Oct 12, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila (13) talks with relief pitcher Drew Smyly (33) during the eighth inning in game one of the American League Championship Series baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
The offseason began more than a week ago for the Detroit Tigers, but, with the World Series concluding last night – congrats to the Boston Red Sox – every team in baseball has now transistioned to offseason mode.
For the third consecutive season the Detroit Tigers came within six victories of a World Championship, but, for the third consecutive season, close didn’t cut it.
The Tigers appear to be as well positioned to make another run deep into October as any team in baseball, but plenty of questions surround the team as they attempt to figure out how best to re-shape the club as they try to dive through what appears to be an ever closing window.
This post won’t so much answer questions as pose them – we’ve actually started to answer some of these already – but, on this the day after the World Series, I thought some self-reflection and contemplation might be in order.
Feel free to post your answer to any of these questions – or pose your own questions – in the comment section below.
Who will be the next manager of the Detroit Tigers?
Love him or hate him, Jim Leyland was at least a steady constant by the end of his tenure in Detroit. He was predictable to both fans and players, and his teams unquestionably had a lot of success. But what type of manager best suits the team? An old-guard type who could maintain clubhouse continuity or a new-era tactician who might squeeze out a few extra wins with optimal strategies?
How much extra payroll is ownership willing to take on?
The Tigers’ opening day payroll for the 2013 season, a few hundred thousand shy of $149 million, was the highest mark in franchise history by $11 million. Can they afford to expand it much more? We hear time and again about Mike Iltich’s willingness to stretch the budget to the max in pursuit of a ring, but his pockets, no matter how deep, aren’t bottomless. A bunch of new TV money (something like $20-30 million per club) will begin to pour into the game thanks to new national deals the league signed with FOX and TBS, but it’s possible that a chunk of this money was already accounted for when the team doled out large longterm deals to the likes of Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander.
Payroll will break $150 million this upcoming season, that’s pretty much a given, but no one really has an idea how much further they can push it. It appears right now – barring a blockbuster trade – that it would take nearly $160 million to even bring back the same type of club they had this season.
How much more all-in can Detroit go?
Similar to the payroll question is the system depth question. The Tigers have made a habit of trading their top young talent for major league pieces – which is all well and fine as long as they win – but the result is a balooning payroll and a weak minor league system. It’s not a strategy that can be maintained without the help of lots and lots of money (to an increasing degree every season). They have that type of money so long as Mr. Ilitch is still with us, but there may come a time in the not-so-distant future when drastic cutbacks are called for and, without any minor league depth, the major league team could really suffer.
Dave Dombrowski re-tooled the team on the fly when he dealt Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson following the 2009 season for Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, and Phil Coke (three pre-arb players who quickly filled key roles), but, no matter how that trade looks now, those types of trades are never slam dunks. At the time of the trade, Scherzer had one full season under his belt – in which he put up a 4.12 ERA in the National League – and Austin Jackson hadn’t yet made his major leauge debut. Perhaps Dombrowski will look to swing a similar deal this offseson.
Who is going to be traded, and what is the return?
Speaking of trades, the speculation last offseason was that the Tigers might trade a pitcher. I think it’s a near certainty that someone gets moved this year. Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer are moving into their third seasons of arbitration eligibility (Porcello will get a fourth) and Doug Fister will be in his second. They’re all at the point where they’re still inexpensive enough to carry surplus value, but the price tags are ever rising and now’s probably the time to move one of them if you’re hoping to get anything of significance in return. Drew Smyly had an excellent year in the bullpen and would be more than capable of filling out the starting rotation.
The Tigers will remain in full-on win-now mode so they would probably be looking for major league quality players in return, but they’re also probably looking to get younger and cheaper at the same time.
What approach will they take with the bullpen?
Chris had a good look at this on Tuesday. Basically there are three options here: (1) do you pursue high-end (in dollar amount) options on the free agent market (this probably includes re-signing Joaquin Benoit), (2) do you pursue cheaper options on the free agent market (either high-risk, high-reward bounce back players or situational pitchers), or (3) do you stay in-house with cheap options for another year?
The Tigers will certainly look to address the bullpen, but I hope the front office doesn’t overreact to what happened in the postseason, because the bullpen wasn’t as bad as they looked. Here’s a comarative line between the starters and the bullpen:
The top line was the bullpen; they were mostly victims of BABIP and sequencing. We observed an ERA difference of 4.03 for the pen and 2.44 for the starters (I’m counting Scherzer’s relief appearance with the starters in all of this), but the actual dropoff wasn’t nearly that large.
What else will be new?
Besides the bullpen, they also need to fill the second base position (Omar Infante is a free agent) and could look at options for left field. Nick Castellanos could be an option in the outfield (probably also with Dirks to some degree), but in-house options at second base are incredibly thin. Will they extend Infante a qualifying offer? Will they work out a multi-year deal? Will they acquire a second baseman in a trade? Every option is on the table.