The Detroit Tigers could be headed to old, (un)familiar territory

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Published on : November 11, 2016

 

 

2003 was a long time ago. George W. Bush was in his first term as President. Facebook wasn’t even a thing yet. The iPhone hadn’t even been thought of. And the Detroit Tigers were awful. Among the most awful baseball teams in the modern history of the game to be more specific. Their 119 losses in that year was 1 loss short of the 1962 Mets record for losses in a season. When the Tigers won that last game to avoid tying that record you would have thought that they had won a World Series. Players and fans rejoiced that they weren’t the worst. But they were damn close.

 

Three years after that historically disastrous season, the Detroit Tigers had won the American League Pennant, after making the playoffs as the Wild Card team, and went on the the World Series. It was an amazingly quick turnaround that marked the beginning of a new golden era in Detroit baseball. The organization led by Dave Dombrowski, for most of the period since 2003, would go on to appear in another World Series in 2012, and win the AL Central four times.

 

 

Under Dombrowski (now with with Boston Red Sox) and long-time manager Jim Leyland (retired), the Tigers and the city of Detroit enjoyed a decade of relatively good, competitive baseball. They got to see triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera destroy the baseball and Cy Young contenders such as Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price destroy opposing batters. Acquiring and retaining such marquee talent isn’t easy though, and because of it the organization consistently found itself with one of the larger payrolls in the MLB, and a depleted farm system. And that leaves the Detroit Tigers and their fans here, on the edge of some potentially dark days.

 

Shortly after the end of the 2016 MLB season, Tigers president, Al Avila, made it clear that the team would be retaining manager Brad Ausmus and cutting payroll in a big way. Neither of these things should sound like good news to Tigers’ fans. Brad Ausmus hasn’t necessarily been terrible as the manager in Detroit but he has failed to win a playoff game despite having a considerable amount of talent on the roster. The team isn’t doomed with him at the helm, but he probably isn’t the person to take them to the next level either. More of the same.

 

What should really make fans shudder, is that this team seems determined to slash payroll. The most likely victims of the cost cutting mandate in the front office will be Justin Verlander, JD Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. Years of squeezing their farm system to acquire big name players and breaking the bank to keep those players left the Tigers with a payroll of $199 million last season. That was behind only the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox. All teams that made the playoffs. When you don’t make the playoffs two years running and you are spending that kind of money, it’s easy to see why ownership would want to re-examine their methods. That could mean saying goodbye to the players who have defined baseball in Detroit for years.

 

 

The team says they are listening to offers for any and all players. If that’s really the case then there’s a good chance that Verlander is leaving soon. He is 34 and coming off of his best season since 2012. His value is high and he could net a good return in an offseason with a poor market for starting pitching. Trading him will help the team shed $28 million in salary this coming year. With a big enough return, I’m sure the fan reaction to the trade could be mostly positive. I’m not sure the same goes for a trade involving Miggy. His contract runs through 2023 and he is owed no less than $28 million in any of those coming seasons. For an aging slugger, that’s a lot for a potential trade partner to deal with. The team would probably be lucky to unload him at this point, but he is such a fan favorite that I don’t know that they could get enough in return to fill the void left in the hearts of fans.

 

Will the fans really be able to withstand a prolonged playoff drought plus watching their favorite players leave town? That could be hard to stomach in Detroit and could leave Comerica Park looking a lot more empty than it has been for a long time. It’s hard to be too optimistic about the Detroit Tigers in the near future. Rebuilding is never an easy thing. Fans who have joined the team in only the recent good years, might have to suffer through a bit of losing. Something that isn’t the norm. For those that have been in with the team for decades, we might be returning to the dark ages of the 90’s. Nobody wants that but sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode II)

Written by :
Published on : March 8, 2016

 

 

Yoenis Cespedes is almost single-handedly making me want to root for the Washington Nationals in the NL East this year. After the Mets gave Cespedes a $27.5 million salary ($22.5 million more than the hated-but-much-better Bryce Harper makes in Washington), he’s turned their Spring Training camp into a a daily episode of MTV Cribs, with multiple custom cars, two tricked-out Polaris Slingshots and a fire-breathing Lamborghini Aventador. All custom-designed by some guy in Miami who is probably not a total douchebag of the worst kind or anything. Now Cespedes is buying $7,000 grand champion hogs at county fairs, slaughtering them and riding horses to work. We get it, you’re MC Hammer.

 

The thing is, for all the love that Cespedes, the Mets and their pitching staff is getting right now, it was the Nationals who were in their same position this time last season. Now the Nats have Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman back for full seasons. And while Max Scherzer and a healthy Stephen Strasburg may not be deGrom-Harvey-Syndergaard, they’re still pretty fucking formidable. Especially since Scherzer is the best pitcher in the National League not named Clayton Kershaw. And despite all the fanfare, Steven Matz’ projections are pretty pedestrian, Bartolo Colon will be 43-years-old in May and Zack Wheeler’s stats don’t really inspire awe right now either.

 

Hate you.

 

There’s a bit of a drop-off in the rotation after the Mets’ Big Three. So I could see an argument why Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross actually round out a better overall rotation than the pitching Murderer’s Row/Greatest Staff Ever in Queens. And I haven’t even talked about Lucas Giolito yet. Call me crazy, but with identical Vegas odds (89.5 wins) and my growing hatred of the 22nd-best hitter in baseball (Cespedes), I am thinking the Nats’ luck can’t be nearly as bad as it was last year. Now somebody just needs to call Dusty Baker and remind not to do to Strasburg what he did to Mark Prior back in Chicago.

 

Around the League

Last week, I named Carlos Correa as my pick for AL MVP. This week, I’ve also made up my mind on my AL Cy Young choice and it’s Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. If you ask me, he should have won the award last year since he had the best FIP and second-highest WAR in the league. But as of now, he’s the best pitcher of the past 2-3 years who still hasn’t brought home the hardware. I think he’s due. And it’d be nice if his teammates scored some runs for him to help in his cause. I’m sure Sox teammate Jose Quintana feels the same way since it’s probably not fun for someone with a 3.18 FIP to go 9-10 on the year. That’s approaching 2015 Corey Kluber-level ridiculousness.

 

In the National Leauge, the Cy Young is always Clayton Kershaw’s to lose. I know that. You know that. Everybody knows that. But what do you want me to do – actually pick Clayton Kershaw? That’s no fun. That’s like picking Mike Trout to win AL MVP. It’s actually probably even easier than that. You gotta go bolder sometimes. And so I’m going to chose somebody else who’s never won it, and that’s Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants. His projections are among the league leaders (with Kershaw, Scherzer, Jake Arrieta, Strasburg and Jose Fernandez), but MadBum is also looking at a league-topping 17-18 wins for the Giants. And that’s how Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel put the award away last year. I’d love to think another very-good-but-never-won-it player, Jon Lester of the Cubs, could have been my choice. But I already got my miracle pitching season out of Arrieta last year, so I can’t be too greedy. Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija may be bust risks in San Fran this year, but Bumgarner never is.

 

Death, taxes and MadBum.

 

Also, since the Red Sox-loving media has spent about as much time as it could the past two weeks gushing over David Price and Craig Kimbrel and then crying about Pablo Sandoval’s tummy, this week they seem to have moved on to gushing over Mookie Betts. Next week I assume they’ll move on to Xander Bogaerts. But for now, did you know that Mookie Betts is also the greatest bowler of all time? You didn’t? Well he is. I don’t know how that will help the Red Sox to not finish in last place for the third straight year, but anyway, Mookie Betts, Mookie Betts, Mookie Betts. If you’re a Yankees fun, your current Mookie Betts is Andrew Miller. He’s the reason you can rest assured that the same Aroldis Chapman you were super excited to have signed in the offseason is also the guy you can now be like, “30 game suspension? Pffffff. We have Andrew Miller!” My own personal Mookie Betts this week is Addison Russell of the Cubs. I love my Barry Larkin Starter Kit. And did you see the monster bomb he hit in Arizona in the second game? It went so far that it totally didn’t make me give a shit if he could bowl at all.

 

Alright. We’ve got four weeks to go before the season starts. And I need all of this to distract me from whatever insane shit happened in the 2016 Presidential race this week. I might even suggest Yoenis Cespedes as a third party write-in candidate. A Cuban-born New York billionaire who loves publicity? He’s like all the GOP candidates wrapped into one. Which gives John Kasich another reason to drop out since he doesn’t fit into this equation either. I’d actually be hard-pressed to think of many things inside the Yoenis Cespedes/John Kasich venn diagram. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. Four more weeks of Spring Training, baby! And I’ll be heading to Arizona to see the Cubs in three. If you see a Polaris Slingshot in the parking lot, it’s totally mine.

 

 

Angelino in the Outfield (Episode 1)

 

 


Great Expectations: A Spring Training Preview

Written by :
Published on : February 23, 2016

 

Oh no. This is a really weird feeling for a Cubs fan to have. For the first time that I can ever remember, the Lovable Losers on the North Side of Chicago seem to be both the unanimous pick to win their division and also a trendy choice for the 2016 World Series. And on paper it even makes sense. Last year, they proved that their young squad was ahead of their projected timeline, won 97 games and then went deep into the playoffs until they ran into a freakishly overachieving Daniel Murphy and a young Mets pitching staff that seems to remind everyone of the nineties Atlanta Braves. And then they went out in the offseason and got the best healthy pitcher and the best position player from their hated Cardinal rivals, and also added a guy who led the majors in WAR in 2009. Oh, and the rest of their seemingly-all-rookie lineup from last year is back and probably better than ever and still way too young and dumb to comprehend how a jaded, cynical asshole like me can still hesitate to be bullish on the prospects of a Thousand Year Cubs Dynasty.

 

This has to be too good to be true, right? There’s too much pressure. The Cubs never follow up a good season with another good season. Look at 1985, 1990 and every other year since The Year That Shall Not Be Named. And Jake Arrieta has to regress. Because he just has to. And John Lackey is 137 years old. And their bullpen isn’t quite there. And Jason Heyward isn’t a natural center fielder. And because they’re the fucking Cubs. Right? Like, why should I get my hopes up just to have them crushed again and again like I have my whole life? Why? Well… Because of Theo Epstein. And because of Joe Maddon. And because of that offense. Oh, that offense. And Kris Bryant. And Addison Russell. And Kyle Schwarber. And Anthony Rizzo. And the fact that Heyward is actually younger than Anthony Rizzo. And the fact that Heyward could win a Gold Glove in center. And because Arrieta may have pitched an assload of innings last year, but he famously stays in excellent shape. And because of how great of a story it would be if they actually did do it. And because, on paper, the Cubs just so happen to have the best team in baseball by a decent margin. Oh no, indeed.

 

 

The Rest of the NL Central

The Cubs may have kicked their ass and stolen their girlfriend, but the Cardinals are still the Cardinals. You just kind of assume they’ll be playing in October, no matter what. But even with Adam Wainwright back, the mystique feels like it’s gone, with a bad offseason and Yadier Molina needing to grow another thumb. Maybe their insane luck will finally run out. I also thought that about the Alabama football team back in September. Not that I should talk about football in the same breath I talk about St. Louis. Anyway… Then there’s the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not like they sucked last year either. But nobody likes to talk about them because they’ll probably just get to the Wild Card and lose again, if they do anything at all. And the only fun thing about that is if Sean Rodriguez goes HAM on another water cooler. This division will inevitably be drowned out by the tidal wave of Cubs expectations. And the Reds and Brewers have probably already
drowned in it.

 

The NL East

According to EVERYONE, the Mets have the greatest pitching staff of all time, ever. And, yes, it’s horrifying. Matt Harvey is another year removed from Tommy John surgery. Jacob deGrom is a floppy-haired pitching monster. Noah Syndergaard actually is Thor. Big fat Bartolo Colon doesn’t age. Steven Matz would be a #1 starter on every other non-Mets team. And Zack Wheeler will be back in July to seal the already-done deal. Plus, all of them except Colon are 19 years old or something. The only problem is that nobody knows what type of hangover these guys will have from all those innings they ate up against Kansas City in the World Series. Or if they’ll even stay healthy. But if they do all bounce back, holy shit. Plus, they re-signed Yoenis Cespedes, which all makes for an excellent case for them to go back to the World Series. No matter how much I hate that.

 

 

Overall this division is horrible. But Bryce Harper and the dysfunctional Nationals should contend. Even though Dusty Baker is their new manager. And nobody knows what to make of the Miami Marlins quite yet. Don Mattingly is their new manager. Barry Bonds is their new hitting coach. Giancarlo Stanton will be healthy. So will Jose Fernandez. But we’ll have to see what all that means, if anything. Or if those guys can even stay healthy in the first place. And anyone looking to make a bold prediction on the division a la the 2015 Cubs and Astros might want to keep their eye on the Atlanta Braves, who are building a monster farm team, even though they’ll most likely be just slightly less shitty than the Phillies in 2016.

 

The NL West

I hate to say it, but 2016 is an even year. So we can probably throw all the analytics out the window and just hand the San Francisco Giants their fourth world title seven years. Their pitching staff picked up two possibly-great/possibly-hugely-disappointing acquisitions in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. And that could give them an edge in what everybody seems to think will be a three team race with the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks.

 

The Dodgers lost Zack Greinke. To the Diamondbacks. They also have a rookie manager in Dave Roberts. In a market that wore out Mattingly and sent him to Miami. They also didn’t do anything with their gigantic payroll in the offseason. And any time you need to rely on Yasiel Puig for anything other than drama, it’s a pretty scary predicament. But this is a deep team with a crazy-good farm system. And they’ll probably be in enough contention by the time the trade deadline rolls around to throw money at whatever problems they have (that don’t involve lack of team chemistry). Plus they still have Clayton Kershaw. At the end of the day, as a resident Angelino, I just want to see Vin Scully go out in style. And if that means the Dodgers have to be good for that to happen, I can accept that.

 

 

Yes, Arizona got Greinke. And Shelby Miller. And they still have unrecognizable superstar, Paul Goldschmidt and equally unrecognizable AJ Pollock. But their projections aren’t too high as of now because of a lack of offensive depth (sup, Yasmany Tomas?). And it seems more likely they could be this year’s Padres and/or White Sox. As for the 2016 Padres and Rockies, I’m not wasting my time. It is an even year, after all.

 

The AL East

Every team in the division not named the Baltimore Orioles seem to have a chance this year. But the overall consensus comes down to the rebounding Boston Red Sox and the reigning division champion Toronto Blue Jays. Personally, I don’t know how acquiring David Price and Craig Kimbrel turns a 78-win last place team into a division favorite, but that’s just how the east coast media bias works. But it will be fun to see how fat Pablo Sandoval is. And if Hanley Ramirez can play first base. And it’s also the swan song for Big Papi. Plus, David Price is actually really fucking good. So I don’t know.

 

 

The Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball. And reigning MVP, Josh Donaldson. And their offense might be even better than last year since Troy Tulowitzki never got comfortable in Toronto in 2015. They’ll just have to stay healthy. And hope somebody on their team can pitch. As for the Yankees, they’re really old. And look how that worked out for them last season. Plus, you never know about that staff. And as good as their bullpen looks right now, we still don’t know what’s going to happen with Aroldis Chapman’s domestic abuse suspension. And the Rays have Chris Archer and the rest of their great starting five, but they’ll basically need everybody else on the lineup to be awesome to compete. Oh, and also the Orioles are in this division too, I guess.

 

The AL Central

The Royals won the World Series last year, no big deal. And they were one Madison Bumgarner away from being back-to-back World Series champions. Yet for some reason, Baseball Prospectus has them projected to be in last place in the Central in 2016. What gives? Maybe you can’t project things like ‘putting the ball in play and its positive consequences’ or ‘playing with a chip on their shoulder’, but whatever they did the past two seasons worked, so I don’t know why it wouldn’t work again. They have the defense. They have the bullpen. It’s just so hard to make a good enough argument for or against a team with relatively zero stars, that’s this mediocre on paper, going to three straight Fall Classics.

 

 

The hot pick in the AL Central continues to be the Cleveland Indians because of an extremely good pitching staff. Add Francisco Lindor’s defense behind them and they could be a powerhouse. Or Michael Brantley could be hurt and their offense could struggle and they won’t have the money to make acquisitions at the trade deadline to compete. And while I have a soft spot for the Detroit Tigers, they’re also getting a little long in the tooth. They got Justin Upton to aid a pretty good, but aging offense. And they picked up Jordan Zimmermann and K-Rod to help out a healthy, but aging Justin Verlander-led group of arms. Health is the key here. And if they have it, they might compete. The White Sox might also compete, even though nobody outside of Bridgeport is talking about them. They got Todd Frazier. They have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and a full season from Carlos Rodon. It’s just that everybody is distracted by the heat of a thousand suns ™ on the North Side. And the Twins have Miguel Sano, who is going to hit 40 dongs this year. Even though they were so terrible last year, that even when they were in first place for a while nobody bought it. If that makes any sense. Not that it should. Why would anything in this division make sense? I mean, Royals went to the World Series the past two years.

 

The AL West

Even though the Astros are the unanimous choice to win the division, everybody would rather talk about the Texas Rangers. Their 2015 playoff run was nothing short of a miracle. And now they’ll have full seasons from Cole Hamels and a healthy Yu Darvish. It’s just that nobody really expected the Astros to be where they were last season either. And now nobody expects them to regress. And the former hot choices in the division seem like yesterday’s newspaper. Mike Trout has no talent around him in Anaheim. Nobody wants to get fooled by the Mariners ever again. And the A’s need too much to get anything done.

 

 

So there you have it. Now you’re ready for the baseball season. And now you know why your team probably sucks and why you should switch allegiances to the Chicago Cubs. Or at least that’s how everything looks right now. Spring training, when nothing counts. And before the actual season comes with all its shitty reality to break hearts, launch new stars into the stratosphere and ruin every expectation, rendering long-winded predictions like the one I just spent way too long typing on a nice afternoon completely worthless. But hey, that’s baseball.

 

What else were we gonna talk about, Donald Trump?

 

 

 


Earning His Stripes: How Al Avila Won Big in His First Off-Season as GM

Written by :
Published on : January 23, 2016

 

After winning four consecutive American League Central Division titles from 2011-2014, the Detroit Tigers had high hopes entering last season as they again looked to contend for the division crown. After a 6-0 start and eventually winning as many as 11 of their first 13 games, everything seemed to be on the right track.

 

While sweeping the Minnesota Twins to start the season, the Tigers outscored their opponent 22-1 over the course of three games, setting an American League record of 24 scoreless innings to start a season. An unearned run in the 7th inning of the final game in the series ended Detroit’s string of pitching dominance.

 

 

On the mound, David Price looked locked in to have a Cy Young season, heck with the starts Alfredo Simon and Shawn Green got off to early on, it appeared his own teammates may be his toughest competition. With former Cy Young winner and league MVP Justin Verlander out until June or July, it was a very promising start from the new look rotation.

 

At the plate, things looked just as good through the first couple weeks as Miguel Cabrera was in his usual groove showcasing Ted Williams like numbers, and unlikely heroes José Iglesias and newcomer Anthony Gose were spraying the ball all over the outfield while flashing some leather in the field. For a team that hadn’t won the World Series since 1984, it had the feeling early on that this just may be the year. After four consecutive division titles, fans hoped that the third time was the charm, considering the Tigers made it to the World Series twice in the past decade only to come up short both times.

 

 

But how quickly things can change in this cruel game. Just a month or so later, the Tigers would drop eight consecutive games and fall to .500 for the first time all season. The Tigers would hang around the .500 mark for the next few months before deciding to unload at the July trade deadline. David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and closer Joakim Soria packed their bags late in July as Detroit cut its losses and began to carve out a plan for a quick “reboot” according to then President/General Manager Dave Dombrowski. Vowing this team wouldn’t endure another 15+ year rebuilding process that I witnessed during the bulk of my childhood and early teen years, but instead that this “reboot” would have us back next season.

 

Just a week later, Dombrowski was gone. Said to be a mutual decision between he and owner Mike Ilitch, Dombrowski resigned, handing the reigns to his assistant Al Avila after nearly 14 years with the team. Some two weeks later, the Boston Red Sox hired Dave Dombrowski to the same role and a few months later kicked off the off-season with some blockbuster moves, highlighted in a piece I wrote last month. But what about Dombrowski’s former team? How would the Detroit Tigers do with their offseason? With Dombrowski no longer apart of the organization, were the Tigers still in a “reboot” and ready to make a splash of their own during the offseason with new General Manager Al Avila? The answer, Detroit fans would come to find out, was yes.

 

 

Heading into the offseason, the Tigers had three glaring holes to fill if they had any dream of contending for a world championship, let alone the American League Central. Some of those holes required more than one player to fill them. First and foremost, the starting pitching needed to be addressed. With David Price dealt away at the deadline and Anibal Sánchez having a less than stellar 2015 season, Detroit needed a guy that had ace like stuff. They got that with Jordan Zimmermann, who had been with the Nationals. While some may worry about the decline on his fastball and the fact that he has had Tommy John surgery in the past, Zimmermann can flat out pitch and has a great strikeout to walk ratio. As a backend of the rotation type guy or potentially even a long relief bullpen arm, the Tigers also signed veteran Mike Pelfrey, most recently with the Minnesota Twins. This one was by no means a no-brainer like with Zimmermann and potentially a head scratcher at $8 million per, but these days signing a starting pitcher for less is rare.

 

Sticking with pitching, the Tigers also needed to add a couple quality arms to their bullpen. While the starting rotation didn’t have its best year in 2015, the bullpen didn’t fare any better. Aside from Joakim Soria, who was dealt away in July and maybe Alex Wilson too, the bullpen didn’t give Tiger fans much confidence in the later innings of ballgames. Al Avila made what appears to be a fantastic move by acquiring Francisco Rodríguez, or K-Rod, from Milwaukee for a prospect who many don’t see making it beyond AAA for any extended period of time. So the Tigers scoop Major League Baseball’s active saves leader for the next two seasons for just under $12 million? Yes, please. Avila, also added two more relievers in RHP Mark Lowe and LHP Justin Wilson.

 

The third and final major hole the Tigers needed to fill came after the trade of Yoenis Cespedes. When the Cuban Centipede was dealt away at the deadline, Tiger’s fans knew an outfield of JD Martinez, Anthony Gose, and Rajai Davis was not the answer for 162 games. Very early into free agency, the Tigers brought back a familiar face in an attempt to upgrade the outfield by acquiring Cameron Maybin from Atlanta in exchange for Ian Karol and a LHP prospect. With Atlanta covering $2.5 million of Maybin’s 2016 salary, this move was a low risk, but potentially also low reward. Over the next couple months, fans saw guys like Jason Heyward sign with the Cubs, Alex Gordon re-sign with Kansas City, and hoped that the Tigers would go out and splurge by bringing back Cespedes or another left fielder high on many GM’s lists, Justin Upton. While the familiarity of Cespedes probably had most fans preferring the highly touted 5-tool Cuban, Upton had the potential to add a wide variety of talents to a contending team. Then, late Monday night, the Tigers and Justin Upton had agreed on a 6-year deal.

 

 

Things moved really quick with the Upton deal. It was barely considered a legitimate rumor around much of Major League Baseball, but Al Avila got the final word from Mike Ilitch to go ahead and make the move even though it places them well above the luxury tax range. But as Mr I has always said, “Scared money don’t make money.” He said that right? Well, at any rate, Upton could be the final piece to the Tigers contending in 2016 and beyond. While Upton does have an opt-out clause after year two of the deal, both parties seem to be interested in keeping Justin here for the long haul. Upton brings a bat with great extra base power, a decent walk rate, and can steal you 15-20 bags a year to go along with solid defense in left field.

 

At first glance, Al Avila’s first full off-season as the head man in the front office for the Tigers probably couldn’t have been much better. He addressed every need, even going as far as to get multiple guys at each of the positions, and adding a few other backup spots elsewhere on the diamond as well. What Tigers fans need to understand is they were never in on guys like David Price, Zack Greinke, or Jason Heyward. So to come out with Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Upton and Francisco Rodriguez to fill your biggest voids grades out at a solid A in my book. With the 2016 season just around the corner, the Tiger’s “reboot” appears to be complete and while Rome wasn’t built in a day, Detroit hopes it’s beloved baseball team has been rebuilt in just one offseason.

 

 

 


5 Big Winners of the MLB Offseason

Written by :
Published on : December 21, 2015

 

With Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings wrapped up and Opening Day just a few months away, there were a lot of big names on the move and still a handful of marquee players available. The hot stove was blazing the past few weeks, setting up for a very interesting 2016 season. Here are my 5 Big Winners of the MLB Offseason so far. The 5 teams that I think improved themselves the most from last year.

 

 

#5San Francisco Giants 

The Giants have given Bumgarner a lot of help and he is excited.

 

The San Francisco Giants are looking to get back into the post-season after missing out last year. A very successful team over the past decade, the Giants have won two World Series titles under manager Bruce Bochy and still have a very talented team. Led by ace Madison Bumgarner, they added to their arsenal by adding two solid arms in Jeff Samardzija (5 years, $90 million) and Johnny Cueto (6 years, $130 million).

 

The Giants have the potential to have the most talented rotation in all of baseball and may even be the favorites to win the National League West, if not the pennant as well. Veterans Matt Cain and Jake Peavy round out the rotation, with perennial all-star Buster Posey calling the pitches. The Giants also may be interested in signing left fielder Alex Gordon, which would move the Giants way up this list.

 

 

#4Chicago White Sox

 Robin Ventura should be very pleased with how this off season has gone.

 

The Chicago White Sox haven’t made much noise in the American League Central the past few years as they have entered somewhat of a rebuilding mode. Last year, the Chi Sox got only 13 homers from their 3rd base spot, so they went out and sought better hitting from the infield. In a 3-team deal with the Dodgers and Reds, Chicago gave a few young players to get 3rd baseman Todd Frazier from Cincinnati. Frazier is one of the better power hitters in baseball the past couple years, bringing 30+ home runs annually, and will add some major pop alongside first baseman José Abreu.

 

In a previous deal, the White Sox acquired Brett Laurie from Oakland, who is set to play 2nd base. They are hoping he will reach his full potential and be a guy that can find the seats in a hitter friendly ballpark. Lawrie is a reasonably cheap upgrade and Frazier is an absolute steal right now as he is set to make just $7.5 million, and doesn’t hit free agency until after 2017.

 

 

#3- Arizona Diamondbacks

The Greinke signing has been the biggest splash yet this off season.

 

The Diamondbacks needed to make a big move to try and compete with the likes of the Giants and the Dodgers out west, and what a splash they made. Getting potentially the biggest free agent in all of baseball, starting pitcher, Zack Greinke for 7 years in a monster deal. A signing that came out of left field, nobody saw Greinke heading to the desert. Joining Greinke in Arizona will be another quality arm as the Diamondbacks acquired Shelby Miller from Atlanta for former first round pick Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte.

 

While dealing away two potentially great players, the Diamondbacks get potentially an even better player in Miller. He is a legitimate #2 after posting solid numbers with the Braves last year but was very unlucky with what little run support he received. Also, at just 25 years old, Miller is under team control for another few years.

 

 

#2- Boston Red Sox

 Price and Dombrowski: Reunited in Boston.

 

When Dave Dombrowski joined the front office in Boston, he wasted little time in trying to build another championship roster in Beantown. Headlined by the signing of former Cy Young winner David Price, the Red Sox improved their pitching staff immensely. Coming off one of his best seasons with the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays, Price signed a 7 year deal worth $217 million but has an opt out option after 3 years. For Boston, they are back into familiar territory looking to win now and they feel they have the pieces to make it happen.

 

Joining Price on the pitching staff, the Red Sox acquired one of the best closers in baseball from San Diego, Craig Kimbrel. Koji Uehara has been lights out in that role for the Red Sox over the last handful of years but with an injury plagued season a year ago, the Red Sox now boast a nearly unbeatable backend of their bullpen.

 

In a trade with Seattle, the Bo Sox also received reliever Carson Smith and starting pitcher Roenis Elias. Smith is a very reliable bullpen arm who posted a 2.31 ERA in relief with a lot of strikeouts. Elias is more of a backend of the rotation guy who doesn’t have outstanding career numbers. He does have five more years of team control for cheaper than what Wade Miley was earning, and for arguably around the same if not slightly better numbers. Bottom line, with the offense that the Blue Jays has in that division, the Red Sox had to get some pitching to be able to shut them down, and took the ace of Toronto’s staff in the process.

 

 

#1- Chicago Cubs

 The Cubs signed Heyward to overcome his former team, the Cardinals.

 

My winner thus far in the MLB offseason has to be the Chicago Cubs. Theo Epstein has done a remarkable job since joining the Cubbies front office. After making it to the NLCS last year, it’s looking like World Series or bust for the Cubs this year. The two biggest acquisitions the Cubs made may be more about who they stole them from and not as much about who the players are. Constantly looking up in the standings to the St Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, the Cubs plucked two very talented players from St Louis to hopefully shake the standings up a bit this year.

 

The biggest splash was with the Cubs agreeing to terms with outfielder Jason Heyward for 8 years and $184 million. A pretty large contract possibly considered a bargain considering Heyward is rumored to have turned down some $200+ million offers to sign with Chicago. The other former Cardinal to join the Cubs is veteran starter John Lackey. At 37 years old, Lackey signs a 2-year, $32 million deal with the hopes of building on his already sound postseason numbers. Coming off a year in which he finished the regular season with a 2.77 ERA, Lackey appears to have plenty left in the tank.

 

A familiar face for manager Joe Maddon also joins the Cubs as former Tampa Bay Ray Ben Zobrist signed a  4-year $56 million deal. While this deal may prove to be a little steep for a utility guy at age 34, Zobrist isn’t your average utility man. He can play just about anywhere in the outfield and infield, and he was a key piece in the Kansas City Royals’ World Series run last year, as he started most of their games after being acquired at the trade deadline. He’ll see a lot time in the starting lineup again this year and may even see some time in the middle infield helping to take over for Starlin Castro, who was traded to the Yankees in exchange for a talented young pitcher Adam Warren. The Cubs are set up nicely with a lot of young talent to contend for many years to come.

 

 

 


Champ and Chump: Week 6

Written by :
Published on : October 25, 2015

 

 

 

A little late with my Champ and Chump picks this week but even with the few extra days, there was nothing that could save the Wolverines from finding a less than desirable spot on the charts over here. Spoiler alert, not that you needed it, Michigan finds itself on the wrong side of the Champ and Chump board this week and boy was it ever something special. See what other special performances happened this past week below, and take a scroll through my Champs and Chumps of the week.

 

Champ: Daniel Murphy

Murphy has been a home run machine this post-season.

 

What a post-season for Daniel Murphy thus far. As the New York Mets enter the World Series, they do it with the hottest hitter on the planet right now. In a series sweep of the Chicago Cubs, Murphy hit .529 and has homered in 6 straight post-season games, a Major League record. The Mets are heading to the Fall Classic for the first time since 2000 where they lost to their cross town rival, the New York Yankees. This time they’ll take on the Kansas City Royals, who lost the World Series last year in a 7-game thriller against the San Francisco Giants.

 

 

 

Honorable Mention: 

Landry Jones- The third string quarterback came in for the injured Mike Vick and went 8-12 for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns in a win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Cristiano Ronaldo- Became Real Madrid’s all-time leading goal scorer (324 goals) passing Raul who played in 741 games with Madrid from 1994-2010. Ronaldo accomplished the feat in just 310 games with the team.

Christian McCaffrey- The son of former Denver Bronco’s wide receiver Ed McCaffrey had a school record 243 yards on the ground and 4 touchdowns, helping Stanford beat the UCLA Bruins last week. McCaffrey, who also returns kicks, finished with 369 all purpose yards.

 

 

Chump: Tie: Jim Harbaugh and Blake O’Neill

Harbaugh and O’Neill dropped the ball in a big way.

 

On what will likely be the play of the year, Michigan State defensive back Jalen Watts-Jackson took a fumbled punt attempt 38 yards to the house as time expired to give the Spartans a win over archrival Michigan. We’ve all seen the play, (as a Spartan fan I can’t watch it enough) with Michigan up 23-21, the Wolverines faced 4th and short with just 10 seconds left. On the other side of the ball, Michigan State figured they had one shot at a miracle and that was to go all out for a block. The snap came in (a bit low) and Michigan punter Blake O’Neill did the unthinkable and dropped the snap. In a panic, O’Neill picked up the ball, turned and tried to get off a kick while getting swarmed by white jerseys. The ball was fumbled up into the air and came right down into Watts-Jackson’s arms. Shocked, speechless, in disbelief, Michigan fans could hardly move. Once they could, and they realized what happened, naturally, the thought was how the hell could you fumble that snap?! Why didn’t you just fall on it?! Both good points, and while O’Neill no doubt is quite the goat for this incredible finish, I think equal blame should fall on the shoulders of their coach. Jim Harbaugh called two timeouts on that drive allowing the clock to dwindle down as much as possible on 2nd and 3rd down before ultimately deciding to punt. I have no problem with the decision to punt, however, how do you not prepare your team to setup in max protect, knowing the Spartans are bringing everyone to block this kick. Again, no Spartans were back to field the kick, yet Michigan sent four gunners down to cover the return? While O’Neill fumbled the ball, I think the Spartans may have got in there to get the block even if O’Neill caught it clean. Four guys had a free release, Harbaugh and company enjoyed their spot as my Champ of the week last week, a complete 180 here as they are big, big Chumps this week.

 

 

 

Dishonorable Mention:

Colts 4th down “fake punt”- Every once in a while a team calls a play or a player does something that leaves you speechless. The Indianapolis Colts provided us with one of these moments last weekend in a highly anticipated game vs the New England Patriots. Down 6 in the 3rd quarter, the Colts faced a 4th and 3, they shifted 9 guys down towards the sideline leaving a wide receiver and safety to act as the quarterback and snapper. Hut, hut, hike…and then 3 unblocked New England Patriots tackled the Colt “QB” for a loss.

David Price- This may be a bit harsh, but for an ace entering free agency one can’t ignore the struggles that Price can’t seem to shake in the post-season. With a career 0-7 post-season record as a starter, and an overall post-season ERA of 5.24, Price was given the ball again for Game 7 in the ALCS vs Kansas City and didn’t pitch well enough, getting a no decision.

 

 

 

 


Tigers and Blue Jays Trending in Opposite Directions

Written by :
Published on : July 30, 2015

 

For the Detroit Tigers this season began with high hopes and sights set on a World Series title that has eluded them for the past handful of years. Despite coming close in both 2006 and 2012, when they rolled through their American League opposition only to be annihilated by their National League opponents in the Fall Classic, this team has tasted the glory only to have it smacked out of their mouth both times. This season started off like many others in recent years, and after cruising to a 15-8 record in April, it looked as though the Tigers would be right back in that familiar spot at the top of the AL Central all year. Then May happened.

 

 

In sports things can turn on a dime, and for the Detroit Tigers they most certainly did. The team hit a rough patch in May and no one really panicked, after all, the baseball season is a very long one and most teams go through some losing streaks. But the losing didn’t stop. It was the first time since 2003 that this team had a losing May, followed by a losing June, followed by a losing July. I don’t think I have to remind baseball fans what the 2003 Tigers are famous for, and I’m certain that no one would have guessed prior to this season that the Tigers would revert to the type of ineptitude we saw in those years, but that’s just what happened. And that’s why for the first time in a long time, the Tigers have given up on their current season and begun selling pieces off in order to re-tool for the next season.

 

With many impending free agents and a ridiculous amount of payroll already wrapped up in a handful of other players, the Tigers have begun to sell pieces of what many thought would be a contending team. As I type the team has traded their closer Joakim Soria to the Pirates, and Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Avila, Rajai Davis and all of their expiring contracts still remain on the team, and could provide something to any team willing to give the Tigers a decent return. The team has already dealt arguably their best player this season, and the prize of last year’s trade deadline, David Price to the Blue Jays. In return they received three left handed pitchers, including top prospect Daniel Norris. This is the kind of prudent move that will help the team quickly turn things around for next season, especially when you consider that there’s no way the team could afford to re-sign Price this offseason while still paying the shadow of Justin Verlander $30 million a year.

 

 

As for the Blue Jays, losing a top prospect is tough but they are making it clear that they see this season as one in which they can catch the Yankees to win the AL East, or at least make the AL Wildcard. Two days prior to acquiring one of the best left-handers in baseball, the team in Toronto traded for one of the most exciting, albeit injury-prone, shortstops in the game in Troy Tulowitzki. He promptly announced his arrival by sending a home run deep in the second at-bat of his first game, following that with two doubles later on to finish 3-for-5 with three RBIs, helping his new team win 8-2 over the Phillies.

 

 

While David Price will probably end up being a short-term rental to help the Blue Jays make the playoffs this season and succeed once they get there, the Tulowitzki trade means that they intend to be relevant for years to come, considering they will have him locked up until at least 2020. If he can stay healthy, and thats a big if, he should help cement the Blue Jays as a real threat to the Yankees dominance in that division for the foreseeable future.

 

The Tigers have hit the reset button and begun planning for next year, which is probably the smartest move they can make. Anyone who has watched that team can recognize that there are some giant holes, mostly in the pitching staff, that need to be filled. By being realistic and knowing that there is no way they can catch the Royals in the AL this year, they have raised the white flag for 2015 in hopes that the moves they make now will help solidify them for 2016.

 

The Blue Jays are the exact opposite and they are digging in for a dogfight for the rest of the season. One team is already looking forward to next season and the other is focused on the next couple months. Three months ago I would have told you that you were crazy if you said this was how things would shake out, but that’s baseball and you never really know what’s going to happen. Next year could be very different but as for now the Tigers and Blue Jays are two American League teams that are headed in polar opposite directions.

 


Who’s Buying and Who’s Selling at Baseball’s Trade Deadline

Written by :
Published on : July 28, 2015

 

As baseball enters the final couple months of the regular season, teams are preparing for the stretch run by assessing their chances of contending for the post-season and contemplating what additions are necessary to increase the odds. For many teams, their last chance to climb in the standings is via baseball’s trade deadline which occurs Friday July 31st this year.

 
Last year, the deadline didn’t disappoint as we saw many big names moved creating for some very fun divisional races. Guys like David Price, John Lester, Yoenis Cespedes, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel all found new teams, and some of those guys ironically find themselves on the trading block again this year.
This season, we see a lot of familiar faces atop their respective divisions but also a couple of surprises which could make for a very interesting few days before the deadline. Already, we have seen a couple big names dealt as last year’s American League Champ, the Kansas City Royals, acquired ace Johnny Cueto to fill a much needed hole in their rotation, and then perhaps the biggest surprise team of the year, the Houston Astros, received left handed starter Scott Kazmir from Oakland.

 

Johnny Cueto was traded from Cincinnati to Kansas City on July 26th.
Johnny Cueto was traded from Cincinnati to Kansas City on July 26th.

The Houston Astros aren’t the only surprise team this year; the New York Mets also came into the season with low expectations, yet find themselves very much in the thick of the playoff race. Both teams have a ton of young talent, but face the difficult decision of whether it would be wise to part with a prized young prospect to remain in the hunt, or to stand pat and build around their prospects for brighter years to come. Houston has more to offer realistically, and thus has a better chance of being a buyer this week, although they may have already got everything they were looking for in Kazmir.

The Buyers

The three teams that I think will be looking to buy this week are the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Nationals. Entering the 2015 season, Washington and the Dodgers were given some of the best odds in all of baseball to win the Fall Classic and yet both are in a dogfight to remain atop their divisions. The Yankees came into the season with a lot more question marks, not knowing what they would get from an oft-injured rotation and Alex Rodriguez in his return from a yearlong steroids suspension. All three teams still may need to make an addition to help improve their chances come October.
The Yankees are on a roll and appear to be running away with the American League East, which of course would clinch them a playoff berth, but if they plan on making a deep run in the playoffs, they need to upgrade their starting pitching. As a team, they have only 42 Quality Starts, and no true ace to anchor the rotation heading into the playoffs. Nathan Eovaldi is having the best season with a 10-2 record, but yields an Earned Run Average of over 4.00. Longtime ace C.C. Sabathia is yet to find any sort of rhythm and has just 4 wins, making a strong case that come playoff time he would be demoted to the bullpen when teams go down to four man rotations. As a team, the Yankees rank 21st in team ERA and I look for them to target guys like Cole Hamels, Mike Leake or Dan Haren. All three are currently on teams that could be looking to sell and all three players could instantly bolster the pitching staff.

 

The Yankees could look to trade for Cole Hamels
The Yankees could look to trade for Cole Hamels.

Los Angeles has all the talent to win the World Series already and may not need to make a move, but after faltering the last couple  Octobers, they may want to add to an already explosive arsenal. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are both pitching as well as anyone in baseball (36 Quality Starts combined) and are a very daunting, dynamic duo to start a series against. After those two however, the Dodgers have young and inexperienced starters. They have a very deep lineup that features both veterans and youth, as well as a lot of talent on their bench. Like the Yankees, I expect the Dodgers to address their starting pitching but I envision them swinging for the fences and getting a guy like David Price from the Detroit Tigers. A rotation with Kershaw, Greinke and Price would all but make the Dodgers the team to beat in the National League, and when you have Madison Bumgarner in your division, you have to do anything you can to out duel him and the defending champion Giants.

 

Could David Price's next destination be Los Angeles?
Could David Price’s next destination be Los Angeles?

In Washington, hopes remain high even though fans probably didn’t think the division would be this close come the end of July. With the New York Mets hanging close, the Nationals can’t afford to take their foot of the gas. Washington has a very strong rotation, arguably the deepest in all of baseball, but offensively they rank in the middle of the pack in many categories. Bryce Harper is an MVP candidate but could use another bat around him if the Nats plan to come out on top in the NL. I look for the them to target guys like Jay Bruce, Justin Upton or even Ryan Howard.

 

Justin Upton's bat could be used in Washington.
Justin Upton’s bat could be used in Washington.

The Sellers

As far as sellers go, three teams that I envision selling and having something substantial to offer are the Cincinnati Reds, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Detroit Tigers. It’s been another dreadful season in Philadelphia and one by one it seems they are shopping the members of their 2008 World Series team. In Cincinnati, we’ve already seen their ace, Johnny Cueto, traded to Kansas City and could see a few more big name players packing their bags as well. One of the biggest disappointments this season has been the Detroit Tigers. World Series contenders the last handful of years, we saw Detroit make multiple big moves in the past year that many thought would get them their first championship since 1984. An underachieving starting staff and weak bullpen have made the Tigers a sub-.500 team that needs to retool.
Cincinnati has a lot of teams calling inquiring about starter Mike Leake, who could provide a nice shot in the arm to a team’s pitching staff the rest of the season. With an 8-5 record, Leake has had an ERA consistently in the mid 3.00’s the past few seasons. Out of the bullpen, the Reds have the most feared closer in baseball in Aroldis Chapman. A flame thrower who routinely touches 103 mph from the left side would be an incredible gain for a contending team.

 

The Reds could get significant return on a trade involving Chapman
The Reds could get significant return on a trade involving Chapman.

 

It’s been seven years since the Phillies have won the World Series and the Fighting Phils appear to be ready to go through a complete rebuild. Starting pitcher Cole Hamels is receiving the most attention, and should garner even more interest following his no-hitter this week in Chicago. Hamels has been very consistent over his career, even while Philadelphia has struggled in recent years. He has been one of the bright spots; never posting an ERA over 3.65 since 2009, even while having the distraction of hearing his name mentioned in trade rumors every year around this time. Jonathan Papelbon has also been consistent throughout his career and is still one of the more reliable closers in baseball. With an ERA under 2.00, Papelbon would be a great add to a contender’s bullpen.

 

Will Jonathan Papelbon be traded by Philly before the deadline?
Will Jonathan Papelbon be traded by Philly before the deadline?

The Detroit Tigers are still very much alive for the post-season but seem to be trending downward quickly. With so many teams still alive in the American League, the Tigers just don’t have the pitching staff to stay within reach much longer and being without their best hitter for a few more weeks due to injury doesn’t make anything easier. They have been buyers the last few years at the deadline causing them to lose a lot of their top prospects, which makes buying this year a very difficult feat. For these reasons I look for the Tigers to sell and get themselves ready to compete immediately next season. David Price was acquired by the Tigers at the deadline last year and has the 3rd lowest ERA in the American League this year. Price has looked very much like when he had won the Cy Young a few years ago, and is potentially the top target out there for buyers this year.

 

At the plate, Yoenis Cespedes is near his career high in batting average and still possesses the same wide range of skills as when he was touted a 5-tool player when he first defected to the United States five years ago. Batting anywhere from second to sixth in for the Tigers, Cespedes would be a great pickup to a team that needs some pop in their lineup.

 

Could Cespedes' time as a Tiger already be coming to an end?
Could Cespedes’ time as a Tiger already be coming to an end?

The final couple of months of baseball should be very fun to watch, and come playoff time will showcase some of the best teams and players in all of baseball. It will be very interesting to see if the buyers can jump those who decide to stand pat as they fight for the post-season. One thing is for sure though, last year’s World Series ending in a Game 7 with the tying run just 90 feet away will be tough to beat.

 


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