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!