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August 13th, 2018:

 

Tigers’ Turner proves ‘prospects’ are

just that; all come with no guarantees

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

So, we’ve probably seen the last of Jacob Turner in a Detroit Tigers uniform – or any major-league uniform, for that matter.

 

Once the No. 1 prospect in the organization, the former first-round pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 MLB draft, Turner returned to the Tigers’ organization recently after bouncing around professional baseball with several organizations. He got yet another opportunity to show his stuff Tuesday night when he was recalled from Toledo to start against the Angels in Los Angeles in place of recently traded Mike Fiers.

 

And he was awful.

 

The first three batters he faced: single, single and home run, by Shohei Ohtani, on a juicy 2-0 pitch. But Turner wasn’t done yet, by a long shot, even on a short night. His line for the game: one inning pitched, six hits, seven runs (five earned), with a strikeout and a walk.

 

That seven-run first inning wiped out a 2-0 lead the weak-hitting Tigers gave Turner. Ultimately, Detroit lost its fifth straight game, 11-5. They hope to salvage a single victory out of this horrid, six-game trip west in the finale of this series in Anaheim.

 

Tuesday’s game was not without a dose of bitter irony. Fourteen picks after Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski called Turner’s name in 2009, the Angeles selected Mike Trout – the American League MVP in 2014 and 2016, and widely proclaimed to be the best player in all of baseball.

 

So the Tigers have plenty of company when it comes to passing over Trout in that first round. In fact, even the Angeles took an outfielder out of Texas High School with its pick just ahead of Trout, claimed finally with the 25th overall pick.

 

That was the year all of baseball was atwitter with the No. 1 pick – a pitcher out of San Diego State named Stephen Strasburg.

 

But it’s fair to say there were a lot more misses than hits in that first round – as it turned out in every draft in every professional sport. And therein lies the moral of this story. When Detroit traded Fiers to Oakland for a couple of players to be named later (or cash considerations, whatever that means), man fans applauded the move if only because it made the Tigers a worse team.

 

They would lose more games, and by doing so would enhance their draft position next year. If it were held today, Detroit would have the sixth overall pick after drafting first in the 2018 draft by virtue of finishing last among MLB’s 30 teams last season.

 

This is what a rebuild looks like. But choosing early in the order guarantees nothing except a little bit bigger pool from which to select. Professional drafts are all about who you pick, not where.

Just ask the Red Wings, who blew the first overall pick with Joe Murphy in 1986, or the Lions with Charles Rogers (or Reggie Rogers for that matter), or more recently the Piston with Luke Kennard. Draft horror stories abound, and they’re not limited to Detroit – although we seem to have more than our share of disasters.

 

Now we’re suffering through two epic rebuilding projects with the Tigers and the Red Wings. It’s painful, and when you’re drafting players as young as 17-18 and trying to project what kind of players they might be when they’re 25, well, there just aren’t any guarantees. Some haven’t reached their potential yet, like Mike Trout. Some already are beginning to decline when their name is called.

 

All of which makes scouting so important. It looks like the Tigers made the best of their draft in the early rounds this year, with pitcher Casey Mize, the first overall pick, and Kody Clemens already labeled a steal in the third round.

 

The Red Wings, too, have been lauded for their early selections, though teams ahead of them made it easier when scoring winger Philip Zadina fell in their lap, along with immensely talented center Joe Veleno with the 30th overall pick.

 

These drafts should give fans of both teams reason for hope, tenuous as it might be.

 

A final word about evaluating talent: Scouts who monitor other professional teams to evaluate prospective free-agent signings or trade acquisitions are vitally important, too. The Tigers staff acquitted itself nicely with guys like Fiers and Leonys Martin, both veteran free agents traded for future talent.

 

But what could they have been thinking to recommend the team sign Turner? He had limited success with Detroit, with three starts each in 2011 and 2012, before he was traded to the Florida Marlins. He bounced around since, with stints in Chicago with the Cubs and Washington before returning to Miami, where, in his last start with the Marlins, he gave up eight runs in one inning in a 20-1 loss to Philadelphia on April 7.

 

So Turner’s combined line in his last two MLB outings: Two innings pitched, 12 hits, 15 runs, with two strike outs and four walks.

 

Ah, we hardly knew ye, Jacob Turner. But we saw enough.

 

Keith Gave’s new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage,” is available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

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August 2nd, 2018

 

Where there’s smoke: Fiers remains

a Detroit Tiger, but for how long?

 

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

A few minutes after 4 p.m. Tuesday, Mike Fiers stood surrounded by reporters near his locker in the clubhouse at Comerica Park. He was smiling.

 

“I’m still a Tiger,” said Detroit’s most consistent starting pitcher this season – a bargain-aisle addition in the off-season that General Manager Al Avila hoped he might flip at the non-waiver trade deadline to continue, and perhaps, speed up his rebuild with prospect or two for the future. That deadline passed a few hours ahead of the first pitch of game with Cincinnati – a 2-1 Tigers victory.

 

Still a Tiger.

 

At least for another month or so.

 

Fiers, 33, was widely considered to be Avila’s best bargaining chip heading toward the deadline, with a 7-6 record and a 3.54 ERA and six consecutive quality starts (at least six innings pitched, while surrendering three runs or fewer). And with less than $3 million remaining on his $6 million deal, he appeared to be a better candidate to be traded than several other starters who moved at the deadline.

 

Which indicates Avila wasn’t wavering from his lofty asking price. Good on him.

 

Could be that history is repeating itself only a year after Justin Verlander – the subject of intense trade rumors ahead of the July deadline in 2017 – spent one more precious month in Detroit before he was dealt to Houston a few seconds ahead of the real revocable waiver deadline at the end of August.

 

Here’s how it works:

 

Teams put certain players they would consider trading on waivers, much like an angler baits a hook. Players can be claimed by opposing teams in order of record from worst to best in each league. If a player passed through unclaimed, he can be traded to any team. However, if a player is claimed, teams have three options:

revoke the waivers, meaning he cannot be traded until the season ends; work out a trade with the team that claimed him within 48 hours (as Detroit and Houston did with Verlander); or let the player go to the team that claimed him – for nothing.

 

Teams that acquire a player in this manner are responsible for 100 percent of their contract, making this waiver process less risky. For instance, it’s not unthinkable that Detroit could put Jordan Zimmermann on waivers at the end of the month – just hoping that someone might take that ridiculous salary off their hands.

 

These transactions must be completed before midnight on Aug. 31 to be eligible for the post-season.

 

At any rate, on Wednesday afternoon, Fiers was back on the job, cruising along when he took a comebacker off his left shin, which began to swell immediately. He finished the inning, but he was lifted in order to have the injury X-rayed. The exam showed no serious injury, and Fiers shouldn’t miss a turn in the rotation.

 

If he continues to pitch as he has for most of the season in his next handful of starts in a Tigers uniform, the price is likely to go up as contending teams try to bolster their rosters for the playoffs.

 

Stay tuned. . .

 

The Tigers were not shut out at the deadline, however. Avila managed to consummate one deal, sending centerfielder Leonys Martin to Cleveland with a minor-league pitcher for a 21-year-old Double A shortstop, Willi Castro, who is in a deep mix to succeed Jose Iglesias one day.

 

Meantime, these undermanned Tigers continue to battle in ways that make it difficult to quit paying attention even as they seem destined to lose 90-plus games this season.

 

Talk about playing to win? Jim Adduci started the game at first base and hit a home run and singled in his first two at-bats – and got pulled for a pinch-hitter Ronny Rodriguez, who finished the game at first, contributed two hits and scored two runs and made a quintessential play to nab a runner at home and complete a double play that quelled a seventh-inning uprising by the Reds.

 

That was one of two critical defensive plays. Jacoby Jones, the every-day centerfielder now with Martin gone, hustled in on a bloop fly and fired to second to

force a runner, limiting the hitter to a fielder’s choice instead of a single, and preventing a rally.

 

Jose Iglesias continues to play like he’s possessed. Not only is he fielding like a Gold Glove shortstop, he’s attacking the ball at the plate with renewed success after a tough July. He had two hits and three RBI Wednesday as the Tigers pounded Reds pitchers for 14 hits – none of them by Nick Castellanos, mired in a horrible slump after carrying the team offensively for much of the season.

 

As these Tigers continue to battle, we’ll see more and more young faces in the lineup like Mike Gerber, the newly recalled outfielder whose first major-league hit, a double, knocked in the winning run in Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory that featured a brilliant pitching performance by Matt Boyd.

 

In other words, these Tigers can still command our attention – for many of the right reasons.

 

 

Keith Gave will be signing copies of his new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage,” at Sleder’s Family Tavern in Traverse City at 8 p.m. Friday following the viewing of the documentary film, “The Russian Five” featured in the Traverse City Film Festival. Join J.C. (In The Afternoon) Coyne, and several special guests, including former Red Wings Darren McCarty and Dallas Drake, at the reception following the film.

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

 

July 26th, 2018

 

Hope, faith catch a cab;

and baseball has a problem

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Major League Baseball is in big trouble.

 

No, not just because the sport at its highest level is becoming increasingly unwatchable for lack of action. It’s little wonder that the number of youngsters participating in baseball continues its two-decade-long decline – embarrassing enough, apparently, that Little League baseball has stopped releasing its youth participation numbers, which plummeted to 2.4 million a few years ago from nearly 3 million in the 1990s.

 

Kids aren’t having a catch with their dads these days, because their dads didn’t do it when they were kids.

 

Seriously, who wants to stand around most of the time waiting for something to happen? And it’s worse than ever at the game’s highest levels, with players striking out, taking a walk or hitting home runs in about 34 percent of their plate appearances according to recent statistics. So for more than a third of the game we see a guy walk to the dugout with his head down, walk to first base or trot around the diamond high-fiving his base coaches and pointing, praise the Lord, skyward.

 

The average time between balls put in play is an interminable 3 minutes, 45 seconds, according to a study by Sports Illustrated magazine.

That, combined with the every-widening disparity between the handful of prosperous clubs and all the rest, is killing interest in the game. Just look at the moves being made leading up to Monday’s MLB trade deadline, with the best teams adding some of the game’s best players.

The loaded Los Angeles Dodgers sent five prospects to Baltimore for Manny Machado, the best shortstop in the game. The New York Yankees, who already have one of the best bullpens in baseball, added left-handed closer Zach Britton and sent three pitching prospects to the Orioles. And the Yanks added a back-end starter in J.A. Happ this afternoon from Toronto.

With all due respect to the defending champion Houston Astros, these are the overwhelming favorites to reach the World Series this fall. And realistically, the list of serious challengers is razor thin after Houston: Boston, which doubtless will make a reactionary move or two before the deadline; and the Chicago Cubs. After that, a few pretenders like Cleveland, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, perhaps.

So we’re talking about fewer than a dozen teams that have a reasonable shot at a post-season berth, and fewer than a handful with any realistic hope of winning a pennant. Look at the AL so-

called races. The Yankees and Red Sox are having their own annual tussle in the East, while Houston and Cleveland have run away from the packs in their divisions. They could have set their playoff pitching rotations before the All-Star Game.

The result is an absence of hope and faith in most of the MLB markets, including and especially Detroit, where we’re just not used to this – thanks to late owner Mike Ilitch.

Little wonder attendance continues to fall at Comerica Park. But the Tigers are not alone. Numbers are down about 6.5 percent throughout MLB from last season, on a pace for the lowest average mark since 1996 at about 27,700.

If this sounds like sour grapes during a frustrating “rebuild” that followed a dozen fondly memorable seasons in Detroit, well, it probably is.

Through his extraordinary generosity that sometimes clouded his judgement, Ilitch built a perennial contender. Though it cost him millions in luxury taxes attached to his bloated payroll, the Tigers twice advanced to the World Series but couldn’t close the deal and get him a ring and the championships he so dearly wanted to deliver to Detroit.

 

Those days are long gone, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that they’re not coming back – at least not until the Ilitch family decides to sell the team to Dan Gilbert.

 

These Tigers, while competing hard and finding ways to win games they shouldn’t and lose more games than we can stomach, can’t even draw much interest in trade rumors. After three seasons in which the Tigers have been forced to part with stars like Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, David Price, Rick Porcello and Yoenis Cespedes, there’s little left, in terms of actual bargaining chips GM Al Avila can use to add prospects for the future.

 

Which nearly two dozen other so-called rebuilding clubs are doing as well. There’s an unprecedented fire sale of talent around baseball these days as teams try to unload payroll. It’s a buyer’s market, and the Tigers have little to sell. Mike Fiers, more than a rental with another year on his deal, will fetch a middling prospect at best. Better to keep him and hope his value increases a year from now.

 

So yeah, it’s a bad time, a sad time for Tigers baseball fans. But they have a whole lot of company in other towns where hope and faith seem to be on the long-term disabled list.

 

 

 

Keith Gave’s new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage,” is available on Amazon.com or wherever books are sold.

Post film reception of The Russian 5 at Sledders in Traverse City Aug 3 8PM

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

-30

 

July 20th, 2018

 

Tigers could look a lot different, and

not in a good way, after trade deadline

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Brace yourself, Tigers fans, for a barrage of trade rumors leading up to Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline. Only 12 shopping days until it’s over at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31.

 

And Detroit may just lead the league in blue-light specials. Everything must go! Overpaid sluggers and starting pitchers? Tigers would love to find a sucke. . . er, trading partner for Miguel Cabrera or Jordan Zimmermann. Bargain position players? They’ve got Nick Castellanos, who can hit but can’t field, and Jose Iglesias, who can field but can’t hit. Veteran starters? There’s Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano, who might fetch a couple of cracked bats and a bucket of brown baseballs. Young starters with a serious shot at stardom with the right team? Got those, too, with Michael Fulmer and Matthew Boyd.

 

Yes, for the third time in four years, the Tigers are bigtime sellers at the deadline. That’s what happens when you fall way, waaaay out of the playoff race by losing 20 of 25 games leading up to the All-Star break.

 

The rebuild continues, but now it’s worrisome. They’re willing to gamble chips they acquired in the final days of Dave Dombrowski, who traded away a lot of high-priced assets in 2015 to begin the rebuild with youngsters like Fulmer, Boyd, Daniel Norris and Jacoby Jones

 

That suggests one of two things: Either General Manager Al Avila believes this turnaround is going to take much longer than anticipated – with most of the franchise’s best prospects still developing in the lower minors; or the Detroit Tigers under the next generation of Ilitch ownership, are moving in the direction of so many other franchises like Oakland and Kansas City who just aren’t willing to ante up what it takes to build a club that contends annually.

We’re fast witnessing a team in transition from the haves to the have-nots, and it’s more than a little unsettling.

Think about it, if they’re willing to part with Fulmer, a former All-Star who has shown flashes of brilliance in his three seasons in Detroit, a guy they control, contract-wise, through the end of the 2022 season, who won’t they trade?

If there’s an untouchable on the Tigers’ roster, it’s Joe Jimenez, who struck out the only batter he faced in Tuesday’s MLB All-Star game. He’s young, cheap and looks like he can develop into a dominant closer one day. Which makes Shane Greene expendable, too.

Other than Jimenez, it’s a fire sale. Only problem is, this is a roster full of players nobody wants – many of them already cast off by other teams.

And all we can think of is what might have been when, in early June, this team was one game under .500 during a series against Cleveland.

Then the Tigers go 5-20 to the break – the lone highlight beating former teammate Justin Verlander by smacking four home runs between a dozen strikeouts.

Now, at 41-57, 12.5 games back of the Central Division-leading Indians and 17.5 games out of the wildcard chase, the Tigers are on a pace to lose about 94 games.

And that’s the good news.

After finishing last among baseball’s 30 teams last year, they’re on pace to finish near the bottom again, which will guarantee them a shot at a pretty good player in next year’s draft. That’s how they said they were going to build a winner. In fact, that’s the only way to build a contender if Chris Ilitch is not willing to spend remotely close to his old man.

Maybe they get lucky. Maybe they can pool enough talent and develop it like they did in the late 1970s, with Hall of Famers Alan Trammell and Jack Morris, with Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Dan Petry and a football player out of Michigan State named Kirk Gibson.

They put it all together under manager Sparky Anderson in 1984, the last time the Tigers won the World Series.

So perhaps we can go out on a limb right now and predict another one.

In 2028.

 

Keith Gave’s best-selling new book, “The Russian Five, A story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage,” is available on Amazon.com and wherever books are sold.

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

July 11th, 2018

 

Red Wings will ice a roster loaded with talent in

20th annual Prospects Tournament in Traverse City

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

The future is nigh, or at least drawing closer. What seemed like heresy after years of playoff disappointment – including the past two seasons in which they didn’t even make the Stanley Cup tournament – the Detroit Red Wings finally appear to have the personnel power to approach relevance at the most important part of the hockey season.

 

Mark the dates – Sept. 7-11 – when several of those foundational performers, including three first-round draft picks from the past two seasons, will lead the Wings in the 2018 NHL Prospect Tournament that includes the best and the brightest from seven other NHL clubs as well.

 

For Detroit, that will include: last year’s top pick, 6-feet-7 center Mike Rasmussen, taken ninth overall in the 2017 draft; right wing Filip Zadina, selected sixth overall a few weeks ago; and center Joe Veleno, taken 30th overall in June with the first-round pick the Wings received from Las Vegas in the Tomas Tatar trade.

 

Read my lips: Don’t miss this opportunity. Simply stated, this is the best hockey you’ll find anywhere in the world at this time of year.

 

Unlike training camp, where even a top prospect can get lost or overwhelmed playing against grown men and NHL veterans, these young guys are competing against players similar in age and experience. It’s a time and place where general managers, coaches and scouts can best evaluate a player’s aptitude.

 

The 20th annual NHL Prospect Tournament will be held at the Centre Ice Arena and include the defending-champion Chicago Blackhawks, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.

 

The tournament will be divided into two four-team divisions, and clubs will play each team in their division in a round-robin format before a crossover on the final day of the tournament. The first-place finishers in each division will meet for the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

 

The tournament’s championship trophy was renamed in 2015 to honor Wuest, known for his work on the website CapGeek.com as well as his exclusive coverage and statistical archiving of the NHL Prospect Tournament on RedWingsCentral.com, spanning back to the inaugural tournament in 1998. Wuest died in March 2015 after succumbing to a two-year battle with colon cancer.

 

Over the tournament’s history, nearly 600 players have moved on to play in the NHL. Of the 30 players who competed for the Red Wings last year, 21 performed in this tournament early in

their careers, including Henrik Zetterberg, Nik Kronwall, Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Justin Abdelkader, and Jimmy Howard.

 

Many of the players who represent the Wings in this tournament could see time in Detroit sooner than youngsters have made the jump in recent years. That speaks to both the talent of these kids as well as the Wings’ sense of urgency as they continue to build a team that can contend annually for a slot in the 16-team Stanley Cup playoff.

 

RED WINGS TRAINING CAMP

The 2018-19 Red Wings hit the ice for the first time the morning of Friday, Sept. 14, and continue daily through Tuesday, Sept. 18. Red Wings players, prospects and tryouts will be divided into teams that will practice and scrimmage throughout camp, including the annual Red and White Game on Sunday, Sept. 16 at 12 p.m.

 

Following the Red and White game, the team will remain in Traverse City and hold practices on Sept. 17-18 prior to breaking camp for Detroit to begin their preseason schedule at Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday, Sept. 19 vs. Pittsburgh.

 

RED WINGS ALUMNI VS. GUNS-N-HOSES

The Training Camp Alumni and Celebrity Game will also return for a sixth-consecutive season on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. in a new format from past seasons. This year, a team of Red Wings alumni will face off against Guns-n-Hoses, a team consisting of players from local Traverse City police and fire departments. Guns-n-Hoses is a non-profit organization created to assist individuals and families in need in the Grand Traverse community. Red Wings alumni and celebrities slated to participate include three members of “The Grind Line” in Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty; Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe; and 2008 Stanley Cup champion and Traverse City resident Dallas Drake.

 

WE GOT TICKETS

Advance tickets for all September Red Wings events are available exclusively online this season at www.centreice.org/drwtickets, starting on Tuesday, July 24 at 10 a.m. They are sold first-come, first-served at the arena entrance on the day of each event.

 

Ticket prices are as follows:

* NHL Prospect Tournament (Sept. 7-11): $10 per day (general admission)

* Training Camp Practice (Friday, Sept. 14): $10 standing-room, $20 reserved seating or mezzanine

* Training Camp Practice (Saturday, Sept. 15): $15 standing-room, $25 reserved seating or mezzanine

* Alumni and Celebrity Game (Saturday, Sept. 15): $25 standing-room, $35 reserved seating

* Red and White Game (Sunday, Sept. 16): $20 standing-room, $35 reserved seating or mezzanine

 

Keith Gave’s best-selling new book, “The Russian Five, A story of espionage, defection, bribery and courage,” is available on Amazon.com and wherever books are sold

 

Follow on twitter @KeithGave

 

-30-

July 3rd, 2018

Holland deserves praise, not

blame for free-agent signings

 

 

By KEITH GAVE

Sports Director

 

Can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Ken Holland these days.

 

The tsunami of criticism, outrage and vitriol the Red Wings’ general manager has endured the past few years as his team’s utterly remarkable 25-year Stanley Cup playoff streak came to an end continues even as he’s been riding a wave of success.

 

It began around the trade deadline last spring, when he finally acknowledged and accepted what had been so obvious to so many for at least a couple of years: that his team was in desperate need of a retrofit. Continuing his career-long commitment to “rebuild on the fly” like changing lines in a hockey game to continue an attack. . . was no longer an option for a team that had lost its identity.

 

It began in late February, when Holland began loading up draft picks by trading goaltender Petr Mrazek and winger Tomas Tatar, both ridiculously overpaid and heartbreakingly unproductive. Getting a first-, a second- and a third-round pick for Tatar was masterful; it’s a deal that likely will have implications far into the future at Little Caesars Arena – all of them good.

 

The rebuild was under way. From now on, Holland said, his club is committed to its young players, their best and brightest already in Detroit and those knocking on the door. Discerning fans (probably a contradiction in terms) seemed to accept that, and braced themselves for a bit more pain while hoping the club bottomed out after two years among the NHL’s worst teams.

 

Suddenly, though, when open season on free agents arrived on July 1, Holland signed a much-needed backup goaltender with credentials that suggest he’s better than that, and two old, but familiar guys: defenseman Mike Green and winger Tomas Vanek. And the critics got out their bullhorns.

 

“What the hell is Holland doing?” they cried. “What happened to our youth movement? What about the young guys who need to play so they can develop?”

 

Holland’s response, his defense – and it’s a good one: “We have to win hockey games, too. We have to at least try.”

 

Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t, Holland is walking that tightrope between icing a competitive team and trying to remain at least relevant in the playoff race and developing a team that, in some years down the line might be considered much more than a playoff contende

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