READ KEITH GAVES' NORTHERN SPORTS DESK COLUMNS BELOW
August 2nd, 2019
By KEITH GAVE
Tigers flip – and flop? – at trade deadline;
Big questions plague AuSable Marathon
By KEITH GAVE
Baseball is a funny game. On the day the Tigers, the worst team in Major League Baseball, traded away two of its most important players, they beat the Angels decidedly, finishing off their first series victory in Anaheim in 10 years.
The score was 9-1 – one of their most impressive offensive performances all season – and they did it without Nick Castellanos, traded away to the Chicago Cubs 42 seconds ahead of Wednesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, and Miguel Cabrera, who had been given the day off. They wouldn’t need closer Shane Greene, traded to Atlanta in the final hour ahead of the deadline.
In the series opener Tuesday night, their two highest-paid and lowest-performing players, led the way. Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, with a $23 million salary this season, won his first game since last September, pitched 5.1 innings of four-hit, 2-run baseball for his first win against eight losses this season. And $30-million designated hitter Miguel Cabrera, who brought a 5-47 slump into the series, homered and knocked in two runs with a bases-loaded single to lead another rare offensive splurge.
The home run was Cabrera’s sixth, and the three RBI took him to 40 for the season. The two hits raised his batting average to .280. All relatively meager stats considering the size of his paycheck – but that’s baseball, or whatever game they’re playing, these days.
So the Tigers traded away the best hitter on an anemic offensive team and the most consistently reliable closer they’ve had in many years – and got four prospects.
It’s far too early to pass judgment on this “haul,” as some have deemed the returns. All four of the youngsters acquired by Detroit, essentially, are lottery tickets – darts at a dartboard – in terms of their chances of everyday success in the major leagues.
What’s most perplexing is that since the club’s prospect cupboard is well-stocked with pitchers, and Al Avila made it a point that he needed to add bats and position players, he would up with three pitchers and a journeyman outfielder.
Three of the new guys, the pitchers, immediately cracked the team’s Top 30 Prospects list: No. 10 Joey Wentz, the lanky lefthander acquired from Atlanta in the deal for Greene, and No. 19 Paul Richan and No. 29 Alex Lange, both righthanders, from the Cubs in the trade for Castellanos.
Ironically, outfielder Travis Demeritte, a 2013 first-round pick (30th overall) by the Texas Rangers, is likely to be the first of the four to play in a stadium surrounded by tall buildings. The Tigers called him up immediately, and he could get his first taste of big-league baseball tonight when the Tigers open a three-game series at Texas.
At the time he was drafted, Demeritte was an infielder. But he has spent the past two seasons apprenticing in the outfield. His top projection at the MLB level is as a super-utility man, similar to Niko Goodrum, who has played every position in the field in professional baseball except catcher and first base.
He arrives with a reputation as power hitter with a lot of holes in his swing. In 96 games in the AAA level this season, he had 20 home runs – and an alarming 106 strikeouts, more than one in every four at-bats.
Wentz, 21, 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, is considered the best of the four new Tigers. He has a mid-90s fastball with an above-average curve and change-up, according to scouts who project him as a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the majors.
Richan, 22, 6-2 and 200 pounds, has impressed scouts with his command of four pitches and his control, walking an average of 1.7 batters (or less) per nine innings over his two seasons in pro ball. He’s projected as a starter at the back end of an MLB rotation.
Lange, 23, 197 pounds, is another former first-round pick (30th overall in 2017, by the Cubs). He also has a mid-90s fastball and an above-average curve, but needs to work on his control. He projects as a back-end starter, or, more likely, a reliever in the big leagues.
Hup! What’s wrong? Hup!
Is the AuSable River Canoe Marathon – that grand and spectacular race that begins with a gunshot and a roaring crowd in Grayling and ends with little more than a shrug 120 miles away in Oscoda – dying a slow death?
And if it is, and I ask only to instigate a much-needed conversation before it’s too late, who’s to blame?
The reason I ask: As someone who has witnessed the start of the last 25 marathons standing perilously close to the starting line at the Old AuSable Fly Shop, I’ve seen the numbers of fans on the other side of the river up to M-72 decline dramatically over the last three years or so. This ought to be of serious concern to the organizers of the event as well as the two towns at either end who pour so many resources into it.
Has the race lost its appeal because its outcome too often is a foregone conclusion? Traditionally, it has been dominated by a single team for a decade or more. This year, Andy Triebold, of Grayling, and Steve Lajoie, of Quebec, Canada, won for the 11th time in 12 years. Before that,
the team of Jeff Kolka, of Grayling, and Serge Corbin, also of Quebec, Canada, dominated for more than a decade.
Could the paddlers be to blame for their notorious and longstanding reluctance to promote their sport in the media? These are some of the best paddlers in the world, but the best among them won’t say boo when a reporter attempts to get a decent interview.
Or might it be that the race’s so-called flagship radio station located 30 miles to the south spends more airtime in July promoting this weekend’s “Bud Bash” than last weekend’s canoe marathon that draws paddlers and visitors from as far away as Australia?
The numbers of fans encircling the riverbanks near the Old AuSable Fly Shop do not compare with those 15-20 years ago. Worse, the numbers of fans who followed the race along M-72 and stopped to party in places like the bridge in Mio were sparse compared to the hundreds who made it their main stop only a few years ago.
And fewer and fewer are making the trek all the way to Oscoda for the finish that, while much different than the chaotic start of the race, can be just as thrilling even when the winning boat comes in five minutes ahead of the second one.
Bottom line: Something is wrong, and the race committee needs to take a hard look at some of these questions and more – and figure it out.
If the Tigers had any heart at all, or even the slightest bit of empathy for their fans, they’d shut down Miguel Cabrera right now….