Pregame 1: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers

(Read Kevin’s “Realism” first. It’s better, especially when you consider that he wrote it without looking, not even once. I am continually amazed by touch-typists. How do they do it? I’m all hunt and peck.)

Here we go! The next “Play Ball!” and the 114th season of Detroit Tigers baseball will commence. The last 29 have gone by without a World Series championship, and yet we find ourselves in something of a Golden Age: Only 3 losing seasons over the past 10 (and only 1 over the past 8), 2 World Series appearances in that span of time, and ownership of the AL Central from 2011 to the present day, not to mention 3 consecutive ALCS appearances. Despite a new manager (and a rookie manager at that) at the helm, a new approach (particularly on the offensive side), and a fair amount of turnover in personnel, it is safe to say that most of us will be disappointed if the Tigers don’t at least advance to the ALCS come October. Pessimist and optimist alike. The reason is spelled s-t-a-r-t-i-n-g r-o-t-a-t-i-o-n.

This season’s quest begins at home against the Kansas City Royals. That’s got to mean Shields vs. Verlander, and it does. Tigers-Royals made for a challenging and interesting rivalry last season. Detroit has become a bit more like KC, perhaps, while the Royals have countered by snagging Omar Infante, the only Tiger who could hit the Royals in 2013.

The last time the Tigers faced the Royals on Opening Day, Zach Greinke outpitched an ineffective Justin Verlander, but the hapless KC bullpen collapsed and the Tigers exploded for 6 runs in the 7th inning on their way to the 8-4 victory. Joel Zumaya picked up the win for his 1+ inning of work. I remember it well.

OK, we know who The 25 are now. Any votes of “no confidence”? Mine would have to go to Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Alex Gonzalez, and Alex Avila’s hitting. But they are Tigers, so this can only mean “show me.” Not looking forward to any I-told-you-so’s.

Watch the game, listen to the game, follow the game. Let’s see some reaction here. Valuable prizes await you for “Post of the Game.”





1. interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc.
2. the tendency to view or represent things as they really are.

Now that we’ve read the best case and worst case musings of our other regular contributors, let me hit you with a dose of reality.

1. The Tigers are not going to stroll to the central title. The Central is going to be tougher than last year. Remember that the Indians only finished 1 game behind the Tigers last year, and the Royals won 86 games. Those teams are maturing and learning how to win. I don’t think that the Tigers will finish third, like Mr. Henning does, but it’s going to be a dog fight for sure.

2. There will be second guessing on DTW. Brad Ausmus is going to make mistakes. Lots of them. Since there is really only one spot nailed down in the bullpen, there will be a lot of room for what-ifs. Also, platooning will be a hot topic in LF and at C, starting in week one. This gets exacerbated if ANY position player gets injured.

3. There will be heartache for the DTW faithful. There are going to be 60-70 nights over the next six months when we go to bed (or wake up) with the sour taste of a L. (If there are more than that, then the season, and the recurring sour taste, will end early).

4. There will be celebrations. I know that we all take pride in the success of the Tigers. It’s a right of fandom. A great play or a nice win are always cause for a high five, or maybe a drink. I think that we’ve become spoiled over the past few years as Tigers fans and have become accustomed to winning, so our expectations have been raised. But even so, this team should deliver.

5. We’ll have fun. It’s America’s pasttime for a reason. My kids are still too young to get it, but I’m looking forward to sharing all of this with them in a few years. There is no doubt that it will rekindle a part of my appreciation that I didn’t even know I had lost. Looking forward to watching 2014 with everyone.


On another note, I don’t get the Cabrera contract extension at all. You could have paid him the exact same money next year (or seemingly less), and had the benefit of monitoring his core over another full season. Keith Law predictably trashed the deal, but if you want to read something worthwhile, check out Dave Cameron on Frangraphs. The conclusions aren’t too far apart, however.

We really don’t have much of an insight into Mr. Illitch. Certainly not the access that I’m used to with Mark Cuban and Jerry Jones. But I assume that this is his doing. Or that Dombrowski wants to retire in a few years.

After what looked like a prudent move in passing on Scherzer’s offer, the Tigers have confused a lot of people with this one. Though spending has never been a problem here, so let’s worry about the Cabrera contract when it’s time to worry. Yes, this could eat us up in 2020. But with Verlander and Cabrera now wrapped up into baseball infinity, if we’ve got two WS rings come 2020, it may be pretty easy to digest.


Just to be clear, I’m not “the pessimistic one” here. If The Loon had put up a post called Pessimism, I would be doing the Optimism one.

We like to cover all angles here at DTW. Opposing views are encouraged.

Barely a month after the postseason, the Tigers traded Prince Fielder and his $214 million salary (and and a whole lot of cash) to the Texas Rangers for 2B Ian Kinsler.   Oh. We weren’t expecting that, were we? While the trade may have seemed puzzling at first, the more you looked at it the better it looked. Fielder’s 2nd season in Detroit was marked by personal problems and his 2nd consecutive postseason failure, and moving him allowed the Tigers to move Cabrera back to first, open up a space for Castellanos in the lineup, let Omar Infante go (he was great for Detroit but about to become expensive), and improve the team defense and speed.

Bottom line: Fielder’s WAR (regular season) was 1.7 in 2013, he had off-field issues, had a history of postseason struggles, and was expensive. Kinsler had a 2013 WAR of 4.9, a history of postseason success, and was less expensive. Optimism seemed called for in November.

Then in December, Doug Fister was traded to the Nationals for Robbie Ray, Ian Krol, and Steve Lombardozzi. This was a head scratcher. There was some salary reduction, which it was assumed would help extend Max Scherzer (oops), but otherwise it looked lopsided, and the press agreed. The Tigers had an extra arm in the starting rotation, wanting to work in the young lefty Drew Smyly, but it seems they could have gotten more and should have waited longer.

So the Tigers entered Spring Training with two big trades behind them, but reason for optimism, and very few questions to be answered.  They had added Joe Nathan as a closer, added Joba Chamberlain for some bullpen depth, added Rajai Davis as a right-handed bat (and base-stealing threat) in LF, and the lineup looked pretty set.


Then came March Madness.

First down was Andy Dirks. Suddenly Left Field was Rajai Davis, who can’t hit righties, and…Don Kelly. It looked like the Tigers would have to pick up an outfielder, or use newcomer Lombardozzi there, neither which looked like good options. Perhaps the most troubling thing about the loss of Dirks was Dombrowski’s statement that Dirks had had back problems since high school. Oh.

Next to drop was Jose Iglesias, from his shin splints, that turned out to be shin fractures, and this was a big blow–likely the whole season.  It turns out he probably should not have been playing last season (which takes the shine off of last year’s trade for Iglesias).

Dombrowski tried to patch holes by trading for backup shortstop Kevin Romine from the Angels, and four days later for quasi-retired Alex Gonzalez for Lombardozzi, (which makes the return on the Fister trade look even thinner).

Then down goes Rondon. Currently the set-up man in the bullpen is Joba Chamberlain (cue laugh track from Yankee fans).

Suddenly, the nagging thought clears its throat and taps one on the shoulder: the two most important Tigers, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, are both returning from offseason surgeries.

What a way for a new manager to start his career. I was sold on the “speed and defense” emphasis that Ausmus preached, but the two best defensive players on the team are gone (Iglesias had a Gold Glove worthy glove, and–which was way under publicized–Andy Dirks was a Gold Glove finalist).

Hopefully that is all of the bad news for now, although I should point out that Don Kelly strained his hamstring, and he is backup for 11 of the 9 positions.

Here is the actual depth chart.  At least the trades for Romine and Gonzalez have taken Kelly out of the shortstop mix. As it is he is backup for 3rd, left, center, and right. As if that weren’t bad enough Davis in left was meant to be a platoon player, Hunter in right is 38, and Jackson in center plays fewer games every season (153 in 2011, 137 in 2012, and only 129 in 2013). Gonna be a whole lot of Donkey Time this year.

[This is one of the interesting things about doing these posts. Until I was in the middle of writing this it never occurred to me to be worried about Austin Jackson’s durability].

One more thing, as Columbo would say–the Tigers announced that they failed to extend Max Scherzer. That in itself may or may not be bad news. but it was certainly bad news that the Tigers are seemingly engaged in an uncharacteristic PR war with Scherzer/Boras. I think the Tiger-Boras honeymoon is over. Worth noting: unlike all other major negotiations, owner Mike Ilitch  had no direct contact with either party,  There are murmurings that Ilitch may be passing the reins, and that the open checkbook is no more, which may put the Fielder and Fister deals in a different light.

We are doomed. Doomed, I tell you!

(Pessimism is actually sort of fun if you don’t do it very often).

Less than one week until opening day. Go Tigers!



Back, shins, elbow, shoulder, hamstring. Welcome to 2014, Season Of The Body Parts. Wait, that’s the lead-in for a pessimistic article I’m not going to write.

I’ve reflected upon the boss man’s instructions to tackle the spring issues one at a time, and it seems to me we’ve covered most of them already. Position by position, there wasn’t a whole lot of debate coming into camp. I was going to do some kind of bench/depth write-up just before the even more still worser news about Jose Iglesias broke. The one issue (to date; please no more injuries) that hasn’t been covered is the overarching one, the one that’s been around since…

Last year. Did it begin with the acquisition of Iglesias? No, that was an emergency response, albeit a well-reasoned one. But in a fairly rapid flurry of after-season moves, chief among them Jim Leyland’s retirement, the Fielder/Kinsler trade, and the hiring of Brad Ausmus, it was clear that a Big Shift was going on. The offensive strategy was going to go from slugging it (or not) to a team that could make it happen even when hits were hard to come by. It was and maybe still is daunting to have lost a lot of proven run production in Fielder, Peralta, Infante, and also some bench with bigger bats, but the writing was clearly on the wall. A starting rotation like Detroit had in 2013 deserves better than 93-69. Those starters could have taken the Tigers to the World Series, but they were let down by the bullpen and a feast or famine offense that couldn’t often make up for said bullpen. The Tigers were no-hit by the Marlins in the final game of the regular season. Whoever was or wasn’t in the lineup, that remains a disgrace.

The best starting rotation in baseball remains virtually intact (fingers crossed on Sanchez and his shoulder). Fister out and Smyly in should be little if any loss, though I’ll miss Doug’s yellowhammer, best curveball on the staff in 2013. Anyway, still very strong (in the art of pitching?) here.

Joe Nathan and the law of averages all by themselves decree that the bullpen should be better. The sudden loss of Bruce Rondon isn’t good news, but it’s hardly the “crushing blow” I saw asserted in one headline. Better than 2013 here, I think.

Position players consist of 5 stars (you know who they are), 2 guys we’re not really sure of yet (Avila and Castellanos), and 6 more guys we’re really really not sure of. Is that a championship team? See “Starting Pitchers,” look up and down some MLB rosters and at a bit of history. Yes, it is a championship team, or can be. There are no all All-Star teams. (OK, for a day in July there are.) Maybe fantasy baseball has contributed to the fiction of that being a necessity. Justin Verlander says that the Detroit Tigers are a great team, and I believe him. Great teams are great teams. Detroit has enough elements in place, in spite of losses at SS and LF that cloud things a bit.

So the issue is: Can the Make It Happen offense really make it happen? At least I hope that’s the thing to watch. If it turns out not to be, we might be in bigger trouble than offense alone could possibly solve. For now… great optimism here. The evidence of spring has been that this offense certainly can make it happen, and can even explode like it used to. Then again, we’ve also seen some famine along with the feast, but for that we invoke the “it’s only spring training” clause.


OK, sorry, but I’ve got one more mini-topic. Would’ve put it up before or at the beginning of ST, but it hadn’t occurred to me then. What were the 5 best and 5 worst moves of 2013? Consider 2013 to have ended with the ALCS. My answers to the question tomorrow, as I wait for the resounding echoes of silence to subside.


1. Rick Porcello in the rotation, Drew Smyly in the bullpen
2. Signing Torii Hunter
3. Trading for Jose Iglesias
4. Sticking with Victor Martinez through a very cold start
5. Bringing Jhonny Peralta back after the suspension


1. Bringing back Jose Valverde
2. Leaving Quintin Berry and Danny Worth off the Opening Day roster
3. Not putting Miguel Cabrera on the DL
4. Underutilizing Brayan Pena and Matt Tuiasosopo
5. Making Tom Brookens the 3B coach

9 days until it all counts. Stay healthy, get healthy, be healthy, o Detroit Tigers. Oh, and play very well, too.

Oh shiiiiins.

The Jose Iglesias shinstorm has officially hit the fan. I don’t know if someone stepped in a pile of his shins or what, but ESPN is reporting that the injury which kept him sidelined late last year could keep him sidelined for most of 2014.

The injury has been rather mysterious with a bunch of cryptic reports coming out of Lakeland. I knew there had to be something wrong when he still couldn’t run this deep into Spring Training. Recognize that the report is still speculation, but I can’t see Iglesias playing anytime soon.

Stephen Drew is avail and plays SS. That’s all I want to say about that for now.


Right Out Of Left Field

Andy Dirks, our presumptive mostly-everyday LF, is having back surgery. He’ll be out 12 weeks at the least. The alarmist in me reads this as: Dirks will be out 4 months minimum, will struggle mightily when he does get back, and in essence, he’s done as a Tiger. Even the non-alarmist has to admit that chances of Dirks staying in the long-range plans for LF, 2015 and beyond, have fallen considerably. 2014 was Redemption Year for Andy, and I no longer see any redemption (or patience for it) happening. I think there will be a new direction entirely.

The short-term “what to do?” is well-covered by Jason Beck. I can’t reprise it any better. I will offer that this boosts Don Kelly’s stock. “Useful” may have become “nearly indispensable.” A plausible bench at this point would be Kelly, Worth, Lombardozzi, and Holaday. If that seems odd, consider how the Tigers could possibly carry less than two infielders with uncertainty at two positions there. Don Kelly can play all three OF positions well. I see him as less of a platoon partner for Rajai Davis and more of a 4th outfielder who might be in for a lot of playing time on a running basis. Not a whole lot different than last year’s role, really.

Which brings us to Rajai Davis. Who is this guy? Well, he’s scary fast. He’s also no great shakes as an OF defender (particularly in LF), doesn’t hit that well for average and has a low career OBP, and has no power, not even gap power (look at his triples numbers). He’s especially mediocre against RHP. I’m looking for some sign that he could surprise as more of an everyday LF than we think, and not finding it. Acquiring a solid replacement for Dirks might be in order, and forget the business with Kelly. This could be selling Trevor Crowe and Ezequiel Carrera short, though. Lots of ST to go yet.


And now, our live and in-person Detroit Tigers ST correspondent. More excerpts from the Book of Jud:

3/3: Smyly was down – down..down… change slowed down on everyone except Peralta. high FB crank…second time up high hanger crank out again…next batter he goes down again easy ground ball. ..Both of Peralta’s were fly balls carried in the wind..just barely cleared fence. Worth played all nine innings.. no one does that…read into that what we want. Davis ran from home to third on that triple in a frickin flash!!!!..faster than AJ. Ortega threw about 11 pitches in his inning 9 were 94-96..9 were strikes. Coke was pitiful of the 5 hits he gave up..4 were to lefties. He didnt pitch with the starting D but maybe Kinsler would have gotten to acouple of the GB hits. Not one pitch over 89…one at 76 everything else at 84-88. Castellanos muffed an easy GB…but made up for it with the longest HR of the day. It was a bomb.

3/6: I was thinking about this while the rain cones down but in the game Rajai Davis hit the triple guys who are fast like Jackson round the bases so fast the bow way out so that its almost a circle the are running rounding first….Davis is different he cuts the bases so fast and tight, he almost runs a straight line between bases..I bet he takes 10-15 less steps than most fast guys on a triple.While he was running I thought he was running 65 ft softball bases …he is crazy fast!!!

3/7: Any way these pitcher drills were always kind of a joke with Leyland..lot of laughing and screwing around. The drills I am watching seem to be taken a little more seriously. Maybe cause guys are fighting for spots or maybe its because of Ausmus ..I don’t see JV and I know I would recognize him. I am outside the fence about 100 feet away. It’s still pretty wet from yesterdays rain but it always amazes me how efficient and fast the ground crew gets things done. This whole complex is beautiful. And theres lots to take care of… Marte balks in winning run…wont matter he looks exactly like Coke from the right side. batting practice pitches all 86-87 nothing on them.  Lombardozzi is like a talented Kelly. he can run and hit…Castellanos runs good. I failed to mention before that I have seen Jackson bat 6 times now and he has hit the ball on the button all 6 times. he looks good. Robby Ray is going to be just fine.

3/7: At Steinbrenner stadium the absolutely best thing is the grotto just outside the entrance to the field. there are big rocks with brass plaques of retired Yankee numbers. One for each going right up..1..Martin, 3 Ruth, 4 Gerhig, 5 DiMaggio, 7 Mantle, 8 Yogi, 9 Maris, 15 Munson……..etc….it is the coolest display ever. People whisper when in there…the ground is spotless…I am not anywhere near a Yankee fan but I am in awe when I walk thru there.

3/8:  Joba was throwing a lot of breaking balls and so was Ray. maybe it was the plan and there were some walks. but both got out of there inning. wheres as Marte just like last time was straight and pounded…we didn’t see Miggy take BP here but before the Cardinal game he went over the berm with acouple and hit the 420 CF sign in BP…he looked “normal” to me.

Welcome, Ian Kinsler

Ian Kinsler was an instant fan favorite from the minute he broke into the big leagues in 2006.  A hard swinging, fast, top of the lineup guy who plays old school baseball (including the socks) and is a female favorite (so says my permanent roommate).

He had a 20/20 year in 2007, and 30/30 year in 2009 and 2011. He’s been an above average player every year, and even though he had a down HR/SB year in 2013 (13/15), he actually posted the 2nd highest VORP of his career, 5.3, last year.

But frustration stemming from back to back WS losses and raised expectations across the Rangers organization did not suit Kinsler well. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the fans down here in Texas were happier to get rid of Kinsler than the Tigers were to move Fielder along.

Kinsler had always been regarded as a difficult personality in the clubhouse, and for whatever reason he didn’t get along with Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels. When Nolan Ryan was forced out last year, that led to even more apparent discontent from Kinsler, which manifested itself in popups (from HR seeking upper-cut swings), loafing down 1B on ground balls, and lapses in concentration on the base paths (11 CS against 15 SB was the 2nd worst % in the AL last year).  As one Texas commentor (-er?) wrote “I look forward to watching Kinsler get picked off of 1B  in a Detroit uniform next year.”

Well, ESPN asked Kinsler about the Rangers this week, and Kinsler didn’t leave anything in the clip. He stated his desire for the Rangers to go 0-162, and referred to Jon Daniels as a “sleazeball.” I don’t know Daniels, but that’s the first such characterization that I’ve heard. Daniels was professional in his response, preferring to leave it alone. I do want to note that Kinsler said his quotes were taken out of context. No word if he meant that he wanted the Rangers to win a few games.

Kinsler was a key cog for those AL Championship teams, and he still has the talent to be an All-Star player in Detroit. Let’s just hope that the change of scenery will result in an attitude change as well.


In other news, Andy Dirks will be out until approximately June. This is troublesome because Dirks was slated to start in LF, and he’s really the guy who should be filling in for an injured starter. Looks like Rajai Davis will be the starter and that his backup will be filled internally. I don’t know much about Rajai Davis, other than he gets a lot of “stolen bases” whatever those are. But this news, coupled with Kinsler’s word bombs, didn’t make for a merry Spring Training Tuesday. Hopefully Jud can restore the shine with some Lakeland lowdown.


Short on Shortstop

Commenter TIGERS RULE asks: What do we do now? We don’t have a major league ss anywhere on the team. Good question. Before Jose Iglesias’s shin splints made an unexpectedly early reappearance, I don’t think shortstop was on our list of spring issues. Now it is.

We worried about our new acrobat’s long-term health last season, but that gathered dust over the offseason. A full season of Iglesias’s defense sounded great, even if questions lingered about his hitting (minus the infield singles, it gets pretty light). Now we’re reminded of another Plan B to think about, one to go along with possible questions about Miguel Cabrera’s and Justin Verlander’s “core” recoveries.

Yes, there’s Hernan Perez and Steve Lombardozzi, neither of them true shortstops. There’s Eugenio Suarez and Dixon Machado, and by the way, what is the organizational status of Argenis Diaz? All of these could be considered as fill-ins, but long-term? I’m thinking that Danny Worth’s chances of making the team just got a lot better. If injuries become a chronic problem for Iglesias in 2014, I think it’s either Worth or go outside in trade or signing. What do you think?

In other news, injury news, Casey Crosby is battling soreness and Eduardo Sanchez is out indefinitely with something unpronounceable.

ST Game 0
ST Game 1
ST Game 2
ST Game 3
ST Game 4
ST Game 5

Your New Tigers (3-2) are showing aggression on the base paths and working out the kinks. Not much in the HR department at this early stage. Pitching news seems mostly good. The most encouraging thing so far is seeing how it’s no longer “business as usual” with Ausmus at the helm. I think we’re gonna like that.

This just in from our correspondent jud in Lakeland, notes on Spring Training:

went to morning workouts. they might have been limited by a big rain on Thursday and it was still pretty wet. The thing that strikes you immediately is watching Ausmus vs Leyland is like watching Fallon vs Leno….Ausmus is physically active in most drills..either demonstrating or correcting..he looks like he could play today.
the other thing I really liked was coaches spread out over the fields. with Leyland …Lamont, Mac, Belliard, Leyland traveled around together. Jones was usually on a different field unless pitching drills…this year staff coaches were basically working different fields …now maybe that was the plan that day…lot more energy from place to place……more tomorrow

Good stuff, keep it coming. Mercifully free of too much about the weather. I shoveled snow this morning. My legs were cold.