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October 18, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Detroit Tigers

by Jay Jaffe, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in September (or before), the league division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm-system overview.

Today we bid farewell to the Detroit Tigers.

Signs of hope: The Tigers won 95 games and the American League Central flag, making the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and reaching the ALCS before falling to the Texas Rangers. Justin Verlander had a career year, winning the "pitchers' Triple Crown" by leading the league in ERA (2.40), strikeouts (250), and wins (24), not to mention WARP (7.0). Miguel Cabrera moved past a tumultuous offseason to hit .344/.448/.586, winning a batting title and leading the league in OBP while ranking second to Jose Bautista in true average (.359).

Alex Avila emerged as an All-Star catcher, hitting .295/.389/.506 with 19 homers, throwing out 32 percent of would-be base thieves and ranking among the league's top pitch-framers. Avila actually had a better WARP than Cabrera (6.4 to 6.2).

Jhonny Peralta (.299/.345/.478) made good after being re-signed as a free agent, and Victor Martinez hit a sizzling .330/.380/.470 in the first year of his four-year, $50 million deal. Closer Jose Valverde converted all 49 of his save opportunities while posting a 2.24 ERA, with free agent Joaquin Benoit and rookie Al Alburquerque teaming with him to form a formidable late-inning unit.

Doug Fister was an outstanding deadline pickup, posting a 1.79 ERA and 57/5 K/BB ratio in 70⅓ innings, while Delmon Young and Wilson Betemit made for solid late-season acquisitions, as well.

Signs of disaster: The rotation behind Verlander and Fister wasn't great, with Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Brad Penny all posting ERAs of 4.43 or higher in 30 or more starts. Scherzer and Penny struggled to keep the ball in the park while Porcello (and Penny) didn't miss enough bats. Magglio Ordonez's performance collapsed (.255/.303/.331, minus-1.5 WARP) while he was making $10 million. Carlos Guillen gave the Tigers just 102 plate appearances for his $13 million salary. Ryan Raburn regressed to .256/.297/.432 after a strong .285/.348/.498 during the previous two seasons, and Austin Jackson hit just .249/.317/.374 as his BABIP fell from .396 as a rookie to .340. The team's third basemen combined to hit .222/.286/.331, with Brandon Inge (.197/.265/.283) so bad that he was at one point sent to Triple-A.

Signs you can ignore: After hitting just .266/.305/.357 with four homers in 305 PA with the Minnesota Twins, Young arrived in mid-August and batted .274/.298/.458 with eight homers in 168 PA for Detroit, adding five more homers in 36 postseason PA despite straining an oblique. The former top prospect is still just 26 years old, but his career numbers to date—.288/.321/.428, a .261 TAv and 2.5 WARP—suggest he's merely a placeholder rather than an asset. Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus

Bowden's Bold Move
The Tigers should be able to bring most of their team back in 2011 with the only glaring holes at second and third. This is a very weak free-agent class with Aramis Ramirez being the only free-agent option that would clearly improve one of the two positions, but his cost probably won't make sense given the Tigers' roster, financial commitments, and arbitration-eligible players the next few years.

Detroit would like to trade for David Wright or Ryan Zimmerman, although the Tigers probably don't have enough to package around top pitching prospect Jacob Turner to make a deal work for either one of them. The dream would be to sign Jose Reyes and move Jhonny Peralta back to third. If that's not an option, I would think about trading for Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose stock is low because of the dismal year he had. Alvarez will break out in either 2012 or 2013 and develop into an adequate defensive player who is capable of winning a Silver Slugger award at the hot corner. Other possible trade targets the Tigers could look at: Chase Headley, Howie Kendrick, Gordon Beckham, Jose Altuve, and Steve Lombardozzi.

Even if the Tigers don't pull off an impact deal this winter, they will still be the favorites to win the AL Central again next season. But to go beyond the ALCS, they need to find an everyday second baseman or third baseman who is preferably a left-handed hitter to help balance a right-handed dominant lineup. Jim Bowden


Hopes and Fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 96-66

Below .500 as late as May 29, the Tigers had an amazing run during the last two-thirds of the season, going 70-41 and ending up with 95 wins in a year that was starting to look like a disappointment. To make a serious run at 100 wins again and safely lap the rest of the division in 2012, the Tigers have to avoid the gaping lineup holes that plagued them in the first half. The team got star offensive seasons from five starters and still finished only fourth in the league in scoring, with way too many plate appearances scooped up by Inge and a very done-looking Ordonez. To hit the high end of the win expectations, the team will need to be more aggressive at patching holes, even when the players are longtime Tigers.

Worst-case scenario: 82-80
Having Verlander is always a good thing, but he's not going to put up a Cy Young/MVP type season every year, and it took a lot of great seasons from Detroit's front-end talent to counter the lineup holes and the poor back end of the rotation. The team can't simply count on getting that many great seasons out of the stars every year, and if the rotation isn't put on more solid ground, it may not be bailed out as effectively as it was this season. The current plan is to use Turner as the No. 5 starter, but he wasn't really dominating in Double-A, and given the fragility of young starters, the Tigers need to have a better Plan A. If Turner dominates in Triple-A for a couple of months next season, having too much pitching is an easier problem to fix than too little. Without additional depth in the rotation, an untimely injury plus a subpar season from a star or two would knock the Tigers down to the rest of the Central pack. Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
The Tigers have one of the best offensive weapons in baseball with Cabrera and arguably the game's best pitcher in Verlander, but a weak supporting cast finally caught up to them in the ALCS. The bad news is that this is not a system rife with reinforcements for the future. The Tigers have one of the weakest systems in baseball in terms of position players with few, if any, hitters at the upper levels capable of contributing to a playoff-level team. There is more pitching on the way, namely in Turner, but they'll need to find offense from sources other than their own system. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

23 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

jj0501

I like Jim Bowden's ideas for 2B and 3B. Even the Pedro suggestion has possible merit. It all depends on the cost
to acquire the assets he's mentioned, doesn't it ?

Oct 18, 2011 04:56 AM
rating: 2
 
buddons42

Out of curiosity, why isn't Brennan Boesch slotted into RF in their projected lineup? It seems to me he's pretty likely to be slotted in as the everyday guy there given his performance and usage in this past season.

Oct 18, 2011 06:11 AM
rating: 5
 
Cromulent

I would have assumed the implication was that Boesch was an unacceptable option in RF, but he had a higher WARP in fewer games than Austin Jackson. This could use some clarification, please.

Oct 18, 2011 07:07 AM
rating: 0
 
ColonelTom

Unless he's still hurt in April, Boesch is much more likely to be starting in the outfield than Delmon Young, who would cost them about $6M more than Boesch next year after arbitration. Young is also a horrible outfielder, and with Martinez as the full-time DH, you can't hide his glove. He's a bad fit on this team.

My back-of-the-envelope calculation has them at about $17M under this year's payroll. Dumping Young gets them a little breathing room. Even then, they have too many holes and big long-term commitments to make a play for Reyes or Ramirez, unless ownership is willing to bump up the payroll significantly for the foreseeable future.

Oct 18, 2011 07:33 AM
rating: 0
 
IvanGrushenko

If Aramis Ramirez is going to be too expensive for their budget how is Jose Reyes even a remote possibility?

Oct 18, 2011 06:11 AM
rating: 2
 
DetroitDale

Putting Reyes at Short and Peralta at third still leaves a gaping hole at second. The better play would be leaving Peralta at short and Reyes at Second. Sure that leaves Inge at third and a gaping hole there, but just until Castellanos is ready. There's no 2b help in the system (and please keep the Sizemore rants to a minimum, he's still more likely to be Chris Pittaro than Ryne Sanberg).

I don't think the pitcher is a good idea, there's enough promise yet in Turner that I'd rather see him in 5th slot than sign another guy to block him, and both Scherzer and Porcello have shown signs of stepping up that I'd rather not have to give away a compensation pick for the next Brad Penney when the team really needs those picks to rebuild the farm system.

They really need to get some bullpen help. Valverde and Benoit are getting old, Al squared looked shakey after his concussion, and none of the youngsters looked ready contribute, let alone pick up the slack, and the ACLS showed us that a strong bullpen can overcome a pitching deficiency. Plus, if you stockpile relievers you can flip your excess to contenders desperate for bullpen help for prospects.

The thing that really needs to change is third base coach Gene Lamont and Hitting Coach Lloyd McClendon need to go and be replaced with younger, better options. I'm tired of seeing runners sent that don't have a shot and hitters swinging at pitches in the dirt. (Austin Jackson and Inge are the worst offenders but the problem is lineup wide) And while Leyland's pros outweigh his cons, if he won't let his washed up Pittsburgh lackeys go, he needs to go too.

Oct 18, 2011 06:18 AM
rating: 1
 
lemppi

Well...nobody ever said Scott Sizemore was going to be Ryne Sandburg. But the trade to Oakland was the most ill-conceived move by Dombrowsk in a season where his in-season dealings worked out great on the whole. Sizemore showed in Oakland he contribute if given the chance....certainly he'd be a better option than anything in Detroit. I just don't think Leyland liked him much (just my impression from afar). Trading Sizemore for a journeyman lefty who had been DFA'd merely a month prior to the move was simply madness. A give-up trade for no apparent reason.

Oct 18, 2011 06:56 AM
rating: 7
 
timber

Two things about Inge: 1) He's under contract for next year to the tune of $5.5 million. 2) The Tigers just can't quit the guy. Sure, they DFAed him last year, but I don't think they ever meant it to be permanent. It's a love-in-an-unheathy-relationship-style sort of thing, and I think that Inge is their 3B to start next year.

I think Bowden has rose-colored glasses where Alvarez is concerned, and I know I'm not alone. But I would bet that the Pirates, given their investment in him, aren't going to dump him just yet anyway. If he's going to break out in 2012 or 2013, they would want to be the beneficiaries.

Oct 18, 2011 09:06 AM
rating: 2
 
ColonelTom

Any deal for Alvarez would have to center around Jacob Turner. (Maybe Porcello, but I don't think the Pirates would go for that.) I don't see that happening. Besides, Alvarez is already marginal defensively at 3B - if his glove dictates a move across the diamond or to DH, he's blocked by Cabrera and Martinez.

Aramis Ramirez would be a big upgrade for the Tigers, but with little coming off the payroll this year, he's probably out of range. If the Phillies were to sign Ramirez, Placido Polanco might be a trade option for Detroit. What about Delmon Young (if the Tigers are thinking of non-tendering him) to Philly for Polanco and Ben Francisco? The salaries would match up pretty well, and Philly and Detroit would both fill positions of need. (Yes, the Phils have Dom Brown, but Amaro has said Brown should start in AAA next year.)

Oct 18, 2011 10:42 AM
rating: 0
 
jonathanaustin

That would be a horrible trade for Philly. Young is at best a marginal upgrade over Francisco and despite Polanco's age, he's still a decent player with a fairly reasonable contract. If the Phillies want a no-glove LF with power but limited on-base skills, they already have someone cheaper and likely better than Young in John Mayberry.

Young is the type of player that you grab when you have a huge hole and no other options. He should not be a player that a team with WS aspirations makes a trade for in the off-season to be their starting LF.


Also, even assuming that Young fills a need for Philly, trading Polanco just creates a new one as its not like they have a ready replacement for him at 3B.

Oct 18, 2011 21:26 PM
rating: 0
 
ColonelTom

As a Phils fan, I don't like Young much either, but maybe Charlie Manuel can make something of him. I'm suggesting this from the Tigers' perspective.

As I said, this doesn't happen unless the Phils sign Aramis Ramirez (who is likely to be a target for them if they can't bring back Jimmy Rollins). At that point, Galvis plays SS and Polanco is relegated to a super-sub role on an expensive contract.

You've forgotten that Ryan Howard will likely miss 2-3 months at the start of 2012. Their options for a short-term replacement are limited, as even your Derrek Lee and Adam LaRoche types want at least a full-time starting job, if not a multi-year deal. They won't want to sit when Howard returns. They'll need to find a fix in-house, which likely means Mayberry will start at 1B (with Gload facing tough righties) until Howard returns.

If they don't call up Domonic Brown (my preferred solution), that means giving the keys to Ben Francisco or finding an upgrade on a one-year deal. Delmon Young is arbitration-eligible, so they could let him go after next year. Unloading Polanco and Francisco clears salary to make it happen without impacting their ability to fill other holes.

Oct 19, 2011 06:21 AM
rating: 1
 
Richie

Has Bowden advised any other contender to trade for young guys rather than sign old free agent ones? Was surprised to see that there.

Oct 18, 2011 09:11 AM
rating: 3
 
CRP13

Hilarious suggestion to trade for Jose Altuve. Really?

Oct 18, 2011 09:27 AM
rating: 0
 
BigX

No but it is to trade for Gordon Beckham.

Oct 18, 2011 13:52 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Why? He seems like a good candidate as any to blossom in a new environment. Unfortunately from Detroit's point of view of obtaining Beckham, the White Sox will be a new environment under Robin Ventura.

Oct 18, 2011 13:56 PM
rating: 0
 
apbadogs

"Having Verlander is always a good thing, but he's not going to put up a Cy Young/MVP type season every year, "

***

Why can't he??

Oct 18, 2011 09:33 AM
rating: 0
 
BigX

Because no one does

Oct 18, 2011 13:50 PM
rating: 0
 
jetson
(660)

Well that depends on how literally you want to take "every year" to some extent, but I would argue that Pedro, Maddux, Halladay and some others largely do/did exactly this in their primes.

Oct 18, 2011 17:52 PM
rating: 1
 
michaele

No mention of Boesch? Seriously? He is without question the starting RF next season. Maybe he doesn't post a 117OPS+ again, Maybe you're not a big fan. I get it, cause I wasn't a fan myself, until this year. His approach really did seem to improve.

Just suprised you'd fail to mention him at all, a 26-year old who hit above average and actually has some speed on a team without any? I trust during the regular season you guys pay close attention to the playoff contenders, yes? Anyway, his loss was definitely felt during the playoffs

Oct 18, 2011 10:50 AM
rating: 3
 
John Carter

Huh? The posters here jive better with my understanding of the Tigers than the experts. Brennan Boesch is their RF, isn't he? Given Detroit's budget, is that so bad? Nick Castellanos is the one good position prospect worth waiting for, isn't he? That means all they do need is a placeholder at third (such as Wilson Betemit with Brandon Inge). Jim Leyland thinks Jhonny Peralta deserves a gold glove - I just read that this week, so I don't see his getting moved back to third as a possibility. I think Peralta is a better hitter when he is happily playing shortstop, anyway.

I don't mean to be impertinent. I have enormous respect for the authors. I am pretty much only going by what Kevin has said about Castellanos. I assume Kevin signed off on this article, so I don't get it.

So, if Detroit can live with Delmon Young's defense in left field (I think his hitting suffered this year due to a few nagging injuries), their only long term hole is second-base. Unfortunately, Detroit doesn't have any excess to trade for one. Ramon Santiago isn't all that bad. The second best option any at other position is probably a worse option than Santiago. It didn't take long for Andy Dirks to be over-exposed. Sure, Sizemore gave us some hope for the future at second. But what do we know? The Tigers took off without him. Most of us readers (myself included) and BP experts alike completely panned the Fister trade. That worked out brilliantly - and I don't think it is going to be a strong echo of the Doyle Alexander / John Smoltz trade.

One more point/question: Ordonez and Guillen come off the books, which frees up $23 million. That could buy Jose Reyes. Can Peralta play secondbase? Since Reyes is the only excellent middle infield free agent option, considering market efficiency, the best plan might be to trade Delmon Young for a secondbaseman and buy an outfielder.

Oct 18, 2011 13:52 PM
rating: 1
 
ColonelTom

Verlander's salary goes up by $7.25M next year, eating a good chunk of the Ordonez/Guillen savings.

Young doesn't have much trade value because of his high salary (he'll probably make about $7M after arbitration this year) and his service time (last year before free agency, if I'm not mistaken). The Twins dumped him on the Tigers for very little return, so I doubt he'll draw much else. My earlier suggestion (Young to the Phils for Polanco and Francisco) might do the trick because the salaries are even, but that depends on the Phillies being interested in Young (unlikely but possible) and Polanco's health after double-hernia surgery and elbow problems.

Oct 19, 2011 06:25 AM
rating: 0
 
DetroitDale

They also won't be paying Brad Penny next year, which helps offset some of the extra Verlander money, They could still put up about $20M to get Reyes but about 6 other teams can and will too, that's going to be a big bidding war. Jimmy Rollins would be a decent consolation prize for losing the Reyes bidding war. I really hope they have the good sense not to trade Jacob Turner. They're going to need more than one solid ace to be more than the leper with the most fingers in the AL Central.

Oct 19, 2011 06:38 AM
rating: 0
 
ColonelTom

Penny's salary is eaten up by salary raises already committed to others (Valverde $2M, Cabrera $1M, etc.).

Oct 19, 2011 11:50 AM
rating: 0
 
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