As a displaced Detroit Tiger fan in New England and more specifically right on the Mason Dixon line of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, I need the Tigers to desperately win a World Series championship. The Red Sox have won three championships in ten years and the Yankees won in 2009 and have won 27 of them. I’m starting to need Marty McFly’s time machine to get me back to even remembering 1984.
There’s been much angst with fans about our new manager, Brad Ausmus, and how he managed the worst bullpen in baseball. And there’s been the same angst towards Dave Dombrowski, our General Manager, who failed to solve the bullpen problem that prevented the 2013 Tigers from advancing (and causing me much pain and suffering in New England losing to the Red Sox). Some of the criticism is correct and some is displaced. This is a Tigers’ team that struggled all year in 2014 to find their identity. They toggled a lineup that was missing the hitting presence of Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta and a bullpen that was absolutely horrendous. Dombrowski tried to save the latter by signing “the stars of baseball past” – Joe Nathan, Jim Johnson and Joakim Soira. And he gave Ausmus the gift of Phil Coke for his final contract year. The Tigers never felt fully in sync all year.
After 2013 my fellow Tiger fans wanted Jim Leyland to be gone. They got their way. Love him or hate him Leyland was a winner and did great things for the Tigers and brought us to the World Series in 2006 and 2012 and the ALCS in 2011 and 2013. Dombrowski has made some MAJOR trades and none better than bringing Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. Dombrowski has proven that he is not afraid to make changes and I would suspect that he will do so again in 2015.
The 2014 Tigers somehow managed to pull 90 wins out of a hobbled season and win the Central Division title for the fourth year in a row. They aren’t that broken but with the fourth highest payroll in baseball at $161 million, they are some fixes to make. Some of them are the fixes are pretty easy considering what is being paid to the underperformers. Let’s help Dombrowski out with his job and run through the fixes as we gear up for spring training.
Who stays: Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, JD Martinez, Rajai Davis, Nick Castellanos, Alex Avila (backup role only). These are only the “headliners”
Who is re-signed: Victor Martinez. The Tigers would be insane not to win any bidding war to keep this bat and more importantly, leader, in the lineup.
Who doesn’t get re-signed:
- Torii Hunter. The mojo and leadership that Torii brings to the club is worth a lot – but not the $14 million we paid him in 2014 and whatever he might demand. His speed is gone and his bat is inconsistent and mediocre at best.
- Joakim Soira – For $8 million option, he is clearly not worth it. His arm is dead and he was just plain awful.
- Phil Coke – $2 million. Can you imagine that he actually got paid that much!?!?
- Max Scherzer – The Tigers made Max an amazing offer before the season and Scott Boras, his glamour girl agent, refused it. Max will demand over $25 million in salary and that’s $10 million more than he gets now. He will be heavily recruited by the Yankees and Red Sox. He’s an arm we can replace in free agency. Plus as we are seeing in previous post seasons it’s not necessarily the starters that carry you to the crown.
- Jim Johnson – $10 million for a few pitches in 2014. Clearly not worth it.
- Joba Chamberlain – Joba had a great first half but then fell apart. When he hit a batter in Game 2 you knew that not only the beard was interfering with his delivery but he would not be back. There’s $2.5 million saved.
If my math is correct that saves us $51.5 million or a third of our current payroll.
Here’s where the fun happens…
Trade David Price. Yep. I said it. We didn’t give up much for him. Austin Jackson had one more year and he is a Boras reprsentee as well. Drew Smyly was probably going to be average at best. Price has one more year in his contract and has HUGE value in the marketplace. He seemingly does not want to be in Detroit and his reported frustrations with Ausmus were visible. We have a hole in the outfield in CF and RF once we let Hunter go. Trade Price to Toronto for Jose Bautista and a reliever like Brett Cecil. Straight up. They make nearly the same amount of money and Bautista brings power into the lineup and he is signed through 2015 with an option for 2016.
Free Agents: Our needs are catcher, bullpen, starting pitcher, and center field.
Catcher – Let’s bring Russell Martin to the Tigers. He brings leadership, experience, defense and a bat better than Avila’s to Detroit. He’ll cost a penny or two and demand probably more than his $9.5 million salary. But hey that’s what we are paying Jim Johnson!
Bullpen – the two closers that I believe could help are Sergio Romo and Andrew Miller. I have this bias against Andrew Miller after the Tigers spent their time, money and energy trying to get him to perform in Detroit. He seems to have found his niche, but I think Romo is more of a proven closer than Miller. Romo’s current salary is $6.3 million and should be easily affordable for the Tigers. There’s a list of others that will be available – Zach Duke from Milwaukee, Pat Neshek from St. Louis, Darren O’ Day from Baltimore, Luke Gregerson from Oakland, Jason Grilli from Pittsburgh. Move the expensive Joe Nathan to become the set up guy taking Chamberlain’s spot.
Starting Pitcher – two that we will pursue – Jon Lester and James Shields. Strategically it would be great to steal Shields from the Royals who will want to resign him if they have the room. Jon Lester brings a left hand that we will need with the departure of David Price. I lean towards Lester especially in Comerica Park. Lester will probably cost us about $20 million a year (cheaper than Scherzer). This would give us a rotation of Sanchez, Porcello, Verlander and Lester. We can platoon the fifth starter especially with a better bullpen. Now some will argue that we would be better signing Price to an extension. But the issue is that we can’t fill a hole in the outfield without trading as the free agent market just isn’t there this year.
Center Fielder – Ben Revere from the Phillies is the best young prospect out there for us to get. But he’s not a free agent and the Phillies have pegged his as their player to build around. The prospects to trade are few and far between for us so we will have to gamble in the free agency market. There isn’t much to be had out there in terms of CF’s free agent wise, but one that we could take a gamble on is Grady Sizemore. He wants to win and he would fit in nicely provided he was healthy for the Tigers.
Reserves – In addition to fixing the bullpen with some depth, the Tigers should consider picking up some bench and pinch hitting strength in the likes of Norichika Aoki, Ichiro Suzuki, or Josh Willingham.
There’s about $40 million spent in the big free agent signings giving the Tigers some room to pick up bullpen and reserves if they want to be payroll neutral to the $51.5 million saved.
What does the starting lineup look like for the Tigers in 2015 then:
- 2B – Ian Kinsler
- RF – Jose Bautista
- 1B – Miguel Cabrera
- DH – Victor Martinez
- LF – JD Martinez
- 3B – Nick Castellanos
- C – Russell Martin
- CF – Grady Sizemore
- SS – Jose Iglesias
Pitching – Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Jon Lester, Rick Porcello, Kyle Lobstein
Bullpen – Joe Nathan, Sergio Romo, Brett Cecil, Al Alburquerque, Evan Reed, Blaine Hardy
Reserves – Rajai Davis, Don Kelly, Andy Dirks, Andrew Romine
I look at this team that I’ve helped Dombrowski create and think with confidence that these 2015 Tigers will have what has been missing to get us to hoist that World Series trophy that we have been trying to capture the past 4 years. No more need for Marty’s time machine….