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Hindsight is 20/20

The Tigers signing Troy Percival to a two year contract is really appearing to be a glaring mistake. At the time Dave Dombrowski signed Percival many members of the media and fans were puzzled at the signing of an aging closer, who had accrued quite an injury history, to a multi-year deal. In part, Dombrowski was justified in his decision to sign Percival with the mystery surrounding Ugueth Urbina and the unfortunate kidnapping of his mother in Venezuela. Percival provided an insurance policy if Urbina chose not to return.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, they are now stuck with Percival and his immoveable contract. It would appear that Percival has lost most of his former abilities and in all likelihood will be a permanent resident on the Disabled List for the duration of his contract until he choses to retire ala Fernando Vina. As unfortunate as this situation is, the Tigers are now finding out how viable Kyle Farnsworth is as a closing option. They also are now utilizing players like Fernando Rodney, Franklyn German and Chris Spurling in more significant situations and so far have received promising results.

Troy Percival’s opponent OPS (On Base+Slugging) was .769, next worse in the American League to Boston’s Keith Foulke’s .890 as of July 10th. Percival also was yielding 2.52 Hr/9 in his 25 innings of relief. On the other hand, Kyle Farnsworth’s performance would rank 4th in the American League with a .535 opponent OPS and he had yielded 0.24 Hr/9 as of July 10th in 37 innings. It remains to be seen whether Farnsworth has the mental makeup to thrive in the closer’s role but his performance this year is very encouraging.

In regards to the trade deadline, I hope the Tigers have the fortune to be able to move players like Dmitri Young and Rondell White. The team has regressed offensively this season. It is imperative with the lack of bonafide prospect position players in the minors that they continue to add players who can have a long term impact on the team’s development like Tiger enthusiasts are hoping for from players like Curtis Granderson, Chris Shelton and Tony Giarrantano.



I think the Percival signing was at least as important to show other FAs how serious we were about contending (recall that Percival signed very early). If nothing else, Percival’s injury makes official what Tigers brass probably didn’t have the guts to do absent a Percival injury: name Farnsworth the closer. And I’d just bet that Dombrowski had insurance on Percy’s contract, so the money angle of it won’t enter into things, other than the possibility of having another dead spot on the 40-man roster (along with Vina).

Dmitri Young and Rondell White have both gone into slumps at precisely the wrong time… Although Dmitri might help the most if he’s hitting hot around this time *next* year, as his 2006 option year kicks in with 500 PA this year, which appears all but a done deal. Here’s hoping that Carlos Pena has found his old self down in Toledo, and we see a lot of Pena-1B, Shelton-DH in 2006 Tiger lineups.

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Posted by jeff k on July 18th, 2005 at 2:24 pm

I think the Percival signing was at least as important to show other FAs how serious we were about contending (recall that Percival signed very early). If nothing else, Percival’s injury makes official what Tigers brass probably didn’t have the guts to do absent a Percival injury: name Farnsworth the closer. And I’d just bet that Dombrowski had insurance on Percy’s contract, so the money angle of it won’t enter into things, other than the possibility of having another dead spot on the 40-man roster (along with Vina).

Dmitri Young and Rondell White have both gone into slumps at precisely the wrong time… Although Dmitri might help the most if he’s hitting hot around this time *next* year, as his 2006 option year kicks in with 500 PA this year, which appears all but a done deal. Here’s hoping that Carlos Pena has found his old self down in Toledo, and we see a lot of Pena-1B, Shelton-DH in 2006 Tiger lineups.

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Posted by jeff k on July 18th, 2005 at 2:26 pm

Agree about Pena/Shelton/Young.

About Percival, I thought it was a bad signing until I heard that he was going to bring other FAs. Then he didn’t, and I realized that that whole setting the FA tone stuff is a lot of hooey.

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Posted by Jeff on July 18th, 2005 at 2:38 pm

It is a lot of hooey. I don’t know of any free agents who get all hot and bothered when you sign a guy on the wrong side of 35 who has chronic arm trouble. Amazing, amazing that they didn’t all come running, Beltre, Glaus, and the like. Please.

Young should be benched so that he doesn’t reach 500 PA. He is nowhere near worth the money at this point, as he isn’t particularly good when not slumping.

“Old self”? Look, at this point it is an anomaly when Pena DOES hit well, not when he doesn’t. The man has accumulated 1500 bad at bats in the major leagues. Let’s stop talking about him as though he’s still a prospect with Texas. That was a long time ago. Fine, if he’s worked something out, great, but I just don’t want to hear him referred to as this old tried and true ballplayer that we used to have. He’s sucked with the Tigers, save two months or so of good hitting. I cannot believe you’re actually hoping to see Pena in the 2006 lineup. If you think he will be part of the next winning Tigers club you are out of your mind.

Also, how is it now “really appearing” that Percival was a mistake? It was always a mistake, absolutely and unquestionably. I understand why you title the post “Hindsight is 20/20″, but the fact is that statheads have known this was a mistake from the beginning. I wrote in November that it was a mistake. Look, if you’ve got 17 and you hit with the dealer showing a 6, it’s a mistake. It might work out for you because you’re a lucky bastard, but it is a terrible bet either way. It’s either a mistake or it isn’t. Instead of saying that it’s “now appearing” to be a colossal error, say that it is in the first place and then use the rest of your bandwith to grill Dombrowski’s ass for it.

You know, that Higginson deal is really starting to maybe look like it might have possibly been a mistake, too.

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Posted by Dan on July 19th, 2005 at 10:55 am

Yeah and Magglio’s contract is starting to look like a mistake. Leaving spurling in to give up 3 7th inning homers is looking like a mistake. I have to fully agree. The day I heard on my car radio that the Detroit tigers signed Percival to a 2 year 12 million dollar contract was the day I realized that it was a mistake! open up… we are going to eat the second year of that contract. I agree also on shutting down Dmitri Young. Its time to play Hardball. Save the team * million… oh yeah and fired Trammell… Thank God dan that that game last night was sold out. we got all the way to US Craptacular field last night only to find standing room only seats left… we left.. thank god we left!

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Posted by michael on July 19th, 2005 at 11:11 am

Dan-

Maybe my “now appearing to be a mistake” comment on Percival is a little tepid. That being said, what were Dombrowski’s options with Urbina being a question mark? Furthermore, as good as Farnsworth has been, no one was certain that he would perform this well when the Tigers traded for him. Dombrowski is getting burned for the acquisition of players like Vina, Percival, Pena, et al but with the dearth of legitimate prospects in the minors what else was he to do? The biggest disappointment this year has not been the pitching that’s for sure. The offense has regressed mightily and even though when Trammell was hired we were told that defensive and execution of sound baseball would be priorities neither has held true for three years running. Until, this team a) stops swinging at bad pitches b) plays better defense c) shows a basic ability to execute the finer parts of playing the game we will be stuck with a near .500 baseball team that is still the 4th worst team in the AL. I am not sure this is something D.D. can change overnight.

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Posted by steve on July 19th, 2005 at 1:13 pm

You know what Dombrowski could have done? How about NOT GIVE 12 MILLION DOLLARS TO A CRAPPY PITCHER? How’s that for a start? Do you really think Percival was a decent bet to be A) healthy and B) better than league average? Other ways to answer the question are: how about picking up on cheap, readily available talent? How about ignoring the fallacy of designated roles in bullpens and going after a guy who’s cheaper because he hasn’t been labeled a “proven closer”? How about going after a guy who is not yet old enough to run for President? It was November, for chrissakes. It’s not like his hands were tied. That millions of wasted dollars, Steve, and I can’t stand it when my team spends money just so that they can say, “Hey look! We spent some money!” They owe it to us to have a better idea of what they’re doing. It was just dumb. There are no other explanations.

I never said a single bad thing about the Pena aquisition. It was a very good trade. We gave up Weaver and got German, Pena, and Bonderman. I praised the move then, and I was right. Picking up Vina was a moronic mistake, I mean unthinkably dumb. Here is a guy with persistent, chronic leg problems, in his 30′s, declining for 4 straight years previous, and just plain washed up. I loudly derided the signing when it happened and guess what? I was right.

I bitched and moaned about Higginson’s sorry, useless ass being brought North with the club instead of Thames’s possibly useful ass, and you guessed it, I was right.

The reason I am almost always right about moves is because I spend a lot of time reading about stuff like this. I understand that ballplayers age. I understand what patterns to look for. Am I the only one? No, we are everywhere, and all it takes is an objective mind and some reasearch. We are lawyers, plumbers, video editors, textbook editors, mailmen, and we have jobs to do but we STILL find time to figure out what the hell is going on. Dombrowski has a difficult job, no question, but his SOLE RESPONSIBILITY is to not make wildly stupid mistakes that effectively flush millions of clams in the toilet, and he has no excuse for doing just that. Trades don’t always work out, and I understand that. When a trade is a good gamble but doesn’t work out despite making sense at its point of origin, that is not a GM’s fault. When some baffling move itself can be convincingly and roudly criticized as being monumentally dumb by people who only do this stuff as a hobby, I have a problem with that. Get smart and have a problem with it, too, and let’s not give these guys a free pass. Sorry to be harsh, but I’m so sick and tired of the losing, for the love of god.

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Posted by Dan on July 19th, 2005 at 4:45 pm

Well, yeah, but will it be OUR $12 million? Did we insure Percival’s contract? Is there any way to find that out?

Dombrowski seems like a smart enough guy to have done such a thing.

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Posted by jeff k on July 20th, 2005 at 9:39 am

It seems like the type of contract that wouldn’t be difficult to insure. That being said, it’s just bad decision making, and it suggests there’s a fundamental problem with the evaluation process. I’m not saying Dombrowski is a moron-I’m just saying that he’s made some baffling, wasteful decisions, and not baffling like “he has a master plan and let’s wait to find out what it is”. Just baffling.

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Posted by Dan on July 20th, 2005 at 11:47 am

Part of the problem might be in the owner’s office. Much was made of the embarrassment that Ilitch felt after the 119-loss debacle, and look what happened in the ensuing two off-seasons: We have signed probably the only two free-agent contracts that have been nearly completely lost to injuries (Vina and Percival) in that time, and we took on two other contracts that no other team wanted to get near (Pudge and Magglio). That smells of desperation, and I, for one, don’t think that the desperation springs from Dombrowki’s office.

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Posted by jeff k on July 20th, 2005 at 12:05 pm

But is it that difficult to explain to Ilitch that signing Vina and Percival would make zero sense? The man does understand that you don’t just flush money down the toilet, right? I think these were done just to spend money, just simply to spend it and be able to say that it was spent. Why risk it with spare parts? If Percival doesn’t work out, only people like us are going to be bitching about it. The rest of the semi-serious fans will jsut have to accept it when they throw up their hands and say, “Well, we got a proven closer, but his arm fell off! We tried!” They have their new stadium, and the new revenue streams that come from being out of the basement, so they’re happy. There’s no reason to make an earnest effort to build a real winner. I’ll bet you this team goes up for sale relatively soon…

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Posted by Dan on July 20th, 2005 at 1:32 pm

>>The rest of the semi-serious fans will jsut have to accept it when they throw up their hands and say, “Well, we got a proven closer, but his arm fell off! We tried!”<<

Well, the Tigers do have to sell tickets, after all…

Besides, I didn’t look on Percival’s contract as a dead-sure money hole… Did I think it was probably too much? Yep. Did I think Percival would spend at least some time of his contract on the DL? Yep. Did I think it would be this bad? Nope. Same with Vina.

And, again, you do have to sell tickets.

By the way, caught a reference in Danny Knobler’s column that “some” of Percival’s salary will be taken care of by insurance.

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Posted by jeff k on July 20th, 2005 at 2:02 pm

No idea how much? I’ll try to find out, too.

Of course they have to sell tickets. C’mon, you know I understand that, but go back and look at Vina’s numbers and declining health and tell me why you didn’t expect this to happen. That you didn’t expect it to happen says more about you than it says about the deal. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I suppose I have to admit that I didn’t know Percival’s career would end. I thought it would merely be a waste of several million dollars for league average pitching, at best. That his career has quite possibly ended is a lucky break for us. That’s how stupid the contract was. It was just a ridiculous, indefensible contract. I don’t understand how anyone can argue otherwise. SInce when did crappy relievers become hard to find? Are Vina’s and Percival’s name worth so much to fans that they will show up just because we have those guys on our disabled list? Are the names worth so much that the fans will show up after a bunch of blown saves and sub-.300 on-base and slugging percentages from our second base position? I don’t think so. It’s not like we took chances on Omar Vizquel and LaTroy Hawkins. Vina and Percival were both as close as you can get to sure failures.

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Posted by Dan on July 20th, 2005 at 4:42 pm

Dan, I appreciate the spirit and sentiment but I have a slightly different take on the Vina and Percival deals. The Tigers were a pretty young team and playing mostly AAA “prospects” and careerists when Vina was signed and I thought at the time it was an OK move to bring some experience into the clubhouse. The team was in desperate need of major league level players, even declining ones. I view the Percival signing in the same light (look at the experience of the bullpen) even though it was a much riskier and expensive deal.

The team has also demonstrated a willingness to take risks on injured players and I admire that gambling spirit somewhat. It also seems that no one wants Illitch’s millions unless there’s nothing close for whatever stigma has been associated with the team be it the climate, ball park, recent performance, etc. It also seems that Illitch is going to need a couple more deals like the Ordonez one to wake up and realize he’s overpaying like Hicks did.

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Posted by Alex on July 20th, 2005 at 10:26 pm

Dan, I just happen to think you are overlooking a couple of things:

1. Like you said, fans like us are the only ones noticing things like this. Even if we all owned 4-seat season ticket packages directly debited from a bank account at the Tigers’ discretion, we couldn’t dream of coming up with the kind of jack that the much-more-numerous average fans will plunk down when they say “Hey, they signed Troy Percival! Looks like they’re actually going to try to win some games this year! Yeah, sign me up for a 40-ticket package!”

2. Alex has a point about “veteran presence” and so on… Which I know you probably have little use for. But remember that Troy Percival was well-known for taking the young Francisco Rodriguez under his wing out there in Anaheim. Even Trammell confirms this in his recent quote that anticipates, well, you:

“It’s disappointing,” manager Alan Trammell said. “He was the leader of the bullpen. He’ll be missed in more ways than one. His influence, his professionalism, his leadership skills, to me that’s invaluable.”

“People are going to make comments,” Trammell said. “But there were only really a couple of closers out there (on the free-agent market last winter), and we needed one. I’m glad he came on board, because I like his presence.”

While I’m all for sabermetric analysis and for signing the best available players applying the most market advantage in order to be able to afford better players across the entire roster, some “clubhouse presence” and “leadership” qualities must be taken into account.

While you say you could have anticipated a league-average or worse ERA and a number of blown saves from Percival, speculation like that will have to remain just that: speculation. Because Percival’s elbow/forearm muscle wasn’t right from his first day in Spring Training.

I’m not going to argue it was a particularly wise free agent signing, but it has a long way to go to be the stupidest in Tiger history (Randy Smith’s signing of Gregg Jefferies).

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Posted by jeff k on July 21st, 2005 at 11:50 am

Okay well, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. The things you are saying cannot be quantified and are subjective. If you and the sports media in Detroit want to decide to make Vina’s and Percival’s “veteran leadership” mean something to the team, well, then it means something to the team. I think that’s complete bullshit myself, if you’ll pardon me, and I’m sick of hearing it. You’re making up reasons for a GM to wash money down the toilet. I’m not saying he didn’t need to overpay. I’m saying he didn’t need to grossly overpay for players who were near guarantees to be failures. These were not fading superstars. They were old, once useful players. Vina’s on-base percentages, beginning in 2000 were .380, .357, .333, and .309. He slugged .384 over that span, and he has only walked 50 times once, six years ago. None of this is to mention that he’s has chronic leg problems, and we were signing him for his age 35 and 36 seasons. Oh, but he had experience to bring to the clubhouse, so nevermind the overwhelming evidence, right from the start, that it was a dumb move.

Percival wasn’t as much of a guaranteed failure, only a highly likely failure. And for double the money. He hadn’t pitched 50 innings in three years, and his strikeout rate was plummeting. He’s also on the wrong side of 35.

That’s not how you run a successful franchise. Go ahead, take a few chances, I understand that, but these were well beyond that. These were just stupid moves.

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Posted by Dan on July 21st, 2005 at 12:06 pm

Jeff, are you kidding me? I was not only speculating that Percival would suck (which he did). I was speculating that he was an injury risk as well. Was I right? I’m not jsut writing this now. I was writing it in November. Now tell me, you think I made a lucky guess?

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Posted by Dan on July 21st, 2005 at 12:11 pm

This whole clubhouse presence and leadership thing is total baloney. Obviously, it’s convenient for people who aim to come off as measured, wise, and deliberate, because you can apply as much worth to them as you feel like, enough to argue against the guy actually using sound reasoning and evidence. I’ve wasted immense amounts of time arguing with people who don’t actually use critical thinking skills that I can tell you, for certain, that nothing will change. Nothing will change because there is no pressure on GMs, recycled from town to town, to not be incompetent. In Detroit we can’t afford that.

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Posted by Dan on July 21st, 2005 at 12:16 pm

Look, Dan, I at least partially agree with you… Let’s keep the focus on that. But then there’s this:

>>This whole clubhouse presence and leadership thing is total baloney.>Nothing will change because there is no pressure on GMs, recycled from town to town, to not be incompetent. In Detroit we can’t afford that.<<

There you go… Want to fire Dombrowski? I could see an argument for that. However, be careful what you wish for. I don’t think Ilitch (at his age) will be willing to hire a younger, more analytical GM, a Billy Beane/Theo Epstein-type, if you will. I just don’t see that happening. I think Dombrowski does a fair job of keeping a balance between the objective analysis and traditional baseball (“veteran clubhouse presence”, yadda, yadda) side of things.

End of the day, let’s face it, with all the injuries this year and another year of steps forward by almost everybody in the starting rotation, I think the pressure really turns up on Trammell in ’06 and probably won’t turn to Dombrowski before ’07 at a minimum, and that’s assuming things go badly.

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Posted by jeff k on July 21st, 2005 at 1:04 pm

No, I don’t want Dombrowski fired. He has done some good things, mader some very shrewd moves, but there are moves such as Percival’s and Vina’s contracts that suggest that there is something wrong with his evaluation protocol. Fernando Vina is a name people recognized, and he was signed for that. Wait, don’t reply by saying that’s exactly the point, because I understand that getting recognizable players is part of getting fannies in the seats. The problem with it is if the player is an almost 100% guarantee to be a total flop, you have wasted money. Again, I was saying this and writing about this on the actual day of the deal, so this is not hindsight. Dombrowski could afford to be more analytical and objective, sabermetric, whatever you call it. My whole point in the first place wasn’t that Dombrowski should be fired, it’s that it should be recognized by otherwise smart fans that the Percival signing was a huge mistake the moment the pen touched paper. It is not “turning out to be a mistake. It was an instant mistake. It’s about gambling, and stupid gambles are mistakes.

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Posted by Dan on July 21st, 2005 at 2:10 pm

OK, start here:

http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/20questions.html

And now just make some adjustments…

1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to attempting to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers?
2. Has attempting to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers, ever made your home life unhappy?
3. Did attempting to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers, affect your reputation?
4. Have you ever felt remorse after attempting to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers?
5. Did you ever attempting to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers, to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?
6. Did attempting to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers, cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?
7. After losing in your attempts to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers, did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?
8. After actually signing name veteran players, especially washed-up closers, did you have a strong urge to return and sign more?
9. Did you often attempt to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers, until your last dollar was gone?
10. Did you ever borrow to finance your attempts to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers?
11. Have you ever sold anything to finance attempts to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers?
12. Were you reluctant to use “name veteran players, especially washed-up closers money” for normal expenditures?
13. Did attempting to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers, make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?
14. Did you ever attempt to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers, longer than you had planned?
15. Have you ever attempted to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers, to escape worry or trouble?
16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance your attempts to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers?
17. Did attempting to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers, cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
18. Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to attempt to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers?
19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of attempting to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers?
20. Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your attempts to sign name veteran players, especially washed-up closers?

Just a little something to lighten the mood…

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Posted by jeff k on July 21st, 2005 at 6:29 pm

We are getting better, but I’ll lighten up when we stop making moves that even I know are flat-out mistakes, and I’m not even paid to know the difference.

Incompetence has given us 11 straight losing seasons. If you want a light mood go to the Pinstriped Bible.

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Posted by Dan on July 25th, 2005 at 12:01 pm


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