Much was made of the Detroit Tigers last year. They supposedly had the best starting pitching rotation in all of baseball. Former MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera remained an absolute brute with a bat in his hands.
Victor Martinez had a career year with the bat as well, and the Tigers recently resigned him. J.D. Martinez, who was cut by the lowly Houston Astros, showed up in Detroit and had an out-of-his-mind year.
But time to get down to reality. Cabrera can still hit, but contributes little elsewhere. He's slow and has to play first base because he's incapable of playing anywhere else competently. Victor Martinez is a total defensive liability. He can't play ANY position. And he's even slower on the basepathes. Plus he's getting old. Is it realistic to expect the other Martinez to have more years like the last one? Likely not.
After tearing up the league for a few years, the Fastball Flakes man himself, Justin Verlander, turned in a journeyman-esque 2014 performance. Will he roar back in 2015, or is the soon-to-be 32-year-old showing the first signs of fading? Play long enough and it happens to the best of them. Sometimes quite suddenly.
No word lately on the fate of fellow former Cy Younger Max Scherzer. But remember, Mad Max turned down a whopping $140 million long term contract extension offered by the Tigers last year. Though an incredible amount of money, evidently Scherzer thought he could do better. He certainly turned in another sparkling year, but can the Tigers afford to offer him even more? For that matter, would any other team?
David Price will want a big piece of the pie. Anabel Sanchez is under contract for $17M and, if not traded, Rick Porcello is in line for a big raise.
Also bear in mind that while Major League Baseball has no "salary cap", per se, they do have a strange entity known as the "luxury tax". Right now it sits at $189 million for the total team payroll. Any team that exceeds it (the Yankees have been the worst offenders) has to cough up extra bucks that go to a variety of funds. Even billionaire owners in big markets are loathe to fork over millions of other dollars for which they get no possible return on the field. The Tigers themselves got banged a few years back by overspending, and didn't win squat.
So if a team starts forking out $20 million here, and $20 million there to a select few players, they might find themselves in a financial squeeze trying to fill out the rest of their roster with good players, while staying under the luxury tax threshold.
Sure, they won the AL Central Division again -- barely -- but were exposed in the playoffs getting broomed by the Baltimore Orioles. Best team won. And despite their local hype, it's not like the Tigers don't have some serious holes to fill.
The shortstop position remains unsettled, as does third base and left field. The Tigers themselves have admitted they're in the market for a new every day center fielder, because Rajai Davis isn't quite up to snuff. One can only wonder how long their every day catcher, the beleaguered Alex Avila can last. He's pretty good defensively, not much with the bat, but continues to take a beating behind the plate.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler costs them a pile of money, and he's 32. As bell curves go, Mr. K has likely peaked and is now on the downside of his. With PEDs supposedly out of the equation, it's a rare exception when a player actually gets better after turning the ripe old age of 32 or so. It's the classical paradox in most sports. Just when an athlete has finally mastered the game mentally -- their physical attributes start to gradually erode. They know every possible nuance of their profession, but their bodies won't cooperate like they once did to allow them to do what they want to do. Evidently, God built in his own little bell curve when it comes to such things. Tear it up when you're young, but not have a clue. When you finally figure it all out, Father Time will start dragging you down. And he adds weights every year.
In sum, the Tigers have been heavy with starting pitching, have a couple aging sluggers, and a whole bunch of maybes they hope can come through more often than not. Plus, their bullpen has been a collective nail-biter, to say the least. They're far below average defensively and have little team speed. Also, they're likely to lose Scherzer elsewhere.
Prez and GM Dave Dombrowski can wheel and deal all he wants, but for every "get" there has to be a "give". Contrary to the local hype, there's not a whole lot of promising prospects left down on their "farm". They've either already been called up or traded in other deals.
So unless owner Mike Ilitch is willing to blow by the luxury tax threshold, and throw countless millions into the wind while doing so, yours truly would submit the Tigers' window of opportunity to win their first World Series since 1984 is about to start closing.
There's a lot of factors in play, most of which work against the Tigers. Age, money, and other younger clubs with cheaper payrolls that keep getting better.
Look at it this way. If money could buy a championship, the Yankees and Dodgers would meet in the World Series every year. When's the last time that happened?
Sometimes clubs with lesser payrolls and lesser names just come together and play like junkyard dogs when it counts most.
The irony? Players that become famous on such teams often bail for free agency and the guaranteed mega-bucks another team offers them. And while they get filthy rich, they will never sniff another championship again.