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:
Davis, Lombardozzi, Holaday, Kelly
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.