On December 9th, a Tigers fan named CameronK200II984* logged on to SB Nation and, in the comments of a Grant Brisbee post, laid out his audacious plan for the Detroit Tigers to lock up the AL Central. Audacious is the wrong word. Insane? Unhinged? No. Not…quite…right. Oh, right, I got it: Prophetic.
Crucial to the theory of an infinite universe/multiverse is the idea that, with a finite number of ways for atoms to arrange themselves, and infinite opportunities for such arrangements to occur, all possible worlds exist. There is a world, then, exactly like ours, all the way up to December 9th; every grain of sand exactly as in this one, every person who ever lived exactly as has ever lived in ours. But in that world, every single one of CameronK200II984's proposals actually happened. In that world, the 2014 offseason won't be remembered for the Dexter Fowler trade or the Tim Hudson signing. It'll be remembered for the sequence of trades that landed the Tigers practically every good player in baseball.
This is that universe, retrieved through a variety of contemporary accounts.
Account 1. Tick-tock of Dombrowski's offseason, excerpted from long feature in ESPN the Magazine:
Finally, after staring at the yellow post-it for what felt like hours, Al Avila looked back up. “I don’t get it,” he said.
“Of course you don’t get it,” Dave Dombrowski told him. “You’re only seeing part of the plan. That’s just step one.”
“Seems like a lot, for a reliever,” he told Dombrowski.
“Whoa! Okay, wow, well okay. And so you need Melancon to send to Florida in that…”
“No, dummy, we’re keeping Melancon.”
“So… who are you … how does Melancon…”
“With… Melancon? With Melancon and Stanton?”
“And who do we give up?”
“Nobody. That’s the beauty of it. Jackson and Martinez, Porcello eventually, but otherwise nobody. Don Kelly. Bunch of lousy minor leaguers. And then we sign a bunch of players, too. Terrible players, some of them, and we sign them for no reason. So we trade for all those guys and we sign a bunch of players, some of whom are terrible. And we move Ian Kinsler to third base. And all of that leads to the best part: Once we get all these players, every single one of them has the best year of his career. And every other player we already had has the best year of his career. And we win 117 games.”
Dombroski smiles. He brushes some dirt of his shoulders, not actual dirt but metaphorical dirt.
Avila tries to fight his way through the migraine and blurry vision that have overtaken him. He’s gasping, grasping for anything on which to get purchase. And then something hits him.
“Second base! You said Kinsler is at third, so what about second base?”
Dombrowski smiles. “You silly bitch. Don’t worry about second base.”
Account 2. Tigers/Marlins trade, analyzed in a blog post published on regional newspaper web site.
I did word clouds for Marlins fans' reactions to the Giancarlo Stanton/Jose Fernandez/Steve Cishek-for-Nick Castellanos/Devon Travis/Rick Porcello/Casey Crosby trade at Fish Stripes and Tigers fans' reactions at Bless You Boys. I don't think I'll need to tell you which is which. (Click on them for a larger view.)
My favorite word from the Marlins chart: sriracha. My favorite from the Tigers side is probably lololololololololololol.
Account 3. Letter of resignation submitted by White Sox GM Rick Hahn following trade of Chris Sale to Tigers
Dear Mr. Reinsdorf,
I am writing to inform you of two developments. One is that I have traded Chris Sale. Before you read about it elsewhere, I should give you the pertinent details, many of which will bother you. I have traded him to the Tigers, firstly. I understand that the Tigers are a division opponent of ours and that the general rule is that we don’t make intra-division trades unless they are
slam dunks home runs. I felt it was important to make this trade quickly, though, because at the time I was pecking in the dirt outside, looking for grubs to eat. So, to the Tigers. I have traded him for nothing of much use, secondly. Don Kelly is part of the package, for instance. Don Kelly is a large part of the package.
You will ask why I traded Chris Sale to the Detroit Tigers for Don Kelly, Andy Dirks, a Double-A left-fielder, and an undersized, right-handed minor-league reliever with terrible control problems. And this goes to the second important development. I feel it is best that I resign, effective immediately, from my position as General Manager, as it is becoming increasingly clear to me and those around me that, despite the generally excellent job I have heretofore done as a White Sox employee, I am a Rhode Island Red hen, or perhaps a Welsummer. Maybe a Barnevelder. It’s not important. The point is that the evidence suggests that I’m a fowl bred for the production of meat and/or eggs. I peck randomly at phone and computer keys. Thusly, mistakes like these are inevitable.
Whose fault is it that I am and have been a hen for the 14 years that the White Sox have employed me? Maybe it’s mine. I can’t say. Maybe it’s yours. This perhaps goes to a fundamental mystery of self-evaluation; are we best understood through our own subjectivity or through the observations of others? For that matter, now that we have established that I am pecking at these keys randomly, and that the apparent pattern they form (as words) is a product of chance rather than design, we must ask whether I am really a chicken. If these keys are being typed accidentally by a senseless beast who has no ability to self-reflect on his own identity, I suppose it is just as likely that I am a goose, or a loris, or an unattended toddler, or a leak dripping through the ceiling at semi-random intervals onto a very sensitive keyboard. What I’m saying is that all actions I’ve taken are randomly derived, I am a very unreliable narrator, and maybe a chicken has been running your ball club. Regardless, don’t blame the Tigers. It’s not their fault.
Rick Hahn (Chicken)
Account 4. Collection of player reactions to simultaneously announced Jose Bautista/Matt Kemp/Hanley Ramirez trades, collected by other-universe Buzzfeed:
— Matt Kemp (@TheRealMattKemp) December 9, 2013
This just happened 10minutes ago
— Jose Bautista (@JoeyBats19) December 9, 2013
If Kemp can be your MVP (which he clearly can) then there's no question Bautista should be. Now I'm mad and off to dinner.
I have been on twitter so much today following these trades my phone is on its 3rd charge. Oh and candy crush.
WTH… Woke up sweating & shocked!!!! Had a crazy, crazy, crazy DREAM/NIGHTMARE that I got traded… I want to go back to sleep!!!! #NoBueno
— Matt Kemp (@TheRealMattKemp) October 25, 2011
— Jose Bautista (@JoeyBats19) October 25, 2011
— Torii Hunter (@toriihunter48) March 26, 2014
I woke up today and remembered we are going to the WORLD SERIES! #tigers
— Drew Smyly (@SmylyD) October 19, 2012
Ahhhhh!!! What a feeling!! Can't wait to get my hands on this trophy!!
It was fun 2 get back on the field 2day! Jus want 2 say thanks 2 all the true LA fans for your support! This next month should b fun.
— Matt Kemp (@TheRealMattKemp) August 30, 2013
— Jose Bautista (@JoeyBats19) February 20, 2014
I almost spilled salsa on my balls! http://t.co/vnojP71hLx
— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) March 26, 2014
Account 5. Blog post imagining the alternate universe where unrealistic trade proposals suggested by online commenter are actually some kind of prophecy
On March 3rd, a Tigers fan named CameronK200II984** logged on to Bless You Boys and posted his audacious plan for the Detroit Tigers to lock up the AL Central and win 114 games. Audacious is the wrong word. Insane? Unhinged? No. Not…quite…right. Oh, right, I got it: Prophetic.
Crucial to the theory of infinite multiverses is the idea that, with a finite number of ways for atoms to arrange themselves, and infinite opportunities for such arrangements to occur, all possible worlds exist. There is a world, then, exactly like ours, all the way up to March 3rd; every grain of sand exactly as in this one, every person who ever lived exactly as has ever lived in ours. But in that world, every single one of CameronK200II984's proposals actually happened. In that world, the 2014 offseason won't be remembered for the Fernandez/Stanton/Cishek trade or the fleecing of White Sox chicken/GM Rick Hahn. It'll be remembered for the sequence of moves in which the Tigers acquired Chase Headley, Jake Peavy, and Craig Breslow, then signed practically every single player on their roster to an unnecessarily long extension.
This is that universe, retrieved through a variety of contemporary accounts.
Account 6. Baseball Prospectus Transaction Analysis
And so, as the Tigers reach the end of the most staggering offseason we’ve ever seen, they top things off with a couple cherries and a bit of nuts.
Scherzer’s deal is the more intriguing of the two extensions. He’s coming off a Cy Young season, has more strikeouts than Justin Verlander over the past two years, and has more wins since 2012 than any pitcher in baseball—by a margin of three, no less. He’s seven months away from hitting free agency as a 29-year-old. Yet he agreed to a deal that pays him less than Cole Hamels got in a similar position two years ago; that pays him about as much as Johan Santana got six years ago, before baseball’s broadcast bubble, when wins cost 70 cents on the dollar.
Why? Presumably the Tigers’ offseason was a factor. Not only have the Tigers demonstrated that they are all in to win, but in doing so have exposed half the league as being self-destructive. How can Scherzer count on a big offer from the Dodgers after they fire-sold Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp? The White Sox, the Blue Jays, the Orioles, all middle-class teams, are shedding even reasonable contracts—how could Scherzer not see that as an ominous sign that the market is about to collapse? The only thing worse than being the last to buy in a bubble is being the last to sell before it pops.
They say no team can ever have too much pitching, but Detroit can already anticipate the effects of a rotation crunch: Come October, one of Anibal Sanchez, Chris Sale, Jose Fernandez, Justin Verlander, or Max Scherzer will need to be benched. Perhaps Sanchez will move into the bullpen and become a $16 million longman. All five pitchers are under club control through at least 2018, after which Sanchez and Fernandez can be free agents.
(The Tigers’ statement on the extension, if you’re into official statements that everybody ignores:
“The Detroit Tigers have made a substantial, long-term contract extension offer to Max Scherzer that will place him among the highest-paid pitchers in baseball, and the offer was accepted. As we have reiterated, it has been the organization’s intent to extend Max’s contract and keep him in a Tigers uniform well beyond the 2014 season. This offer accomplished that. The ballclub’s focus remains on the start of the upcoming season, and competing for a World Championship.”)
Cabrera’s extension is a bit more predictable, as Cabrera locks in huge salaries through his entire 30s and gets one more massive payday without the risk of waiting two more seasons to get it through free agency. It’s hard to fault any team for extending a player coming off back-to-back MVPs, but in this extension you can sort of see how the Tigers' plan could conceivable burn them. The Tigers will carry a payroll of about $225 million this year, far more than they’ve ever had but, thanks to their ability to trade for pre-arb and pre-free agency superstars, and to get the Dodgers to pick up almost all of Matt Kemp’s salary, not outlandish. But they’ve already committed $189 million to the 2016 roster—a roster that will be without a catcher, left fielder, second baseman, bullpen or bench. And they’ve already committed $175 million to the 2018 roster, which could be without a DH or, for all we know, any working ligaments in the starting rotation.
And where will the Tigers go to fill all those empty roster spots? Certainly not the farm, which has been scored, burned, salted, nuclearized for the next generation or more. Probably not from trade, unless Dombrowski can continue to convince other GMs to trade young superstars for C- minus prospects and veteran bench players. For Detroit’s sake, hope they don’t ultimately go to the same bin that they found Polanco in.
Now, let's be clear: The Tigers' offseason was monumental. If we imagine a universe where they had made none of the flurry of moves after December 9th—if they had Victor Martinez at DH instead of Stanton; Alex Avila catching instead of Wieters; Kinsler at second instead of Uggla, and Nick Castellanos at third instead of Kinsler; Rajai Davis in the outfield instead of Jose Bautista; Austin Jackson in center instead of Matt Kemp; Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello in the rotation instead of Fernandez and Sale; and Ian Krol, Phil Coke, Casey Crosby, Jose Ortega, and Al Alburquerque in the bullpen instead of Steve Cishek, Frankie Rodriguez, Jesse Crain, Smyly and Melancon—we can run a projection of what that team would be expected to do: 86 wins. PECOTA projects the post-flurry Tigers to win 108 games. It projects that. That's the mean projection. If things break right, you can imagine this team winning, oh, 117 games. Polanco won't undo any of what Dombroski has put together.
And yet, for a capper, it's a baffling one. Polanco hasn’t played any position but third since 2011 (when he played a single inning at second), so he’s got no utility. In the two seasons since his final inning at second base, he has baseball’s 10th-worst OPS+ and third-worst isolated power. Against left-handers over the past two years, he’s got a .679 OPS, sandwiched between Darwin Barney and Jeff Mathis, so there’s no hope that he’ll pinch-hit for anybody. Presumably, the Tigers envision him as a defensive replacement late in games, pushing Kinsler back to second base from the eighth inning on and getting Dan Uggla off the field. No doubt, this will go over sparklingly with Kinsler and Uggla.
And for this extremely limited vision the Tigers offered two guaranteed years to Polanco. The Tigers’ offseason was incredible. It was inspired. It was outlandish. It sets Detroit up to challenge for the best record in history, to sweep through postseason after postseason. But then you get to the Polanco deal and it makes you think, geez. Maybe whoever orchestrated this offseason had no idea what he was doing.
*2001, 1984. The two prophetiest numbers!
**2001, 1984. The two prophetiest numbers!