate for your next Open Mike opportunity.


ODDS AND ENDS

Have you heard any issue being made of the Tigers medical & training staff other than here at Totally Tigers? And if not, why?

What did everyone think of the Saturday Survey? We started light with the topic, but I think it has the potential to be very thought-provoking.

And what about the question on Saturday? As you continue to watch the playoffs,  if we asked the question again in another week, would your answers change?

Much was made about the potential interest of Dan Gilbert in purchasing the Tigers. Do you think this falls into the classic ‘be careful what you wish for’ category?

On the subject of Chris Ilitch, would you agree that he has more of an obligation to hold onto the Tigers? Does he feel he owes it to his father, regardless of his own personal interest?

Has anyone researched Dave Littlefield? Do it and then ask yourself, why did Dave Dombrowski hire him? And why is he in a prominent role with this organization?


PLAYERS

Are we warming up to the idea of Nicholas Castellanos staying with the Tigers? And do you think he will survive the rebuild?

Let’s talk September call ups. Who moved the needle the most?  Defensively. Offensively. Athletically.

The Tigers have their work cut out for them up the middle, now that Iggy is the next to leave the team. Would you agree that the team should sign a shortstop to eventually trade at the deadline?  And if they couldn’t trade Iggy, does that answer the question all on its own?

James McCann’s future was put on notice, thanks to Avila’s way-too-honest approach. But do you see an upstart talent banging on the door to take over?

Victor Reyes. What are your thoughts on his future?

We saw a lot of different pitchers come out of the pen in ’18, with most of the promise coming from Joe Jimenez and Victor Alcantara. Is there a third guy you thought may be emerging?

Is our future leadoff man in Detroit yet? And while on the subject, how good of a fit was Jeimer Candelario in that spot?

Who has been better than JaCoby Jones in centerfield for the Tigers over the last decade? Anyone?

Is there another Tiger who will get more of the benefit of the doubt like Jones because of superior defense? Is it too early to ask this question?


MANAGER / COACHES

Did you notice more players running through stop signs this year rounding third?

Do you feel the transition and quality of coaching was quite seamless after the departure of Chris Bosio?

How soon do you feel the Tigers should be promoting Doug Mientkiewicz to the big club? Next bench coach-in-waiting? Next Tiger manager-in-waiting?

Who is dying to have a beer with Ron Gardenhire to ask him about his training staff and everyone’s favorite Totally Tigers topic, core muscles?


And the final question, what am I going to have left to talk about for October’s 20 Thoughts? Don’t you worry about it! I’ve got a lot on my mind… and who is going to care if there are 40 instead of 20 this month?


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INTERNAL ROADBLOCKS STIFLING GARDY

By:  Kurt Snyder

What have we noticed about Ron Gardenhire this month? What has he been up to, now that the season is complete?

Well, it appears that Gardy is going through a period of evaluation and philosophically, what he is learning ain’t good. Any success he has had in the game was built on a strong foundation of fundamentals. But when he looks at how his team has done things, he has not liked what he has seen.

At the beginning of a rebuild, isn’t this something you would expect from your manager? What you would like to hear from him?  Well, yes and no. He has made discoveries about the modern-day game and sees his team abandoning fundamentals; strikeouts and his team’s 2-strike approach is concerning.

My purpose here is not to rehash a topic already covered in the local papers. It is more about who should be standing next to or behind Gardy when he speaks and who should not.

I would much rather have Gardy speaking out on team deficiencies as a reason why he has chosen a new coach here or a new coach there.

He is not happy with his team’s approach to hitting. He’s not happy with all the strikeouts. He is not happy about how little they put the ball in play. They are all things that should have been addressed during his first season but were not under Lloyd McClendon. What you saw at the plate was not emblematic of a Ron Gardenhire managed team.

But here lies the problem. This is the hand he was dealt. And sadly, there was not a single card he was allowed to discard. There was no opportunity to grab a new one off the deck.

The man has legitimate concerns about his players and their approach to hitting and if given full control, I believe he would have made a coaching change. A chance to alleviate his concerns. Addition by subtraction.

His statements over the last couple weeks has indicted his GM. Holly eloquently exposed it just a couple short days ago. But Gardy keeps digging in and continues to comment on the state of the team.

We have a very good manager here. But he can only do so much. He knows his baseball. He knows the areas where improvement needs to take place. But too many coaching decisions have been made for him, and he has had to settle. He has had to settle for a coaching staff that may not be preaching or has failed to deliver the message that he would like to see.

Our growing readership group was tormented while watching Tiger baseball this year. They witnessed hitters in the box with seemingly no clue about where they were headed. No clue about their approach. No clue of any plan for their at-bat. Were they waiting for their pitch or just guessing and free-wheeling it at the plate? Were they indeed changing their approach with 2-strikes?

You folks watched. What did you see? Well, we know what you saw. It was a team with no offensive game plan. Game after game after game. These are all indictments on a hitting coach who, as a result, should have found him with his bags packed and sitting on the curb outside Comerica Park following the 2018 season.

Lloyd McClendon has truly been blessed by the Tiger organization. Continually coddled by old Tiger management. Continually overvalued as someone who can help young players.

And his presence on this staff flies in the face of what Gardy preaches and what he is all about as a teacher of the game.  Which brings to mind a question we all had to have screamed when the news was announced.

Why on earth were the Tiger coaches so quickly named to return next season?

Gardy certainly would have liked a reasonable amount of time to evaluate what he had in a staff. A period of time to critique and tweak the areas that needed attention.

Who made that decision so quickly? Knowing what we have learned about our manager, does evaluating his staff after Year 1, seem like something he would do quickly? Just bring everyone back without explanation?

No. Ron has his hands full. He has been asked to guide a rebuild under everyone else’s terms but his own. And it stinks. All of it. All the them.

The Tiger ownership. The executive staff. They have an obligation. They are in positions to help their manager succeed. To expand. To improve. But when decisions are made for him and he has little say or no obvious role in what is decided, Gardy’s hands remain tied.

Meanwhile we watch other organizations seeking to win, not settling for mediocrity, clearing the house of clutter taking up valuable space.

But here in Detroit? We love our garbage. No matter how much it stinks.


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REBUILD EXTENDS TO THE BOOTH

By:  Kurt Snyder

Well, it’s over and it should be. Rod and Mario are finished. So how do you feel?

For me, hearing the decision was sad and satisfying all at the same time. You never want to see anyone lose their jobs, but when you do something stupid and unprofessional, you risk losing a job that you love.

There is no doubt that both Rod and Mario love the game, loved their jobs and loved covering the Tigers. But none of that transferred to their personal relationship, one that obviously deteriorated on the way to a very shocking ending.

What could have been done to avoid this? Well, there had to be signs. It was documented that they were not friends outside of the broadcast booth, and that they had a pretty cold relationship. It’s easy to say now, but this couldn’t have been something that just came out of the blue. Regardless, here we sit.

The whole altercation was an embarrassment to themselves, FSD and the Tigers. However, with the release of Rod and Mario, the team and FSD are now forced to make decisions that already needed to be made with the broadcast teams who, to be honest, needed some fresh blood.

Were they planning to make any changes? I would say no. But thankfully, now they must. This was becoming a stale combination and injecting some life into that TV booth is long overdue.

You won’t find this Tiger fan criticizing any part of the Kirk Gibson portion of the team. Gibby is giving it everything he has and deserves no criticism, but shockingly gets plenty. Sometimes I don’t understand people.   People can be heartless and let’s just leave it at that.

On the other hand, if you are a big Gibson fan, maybe you are thinking, fine, he should just replace Allen and his workload. That obviously would be the wrong answer, as you can expect Gibson’s workload to be reduced, not expanded.

So who else?

Well, Dan Dickerson, the Tigers long time play-by-play man on the radio, has done well in his few stints broadcasting on the TV side, mainly because his style is a better fit for TV. Heck, he wouldn’t  have to worry about communicating the score because it will be on the screen!

If the Tigers stay in-house, I believe Dickerson would be a viable option. Fans are familiar and for the most part,  he is pretty likable.  And I like the idea of another ex-Tiger commentator paired with him.  Dan Petry has been someone who has been talked about in the past. He has done some broadcasting and from what I remember, has done a good job.

Petry would be another good tie to a Tiger championship club and I believe, all in all, people like to hear firsthand knowledge from someone who has won, and won here.

So what about Craig Monroe and Jim Price?

Well, regardless of how you feel about Craig  and Jim, they both were popular when they played for the Tigers and both have experience in a World Series, with Jim as a member of the ’68 Championship team.  Despite my frustration over the broadcasting talents of both of those guys, I understand why they are liked by many.

So there you have it! Tiger baseball just got a little more interesting. And we now have one more topic to follow this off-season.

The team on the field won’t be the only one fighting through a rebuild. Their broadcast team(s) are in for a rebuild themselves.


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ANIBAL REVIVED IN ATLANTA

By:  Kurt Snyder

As the post-season begins, Tiger fans will have special interest once again as they watch many of their old favorites who used to star in Detroit.

Last year’s biggest story in the playoffs revolved around Justin Verlander, and many of us were glued to the tube when he pitched so masterfully for Houston all the way to the World Title.

This season? More Tigers to watch. In Houston, again with JV. In Boston where JD Martinez will get most of our attention. And, of course, in Atlanta.

Yeah.

Atlanta.

Is anyone as curious as I am about the kind of impact that Anibal Sanchez will have for the Braves during their potential playoff run? Does anyone really care?

Well, obviously, it is peaking my interest because during ESPN’s Stat Cast broadcast of the Cubs-Rockies Wild Card Game on Tuesday night, I saw an interesting stat at the bottom of the screen. Maybe you saw it too. Maybe you already knew.

I’ve found that I can’t possibly keep track of all the stats that exist in the game now. Heck, there is probably one out there that ranks pitchers’ WHIP while wearing high socks.

But anyway, this one caught my eye because of who ranked near the top in the National League for the 2018 season. Anibal Sanchez has one of the Lowest Hard Hit Ball Percentages in the game. Yeah, we are talking Quality of Contact, folks! To make this easier to understand, well, hitters just aren’t knocking him around like they were in Detroit the last 2 seasons.

Anibal Sanchez! The guy who couldn’t keep the ball in the park in Detroit, is now stifling hitters again in Atlanta, keeping them off-balance and striking out almost 1 hitter per inning during his 136+ innings pitched.  He’s been brilliant!

In Detroit, no one could wait to get rid of him. Everyone, and I mean everyone thought he was done. But the Atlanta Braves took a $1M flyer on him, after he was jettisoned quickly out of Minnesota, and he has responded.

Of course he has. He is now a pitcher who may be one of the Braves’ starters during the playoffs. His record for the season? 7-6. His ERA? Less than 3? WHIP? 1.08!

He has gone from an oft-injured, end of the line, should probably retire, starting pitcher in Detroit, to a valued part of the Braves rotation, fooling hitters again with his breaking stuff.

Balls aren’t flying out of the park anywhere near the rate they were in Detroit. And he has been healthy. All year.

Imagine that.

The Tigers couldn’t keep him healthy and they couldn’t solve his mechanics.  We all assumed he had nothing left. Never did I dream that he would not only pitch again, but pitch at a high level.

He has been the one exception of someone the team just wanted gone.   JV and JD were the 2 biggest stars the Tigers surrendered for prospects in the interests of kick-starting the rebuild.

But Sanchez, he was shown the door, cast aside as someone who could no longer help the Tigers.

Who knows what happens to players whose careers are resurrected when they change teams? You hear it over and over about athletes who sometimes just need a fresh start with another team, another organization.

Let’s not forget, a better team, a better organization with better coaches and trainers. Because I can’t fathom how Sanchez can suddenly stay on the field and suddenly be that pitcher again who was so effective and at times masterful in Detroit.

I hate to keep barking up the same tree, but it’s hard not to have the same suspicions about what the Tiger organization was unable to do for him and what Atlanta has now done.


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