You’re very likely reading this in the days or hours leading up to the first regular season Tigers game of 2015. The club will take on the Twins with David Price on the hill around 1pm on Monday, and the part of our lives that’s been missing for these winter months will return. In every possible way, it’s a happy occasion. There isn’t a baseball season that’s bad, just seasons that are better than others. Offseasons don’t follow the same rules.
I wouldn’t say the Tigers had a bad offseason, but I do think they missed an opportunity to substantially improve their odds of winning in 2015. They made good moves and they made bad ones and they’re entering play this week in a pretty even race with the Cleveland Indians.
This winter, the Tigers extended Victor Martinez. They probably paid him a little too much money, but he’s a good player who would have been hard to replace for the 2015 season, so call it an inefficient win. And then cringe when you hear “meniscus tear” and pray for a full recovery.
They traded away New English D’s beloved Rick Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes. On balance, it was a pretty fair deal in which the teams swapped players who are about as costly and valuable as each other in 2015. The positional swap made sense and if the Tigers didn’t want to extend Porcello, then it made some sense. Call it a push which followed a failure.
The Tigers swapped Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba for Shane Greene, c/o Did Gregorius. For me, this was an unmitigated slam dunk and one of Dombrowski’s classic starting pitcher finds. And then he went and traded for Alfredo Simon, losing Eugenio Suarez and Jonathan Crawford, forcing us to wonder if he was having a Jekyll and Hyde moment.
Then came Anthony Gose, who cost Devon Travis. I’m a little less bullish on Travis that some people, so I didn’t see this as a terrible move, but unless Gose has really reinvented his ability to hit this winter, he’s just not a terribly valuable addition. A fine trade, but not one that moved the needed.
They’re getting Iglesias and Rondon back. There’s no Torii Hunter defense and it’s a full year of Soria and Price. But there’s no Scherzer and the Verlander-Cabrera dynasty is another year older.
It was an underwhelming winter, punctuated by the return of Joba, who no one wanted, and the addition of Tom Gorzelanny, who is fine. Outside of the Simon deal, all of the moves they made were pretty defensible. The problem wasn’t the moves they made, but the ones they didn’t.
The Tigers poor bullpen and criminal lack of depth were on display all season last year and then ended their season in October. The Tigers did nothing to address either. They let guys like Gregerson, Neshek, Frasor, Cotts, and Duke go elsewhere for the sum total of about $17 million a year. You could have signed five relievers for what it costs to pay VMart, and that’s if you didn’t want Robertson or Miller. The Tigers also did nothing to improve their bench, and actually made it worse. Their four reserves will be McCann (good but a catcher!), whichever of Davis or Gose isn’t playing (and that means the wrong side of a platoon), and then Hernan Perez and Andrew Romine. Basically, if you need a catcher you’re good. The Tigers are also totally set on players who can pinch run. But there’s no offense there at all.
You never know exactly how every negotiation went, so it’s not any one move. It’s the sum total of a team willing to spend $170 million on a baseball team but not willing to drop a couple extra million to actually have some relievers and bench players. It’s frustrating, especially when the manager hasn’t shown any ability to properly leverage the assets he does have.
The Tigers aren’t doomed by any means. If I had to put money on it, I’d take the Indians by a game in the Central and put the Tigers in the coin flip game, but it’s plenty close and they could definitely win. This isn’t a great team anymore, it’s just a good one. We knew this day would come, I think we just all expected to have a little longer before it did.
There’s plenty to look forward to. The Tigers still have a couple of great starting pitchers and whatever’s left in Verlander’s tank. Cabrera-Martinez-Martinez-Cespedes are going to sock plenty of dingers. Kinsler, Iglesias, and Gose should play some fun defense. Rondon might throw 103.
It’s going to be an uphill battle, but we’re going to have fun trying to get to the top.