Many called this at the end of last season. Others waited until the offseason ended with no major payroll dumps or significant changes. And the remaining fans (suckers, perhaps) are finally coming around.
The championship window has closed on the Detroit Tigers. In fact, it slammed shut and is locked without a key in sight to re-open it.
It’s hard to fathom that this team with the core it’s had in place for so long failed to capture a World Series title. But that’s how sports are. The ride was fun — meaningful baseball in late summer is a blast for fans and games in the fall are even better. But when the ride’s done, it’s done. The music fades, the people leave — there’s no sense in loitering around. Can’t help but feel like we’ve over-stayed our welcome — waiting, hoping that the rides picks back up again. But it hasn’t. And trust me, it won’t. (Look no further than the fact that Anibal Sanchez is starting tonight’s game in Seattle.)
I could run through the tangled mess of issues that will prevent this team from contending, but everyone’s heard them all — old age, injuries, gutted bullpen, underachieving starting pitching, out-of-this-world mega contracts to players who are unable to earn that type of money any more. We could all chime in and keep piling on; but what for? We know the problems with this team — and that’s step one. Now for step two, where do we go from here?
I propose a strategy made famous by George Constanza — a commitment to doing the opposite. Everything the Tigers have done for the last 10-plus years has been done with the goal in mind of winning now. Sign big-name free agents, trade for even bigger names at the trade deadline, pay the luxury tax penalty, go for it now!! But times are different and the outlook is as bleak as it’s been here in a while. Mr. I. is passed, the team is not what it’s been, and a change in philosophy is necessary.
So let’s do the exact opposite of what we’ve been doing: rather than buy and spend wildly, we need to sell — and sell everything. Wholesale changes — everything must go. If you’re nervous, that’s ok. But understand that this is the only way this organization will be even close to sniffing respectability within the next 5 years. Trading a piece here or a piece there will not do anything but continue to make the Tigers mediocre (at the very best) for longer than is desired by anyone.
The contracts of Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, alone, make it impossible for the Tigers to do anything flexible when it comes to finances. They have to find a way to convince a couple teams to take on those contracts. The closer we get to the trade deadline, the better chance a contender takes a shot at bringing one of those veterans on. The haul the Tigers get in return, however, will likely disappoint the average fan — but a few prospects and the mere fact of getting out from underneath those awful deals is all you can expect.
Jose Iglesius, Justin Wilson, Nicolas Castellanos, Alex Avila, and Ian Kinsler are all moveable pieces that will free up money and will make the Tigers younger.
Victor Martinez poses a more complicated problem — well, maybe not more complicated, but definitely a stickier situation. With V-Mart’s recent heart ailment, you wonder if retirement now creeps into the picture. That’d be the easy out for the Tigers. If not, though, who’s going to want a DH who can’t run, can’t hit for power (worst DH in the league based on slugging %), has an albatross of a contract, is nearly 40, and now has a bad ticker?
The team will still, obviously, need to figure out what to do — if anything can be done — with guys like Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton.
And if it all works out even halfway like I’m suggesting, the Tigers can position themselves similarly to the 2013 Houston Astros, who sold everything, dumped payroll, and turned themselves into a hapless team that barely won 50 games that year (51-111). It was bad for Houston for a while — got swept 18 times, were shut out in 18 games, struck out over 1,500 times. It was ugly — but there was light at the end of the tunnel. Management was committed to metrics and knew that the darkness was only temporary.
By 2015 the Astros were in the playoffs; and more importantly, the franchise was full of young, affordable talent that gave Houston financial flexibility. And look at them now — best record in MLB and Sports Illustrated’s pick to win the World Series.
I know — it’s all easier said than done. But a firesale is what this franchise needs. It’s the only answer, if the team wants to have more flexibility with it’s payroll and build it’s farm system.
But the longer the Tigers go without committing to that, the longer they will dangle in this state of winless, hopeless baseball, and the rebuild will be prolonged even longer.
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.