The Detroit Tigers’ off-season performance is like falling asleep to see Freddy Krueger in your dreams and realizing nobody is waking you up. It feels as if the nightmare of bad baseball at Comerica Park should be played on Elm Street.
Each season akin to a sequel that is a little worse than its predecessor. I feel the frustration amongst Detroit Tigers fans. I am frustrated as well. The only big-time free agent position player I would have even considered this off-season, JP Realmuto, just signed for a little less than the minimum five years /$125 million that many felt was his floor at the beginning of free agency.
It makes the frustration boil over again, even though everyone knows we are not playing to win, or even playing to be mediocre, this year. I have been critical of Al Avila and his missed opportunities, and have given my heartfelt advice to Chris Ilitch. I try to call it as I see it and not do a disservice to the great readers of Motor City Bengals by being a blind cheerleader nor being constantly negative.
So with that in mind, for those of you who may want to roll their eyes at the headline and with what I am going to say, I ask that you read this article with an open mind. I have not been too far off lately on how I see the organization operating. Back in October, I did say expect one-year deals for this offseason.
It wasn’t the right time for this team to go big. That has come to fruition albeit there was a small two-year deal for Robbie Grossman. Now granted I would have liked a little higher caliber of player than what we have inked to this point and am disappointed we are staring at another 100 loss disaster, but I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. I am planting my flag for 2022. The Detroit Tigers will spend next year and will start to put a real product on the field.
I can already hear the folks grumbling as they are sharpening their pitchforks. I can see the glow of torches burning in the distance as the angry mob marches towards my front porch. The same refrain from the last couple of years will be repeated at the top of their lungs as they pound on my front door.
- Chris Ilitch is cheap.
- He cares more about parking lots and crazy bread.
- He said he will spend but he still hasn’t delivered. His word doesn’t mean anything, look at District Detroit.
I understand these viewpoints. I share the anger of another throwaway season. Again If I were sitting behind the owner’s desk I would have instructed my front office to put a more presentable product on the field for the 2021 campaign. I wouldn’t blame any fan that doesn’t spend one single penny on the Tigers or skipped following them entirely this year.
We deserved a better effort at the major league level. What I am going to outline below is from me taking a few moments today, looking deep into my crystal ball, followed by reading my tea leaves, and providing what I believe is the organization’s mindset.
This is not necessarily what I think the Tigers should be doing, nor an endorsement of their decision to blow off this season. It is simply what I feel is their rationale for feeding us table scraps in 2021, hopefully making it a little more digestible, yet explaining why I am confident a course change is on the horizon for 2022. There are 4 main reasons:
1- The hiring of AJ Hinch.
I sincerely doubt that AJ Hinch comes to the Motor City if he believes the 2021 operating principles of the Detroit Tigers are how the team is going to behave going forward. I have to believe a vision and a timeline for how the team is going to move forward was presented. He could have waited and been the hottest commodity on next year’s managerial market.
I’m also sure Chris and Big Al could have offered the job to a first-time manager for less money, poking a small hole into the Chris Ilitch only cares about the money crowd’s favorite talking point. They went with someone who has gotten the job done, albeit tainted by garbage can lids. It’s a clear signal they are looking to compete soon, even if it tricked people into thinking that meant right now. If there was no plan to try and move forward after this year and to just keep milking the slash-the payroll-profit-cow, then I’m sure your manager is Don Kelly, George Lombard, or some other new analytics-driven fresh face and not a World Series Champion.
2- Covid will come to an end
With the virus hopefully soon relegated to a terrible memory, the Tigers accounting department can begin to accurately forecast how much game-day revenue will be generated. They really have no idea how much they can count on this year. It should be more than the zero that was generated last season but nobody can forecast 2021 with any degree of certainty. Even with the murky 2021 cash flow situation, I would have at least acquired enough quality major league talent to give us a team on paper that should be capable of winning 75 games.
A team that the dreamers could say “if everything goes just right they could contend for the last wild card spot…” A team that would show improvement and entices fans back to the park and season ticket packages for 2022. Unfortunately, they decided to forgo this route. I’m not defending this short-sighted decision to squeeze the quarters until the eagle screams, just acknowledging the reality of the situation. Revenue should be back to normal for 2022.
3- The New CBA
This could be a really ugly war ladies and gentlemen. So many issues need to be addressed. Service time manipulation. Tanking being rewarded and it is easier for many teams to profit from fielding a disgraceful, cheap product rather than putting forth an effort to at least be presentable for their fans. Should there be a higher threshold on the luxury tax? Should the players consider a salary cap in exchange for a salary floor and a guaranteed amount of revenue being spent on player salaries and expenses?
The silly new rules that Rob Manfred wants to keep bringing to the game. How do the owners view what they are doing with revenue sharing amongst themselves? What will the rules for reaching free agency and arbitration be going forward? There is a ton to be settled. There is something to be said to have maximum flexibility to move forward properly under the rules that will govern the game for at least a good portion of this decade.
4- Player development
The Detroit Tigers as they stand right now does not have a guaranteed 2 WAR starter anywhere in the starting nine unless you are sold on The Candy Man like Fangraphs projects. We think we have a couple of stars in the making, or at least legitimate everyday players coming in Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene.
What does the timetable look like for them? Will any of the other prospects/suspects take a big step forward and knock on the door for 2022 or 2023? Is Jeimer Candelario the player we saw in 200 PA’s last year or the guy we saw in 1000 PA’s between 2018-19, or somewhere in between? Can Isaac Parades play 2B? How will Willi Castro do over a full season knowing his .448 BABIP will not occur again? Can Jake Rogers take the reins as the catcher of the future? Will JaCoby Jones bounceback, can he stay healthy, and is he worth keeping around for at least the next couple of seasons?
On the pitching side, how much will Chris Fetter have an effect on the staff’s performance? Can Spencer Turnbull take another step forward as he is now in his prime athletic years? Is there any fixing Home Run Boyd or is he just simply not that good? What will Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, and Matt Manning look like after this year? Can Michael Fulmer find his form? How will Daniel Norris be deployed? There is a lot of uncertainty on the mound despite all the hype centering around the pitching prospects.
We all have our suspicions and guesses, and we have our favorite stats that we can cherry-pick to back up our thoughts, but in the end, nobody knows how it will play out with any kind of certainty for all these players with limited or no Major League track records. The 2021 season should provide a little more certainty as to what we have going forward and allow a better-targeted approach to improvement via free agency and trade next off-season.
The money will not flow as it did under Mike Ilitch so it is critical that there are no mistakes made in regards to who gets the big contracts and when they are dishes out. Until then, I sympathize with those who are steaming mad. I understand those who think the frugality and lack of any plan beyond build from within exists.
Just remember all this a year from now when I’m auctioning off my crystal ball and tea leaves and the Tigers are building their team with new acquisitions. This nightmare will be over, even Freddy does eventually end up dead, and we will have reason to be excited for our beloved franchise that will finally begin to wake up from a long, depressing sleep and begin their ascent to eventual playoff contention.