Is The Tigers Roster Set?

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

When Dave Dombrowski spoke with the media today, he made comments that suggested Joba Chamberlain will be the final significant acquisition the team makes this offseason. While Dave shouldn’t be trusted to always tell us the truth, it certainly does appear as if the vast majority of the roster is set.

Let’s take a quick peak at the 2014 Tigers:

Starters

C: Avila

1B: Cabrera

2B: Kinsler

SS: Iglesias

3B: Castellanos

LF: Dirks

CF: Jackson

RF: Hunter

DH: Martinez

Bench

Davis, Lombardozzi, Holaday, Kelly

Rotation

Verlander

Scherzer

Sanchez

Porcello

Smyly

Bullpen

Nathan

Krol

Rondon

Chamberlain

Alburquerque

Coke/Crosby/#2 Lefty

Long-man (Putkonen, etc)

So there are really only three possible ways the roster changes. The first would be grabbing a big time FA outfielder and shuffling the roles of Dirks and Davis. They could presumably also find another bench player and cut ties with Don Kelly, but that isn’t a significant change to the overall group.

The second change would be to add additional bullpen pieces. The Tigers could absolutely improve upon their bullpen and that would include signing a high quality lefty or righty and bumping anyone down a spot or two. This is reasonably likely, but the potential impact is small.

The third option is a ground-shaking trade. This isn’t to say that the Tigers intend to do this, but the only way to improve the position player group right now is to displace a solid starter in a trade. Only Choo remains on the free agent market as any kind of serious upgrade over what the Tigers have, so if you’re really going to improve, you’re going to have to make a big trade. Options here are limited as well. That’s the curse of being a good team, it’s really hard to get better. Not only do you have to find an available player on the market, but they have to be significantly better than the guy you have in there already. The Tigers can’t just go out and trade for a great centerfielder because teams don’t want to trade the really good ones and Jackson is already a 3-ish win player. The intersection of the Venn Diagram of “available” and “better than the current Tiger” is very small and very pricey.

So, it sort of looks like the Tigers are done. Maybe there will be some moves at the margins, but it’s hard to see a path to  serious upgrade, and that’s disappointing. The 2014 roster as currently constructed is a lesser team than the one they put on the field in 2013. This looked like the perfect year to push all of their chips into the center of the table and go for it before it was time to break up the band. Instead, the Tigers are trying to to rebuild and go for it all at the same time. And it’s not working. They traded Fielder to free up money for other moves, but it turns out those moves are going to be extensions for Scherzer and/or Cabrera who will be past their primes for most of those deals. When they dealt Fister, not only did they get a weak return, they turned around and spent his salary on a relief pitcher who is 39. Nathan is still plenty good, but why would you spend money on an aging reliever if you’re also thinking about the future. Nathan only helps you in the short run, but if you care about the short run, Fister was more valuable to you than Nathan and the return you got for Fister.

My reading of the situation is that the Tigers are bumping up against an in-house spending limit and that Dombrowski was told to keep the 2014 payroll at a certain level. That doesn’t really explain his actions, but it explains why he didn’t spend more. The new coaching staff gave me high hopes, but I think the realistic expectation at this point is that the Tigers are heading into a shadow rebuild. They’re still the best team in the Central, but their ability to compete with the rest of the league is in jeopardy.

They’ll still be fun to watch, but it’s disappointing when you consider what they could have been.

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2 responses

  1. I enjoy reading your analysis sometimes, but you suffer from baseless negativity about every deal Dombrowski makes. Do you think the payroll is limitless? Would you rather the team go into full rebuild mode? Are you to young to remember rebuilding? It sucks. I would rather they reload on the go.

    They reached a payroll limit. Obviously. You need to recognize and respect that in your analysis and not just look at these moves in the vacuum which is the 2014 offseason.

    Keeping fielder would have created holes at second, closer, set up and left field would have been left to Dirks and the payroll STILL would have been about the same. This problem would have lasted well into the future too.

    Fister had a career high 1.3 WHIP last season with a reduced walk rate. He’s declining. Also regarding Fister. You and your stat buddies all complain about the return they got. Dombrowski must have been underprepared? Do you agree with Keith Law? Do you really believe that they didn’t do the work? Stupid.

    In this post you say “it’s not working”, how do you know? To make such statements as a matter of fact is just stupid. The Red Sox were predicted by “experts” to come in last last year. You should be careful when making statements of fact. This may work out quite well. Remember the playoffs? We sat around waiting for homers that never came. This team may be a little worse, but with the rotation and defense it will score enough runs to win the Central. My opinion is that it is a much better playoff team when runs are at a premium.

    Finally, I find it laughable when people like you, who claim to be so statistically brilliant, don’t understand the basic accounting principal of profit and loss. Obviously the Tigers have reached the limits of their ability to spend on player salaries. So Dombrowski did what he saw was best and created some flexibility for the team in the future while still trying to compete in the present.

    1. First, I think you’ll find I’m anything but someone who features baseless negativity. I laid lavish praise on Dave for just about every move from 2011-2013 with the exception of the Valverde re-signing. I love the Fielder deal. It’s only been the Fister deal and the aftermath that I’ve been negative about. This is easily one of the more positive places for Tigers coverage. Look around.

      They reached a payroll limit. Sure. How in the world does that explain dumping $8 million Fister for $10 million Nathan, $5 million Davis, and $2.5 million Joba? I’m not critical about their spending cap. I’m critical about how they have chosen to allocate those dollars. That’s extremely clear in all of my post Fister analysis.

      I was on board with the Fielder deal…don’t know where that comment is coming from.

      Fister is a top 15 pitcher. You can’t just look at a stat that includes hits and not recognized that he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher who played in front of a terrible infield defense. His strikeout, walk, homerun, ground ball combination makes him an elite/near elite pitcher. As for their process, I think they seriously misjudged the market for Fister. I’m not sure how that happened, either through due diligence failures or poor negotiations, but they did. Lombardozzi is a utility player, Krol is reliever, and Ray might be a 3/4 starter. That’s not a proper return. Even if Dave thinks Ray is underrrated, he should have been able to get more for Fister because the perception of the Ray compared to Fister in value favors the person trading Fister.

      As for your complaint about “it’s not working.” I really don’t know what to say other than that everything on this site is my analysis and opinion. I don’t need to to say, “I don’t think it’s working” for it to be clear what is my opinion and what isn’t. That’s just a silly criticism. I’m not a reporter.

      And this comment about profit and loss is a strawman argument. I have no problem with a spending cap, I have problems with how they are allocating those dollars. The Tigers traded two seasons of Fister plus $2 million, for two seasons of Nathan and Lombo/Krol/Ray. Fister is easily more valuable than Nathan in both seasons, so you have to make the case that the surplus value of those three makes up the difference plus $2 million. I would argue that it does not, because the only significant piece is Ray, who won’t be a contributor until 2015 and probably won’t be great until 2016 if that ever happens. The value of a win in 2014 is higher than one in 2016. Money is less valuable and success is less valuable the further out you go. If the Tigers intend to win now, they’re doing it wrong. If they want to rebuild, that’s fine. Either is a fine strategy. But what they’re doing is trying to have it both ways and that is not an effective strategy because you will steal from the present to give to the future and then steal that right back to give to the present.

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