Tigers Thoughts: Go Home, Roger
After casual viewing of the Detroit Tigers during April (one can only suffer so much acid reflux & heartbreak from a single team, y’know?), I found myself obsessively watching the team during May.
There was something different about them, and whether that can be attributed to a new and VASTLY improved coaching stuff or simple warmer weather one can’t say (probably a mix of both, to be honest), but the results were more encouraging than anything I’d seen in about three years. SO, having said that, I couldn’t keep the old sportswriter in me quiet and I have some THOUGHTS™ to share about this team.
1. We Have to Talk About Miguel
The Tigers are at an interesting (translation: horrible) crossroads with one of the best hitters to ever wear the Olde English D. Miguel Cabrera’s skills have been in a gradual decrease the last several seasons, but injuries have also coincidentally robbed him of playing time, thus masking just how precipitous the decline has been. At this point in time, Cabrera is a better defender than he is an offensive asset.
Read that again and let it sink in.
Looking at this clip from Fangraphs, we can actually see that his offensive rating (OFF, a composite of his batting & baserunning stats) is actually lower than his defensive rating (DEF, a composite of his fielding & positional adjustments). For a future Hall of Fame hitter – the last player to actually win a Triple Crown in either league since 1967 – this is bugfuck INSANE, especially considering that he’s not really good defensively!
In order to become successful, a team has to put its feelings aside in regard to player movement. It sucks for a fanbase, it sucks for coaches & front office, but it’s a necessary evil to show the entire organization and the MLB that the team itself approaches improvement as serious as a heart attack. With that in mind, Miguel Cabrera needs to be either Designated for Assignment or released.
The gut reaction for Tigers fans is to collectively throw up in their mouths and call me a fucking moron. I get that! Hell, I heard that WAY back when I suggested the Tigers look into trading Cabrera instead of extending him. BUT Cabrera isn’t a mystical unicorn that demands loyalty.
The Angels recently released Hall of Fame hitting demigod Albert Pujols recently. The guy they hitched their wagon to in order to secure those sweet, sweet hitting records, the guy they thought would be a perfect complement to Mike Trout. However, his offense tanked just as quickly as his defense did, and they finally bit the bullet and cut him (a season or four too late? Mmmmmaybe…).
Also, how the hell can any Tiger fan get their undies in a bunch over parting ways with Cabrera when Guy Who Should Have Retired a Tiger Justin Verlander got shipped out several years ago? Verlander still had gas in the tank and was a home-grown player, two things Cabrera is clearly not. It’s hard to pick and choose when to be indignant, but by god, if not now, when?
2. The Front Office Isn’t Working
Part of this astonishing turn of events with the Tigers has to be connected towards manager AJ Hinch and the stable of new coaches he brought with him. Ron Gardenhire was a nothingburger of a placeholder who did give some younger players a chance, but being a player’s coach and giving PT to younger players doesn’t get you very far in the majors. Hinch turned around a team better than former Astros manager Brad Mills ever could, and he did it with incredible knowledge of the game, fantastic strategy, **cough cough some cheating cough**, and an innate ability to put players in a position to succeed. We saw those skills (save the cheating part, knock on wood) in May with a nearly identical group of players from last season.
So, with the overhaul of the coaching staff results in marked improvement, why the blue fuck is Al Avila still bringing in stiffs to fart around?
Avila has had YEARS to rebuild this team, high draft picks to work with, and he has done barely anything to make this team demonstrably better – he was promoted in early August of 2015, and my god did he inherit a great team. HOWEVER, everything after that high point is on his head.
He was coerced into signing Ryan Zimmermann, Justin Upton, and giving Vic Martinez an extension that literally EVERYONE WITH A BRAIN knew was a bad idea. He proceeded to make a litany of shitty trades where he got swindled, a slew of free agent signings that bombed, and basically not fuck up incredibly high draft picks (so far, at least) while meh-ing all the rest of the picks. Yes, he did pick up Michael Fulmer & Jeimer Candelario, but can you identify any other players who aren’t just good players on bad teams? By that I mean that if they went to literally any other team they would be replacement players AT BEST I’M TALKING TO YOU JACOBY JONES AND NIKO GOODRUM.
This man has a job simply because he’s been with the organization for a long-ass time and lucked out by saying, “Hey, let’s sign this JD Martinez guy to a minor league deal, huh Dave?” He is a quintessential nothingburger of an executive that sits on assets far too long or pulls the trigger on a shitty deal way too early. The Tigers simply cannot advance as an organization with some pud constantly bringing in mediocre players.
If I could scream and be heard by any Illitch willing to take a chance on BEING GOOD AGAIN, I would say they need to pull someone from a team that can develop homegrown players very well (St Louis, Houston), acquire overlooked players (Milwaukee, Tampa Bay), or both (the LA Dodgers). Raid their front offices, acquire as many smart baseball folks as you can, or take advantage of the fact that Stu fucking Sternberg refuses to give someone the title of General Manager (along with the prestige & cash that goes with the desgination) and hire Erik Neander from TB like the Dodgers did with Andrew Friedman.
Or hell, see if Theo Epstein wants to get back in an MLB front office instead of some cushy consulting gig. God knows he seems to dig turning historic franchises around...
3. Who Gets to Stay?
This is a tricky pickle to get involved with simply because it’s so damn early in the season, and multiple players are doing above and beyond what they’ve shown in the past. That being said, there are several folks that should be kept beyond this season and potentially the season after that.
The top tier of Good God Please Don’t Lose Them consists of Jeimer Candelario, Jake Rogers, Akil Baddoo, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Robbie Grossman. These players are building blocks. They’re players that provide a great skillset that the team desperately needs (especially in regards to Mize & Skubal), and they should be considered for long terms deals RIGHT AWAY.
The middle tier of You Can Stay But It Would Hurt to Lose Ya contains Jonathan Schoop, Grayson Greiner, Spencer Turnbull, Kyle Funkhouser, and either Castro. Schoop provides defensive flexibility and decent offense but can be replaced by a better (or younger) option. Greiner is expendable due to Rogers’ rise and the fact he’s a decent catcher in a league full of decent catchers. Turnbull and Funkhouser are showing legitimate signs of improvement that actually line up with their advanced statistics over the years, and the Castros are wildly athletic with some decent pop...but still a bit raw. That said, if this group of players stay they could continue to contribute in a positive sense, but if some team is going to offer a juicy package for any of them then by all means the Tigers have to jump on the chance to add multiple pieces for a single piece.
The final tier is Don’t Let the Door Hit Ya Where the Good Lord Split Ya: everyone else on the roster. The rest are either too old to vastly improve, too replaceable, or currently playing out of their minds and need to be dealt ASAP (Matthew Boyd, Michael Fulmer). Avila’s trademark of sitting on an egg until it yolks up his asshole cannot be allowed to happen this time around: the last time he slept on Boyd and Fulmer he missed out on their absolute apex of value and it set the rebuild back (because he’s not good at this, you see). To miss out on their resurgence is a fireable offense.
4. Too Many Turds in the Punchbowl of TV
Watching so many games has hammered home the fact no matter how hard they try, the Tigers’ TV broadcast crew is mostly wet shit.
Yet not all are horrible: the evolution of Craig Monroe as a top-tier broadcaster has been something special. He’s shown VAST improvement every year, from his on-screen affability to his relaying of inside baseball practice. He’s a guy that would be a boon to any large market team, if not a Fox Sports or ESPN or MLB Network. He’s that good.
I also have a soft spot for Kirk Gibson. He and Josh Lewin made an incredible team during some historically bad Tigers seasons, and his playfulness and succinct application of strategy and nuts-and-bolts-baseball is still more than welcome. Yet those two should be the only two allowed to continue, and even Gibby could be let go in favor of our boy C-Mo.
Otherwise the rest of the squad is at best ignorable and at worst completely cringe-worthy.
Much has been said about Jack Morris, and a lot of it is resoundingly true: His timing is poor, his ability to let another person speak is poor, he comes off as a prickly know-it-all. There’s a reason he was allowed to sign with the Tigers instead of continuing in Minnesota or going back to Toronto, and the reason is that he’s not good.
Matt Shepard also leaves MUCH to be desired. His rhythm is awful, he ruins dramatic moments, and, well, let’s let Reddit sum it all up:
“But it’s his dream job,” you squeal! Well, I want to write WOLVERINE but that doesn’t mean I’d be GOOD at it. To top it off, according to some of my sources in Michigan media, he’s a real douche canoe off the air, too. He’s not improving and he needs to go.
As for Dan Petry, he’s the embodiment of what’s wrong with Tigers’ broadcasting, especially on the TV side: he’s a decent enough guy, but it’s time for the organization to start moving away from the older 1984 team and embrace folks from the ’06 and ’12 teams. Some of his knowledge is out of touch, and although I like him well enough he’s not as dynamic a presence to actually NEED to be on air.
The radio team of Dan Dickerson & Jim Price need to stay on the radio simply because of their excellence – they catapult the medium to its truest potential and paint the image so succinctly in the listener’s mind that it’s impossible to imagine them anywhere else. Well, at least Dickerson; as Price ages I’ve found his act has gone stale and he relies more on his nonsensical forced catch phrases than actual acumen on the current state of pro baseball.
There are still many, MANY thoughts clanking around my brain like pellets in a tin can, but they need more time to gestate before I spew them out. I will say this in all honesty, though: los Tigres are the most interesting they’ve been in a long, long time, and on the precipice of something really special. If they can just cut ties with the past and with stagnation they will proceed forward into a very successful era.