December 15th, 2017
Kinsler’s departure underscores
long and arduous Tigers’ rebuild
By KEITH GAVE
In just 61 days, pitchers and catchers report to the Tigers’ spring training complex in Lakeland, Florida. Big deal, you say? Once upon a time, not so long ago, that very thought was supposed to make us smile, maybe even warm us up on a cold, mid-December day.
But now? Not so much, eh?
Why so ambivalent? Let us count the ways: Justin Verlander, the mainstay on one of the best dozen-year stretches in franchise history, is gone. Sure, we’re thrilled that he got his World Series ring and then just a few days later he married model Kate Upton. But we’ll again see him in an Olde English D uniform throwing BBs from the mound at Comerica Park. And Kate ain’t coming back, either.
J.D. Martinez, one of the best home-run hitters in the game, won’t be at training camp either. He was traded even before Verlander. Justin Upton, the other corner outfielder who fit nicely into the heart of the Tigers’ batting order? He’s gone, too. Catcher Alex Avila, reliever Justin Wilson, utility-man-extraordinaire Andrew Romine? Gone, gone and gone.
The latest to get his ticket out of The D is Ian Kinsler, the Gold Glove second-baseman and one of the more productive lead-off hitters in the game. Him and his $11 million salary? Gone to the Los Angeles Angels in a salary dump for two longshot prospects who may never see the lights of major-league stadium.
Others from last year’s Opening Day roster who won’t be returning: starting righthander Anibal Sanchez, bought out; and relivers Frank Rodriguez and Kyle Ryan (mercifully long gone); along with Bruce Rondon and his bloated, unmet potential, who was not offered a contract.
This is what a grass-up rebuild looks like. It’s not pretty, and it could get worse. GM Al Avila says he’s listening to offers for Michael Fulmer, who with Verlander’s departure becomes the Tigers’ ace by default. And if a rival GM offered Avila a couple of cracked bats and a bucket of brown baseballs, he’d probably part with shortstop Jose Iglesias, too.
Of course, broken bats and used baseballs would be an outrageous asking price for the guy Avila would most like to get rid of: DH Victor Martinez and his ridiculous $18 million salary. He’ll be 39 and coming off heart surgery to repair an irregular heartbeat that surfaced last season. The good news is that doctors found a heart.
While his performance declined sharply, hitting just .255 and producing 10 home runs and 47 RBIs last season, Martinez was described by some close to the team as a cancerous presence in the clubhouse. The Tigers don’t need that again as they begin their rebuild with so many youngsters.
Ridding the franchise of Martinez and his engorged salary (thanks to former GM Dave Dombrowski and the renowned generosity of late club owner Mike Ilitch) would be comparable to Dombrowski dumping Prince Fielder and his outrageous contract to Texas in exchange for Kinsler.
Instead, it looks like new manager Ron Gardenhire will pencil in Martinez name right behind Miguel Cabrera’s, where they’ll have the potential to create rally-killing traffic jams on the base paths as the No. 3-4 hitters.
Early projections are for the Opening Day 2018 lineup to look something like this:
1. Jose Iglesias, SS
2. Mikie Mahtook, LF
3. Miguel Cabrera, IB
4. Victor Martinez, DH
5. Nick Castellanos, RF
6. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
7. James McCann, C
8. Jacoby Jones, CF
9. Dixon Machado, 2B
This assumes, of course, that Avila doesn’t do any more damage to his roster. And trading Fulmer to the Yankees for what projects to be two great prospects and two more longer-shot prospects, would certainly diminish an already suspect starting rotation.
Would you make that deal? Now there’s a great hot-stove topic to debate, one with the potential to create some heat on either side of the question.
Meantime, it’s damn cold these days here in Northern Michigan. And thoughts of horsehide cracking off a Louisville Slugger under the Florida sunshine do little warm us up.
Lions and Tigers and Bears – oh my!
Detroit Lions (7-6) vs. Chicago Bears (4-9)
4:30 p.m., Sunday
At Ford Field
TV/RADIO: NFL Network; WQON-FM (100.3)
LINE: Lions minus-5½
On paper, this looks like an easy, routine win for team that knows it has to win its final three games even for an outside shot at making the playoffs at 10-6. But as we’ve come to learn over the last, oh, 60 years or so, nothing is easy or routine for the Detroit Lions.
The Bears might have one of the most anemic offenses in the NFL, but they’re not hibernating. They’re coming off a 33-7 win at Cincinnati last week, when rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky had his best game and running back Jordan Howard ran past the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 147 yards rushing and two touchdowns. If the Lions can’t slow down Howard, it could be a long day for the Lions.
But Matt Stafford is healthy and has a lot of weapons. He throws for 300-plus yards and three touchdowns – and we can still at least dream of playoffs. Sort of dreaming about hitting it big with a $2 Power Ball ticket.
Prediction: Lions 27, Bears 20