Six Possible Trade Scenarios as MLB Deadline Approaches

As the Major League Baseball trade deadline draws nearer, teams take serious stock of what they are. Teams that are close to contention make that difficult decision to become either buyers or sellers.; those teams that aren’t close to competing for the playoffs have to determine what players are expendable as they look to the future; and the true contenders decide what pieces they need to add to get themselves in the best position possible to win a World Series this year.

Here are six deadline deals that make a great deal of sense — maybe too much sense:

Justin Verlander to the Dodgers

I wrote this last year at this very same time — more so as a “dream” trade for both the the Tigers and the Dodgers. It made perfect sense — JV was having a throwback season as he finished second in the Cy Young voting, his fiancee Kate Upton and he would seemingly be a no-brainer fit in Los Angeles, and the Dodgers needed some reinforcement in their starting rotation behind Clayton Kershaw.

All those things are still true — aside from Verlander having a Cy Young season this year.

This time around, it’s more realistic and necessary than it is dreamy.

The Dodgers never make that big splashy move at the deadline — the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick move last year is as close as they’ve come. And perhaps that’s why L.A. can’t seem to get over the hump in the postseason. The Dodgers own the NL’s best record and truly have a team in place that can win a World Series right now. But October baseball is different from the kind of baseball we see from April to September. While the Dodgers seem unstoppable right now, that could all change in the playoffs. Heck, if Clayton Kershaw isn’t back sooner than later, it could all change in the next month.

My advice to general manager Farhan Zaidi (to quote Cubs GM Theo Epstein when he acquired Aroldis Chapman at last year’s deadline) — “If not now, when?”.

Sonny Grey to the Nationals

Like the Dodgers, Washington is always good and always in the playoffs, but misses out on making that huge move that puts them over the top and places them in the discussion of “obvious pick to go to the World Series”. Instead, they’ve established the reputation for being great in the regular season but expected to fully bottom out in early October. You are what you are.

The Nationals have a chance to change that this year: no NL team is fast-tracked to the World Series. True, L.A. is playing sensational baseball now, but they, too, suffer from the same ailment as the Nationals — underperformance in October.

A young, contract-controllable starting pitcher with playoff experience could be just what the Nats need. Stephen Strasburg is never healthy long enough to give Washington what they need. Gray works this year as a short-term solution, but he also is under contract through 2019. A move like this could extend Washington’s championship window another few seasons.

Michael Fulmer to the Brewers

I know Tiger fans don’t want to hear this, but too bad. Michael Fulmer is already an ace and he won’t do any good in Detroit for the next 5 years if the team is winning between 60 and 75 games. By the time Detroit is ready to be a contender again, Fulmer will be 30 and he may want to explore his options elsewhere. Not to mention the haul of prospects the Tigers could get for the righty right now would be invaluable as the franchise embarks on a major rebuild. But, like I said, few in Detroit will even listen to that rationale.

For Milwaukee, sure, they are ahead of schedule with their rebuild — no one expected them to be in playoff contention let alone leading the division at the All Star Break. But that doesn’t mean they should rest on their laurels. If they can package some prospects and go out and get a known stud who can contribute immediately — and in Fulmer’s case, provide a very team-friendly contract for the next 5 years — then I don’t know why they wouldn’t do it.

Brewers GM David Sterns has built a very healthy farm system that is ranked in the top-5 in all of baseball — thanks to years worth of selling valuable parts in order to collect prospects and build for the future. Fulmer would cost him 3 or 4 top 10 prospects, probably, but the Brewers can afford it — and Detroit would be foolish not to take that. And Fulmer could be the cornerstone to that rotation for years to come.

Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to the Rockies

The Rockies are in the market for both a catcher and a closer. While Zach Britton and Jonathan Lucroy may appear to be the more desirable assets, Colorado might have to wait too long to find out whether Baltimore and, especially, Texas are selling at the deadline or not.

Conversely, everyone knows the Tigers are sellers and they just happen to have a catcher and a closer who are available. Alex Avila has been linked in reports to Colorado. This deal makes sense for the Rockies; Detroit would have to determine whether they get enough in return for Justin Wilson — a hard, left-handed closer who’s having the best year of his career.

Yu Darvish to the Cubs

Ok, here’s the trade scenario that may be more fantasy than reality. No one yet knows what Texas’s intentions are with regard to buying, selling, or standing pat. At the moment, they’re 3.5 games back of the second Wildcard spot so it’s well within the range of thinking that the Rangers  feel they can contend in the final months of the season.

But they may conclude that while they sit only 3.5 games back, there are 5 teams in between them and that spot so it might be too much to overcome. If that’s the case, let’s talk about where their ace goes. And no team in contention wouldn’t love to roll Yu Darvish out to the hill every fifth day. The question is who will want him knowing he’s a rental?

The precedent has been set in the past though — David Price went to Toronto from Detroit for the final two months of the season a few years ago as a rental, only to leave in the offseason for Boston.

I imagine the Dodgers would be interested, as would the Yankees, Astros, Nationals, and Brewers. But I don’t believe any of those teams are willing to sign up for a 2-month rental at the cost that it would take to get Darvish. However, I think the Cubs would.

Chicago is in real danger of missing the postseason in a year coming off of the World Series title. I don’t believe Theo Epstein is willing to follow up the success of 2016 with a playoff-less 2017. Would they prefer Gray or Verlander? Most certainly. But Darvish might be the route they have to go to get back into the postseason and make another run at a championship.

Zach Britton to the Astros

Houston wants some bullpen help and the Orioles stud closer is the best option. Like Los Angeles, the Astros are in a position of power — best record in the American League. But it’s more about setting themselves up for the best October that they can have. Adding a power arm like Britton could have the same impact Andrew Miller had with Cleveland or Aroldis Chapman had with the Cubs last year.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

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Is Michael Fulmer Untouchable or Should Tigers Make Young Ace Available?

If you’re a loyal reader of my blog — or you just feel sorry and read because you’re family or friends, you already know where I stand with this Detroit Tigers team. And you know who I think deserves the blame. But with the midway point of the season behind us and the trade deadline looming on July 31, it’s time to examine what the Tigers should do when it comes to their most prized (and valuable) possession.

J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila are as good as gone — not much to say about them. Justin Upton can go if he chooses to — his contract prevents the team from moving him without his permission. Victor Martinez is too old, too slow, and has suffered a steep decline in skill for anyone to take him. Miguel Cabrera’s contract is an albatross and it’d take a minor miracle for the Tigers to find a taker for the All-Star slugger. Justin Verlander would be a great addition to a contender, if the Tigers agree to eat a percentage of the former Cy Young winner and MVP’s contract. Jordan Zimmermann is likely only going somewhere as part of a bigger deal that lands his new team a young stud with a friendly contract and financial flexibility — and that’s a perfect segue to my point: Michael Fulmer is the piece to the Tigers’ puzzle that no one wants to even consider giving up. But they ought to.

No player mentioned above will bring in the haul of prospects that the 2016 Rookie of the Year and 2017 All Star will. Fulmer’s under contract until 2023 so no team has to worry about him being a rental. And he’s only 23 years old so there’s no reason to expect any sort of sharp fall-off of his skills.

Make no mistake — the Tigers are not getting great prospects or many MLB-ready players if, and when, they trade any of their pieces previously-mentioned. Even the ones you think should bring in a lot of value won’t — teams know Detroit’s situation and aren’t going to offer much for the contracts of Verlander, Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, or Zimmermann. And everyone knows the team can’t afford J.D. Martinez so why bother giving up a ton to get the guy for the rest of the season?

The only player who would bring in the kind of significant help, as far as youth goes, would be Fulmer. He’d likely get the Tigers anywhere from three to four of a team’s top 10 prospects and he’d sure help in convincing that team to take on one of the big contracts of Cabrera or Zimmermann (just to name a couple) that would get the Tigers closer to being in a good financial spot as the rebuild begins.

In addition, it’s not only about what the Tigers could get for Fulmer — it’s about what Fulmer’s presence on the team over the next 5 years will look like and mean. Personally, I see him like I see Felix Hernandez in Seattle — a phenom on a bad team with no championships to prove how great he was.

Are the Tigers selfish enough (and I don’t mean “selfish” in a bad way, really) to keep Fulmer around during what promises to be some bad years of baseball coming up; put 800 innings on his arm; and hope by 2023 that they are (a) ready to contend and (b) he’s willing to sign a mega-deal for $25 million plus here in Detroit?

There are a lot of things that can happen before 2023 arrives.

Conversely, it’s not completely one-sided. The prospects the Tigers get in return for a potential deal for the righty may not pan out — and fans could, sickeningly, watch Fulmer thrive in his new city for the next decade. And by keeping Fulmer and rebuilding with him as the crown jewel, it may help attract certain free agents in the coming years once the franchise is, financially, prepared to start signing players of significance, again. Having a stud arm here could be attractive to players and help make Detroit a destination spot once again.

Whatever the team’s plans are for their young ace, you’d think they’d have to keep all options open. The Tigers are far from the team we remember not so long ago, that operated during times like these from a position of strength and power. They’re not that anymore. A rebuild can help get them back there, though.

The question is how committed are they to a full-on rebuild and is Fulmer more valuable to them as a Tiger for the next 5 years or as a trade chip until July 31?

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

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Fire Ausmus? Fine. But Blame Avila.

I want to say right off the bat that I’m not going to die on my sword for Tigers’ Manager Brad Ausmus. No playoff wins in 3 full years, only one playoff appearance during that time, and a tumultuous roller coaster of ups and downs that have virtually culminated in, well, nothing. I suppose “nothing” is too harsh. How about “mediocrity”? And if something doesn’t happen soon, this team will be mediocre at best for the foreseeable future. I would argue that firing Ausmus may not be the answer.

Yes, all Tiger fans have the right to be angry, disappointed, sad, furious. But let’s get a few things straight — don’t be mad about the events that are transpiring now surrounding this team. The sweep at the hands of the Mariners, the hapless starting pitching, the horrific bullpen, the lack of offense? That’s right — you can’t be mad about those things. That’s baseball. Miguel Cabrera can’t get around on a fastball, Victor Martinez can’t run or hit anymore. We all saw this coming a year ago, and that’s why so many screamed and hollered for GM Al Avila to sell at the trade deadline last season. The writing was on the wall. The future didn’t look good so sell off parts that will get the rebuild going as quickly as possible. If that happened last July, we wouldn’t be having this discussion now. (And maybe you’d even be in position to keep J.D Martinez.)

If you want to be mad about something, be mad that Brad Ausmus has been given all of 3 (give or take) legitimate options to go to in his bullpen; be mad that it took an irregular heartbeat to get Victor Martinez out of the 4-hole; be mad that the team is still handcuffed with contracts to veterans who are too slow, too old, or too inconsistent; be mad that we as fans were told the team was going to dump payroll over the winter only to come into Spring Training with the same players — only now they’re a year older, a year slower, and a few years past their championship window.

If you want to place blame, send all hate mail to Al Avila.

I get it — fans want blood, they need a face to hate and be angry with. Ausmus is the easy target — not that he doesn’t deserve a fair amount of blame. So go ahead and put his head on a stick and hold it up in the air so fans can feel what ever feelings his firing will invoke in them. It’s irrational mostly — but, like I said, I’m not here to defend Brad Ausmus.

I will make this point, however: firing Brad Ausmus doesn’t change anything. Stick the interim tag on Omar Vizquel or Lloyd McLendon and see if that “lights a fire” under this team. Fine — good luck. Whether it’s Ausmus or anyone else at the helm, they aren’t going to change the roster that they are saddled with. So firing Ausmus now or in 3 months really is inconsequential in my opinion.

If you want to make a real move — a serious move that goes beyond just giving the fans something to hoot and holler about with an Ausmus beheading, then fire Avila. Now. You say how’s that any different than firing Ausmus? You ask can’t the same arguments used for keeping the manger around until October also be used for keeping Avila around for the remainder of the season? I say no.

Avila has had the chance to get this roster straight. He had all winter to find and sweet-talk other GMs into taking Justin Verlander’s contract or Cabrera’s. He could have gotten a deal done to get the contract of Ian Kinsler off the books. He could have set the roster up to either pay J.D. what he’s going to command as a free agent or Avila could have decided to trade him and get prospects that could help solidify the farm system. He had plenty of time, but he failed to do anything that even partially helped this team out. And now Brad Ausmus, the players, and we, the fans, are the ones paying for it.

Give the interim title to assistant GM David Chadd or Scott Bream, who heads up player personnel. Maybe neither get the power to make any significant changes to the roster this season (that’s for Chris Ilitch to decide), but neither could do any worse than Avila.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

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With the Tigers’ Season on the Brink, Detroit Needs to Sell

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.

 

 

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2017 MLB Predictions

Sometimes it seems so easy to predict how major league baseball season will turn out. Twenty years ago, you pick the Yankees and you’re doing ok. Couldn’t take the Red Sox or Cubs, of course, but everyone already knew that. And as time has gone on, some things have changed, naturally — the Cubs and Red Sox are both quite obvious and popular picks in 2017 and the Yankees are a youthful sleeper at best.

But other things have stayed pretty consistent for the last few years — Clayton Kershaw as the NL’s top pitcher; the Nationals leading the NL East (and then bowing out, abruptly, from their opening playoff series); Mike Trout and Bryce Harper treating the league like their own personal sandlot; and the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Red Sox going down to the wire for the AL East crown.

This year, I predict, some of those pieces to MLB’s puzzle will stay intact; but some things will change. Let’s have a look at how I envision the 2017 season playing out, division by division and then the postseason plus awards.

 

AL East

Boston (95-67): The pitching is there, the lineup is there. There’s a nice blend of veteran     leadership mixed with youth. If they underachieve, we may truly understand how big a part of that franchise David Ortiz was.

Baltimore (89-73): Put me on the Manny Machado bandwagon. Heck, I’ll even drive. Good pitching, better bullpen, and, yes, Manny for MVP.

Toronto (86-76): All the pieces seemed in place the past few seasons. The Jays may have missed their chance.

New York (85-77): Very young club that should be fun to watch. But they’re a year away from being playoff-bound.

Tampa Bay (67-95): It won’t be pretty in Tampa this summer for Rays’ fans.

 

AL Central

Cleveland (90-72): I see this Cleveland team as being a bit fragile — the World Series hangover, the mileage on the starting rotation, and Michael Bradley does not seem like his shoulder wants to let him play any time soon. Still, 90 wins will put them in the postseason.

Detroit (85-77): Speaking of fragile. Is there any team in the league who’s season could swing in two more extreme directions? Stay healthy, play motivated for the late Mr. I, and have a stable bullpen and the Tigers could challenge the Indians. Or watch injuries mount on the veterans, listen to rumors fly about manager Brad Ausmus’s job and this could be a bottom 5 team in the AL.

Kansas City (81-81): It was just yesterday when the Royals were the class of the division and the league. Now, KC looks like just another team trying to make the postseason.

Minnesota (68-94): The Twins have young pieces, but they’re still a ways away from competing.

Chicago White Sox (66-96): Does anyone even know the White Sox exist?

 

AL West

Houston (89-73): The Astros have youth that is maturing quickly — MVP-caliber Jose Altuve, superstar in the making Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Dallas Keuchel. Veteran additions like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Josh Reddick will put Houston in a great position to get to the World Series.

Texas (87-75): The Rangers have the starting pitching and power at the plate to win a lot of games. Can the bullpen close down tough, close games in September and October, though?

Seattle (80-82): For years now it seems like we’ve all been picking the M’s as the sleek, sexy pick to make the playoffs. I’m about ready to give up.

Los Angeles Angels (79-83): My argument for a few years has been — as futile as it may be — that if Mike Trout is as good as we all think, then why are the Angels not perennial playoff contenders or challenging for the pennant? I know he’s supremely talented, but you’ve got to make others around you better, don’t you?

Oakland (65-97): Billy Beane’s “moneyball” philosophy has the A’s is a bit of a rebuild.

 

NL East

New York Mets (88-74): Watch Noah Syndergaard this season. The young righty was forced into a leadership role on the staff with the plethora of injuries that impacted the 2016 rotation. He grew up and I look for him to position himself right at the top of the Cy Young race. I also like the combo of Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Grandson to give the Mets lineup the punch it will need. I think Granderson is capable of providing the spark that Daniel Murphy provided the Mets in their World Series run in 2015.

Washington (85-77): One of these years I expect Washington will quiet the naysayers and will win the World Series. Players like Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer, who are perennially in the MVP and Cy Young conversations — respectively, should have rings. But I’m picking them to take a step back this season. Maybe it’s what they need before making a run in 2018?

Miami (78-84): It is impossible to predict how the Marlins will respond to the tragic loss of Jose Fernandez in their first full season without their ace. And that’s just one question that presents itself. Will Giancarlo Stanton return to MVP-form after an injury-shortened ’16? Is the pitching staff strong enough? After missing out on acquiring a relief pitcher in the offseason, can the bullpen hold things together? Too many questions for what, ultimately, is an average team.

Atlanta (77-85): The Braves have potential, which starts and ends with Freddie Freeman. If the Braves could get above .500, Freeman will garner a lot of MVP consideration — and well deserved. Bartolo Colon’s addition could add some excitement and leadership.

Philadelphia (69-93): The Phils remind me a little of the Yankees — both are young and have rebuilt their teams the smart, patient ways. That said, the playoffs are not anywhere in sight this year in Philly.

 

NL Central

Chicago Cubs (96-66): It sure smells like a repeat is in the works, but that’s no easy task. I wouldn’t worry about the regular season for the Cubbies. But can they continue to fend off opponents’ best shot every game?

St. Louis (84-78): You can never turn your back on the Cardinals. A healthy rotation will have the Cards in the hunt all year.

Milwaukee (79-83): This is a young Brewer team who should be fun to watch. The postseason isn’t realistic, but this club should entertain fans this season.

Pittsburgh (78-84): I’m sensing a bit of a drop off for Clint Hurdle’s club. The strange moves at last year’s trade deadline still make me shake my head.

Cincinnati (68-94): Like Milwaukee, the Reds are going through a major rebuild. Games won’t be won easily for this Reds team.

 

NL West

Los Angeles (94-68): Corey Seager will be in the running for the MVP all year. Add the fact that you have Clayton Kershaw taking the hill every fifth day and we’re talking about a team that has World Series written all over it.

San Francisco (92-70): The pitching cannot be overstated in San Fran. No team can definitively argue their starting five is better than what the Giants throw out there. If they can find consistent offense, San Francisco will be playing late into October.

Colorado (86-76): There may not be a better 2B, SS, and 3B trio in the National League. Look for Nolan Arenado to put himself in the MVP conversation. The pitching might be the downfall, but the Rockies have a lot to be hopeful about — in ’17 and beyond.

Arizona (81-81): The Diamondbacks have been under the radar due to the division they’re in. But this team might only be a year away from seriously threatening in the West.

San Diego (58-104): Then Padres are putting their faith in Will Myers and Jared Weaver. Beyond that, the Padres are steeped in uncertainty at nearly every position.

 

League Championships

AL: Boston over Houston

NL: Los Angeles over San Francisco

World Series

Boston over Los Angeles

MVP

AL: Manny Machado

NL: Corey Seager

Cy Young

AL: Chris Sale

NL: Noah Syndergaard

 

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Unchartered Waters Ahead for the Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila has stated his case. Supported it with evidence. Ardently declared a new road will be taken this off-season. Are Tigers fans ready for this? Better yet, is Mike Ilitch ready for this?

The Tigers, who for over a decade, have bought and bought and bought players — many of whom experts and fans thought Detroit had no shot at landing. Owner Mike Ilitch loves stars and wants to make them his stars.b9324176108z-1_20161009001159_000_g0jg00f7u-1-0 And he has little issue with opening the pursestrings when he feels it’s time. From Juan Gonzalez to Prince Fielder, ending with the latest in Justin Upton last season. Just when everyone thinks the wheeling and dealing is dead, the beloved “Mr. I” enters the room, smiles, and empties the piggybank in the lap of a superstar player. Often times to the (pick your own adjective here) dismay, shock, surprise, elation of his general manager and personnel guys. Not that having an owner, who is willing to pay whatever price is asked in order for his team to be competitive year-in and year-out, is a bad thing. It’s just tough to manage so many enormous salaries. And that brings us to the winter of 16-17.

Al Avila is charged with the task of making the Tigers “younger and leaner”, as he said in his press conference this week, when talking about the team’s immediate future. With the massive (and likely unmovable) contracts of Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton, and Victor Martinez, the Tigers have little room left to pay their up-and-coming stars the money they will be commanding — some sooner than later. Thus, this winter promises to be intriguing, if nothing else, for fans of the team who’s motto for years has been to throw caution to the wind and pay any luxury tax that is placed on them.

Here are five things that all Tigers fans should hope happen in the coming months before pitchers and catchers report in February.

1. Trade J.D. Martinez.

This hurts because J.D. Martinez is just the type of young player, who can hit for average and for power, that jdmartinezfits what the Tigers should want. But he’s also the perfect example of what happens when there’s just no money left in the checkbook because older vets took it in large, long contracts. Martinez is likely to command a long-term deal north of $24 million per year when his current deal expires after the ’17 season. That’s not something the Tigers can even consider paying. At the same time, they cannot let him up and walk away for nothing when he becomes a free agent. Avila will get the most in return for the 29-year old outfielder — not just unproven prospects. And the sooner it happens, the more valuable Martinez is.

2. Trade Justin Verlander.

The former league MVP and Cy Young award winner had a bit of a revival in 2016. Verlander will finish high in the Cy Young voting, again, this season, making his trade value higher than it will be from here on out for the rest of his career. Although, it would take something of a minor miracle for another team to take on the ace’s $28 million per year contract. But much stranger things have happened. Verlander would bring in a haul of players and prospects in return. Avila would be savvy to look to playoff contenders that need a strong arm and have pieces to trade away — Boston, the New York Yankees, Seattle to name a few.

3. Victor Martinez retires.

With David Ortiz stepping away, there are few better DHs in MLB right now. Victor Martinez is a “professional hitter”. But his contract, brokered by former Tigers GM David Dombrowski, is an albatross. Martinez, who will turn 38 years old next season, is set to earn a base salary of $18 million in 2017. That’s a huge chunk of money devoted to a player of that age, who has already experienced long-lasting knee, back, and hamstring injuries. He’s not exactly very easily tradable — couldn’t go to the National League and not sure many AL teams want that age or that contract.

4. Pick up Cameron Maybin’s option. Then trade him.

cameron-maybin-mlb-minnesota-twins-detroit-tigers-1-850x560Cameron Maybin, arguably, was the most impactful Tiger of the 2016 season. When Maybin started, Detroit was 51-38; and when the CF scored a run, the team was 34-9. Maybin’s option for 2017 would cost the Tigers only $9 million. Here’s the catch — that’s only for a year. What happens in 2018? Why not get what you can for Maybin now and cash in while his stock is as high as it’s ever been? Platooning JaCoby Jones and Anthony Gose in centerfield — along with possibly whatever pieces come into Detroit from other deals — could be effective.

5. Re-sign Francisco Rodriguez.

K-Rod’s contract will only cost the team $6 million, which is a very affordable price — just about half of what Aroldis Chapman and David Robertson make. Plus, it doesn’t appear Bruce Rondon is ready to be the closer,
yet. Make Rondon the 8th inning guy in 2017 with Rodriguez remaining as the closer; and proceed after ’17 with Rondon transitioning to the 9th inning. With the free agent market for closers looking quite full this off-season, it wouldn’t be a wise move on K-Rod’s part to want to test the open market.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

 

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MLB Playoffs: Who’s In, Who’s Out in the American League?

With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the MLB playoffs are right around the corner.  While the National League playoff picture looks clearer, there are a number of teams vying for only a handful of spots in the American League (Texas and Cleveland are in so I’ve left them out of the discussion). Who’s got the best shot at securing a berth and playing in October?

Boston (85-64)

The East is their’s. The Red Sox battled through a tough stretch in their schedule back in July and August. They survived a difficult West Coast trip when other contenders could have pulled away and buried them. The pitching is as good as anyone’s in the AL, and there’s something to be said for this being David Ortiz’s last season. This is a team to watch deep into October.

Playoff Chances: 90%

 

Baltimore (82-67)

Slot the O’s into one of the Wild Card spots. Baltimore has had success all season against fellow AL East teams (36-30) and they wrap up the regular season with 9 of 12 against divisional foes. The other 3 games are at Camden Yards against the woeful Diamondbacks.

Playoff Chances: 65%

 

Houston (78-71)

The Astros finish the year with 13 games against the AL West — however, they get to avoid the division leader, Texas. Houston has gone 35-28 in the division. The A’s and Angels should not test the Astros too much — and that’s 10 games right there. MVP candidate Jose Altuve can carry the team on his back into the playoffs, if they can win the games they are supposed to win.

Playoff Chances: 45%

 

Toronto (81-68)

The big bombers north of the border have picked the wrong time to fall into a slide, having lost 6 of 10. They will need to beat the teams in the division if they want another crack at the postseason. The Jays have gone 34-32 against the rest of the AL East. They’re probably going to need to get to 88 or 89 wins in order to clinch a berth.

Playoff Chances: 40%

 

Seattle (79-70)

The hottest team in baseball might have waited too long to play their best ball of the season. Solid pitching and timely hitting have the M’s on the fringe of the postseason. That said, the Mariners still have work to do. With 7 games against the very beatable Twins and Athletics, Seattle will have to get past fellow Wild Card contenders, Houston and Toronto, with a 3-game series looming with each. If the streaking Mariners can find a way to take 4 of 6 from the Jays and Astros, I think they will get in. But that won’t be easy.

Playoff Chances: 40%

 

Detroit (79-70)

No team exemplifies the phrase “up and down season” like the Tigers. The last week has been disappointing for Detroit as they settled for a series split with the lowly Twins, then dropped 2 of 3 in Cleveland. It would surprise no one who has followed this team this year if the Tigers reeled off wins in 5 of their next 6 games against Twins and Royals. And it would surprise us even less if the team then got swept at home by the Indians and limped into a season finale 3-game set in Atlanta. The short answer here is who knows what the Tigers are. If they finish on a high note, they could be playoff-bound. But their season-long “consistently inconsistent” play makes it hard to see them winning 10 or 13 — which is likely what they’d need to do to clinch a berth in the postseason.

Playoff Chances: 30%

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

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Down the Stretch in MLB: 4 Burning Questions

With less than a month’s worth of games left on the regular season schedule, there are sure to be some surprises and some no-brainers, some fireworks and some flameouts, and some memorable moments and some forgettable blunders. That’s just how baseball is. Been that way for over a hundred years and will continue being that way for the foreseeable future. As we close in on the postseason, let’s try to answer four key questions that could shape how the 2016 season ends.

 

Question 1: Can the Cubs be beaten?

This has been a magical regular season for the Northsiders in 2016. A perfect blend of youth and veteran leadership mixed with a manager, who knows what buttons to push and when, has the Cubs in prime position for a World Series run. No team can boast the starting pitching, one through five, that the Cubs can. Jake Arrieta has regained Cy Young form from last season, John Lester looks every bit asAR-150528837.jpg&updated=201505272029&MaxW=800&maxH=800&noborder dominant as General Manager Theo Epstein thought he would be when he was signed, and Kyle Hendricks has quietly moved to the front of the class as far as this season’s Cy Young award goes. Riding their starting arms deep into October will make it very difficult on opposing lineups, as rest gets shortened in the postseason.

No team in either the American or National League is winning at a .640 clip like the Cubs are and no team is on pace or has a real shot at winning 105 games. But how will this sensational regular season translate when the whether cools off and the games transition from “regular season baseball” to “postseason baseball”? One has to imagine that the Cubs should be just fine.

One reason for the confidence would be manager Joe Maddon. He has been there before — with less talented teams. He knows how to keep a team loose, but focused and ready to play at the highest level. Secondly, the starting pitching that we already mentioned has the potential to make a 7 game series feel like a best 2 out of 3. None of the five starters are pushovers and with one likely going to the bullpen, it will only serve to add strength to that area. Lastly, we haven’t even discussed the Cubs offense and their two MVP candidates, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. But we don’t even have to. If the pitching dominates like it’s done most of the year and Bryant and Rizzo play even somewhat close to how they have performed all season, the answer is no — no one will beat the Cubs. And the curse will be over.

Question 2: Dodgers or Giants in the NL West?

Perhaps this was a tougher question to answer a week or two ago. Now, however, it seems as elementary as they come. L.A. is trending way up, having won 7 of 10 and building on a 5-game lead over the second place Giants. To make matters worse for Bay Area fans, Clayton Kershaw is returning today after missing all summer to a back injury. The lefty menace takes the hill against the Marlins after opening the year 11-2 920x920-2with an ERA of 1.79 and on, what was, a blistering pace to set some all-time pitching records. What’s even scarier than Kershaw’s return is that the Dodgers have played such great baseball without their stud left-hander — 38-24 since he went down on June 26.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Giants have faded after leading the West at the All Star Break and listening to everyone in the media talk about how the Giants, as they always do in even numbered years as of late, were destined for another long run in October. But then a horrendous stretch that saw the Giants go 17-32 and free fall from their perch in the NL West occurred and gave life to their hated rivals in L.A. Although, all hope should not be lost in San Francisco. A team that can throw Madison Bumgarner out to the bump every few days in the postseason should never be counted out. Add the NL starting pitcher from July’s All Star Game, Johnny Cueto, and the Giants actually seem like team that has a lot going their way. And if the lineup starts hitting, they will. But the bigger question right now will be “Can the Giants make the postseason?”. If they do, watch out. But they have not made the row an ease one to hoe.

Advantage: Dodgers

 

Question 3: Is this the Nationals year?

Just when after years of underachieving and failure to reach expectations you think it might be the Nationals’ year, Stephen Strasburg gets injured. Again.

The Washington ace, who’s health always seems to fail him and the team, suffered a strained muscle flexor mass in his right elbow, possibly derailing championship hopes that the D.C. fan base had. A timetable for Strasburg’s return is unclear right now — some have speculated he will be back for the mets-nationals-baseballpostseason, others fear his season is over.

Of course, this injury hurts the Nationals’ World Series chances; but if we’re looking for reasons to still believe in this team, focus your eyes on Max Scherzer. The perennial Cy Young candidate has earned every dollar of his $210 million contract with numbers that put him at the top of all the major statistical pitching categories: first in IP (197), WHIP (0.92), and strikeouts (243); tied for first in wins (16); second in K/9 (11.27) and batting average against (.190); and sixth in ERA (2.88).

With Scherzer carrying the load, right-hander Tanner Roark can step into the number 2 role. His ERA and IP rank in the top-10 in the NL and he’s proven to be a solid arm in the rotation. Lefty hurler Gio Gonzalez has had a down year, but he is more than capable of eating up innings and giving batters’ fits; but is this rotation now without Strasburg good enough to compete with the league’s other contenders and remain a World Series threat? Tough call.

If Washington’s bats can continue producing — top-5 in total bases, slugging, and OPS, that should relieve some of the pressure placed on the starting staff. But this latest Strasburg injury certainly has the “same old Nationals” feel to it. High expectations, talent all over the field, and lots of regular season wins, but nothing to show for it except an early exit from the playoffs.

 

Question 4: Who in the American League is “for real”?

The closer we get to the postseason, the clearer picture we get of what the American League can offer. What I mean is this whole season seems like either a coronation of the Cubs or a “this is our year” for the Nationals or another even-numbered year World Series for the Giants. All National League stories. But 532654134-645x356now, there seems to be some noise coming out of the AL. The Texas Rangers have separated themselves in their division and have a game lead for the best record in the AL. However, Cleveland’s balance of great starting pitching and good hitting has the Indians looking, statistically, like the most well-put together team in American League; and they, like the Rangers, have built a nice buffer in their division between themselves and the Detroit Tigers — who are playing their most consistent baseball of the season. If the starting pitching stays hot and Justin Upton’s bat does the same, the Tigers might have a say-so in the Wild Card race.

What will be interesting will be watching how the AL East sorts itself out. With three teams all bunched together within 2 games of first (heck, throw the Yankees in their too — they’re only 4 out), the East promises to entertain us as the race for the division climaxes to a boil. Whoever manages to separate themselves from the pack may be the team to watch as far as representing the AL in the World Series. All three teams — Toronto, Boston, and Baltimore — rank at or near the top in most offensive statistical categories; and all three pitch at a high level, with the exception of maybe the Orioles, who fall outside the top-10 in most pitching stats.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

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Somehow Hope Remains Despite the Up and Down Season for the Detroit Tigers

All season it’s been the same old story with the Detroit Tigers. The team that really isn’t that far removed from being a World Series contender year in and year out has continued to hold fans hostage all season. I have warned fans to “Stay Away!!!” “Beware!” “Don’t Take This Team Seriously!!”. But here we are, preparing for the SeptemberCabreraJD stretch run, and Detroit Tigers have hemmed and hawed their way into the playoff picture. They are currently 7 back of division-leading Cleveland and 2.5 behind the Orioles, who occupy the second wild card spot.

As the regular season hits it’s final month, here are some things to keep in mind as your Tigers do in fact try to make the postseason (I think they’re trying — hard to tell most nights).

 

The Tigers will get healthy.

Injuries have reared their ugly head to key pieces of this lineup at the most inopportune times in 2016. But they have already gotten JD Martinez back and Miguel Cabrera, fortunately, didn’t miss any games to his biceps strain last week. Jose Iglesias, Cameron Maybin, and Nick Castellanos all appear to be on track to return to the club by early September at the latest. When this lineup is back fully intact, the potential is there — as it’s been all season — for them to score runs and alleviate some of the pressure from their pitching staff.

 

The starting pitching has righted itself.

Justin Verlander is back to being about as good as anyone could have realistically expected. He’s not going to be an MVP candidate and he’s not going to dominate in quite the same manner he did circa 2011. But no one’s asking him to. He just needs to be what he’s been this whole season — a very good to great pitcher. Rookie Michael Fulmer has been outstanding since being called up earlier this year and should garner a lot of Rookie of the Year consideration in the AL. Add to the fact that Matt Boyd has looked very good over his last 8 starts and Anibal Sanchez seems to have exorcised his demons that plagued him most of the season, it appears the Tigers have a pretty solid starting rotation.

 

Someone is going to have to be a clutch performer in a lot of games in the final month of the season, whether it’s a player who has performed in that role before — Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, JD Martinez — or whether it’s a player who needs to, like Justin Upton. Or a manager.

Maybe Justin Upton read my mind before Sunday afternoon’s tilt with the Red Sox. The $132 million dollar man blasted two 3-run homers in the 10-5 win in the series finale, to split with Boston. If Upton can keep this up to a degree and others can chime in too with some timely hitting and clutch play, the Tigers might be able to put it all together and squeak into the playoffs. This includes the guys in this lineup who we expect big things from and have gotten big things from over the years. But it also includes guys, like Upton, who could really do themselves a favor by coming through big for this club down the stretch. Upton’s at the top of that list, but manager Brad Ausmus has to be number two. His in-game decision-making has been questionable at best all season long, and few expect him to survive the winter if the team misses the postseason for a second consecutive year. But a month of great managing (whatever that looks like), could be what gives this club the boost it needs.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.

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5 MLB Trades That Should But (Probably) Won’t Happen Before the Deadline

The trade MLB Deadline is now hours away and a flurry of action will surely take place before 4pm Monday. Here’s five deals that are too good, make too much sense, are just way too juicy to actually really happen. But if they could…..

 

Justin Verlander to the Dodgers

This deal makes too much sense on multiple levels. First — the non-baseball reason, Verlander’s engaged to justin-verlander-6-19jpg-a95616522e1abd0csupermodel Kate Upton. Where do supermodels like to hang out? New York and L.A. sound about right? Show me a model who doesn’t like Hollywood and I’ll show you some beachfront property in Nebraska. With the Yankees selling this year and the Mets being fully stocked at the starting pitcher position, we are left with the Dodgers, who just happen to be minus their ace lefty Clayton Kershaw.

The Dodgers are chasing the Giants in the division and are probably not as good as the Cubs or Nationals — and without Kershaw they may not even be a Wild Card team. Go get a former AL MVP and Cy Young winner. Verlander was viewed as all but washed up this time a year ago; but since has slowly returned to ace status in the Tiger rotation and has been lights for most of this season. In 21 starts, Verlander has allowed less than 4 runs 18 times and has a 1.63 ERA in his last 5 trips to the mound.

The Tigers are riding a 6-game win streak so good luck convincing anyone that the team is selling. But it sure does make sense.

 

Chris Sale to the Cubs

Let me begin by saying that Sale should be going nowhere. The fact that he is owed so little money over the next 493214977three years of his contract — average of about $12.5 million thru 2019 — makes him a bargain for the Southsiders. But the clubhouse unrest and Sale’s frustration over the years with management have placed the lanky lefty square on the trading block. The more you listen, the more it sounds like the White Sox are asking for too much. But if the All-Star went across town and joined the Cubs, wouldn’t we all have quite a story?

Seems nuts — and probably is — but hear me out for just a second before clicking elsewhere. Cubs GM Theo Epstein wants to add more depth to the starting rotation. More specifically, he’d like long-term depth — add it and reap the benefits this season, but also have it for the coming years because reigning Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta still hasn’t quite been consistent enough the last few months, and, oh by the way, he’s only under contract thru 2017. And Epstein has been reluctant to show his cards when asked about Arrieta’s future with the team.

Sale would provide both the short-term and long-term help that the Cubs are seeking.

 

Jay Bruce to the Blue Jays

It’s surprising that the outfielder is still in a Reds’ uniform to be honest. And there’s been talk of Bruce going to the i-2Mets, the Indians, the Rangers, the Giants. But what makes better sense than another big bat joining the already-big bats north of the border? Bautista, Donaldson, Incarnation, and Bruce. What pitcher wants to see that lineup?

Toronto has already climbed side-by-side with Baltimore as the drivers of that division — a tough Red Sox schedule over the next 3 weeks would seem to take them out of contention. The Blue Jays are a home run hitting team, like it or not. They will live or die on their ability or inability to score a lot of runs — they aren’t all that interested in getting into 2-1  pitchers’ duels with anyone.

The addition of Bruce would have Jays’ fans drooling all over themselves well into October, you’d have have to think. And even if they missed the playoffs, what fun would that lineup be to watch?!

 

Sonny Gray to the Pirates

The Pirates spent some time scouting the righty recently so this one may be realistic. And it should be. The Piratessonny-gray.vresize.1200.675.high.81 have been piece-mealing their staff together for much of the year due to injuries to Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Led by the likes of Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, and Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh’s rotation is sorely in need of an ace and some stability.

Behind an offense led by Andrew McCutcheon, the Buccos are in the Wild Card hunt. Imagine if they add a starting pitcher who can get them 7 innings every 5th day. Gray’s young, but he has been tested in multiple playoff series in the last few seasons, before Oakland hit their current rough patch. The Pirates are looking to set a franchise-best by making the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. If they are going to, Gray would be a big step in that direction.

 

Jonathan Lucroy to the Mets

The Mets are the one team that seems to have been in this thing for the longest. Yes, the Rangers showed interest, 011916-MLB-Brewers-Jonathan-Lucroy-PI-CH.vadapt.980.high.91the Tigers put out an offer, the Dodgers dabbled in talks with the Brewers, and the Indians even MADE the deal for the all-star catcher — and then he vetoed it. But after it all, here the Mets still stand, hoping, wanting to make a deal.

By the 4pm deadline on Monday, I fully expect this deal to be done — which means it probably won’t. But it really does seem to make sense. And for the Mets to not back off and not pursue other trade partners tells me that they sense something can be worked out out here.

 

Feedback is welcome through the website in the comments box or send me your thoughts on Twitter @brian22goodwin.

 

 

 

 

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