Judging the Tiger Moves–Good or Bad?

Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

After a flurry of personnel moves in the first month or so of the offseason, it’s time for Tiger fans to catch their breath and assess the effectiveness of the transactions.

One thing should be clear. The Tigers are not standing pat.

Let’s look at the upside and downside of each significant move affecting the 2014 roster and decide whether it made sense.

Brayan Pena

Shortly after the World Series ended, the Tigers advised back-up catcher Pena he would not be re-signed.

The Upside

Pena is a career back-up who is at best an average defensive backstop. The Tigers seem to have depth at this position in the minor leagues. Bryan Holaday has major league experience and should slot in nicely in Pena’s role.

The Downside

Pena provided welcome offense as a back-up, hitting .297 in 243 at bats. He seemed to be a high “character” guy and a positive influence in the clubhouse.

The Verdict

Neutral. Holaday appears to be ready and should adequately fill the back-up role. The money saved by not re-signing Pena is negligible.

Jhonny Peralta

The former Tiger shortstop signed a lucrative four-year $53 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals last week.

The Upside

With Jose Iglesias firmly entrenched as their shortstop, the Tigers were obviously not willing to spend large free agent dollars to retain Peralta, who served a 50-game PED suspension late in the 2013 season. Though Peralta had a strong 2013 campaign, it should not be forgotten that last year at this time fans were clamoring for a new shortstop after Peralta hit .239 in 2012, while fielding his position with limited range.

The Downside

Peralta’s offense was missed during his suspension and there will no doubt be a dropoff in offensive production at shortstop. He also played solid defense.

The Verdict

It was a no-brainer to not re-sign Peralta, particularly at the stratospheric price he eventually commanded. His replacement Iglesias is a spectacular defender, runs well, and will improve offensively with more at bats.

Omar Infante

Infante is a free agent receiving substantial interest from clubs in need of a second baseman. The possibility of re-signing him became moot with the acquisition of second baseman Ian Kinsler from Texas.

The Upside

Infante will likely procure a multi-year contract for significant dollars, which is money the Tigers can deploy more strategically elsewhere with Kinsler in the fold.

The Downside

Infante’s bat will be missed. He hit .318 in 2013 with decent power, which will be challenging for Kinsler to duplicate.

The Verdict

Another easy call not to re-sign Infante. Kinsler should be a more than adequate offensive second baseman in 2013, and should play marginally better defense than Infante.

Prince Fielder

Fielder was traded last week straight up for Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler. The Tigers sweetened the pot by agreeing to send $30 million to the Rangers to soften the impact on the Rangers’ payroll.

The Upside

This is primarily a large salary dump and will save the Tigers mega-dollars in the long run. There were very few observers who felt Dombrowski could execute such a deal, but he succeeded. Fielder under-performed his contract, particularly in 2013, when he had a nondescript regular season and an abysmal postseason for the second consecutive year. The move allows the Tigers to plug in Cabrera at first base, which should improve the Tigers’ infield defense. Additionally, Cabrera’s health should be better preserved by the lesser physical demands of playing first base. Another plus to the deal is that Fielder would have received a chilly reception in 2014 by many fans, who were alienated by his postseason failures and laissez faire attitude following the Tigers’ disappointing loss to Boston in the ALCS.

The Downside

Fielder’s absence creates a gaping hole in the middle of the Tiger offense. Tiger fans should not forget that Cabrera had two titanic years hitting in front of Fielder in the lineup. In addition, replacing Fielder’s automatic 100+ RBI’s will not be easy. A second negative is that Kinsler arrives in Detroit with a pregnant contract of his own, though substantially less than Fielder’s.

The Verdict

This is a coup for Dave Dombrowski. Despite the obvious challenges of replacing Fielder’s bat, the GM created maximum payroll flexibility given the circumstances and also delivered a strong second baseman in the process.

Doug Fister

Fister was traded to the Washington Nationals this week for minor league left handed starter Robbie Ray, left handed reliever Ian Krol, and utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi.

The Upside

The Tigers get younger and gain payroll flexibility. Ray and Krol are promising, hard-throwing 22-year olds, and Lombardozzi is 25 and can play second, short, third and left. Ray is the key to the deal. If he develops into an effective mid-rotation starter as envisioned, the deal becomes productive for Detroit. Likewise, Krol should land a bullpen spot as soon as this year and has the potential to become a late inning fixture. Additionally, the Tigers may have bought low on Lombardozzi, the “throw in” in the deal, who displayed strong offensive numbers as a minor leaguer but has posted pedestrian numbers as a part-time player in the bigs. Each of these three players has the potential to improve considerably from his current level, which would tilt the deal in the Tigers’ direction. It would not be the first time Dombrowski has identified talent that other organizations have undervalued.

The Downside

The Tigers lose an established, popular starting pitcher, the likes of which are highly valued and hard to come by in Major League Baseball. Fister was expected to make about $6.9 million in 2014, a reasonable sum (if not a downright bargain) for his services. He is also under team control for the next two years. In return the Tigers received two young left handers with promise but little else, and a utility guy who apparently is not good enough to play every day. They are rolling the dice on this deal by weakening their gold standard starting pitcher corps, which is integral to their success. They have also compromised their bullpen, as Drew Smyly backfills Fister’s spot in the rotation. Whether he can replace the 200+ innings Fister hurled in 2013 is an open question. A further consideration is that the Tigers used only six starters throughout all of 2013, an unusually low number. If that number reverts to the norm, which is about ten, Fister’s absence will be felt even more acutely.

The Verdict

This deal strictly boils down to the Tiger organization’s ability to project the eventual ceilings of the two pitchers in the deal, with Robbie Ray the more important of the two. Considering Fister’s considerable trade value, Dombrowski is evaluating Ray as a “can’t miss” mid-rotation starter. Most of the rest of the baseball world, aided by the unblinking surveillance tools and information sharing made possible by modern technology, has its doubts. At this point it appears the Tigers failed to obtain full value for Doug Fister. The second problem with this deal is its timing. Did it have to be made now? The availability and value of major and minor league players is fluid throughout the offseason and during spring training, as free agents find homes and players get traded, injured and released. Wouldn’t it have been wiser to hold Fister in reserve until a better deal materialized later, rather than accept the perceived best deal early in the offseason, even before the winter meetings?

Despite the Tigers’ allusions to gaining payroll flexibility via this trade, it has to stand on its own merit. Unfortunately for Detroit, it seems that unlike the lanky ex-Tiger Doug Fister, this deal doesn’t measure up.

Joe Nathan

The Tigers signed reliever Nathan to a two year, $20 million contract this week to fill their vacant closer’s job.

The Upside

Nathan is a highly accomplished closer with a glossy resume, coming off two excellent years with Texas. He has not had postseason success due to a lack of opportunity and is highly motivated to go out as a World Series winner. By all indications he is a high character guy, and should be a positive force both on the mound and in the clubhouse. Additionally, with Nathan’s unparalleled experience, he should be the ideal individual to tutor young flame-thrower Bruce Rondon, who should inherit the closer duties when Nathan’s contract expires.

The Downside

Nathan is not young. He will be 39 in 2014 and had arm surgery a few years ago. Although he’s fully recovered, he has a lot of miles on his arm, which is reflected in his lower velocity. The $20 million the Tigers now owe him will not be available to sign Max Scherzer or Miguel Cabrera to extensions.

The Verdict

A no-brainer. The Tigers needed a closer and signed the best one on the market, at an affordable cost in today’s market. An excellent signing by the Tigers.

Topics: Dave Dombrowski, Doug Fister

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  • Bryan Walters

    Good post. Still trying to get over trading Fister for the bag of magic beans it looks like we got, but enough’s been said about that – I agree with your points.
    A couple of other thoughts on your post.
    1. On evaluating not signing Peralta, one thing I haven’t heard many people talk about is whether DD should have tendered Peralta a one year contract. It MIGHT have scared off free agent bidders, but if someone still signed him, we would have gotten a draft pick out of it, and even if we didn’t, it looks like 1 year of Peralta at the required tender salary (I think it was $13M) looks like fair market value for him. What do you think about that?
    2. On Nathan, I’m not so rosy on committing $10M/year for a closer who is going to throw 60 innings/year and is pushing 40 years old. Yes, many of those innings are high leverage (although many aren’t). However, I would rather spend that money on someone like Choo who can contribute every day. Now if we still sign Choo or another LF (Beltran?), that’s great, but if the question is Nathan vs. a good LF, I’d rather spend the money on a good LF.

    • John Verburg

      In hindsight, offering Peralta the 13M would’ve been a good move. Even after the Rajai Davis signing, I am still in favor of getting Choo. His OBP would be such a big thing for this Tigers offense.

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