With pitchers and catchers reporting in close to a week, I have a few more optimistic pieces planned but I wanted to write one more downer article. Back in 2006, Tigers fans were sky high. While the Tigers fell short of winning the World Series, they put themselves back on the map. Now with that season three seasons removed, I wonder if overachieving (which is safe to say based on what’s happened since) in 2006 actually hurt the Tigers (or rather, forced the front office to go in a direction they shouldn’t have) in the long run.
While the offseason between the 2007 and 2008 seasons pretty much defined this team for years to come, a lot of what happened then was with 2006 as a back drop. The Tigers fell just short in 2007, they signed a big television contract and went out and spent money on the likes of Miguel Cabrera (good), Dontrelle Willis (bad), Brandon Inge (okay), Nate Robertson (bad) and Jeremy Bonderman (good at the time but it’s turned out bad). Those deals have defined the Tigers and it eventually meant the Tigers had to unload Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Edwin Jackson and the front end of their bullpen just to sign Justin Verlander and to keep the rest of the team intact.
The good news is, a lot of the prospects the Tigers gave up over the past few years haven’t worked out for the other team. Andrew Miller has had a rough time and Cameron Maybin hasn’t lived up to his potential. Jair Jurrjens is the one guy who the Tigers probably wish they could have back. The deal that got everything going after 2006 which brought Gary Sheffield to town hasn’t lost the Tigers much either. Humberto Sanchez has been injured most of the time and unproductive the rest of the time, while Anthony Claggett hasn’t done much. Kevin Whelan looks like he has some potential but he still hasn’t pitched a major league inning and he just turned 26.
I’m bouncing around here, but it’s tough to tell. The Tigers should have made the playoffs since 2006 but they haven’t. The guys they’ve brought in haven’t gotten it done but the prospects they’ve given up along the way haven’t lit the world on fire either (at least not yet). And the Tigers set a couple of attendance records along the way. The big negative is that the Tigers have spent a ton of cash, have little to show for it, and now the Tigers put themselves into a situation where they had to do a little dismantling just to keep their franchise player. It’s easy when you have hindsight though.
The Tigers have said that they completed a five year deal that will keep Justin Verlander in town for the forseeable future. With all of the emphasis toward cutting salary (up until they signed Jose Valverde), this was a welcome move for Tiger fans and it all came down as the arbitration date was getting closer. The number that’s being thrown around is $80 million which means Verlander will make a couple more million then Felix Hernandez’s deal earlier in the week. There’s no details yet (that I’ve found) that breaks down how much Verlander will make year by year.
That answers part of the question as to why the Tigers made their big deal at the Winter Meetings and why the Tigers took a pass on Polanco. Of course the Tigers have had a tough time lately signing guys near the end of the arbitration seasons to longer terms deals. Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson are all making more then they’ll probably produce this year but then again, outside of Bonderman in 2006, none of those Tigers have had seasons even close to what Verlander put together in 2009.
Keith Law’s latest blog post is on top rookie prospects for 2010 and he touches on Austin Jackson, Al Avila and Scott Sizemore. He has some nice things to say about Sizemore which is encouraging. I’m still a little pessimistic (about him at second next year, not long term) so hopefully I’m wrong.
This is a great story over at Bless You Boys. Apparantly Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers are doing a number of things to fulfill an injured police officer and big time Tigers fans baseball dreams.
The Detroit News had a quick chat with Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers GM said the team isn’t close to signing Johnny Damon. It also looks like the Tigers haven’t even talked to Boras or Damon so you wonder if this is just Dombrowski’s usual cryptic response (can’t blame him), or if it’s a play by Boras to get some interest going for Damon.
Tom Gage gave a run down on what he thinks the top ten spring training stories will be as we get closer to pitchers and catchers reporting. His number one is Austin Jackson and that will go out the window if the Tigers sign Johnny Damon. I think Scott Sizemore and Jeremy Bonderman will matter more in the end as to how the Tigers come out of the spring season then Jackson will, with or without Damon.
MLB Trade Rumors brought up an interesting discussion today. Should Justin Verlander make more then Felix Hernandez? Jon Paul Morosi seems to think so but Dierkes brings up some great points as to why this might not be the case.
It’s hard not to get too excited about a Verlander/Scherzer/Porcello front end of the rotation. Verlander has already shown what he can do while Scherzer has just as much potential. It’s also easy to get jack up over Porcello’s freshman campaign as a 20 year old. That’s why Jason Beck’s latest on Porcello is a solid read. I think Halladay is a good projection for Porcello if he can keep it together. He throws hard and keeps the ball down. You wonder how many strikeouts Porcello will be able to rack up once he’s taken off the strict pitch count and he’s not as worried about pitching to contact.
What’s everyone else’s thoughts? Does Porcello take a step forward, or does he get the sophomore jinx and struggle in 2010? A lot depends on that infield defense. If Sizemore struggles in the field and Inge has lost a step because of his knee surgery, he could struggle a bit more then he did in 2009.
It looks like Scott Boras is working hard and he’s come out and said that Johnny Damon wants to talk to the Tigers. I like how he plays up Damon’s numbers at Comerica Park. Damon tied a career high last year with 24 home runs and he has an impressive .355 on base percentage so he’d be the lead off hitter the Tigers are looking for. He’d also be a good fit because he only plays in about 140 games a season which would fit into the “Ryan Raburn moving around the outfield all season” scenario.
The big question would be what happens to Carlos Guillen. I had him penciled in as more of a designated hitter anyway so this would play into that. And you can’t argue with five seasons out of the last six with an OPS+ of over a 100. If the price is right, I’d welcome Damon into the fold for sure. Just one quick note and that’s Damon’s declining defense. If you use +/- from Bill James Online Damon had a -3 in left field last year, which ranked him 19th in baseball. That’s down from a +4 and ninth best ranking in 2008. Of course in left, defense is less important and it’s probably going to be as good if not better then the alternatives.
The Tigers have also bailed out Scott Boras in the past. Like with Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez. I wonder how much weight that pulls when it comes time to talk to Boras about our draft picks. I guess it can’t hurt.
Last week, I talked about my confusion regarding the direction, or lack of, that the Tigers are taking. Well, I’m still thinking about it and I think one of the big missing pieces is how the Tigers are going to look after the 2010 season and not before. If I take a look at the the Tigers coming off of the payroll after 2010 (thanks to Cot’s Baseball Contracts), it’s safe to say that the 2011 Tigers are going to be a much different team then what we’ve seen the past couple of years. Here are the contracts that end:
1) Magglio Ordonez $15 million? – I put a question mark here because the Tigers have an option that vests, much like last season, if he gets 540 plate appearances (or 135 starts) in 2010 or a combined 1080 plate appearances or 270 starts combined in 2009 and 2010. The Tigers let this option kick in for 2010 and I don’t see it happening again. I think the team’s announcement that Ryan Raburn will be playing most everyday in the outfield is going to be the Tigers insurance policy because my bet is he’ll be spelling Ordonez more then the other two outfield positions. Of course Ordonez could call the Tigers hand if he comes anywhere close to his 2008 (or even better, 2007).
2) Jeremy Bonderman $12.5 million – Nothing like a little pressure, but Bonderman’s fate could be decided in 2010. He’s been penciled in as the fourth starter and if he performs, I can see the Tigers signing him again but unless he’s lights out, he’s not going to be making the $12.5 he made in 2009 and that he’ll make in 2010.
3) Dontrelle Willis $12 million – I’m not going to touch this one. Willis has already begun talking about how his anxiety disorder was misdiaganosed. He’ll get a look in spring training but I think the Tigers cut him loose before the 2010 season just so the Tigers aren’t tempted to ride the D-Train one last time. It’s too bad because everything I’ve heard is that Willis is a top notch guy, he just lost his game.
4) Nate Robertson $10 million – My bet is Robertson comes out of spring training as the fifth starter just so the Tigers can use him as trade bait. Robertson’s been one of the guys I’ve liked (being a southpaw myself) but he just hasn’t gotten it done the past couple of years. If he’s back with the Tigers in 2011, it’ll be at a much lower price then what he’s made the past couple of years.
5) Brandon Inge $6.6 million – If he plays like he played in the first half last year, he might make more money but I don’t see it happening especially with Inge coming off an injury. Maybe the Tigers will try getting Larish a full season at Triple A at third base so he can play everday their in 2011. Third base would also be a spot the Tigers could fill in the off-season next year.
6) Gerald Laird $3.95 million – A lot depends on how Al Avila develops. With the trade rumors surrounding Laird around the winter meetings, I don’t see him in a Tiger uniform next year.
7) Bobby Seay $2.475 million – The Tigers have some arms coming up in the system so Seay could be gone as well.
8) Adam Everett $1.55 million – Gustavo Nunez’s development this year will determine what happens with Everett. A resurgance by Cale Iorg could also push Everett out of town.
There’s a few more guys (like Zach Miner and Joel Zumaya) but they make less then a million. So if the Tigers clean the slate, they’ll have close to $65 million coming off of the payroll after 2010. Some of that money is going to go towards Verlander’s long term deal (yes, I’m optimistic) and that will also free up some money for Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, who should also anchor the Tigers rotation for years to come. It just probably means we’ll be throwing away (as in, we’ll do just enough to contend in a weak AL Central but little else) 2010 and potentially 2011 to get to where we need to be. Of course the Tigers may not be done and that could fill in some blanks so as always, we’ll see.