January 17, 2017
Tigers slumber through off-season;
is long-expected change still coming?
By KEITH GAVE
We were promised – though “warned” might be a better word in this case – that this would be an off-season of great transformation for the Detroit Tigers.
“Changes are coming,” General Manager Al Avila ominously told us before the smell of another rank baseball season had subsided. His point – well-taken – was that for the money the franchise was doling out to the players it wasn’t getting enough in return. Virtually everyone on the roster was available, he hinted, except for the young arms in the starting rotation. That included superstars like ace Justin Verlander and Hall of Fame-bound slugger Miguel Cabrera.
Avila had better hurry. Spring training begins in a mere 27 days, or, as we used to say while we counted the days to our discharge from the Army, “26 and a wake-up.” Sounds a little more exciting that way when we’re looking ahead with such anticipation. And what better is there to look forward to than the sounds of the crack of a bat, a horsehide ball smacking the well-oiled leather of a catcher’s mitt?
Considering how our football season ended with a thud, and both the hockey and basketball teams struggling mightily to win enough games to get them into the post-season, baseball can’t get here soon enough.
But what are we to expect from the Tigers?
Despite his declaration on Oct. 18 that he wanted a leaner payroll, that the club had for too long been spending beyond its means, Avila hasn’t done much other than trade center fielder Cameron Maybin. In return, the club got a minor-league pitching prospect because it didn’t want to up the option year on Maybin for a mere $9 million – a highly questionable move we’ll get to later.
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball’s winter meetings came and went. Nothing happened despite a lot of hype. The only thing that came out of regarding the Tigers is that they over-valued their players; they were asking too much in return, said a few general managers who kicked the tires around the Detroit roster.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone. That’s the problem, after all. The Tigers are prone to being far too generous with its players, in some cases paying them far, far too much, and for too long. And even while Avila has yet to address the gaping hole in centerfield with a hitter who might plug Maybin’s No. 2 spot in the order, there are rumors of teams starting to resume picking at the carcass once more.
The latest: Second-basemen Ian Kinsler – who may be installed in the Baseball Hall of Fame himself one day – is rumored to be “Plan B” for the Los Angeles Dodgers if they can’t negotiate a deal for Minnesota’s Brian Dozier. Kinsler could reject the deal because he has a no-trade clause in his contract, though he would more than likely waive the clause if he’s given a contract extension
Which begs the question: What is Avila’s Plan B if he trades away a guy who slashed .288/.348/.484 last season, while hitting 28 home runs from the lead-off position?
We can only hope it’s more inspiring than what he’s trying to do to replace Maybin, a more-than-capable No. 2 hitter with a decent glove who played at a 3-3.5 WAR pace last season – more than justifying his salary.
Among those Avila has considered to replace Maybin, according to the Detroit Free Press: Peter Bourjos of Philadelphia and Gregor Blanco of San Francisco. Bourjos, 29, hit .251/.292/.389 with five home runs and 91 strikeouts in 123 games last season. Blanco, 33, hit .224/.309/.311 with one homer in 106 games last season.
These are bottom-of-the-order batters. Avila may need to reconstruct the top, the table-setters like J.D. Martinez, Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Justin Upton. Assuming, of course, they’re still in Detroit after Avila delivers all that change he promised. Or warned us about.
SAVE THE DATES
Tigers Spring Training 2017
Feb. 13 – Pitchers and catchers report
Feb. 14 – First pitchers and catchers workout
Feb. 18 – First full-squad workout
Feb. 23 – First Exhibition Game, vs. Florida Southern, 1:05 p.m.
Feb. 24 – First Spring Training Game, vs. Orioles, 1:05 p.m.
April 2 – Tigers break camp
April 3 – Season opener at Chicago White Sox, time TBD