Detroit Tigers: MLB now a battle cents versus sense

Sep 29, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) reacts after popping out against the New York Yankees in the third inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) reacts after popping out against the New York Yankees in the third inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

There are teams spending and trading in the MLB off-season to compete. Then there is everything else.

It’s a simple question. Do you want to compete and how soon? If you’re an MLB club, are you seeing sense in aggressive talent procurement under current conditions or are you looking at preserving cents to spend in better times?

The answer to the questions is easily discernible from the headlines.

MLB’s slow-moving Hot Stove has had a few days where the pot has been stirred this off-season. But all too often it’s been by only a few clubs who have decided to take an aggressive path versus the sizable majority of teams who have their heads in the sand looking to pinch pennies.

For every club such as the AJ Preller-led San Diego Padres, who have had a hand in nearly every cookie jar this winter, looking to proactively improve their baseball team there are about four teams, like the Detroit Tigers, who are doing the bare minimum to merely exist. Even the Chicago Cubs are moving toward their second rebuild inside a decade despite having talent on hand and a large market supporting them. They seem to believe their fans will re-embrace the Lovable Losers tag if they try it again.

This space certainly will no longer be discussing premium free agents with regard to the Tigers. They’ve put out enough signs to tell us they’re out on the top tier. If they change the course we’ll address it then.

It’s just disheartening to see the Tigers go along with the pack. They are doing the easiest thing in the world…which is to do nothing. They’ve joined several teams across MLB in this course of action.

We can all see why. There is so much uncertainty throughout the sport right now and uncertainty can breed fear. Between a looming labor war on the horizon soon to be put on top of the COVID-19 crisis gripping baseball nobody disagrees it’s a scary time for those involved.

While COVID is a big issue hanging over this season it might be the ongoing threat…promise?…of a nasty labor fight brewing between the owners and the MLBPA. Right now the odds of an uninterrupted 2022 season seem very low and if you told me now it leaked into ‘23, I wouldn’t express much shock.

Quite frankly it seems union leadership is expecting a fight. Most observers felt the players took the short end of the stick in the last agreement and there is going to be a move to rectify it. It’s not going to be an easy road.

All the more because the players took a big pay cut in ‘20 while the owners claim their supposedly “biblical” losses. Both sides will be looking for concessions and a decisive win. That’s a recipe for an ugly and protracted battle.

If the approaching storm has some teams going into the turtle shell it’s interesting to see a club like the Padres taking the exact opposite tack. San Diego is hunting for premium talent from all sources and willing to add payroll to get it. They’ve shown zero interest in burning off years of their top talent’s control without giving winning a chance. Quite simply there is no fear in their front office. As a reward, they go into the fight with the LA Dodgers boasting a young exciting team with excellent depth at most spots with a top-ranked farm system in reserve.

Frankly, it seems to be exactly what MLB  needs more of…cutthroat and widespread competition for top talent. Not every team can count on building a winner on a scooter budget like Tampa. Some teams just need to accept they’ll have to buy Harley’s to put good teams on the field.

MLB needs more Steve Cohen’s as owners executing a deal for Francisco Lindor and hinting at the next big Mets move. They need more David Dombrowski’s in GM roles who will have the guts to put his name on a big acquisition and shoulder the verdict either way afterward. More Preller’s in San Diego, a new generation of GM looking to drag his team upwards instead of being a careful steward of the status quo. More Rick Hahn’s who has a young roster that still hasn’t proven itself but he’s decided to invest instead of wait. (now about that manager hire for the ChiSox? We’ll see.) These are figures who are showing they’ll compete.

Certainly, not everyone has Cohen’s enormous pile of money. But you don’t need $14B to feel secure. The Dolan Family in Cleveland has immense wealth. The Ilitch’s can afford whatever they please in Detroit. These choices to cut payroll and sit the crisis out in “hunker down mode” aren’t a sentence from a court. They are calculated decisions to take their share of the pie from MLB and play it safe. It should be noted since we’re touching on the AL Central, while they aren’t big-ticket moves the KC Royals are at least taking some steps to fortify themselves with Carlos Santana and Mike Minor coming into the fold.

It just boils down to either preserving cents to build the reserves with an eye on the future or using baseball sense to build the roster with an eye on today.

There are still lots of free agents of varying skill levels floating on the open market. Every fan will see in due course where their club’s ownership falls on the spectrum. We know the teams who have already struck their moves and are building for today. We have serious suspicions about who will be saving for a rainy day and putting off competing. Will any clubs bust out late and make big moves to alter our perception of this climate of fear that seems to be settling over much of MLB.