By Adam Brown
This past weekend, after the festivities and the frolics of another midsummer classic had ended, it was time to get back to business. We are now fast approaching pennant races and playoff pushes. Before we get nestled into that comfy narrative, we do however have to discern who is apart of the hunt for October and who is there to trade-off pieces of roster to the highest bidder.
For the last few year, the Detroit Tigers found themselves in the position of ‘buyers’, as they dismantled the American League Central for the fourth successive year. Last season the onus shifted to the Tigers, after three consecutive years of playoff heartache, the urgency to gift Mike Iltich a championship grew. After depleting the farm system year upon year in a quest for the elusive World Series crown, they had acquired Doug Fister in 2011, then Anibal Sanchez in 2012, and David Price this time last year. Safe to say, GM Dave Dombrowski had pinpointed strengthening the rotation as the winning formula. As the annual Tigers playoff push arose, sadly for fans, the Detroit playoff failure would inevitably begin. Losing the ALCS in 6 games sandwiched the Giants sweeping them in the World Series in 2012. The addition of Prices last season was supposed to be the difference. Scherzer-Price-Verlander-Sanchez. That rotation was supposed to be ticket back to the World Series. The result? Swept in the ALDS. Baltimore moves on. Detroit goes home.
Onto this season, an acceptance around the mainstream national media highlighted that although they should still be favourites in the AL Central, the Royals emergence and strong rebuilds from the Indians and White Sox led the division to be at its’ most open in half a decade. Max Scherzer fled to the Capital on a mammoth 7-year 210million dollar contract. Verlander was dealing with injury and seemed certain to miss the opening portion of the season and Rick Porcello was traded to the Red Sox for Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespesdes. The rotation had started to look thin.
They tried to bolster the rotation by adding Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene via trades and re-signed Victor Martinez to a 4-year 68million dollar contract. It seemed like it was a case of one last roll of the dice for the franchise.
The season has not gone according to the plan, whilst the offence has been sensational behind Miguel Cabrera’s continued excellence, J.D Martinez ascending toward superstardom and Yoenis Cespesdes rediscovering his power, the pitching has fallen off the metaphorical cliff. Aside from Price, who is heading into free agency this winter has performed to CY Young calibre levels, seeing his ERA at a career low 2.32. After him the ERA+ stand at 86,85,60,60 (compared to Price’ mark of 169) for Sanchez, Simon, Greene and Verlander. The bullpen has long been the Achilles heel of the Tigers, yet the 2015 edition of the Tigers has seen strong late inning pitching from the likes of Al Albuquerque, Blaine Hardy, Alex Wilson and Closer Joakim Soria, but to no avail as Detroit has slumped to a 46-47 record.
After years of depleting the farm system for the chance of competing for a title, the Tigers followed a strategy which evoked a lot greater success for the late 00’s Phillies. However having seen the long-term effect of the Phillies organisation, the Tigers have realised with the valuable pieces at their disposal, it’s time to replenish the system in the hopes of rebuilding a contender and not loitering in the pits of baseball like the team from the city of brotherly love now must. Whilst the idea behind building a team is to win a title, there must eventually come a time where the GM and ownership must realise the direction the team is going and counteract with the future interest at heart. With players like price and Cespesdes imminent free agents, the dream of a title will have to be placed on hold temporarily.
As of now, the Tigers have one solitary prospect in MLB’s top 100 list, with outfielder Steven Moya 80th, but after him the system is at the barebones and rates toward the bottom, or last in every farm system rankings. For the future of the franchise, they will have to follow the trends of teams like the Houston Astros, and their AL Central foes in the Royals and the Twins in trying to organically produce their own talent as oppose to making splash after splash in the free agent market.
On the roster, as aforementioned, David Price would immediately become the best player available on the market. Every contender would immediately vault themselves into the fray, and solidify themselves as genuine World Series threats with his addition. Last summer, Price fetched a return of Drew Smyly, who seemed poised to breakout this season before injury derailed him, and Nick Franklin, a once top prospect who has proceeded to disappoint thus far. Other low-level prospects such as Willy Adames were added as sweeteners to the deal. The general consensus was the Tigers scored a really good deal for Price, and will now be a crucial part of their rebuild to secure another.
Cespesdes is also primed to make a lot of money this winter, a power hitting corner outfielder, who struggles mightily with his On-Base%. His walk rates have deteriorated year by year, with 8% in his rookie season falling to 3.5% this year. His inability to walk and his XBH% rising, is making become somewhat of an all or nothing hitter, who may well see his traditional number fluctuate massively on luck based symptoms such as BABIP or Park factors. He will however fetch a decent return, as proven last year as the A’s got Jon Lester in a trade with the Red Sox. The lust for power hitters, especially right-handed will never cease to exist. These two are the key components of the Tigers rebuild and the packages they get back for them are integral for the future.
Other impending free agents include Joakim Soria, and as we see every year, relief pitchers are the pieces most often moved and teams in contention constantly overpay for dominant relievers. If the Tigers approach the deadline with the intention to sell off anything of value, then Soria seems like a certainty to be on the move. Alfredo Simon, the pitcher acquired this past offseason will also be a free agent, and for teams who miss out on the likes of Price, Hamels, Cueto or Kazmir, Simon may be a viable backup option if they are just looking to solidify the back of a rotation, then he becomes an intriguing proposition, especially on a $5.5mm contract, it’s an inexpensive acquisition.
Neftai Feliz, a once dominant closer on the Rangers was recently acquired, and if the coaching staff can make any mechanical faults disappear and somewhat rebuild him, and then he becomes an option for contenders in August via a waiver trade. Same for Alex Avila, formerly an all-star catcher who has been usurped by James McCann, if he could show some semblance of hitting prowess again, he may be an August trade waiting to happen.
The luxury for the Tigers presently is they have an array of talent that can easily be dealt and should be able to quite comfortably bolster their invisible farm system. However, with $105 million committed to 5 players next year, and all of them on the books until at least 2017, there’s not much financial flexibility to strengthen the roster via free agency or trades, which has been a staple of the Tigers success over the decade thus far.
It’s a long way back to the top for the Detroit Tigers, but it does look like they will be driving back on right road.