Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tigers Off-Season Could Be Busy

I don't write about the Tigers day-to-day activities much anymore for a few reasons.  First, I don't have as much time as I used to with more demands in my real day-time job.  Then, there are plenty of other blogs such as Bless You Boys, Detroit Tigers Weblog, Motor City Bengals and Walk off Woodward which already cover the Tigers news.  I generally feel there is no need to repeat the news unless I feel they missed an important analytical point.  I prefer to focus on analysis and on teaching of sabermetrics because I feel like that is where I can make a more original contribution. 

Today though, I am going to chime in with some off-season speculation.  First and foremost, the Tigers need lots of bullpen help.  For three straight post-seasons, they have been over matched in the bullpen - there was the deep Rangers pen of 2011, the Jose Valverde meltdown of 2012 and the grand slams of 2013.  Much of what happens in the playoffs is just a matter of a team getting hot at the right time which I think is largely luck. Still, there is a sense that their bullpen has held them back and there likely be a lot of pressure to rectify it.

Like most general managers, Dave Dombrowski does not like to spend a lot on building a bullpen, because reliever performance is too volatile making any money spent a fairly big risk, even moreso than at other positions.  However, the Tigers were probably already in need of an extra reliever before the off-season and now they have lost two more to free agency - closer Joaquin Benoit and veteran Jose Veras.

This leaves the Bengals with lefty Drew Smyly (who may be headed for the starting rotation), righties Al Alburquerque and young fire baller Bruce Rondon (who was still battling an elbow injury at seasons end) as the most trusted remaining relievers.  That's a lot of uncertainty, so I'm expecting them to add two or maybe three proven relievers this winter. 

Dombrowski has already stated that they will make closer a top priority and there are several to be found in the free agent market this year. The best are Grant Balfour and Joe Natan and I'm going to guess that the Tigers sign one of them fairly quickly.  Also available are Benoit (although I get the sense the Tigers see him more as a set up man), Chris Perez, Fernando Rodney and Brian Wilson.

I also expect the Tigers to acquire a left-hander and a right-hander in addition to the closer.  These will likely be less expensive additions and may be acquired via trade or waivers rather than free agency.  However, there are some good possibilities if they go the free agent route including lefties Scott Downs, J.P. Howell, Boone Logan, Javier Lopez and Oliver Perez.  They were rumored to be interested in Lopez at the trading deadline, so keep an eye on that situation.

Right-handed free agent relievers include Matt Belise, Jesse Crain, Latroy Hawkins, Edward Mujica, Francisco Rodriguez  and Joe Smith.  My pick there is Smith with whom the Tigers have become very familiar over his last five years with the Indians.

Another matter of business for the Tigers includes re-signing Omar Infante or finding an alternative second baseman.  The Tigers like rookie Hernan Perez for his defense, but that would leave them potentially with two black holes up the middle.  If they can't resign Infante (and he's probably going to be really expensive in a thin second base market), then they could opt for Mark Ellis or Kelly Johnson.  Ellis is more of a defensive specialist himself, but will likely out hit Perez.  Ellis seems more a fit than Johnson for the Tigers who seem to prefer contact men over low average, high walk hitters.

If the Tigers can't find enough offense at second base, they may look for a more reliable left fielder than Andy Dirks or unproven rookie Nick Castellanos.  The best available outfielders are Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury.  Others include Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson.  Any of these options will be  costly and it's not known how much money the Tigers can spend with so many big contracts already in place or coming up.  You never know with championship-hungry owner Mike Ilitch, but they might have to roll the dice on Castellanos being ready or find someone cheaper in a trade.

If the Tigers do make a major trade to obtain a second baseman or left fielder or both, it will probably involve a starting pitcher.  They are deep in starters and Smyly could be moved to the rotation if a hole opens up.  There has been talk of a Scherzer trade, but the Tigers will be all in to win a championship in 2014, so I can't see them trading one of the top pitchers in the league unless they get multiple major leaguers or major league ready pieces in return.  It's hard to envision that happening since Scherzer has just one more year remaining on his contract.  Big trades are where Dombrowski excels the most though, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could swing something.

I would say it's more likely the Tigers move Rick Porcello or possibility Doug Fister in an effort to get pieces they can't obtain via free agency.  Each has two years left on their contract, so it would seem like a reasonable time to deal them.  Porcello gets a lot of criticism from Tigers fans, but I think he has more trade value than some think.  He's an inning-eating ground-ball pitcher, who never misses a start and his strikeout rate improved significantly last year.  And he's still just 25 years old.  He'll be in high demand if they put him out there.  Fister would have even more value.

One thing the Tigers almost certainly won't be able to do is trade first baseman Prince Fielder.  He'll likely bounce back some next year, but his contract is pretty much un-tradeable and there is a good chance his big body will prevent him from having a long peak.  Like it or not, I think they are stuck with him for a while.  So, let's hope he gets back to being a .900 OPS guy or close to it next year.

While Fielder is likely staying, there are plenty of other ways this could turn unto a busy winter for the Tigers.  Expect the fun to begin shortly.

17 comments:

  1. Spot on, Lee. I expect DD to be very busy. Another name to watch is Nate McLouth. He could fill LF for a year or two, as well as bring some speed to the lumbering lineup.

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  2. They moved on from Pena too so looks like they probably plan to save a lot of money at Catcher by spending nothing and just giving a lot of time to Holaday and James McCann and Ramon Cabrera. I guess we have our 3 backups picked. Still think we need to shake things up quite a bit though but very sure that this will be a very predictable offseason addressing everything as described in the analysis.

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  3. The new TV contracts, which I've heard will provide to each team about $25 million in revenue for the next 7 or 8 years, will probably have a huge impact on the free agent market. The Tigers have a lot of contracts to negotiate this year. This is going to be tough on the team.

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    1. It's only as tough as the GM plans to make it years in advance of it. And ours chose...poorly. And then repeated the same irresponsible money-management mistakes each and every year he has been here.

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  4. The TV money certainly could have an impact. It's a great year to be a free agent - not a big supply, but lots of demand and lots of money. We could see some crazy contracts this off-season.

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  5. I agree with everything here, especially the part about Porcello and/or Fister being the pitcher traded. I'd definitely be less shocked to see one of them moved over Scherzer.

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    1. Scherzer though has a ton of trade value and this could be a year that DD comes up with another one of his big trade ideas. It's anybody's guess as to whether a trade will be made, but you better believe that DD's mind is churning over a variety ways to possibly deal Scherzer. It's just a matter of if he can get whoever he might be targeting.

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  6. Hi Lee: Am I the only person in the world who thinks the Tigers should try to re-sign Peralta? I know DD has gone on record saying they aren't pursuing him, but why? Last year for the Tigers Peralta was second only to Miggy amongst position players in WAR. Despite the 50 game suspension. Is this Biogenesis business such a big deal? Jose Iglesias, despite his fantastic defence ability is a utility player IMHO. He can play SS, 3B, 2B, but he can't hit the ball out of the infield at any position. Cheers, Kevin

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    1. Well the same negative things about Peralta are the same things that every team is concerned about. But since the Tigers know him best it is only natural that they would be in a prime position to field him for another year at the cheapest cost with minimum risk. If they want to do that, the best way they can do that is to posture like they want nothing to do with his cheating butt, and then scrape him off the sidewalk after he gets run-over.

      Not a pretty sight, but technically an option if you don't have a better one.

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  7. You are not the only one. I see a lot of division on this issue. I don't think his not coming back has much to do with biogenesis though. They want to put Iglesias at shortstop and I'm in favor of the move. I believe Iglesias will hit enough to be a regular. He is definitely a slap hitter, but he seems to have an uncanny ability to get infield and bunt hits. He gets out of the batters box incredibly fast, a skill which Jackson has never mastered. If he can maintain his career OPS of .678, I think his defense is more than enough to carry that. If Peralta hit like he did this year every year, he'd be fine, but you never know what you're going to get from him. Will it be the 2013 version or the 2012 version? What I don't want to see though is Perez at second. They can carry one defense-first middle infielder, but not two.

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    2. Why not two defensive middle infielders? Isn't "Gloves up the middle, bats on the corners" a pretty common strategy?

      He hit .300 in 100 games between AA and AAA last year. If he hit .230 for us next year with some plus defense, doesn't that get his WAR at least into a respectable range? If not, what average would you need to see from him?

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  9. Two weak-hitting defensive middle infielders used to be a common strategy when I was a kid, but there aren't a lot of mark Belangers out there anymore!. Avila is mostly defense as well. So, if they are going to carry all of those defense-first players, they are probably going to need to add a better bat somewhere, probably in the outfield. I'd want to see at least a .650 OPS and great defense from Perez. He doesn't walk or hit for power, so he'll probably need to bat .265 to get there..

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    1. His last three years in the MiLB were .677, .636, and .740. Do you think he can't maintain that level in the majors at all or just not yet? Is his defense "great" or just "good"?

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  10. From what I gather, his defense is very good, but not elite like Iglesias. Yes, I think he could hit .650+ in the majors eventually. The problem is that Iglesias is not a sure thing either, so you could end up with two guys that are really weak hitters in the starting line-up. I do like defense, but I'd feel better if they got Ellis (who can also field) as a stop gap until they learn more about the two kids.

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    1. I hear ya, but I'm ok with risking it. Defense doesn't slump, so even if they flirt with Mendoza, we'd still be good enough to be right in the thick of things by the time the trade deadline rolls around. We can do something about it then if we need to.

      To me, it seems like 2B and LF should be very distant priorities compared to the bullpen. Whatever money we have available should be used to bring in *at least* 3 quality relievers. I don't care if any of them are "closers" or not, but we definitely need an influx of reliable arms.

      You can't win the WS without getting a few pleasant surprises, so I'm comfortable with hoping that Perez, Iglesias, and Dirks/Castellanos hold their own. At least one of them probably will, there's a good chance two will, and maybe all the stars line up and we get all three.

      The bullpen, on the other hand... all the wishing in the world won't help there. That's just gonna take money.

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