Friday, July 24, 2015

The Detroit Tigers' dilemma

After such a quick start to the season, including 6-0 and 11-2 records, the wheels appear to have fallen off the Motown baseballers. The high expectations have been all but completely dashed.

The Tigers are over 10 games behind AL Central Division leading Kansas City, and it should probably be even more. Theoretically, Detroit remains in the wild-card hunt for post-season play, but only because the American League has precious few "quality" teams. The rest are all lumped together in the world of "parity". Also theoretically, the Tigers could wind up not only out of the playoffs but finish in the cellar of their own division. Besides being 5 games behind Minnesota for second, they're only a game and a half ahead of Cleveland for fourth, and a mere two games ahead of the White Sox -- the current cellar dwellers. With over 60 games to go, things could swing either way for the Tigers. Of late, they've been finding a way to lose games rather than win them -- and that against sub -.500 teams. Not a good omen.

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching (July 31), much has been made in Detroit (mostly by their sports media) about what the Tigers should do. Basically, it comes down to three choices. Buy, sell, or stand pat. But actually it's not quite that simple.

If the Tigers decide to buy -- who can they purchase and, more importantly, how? If you want a difference making player in a trade, you have to give up something in return. What do the Tigers have to offer? Prospects? They don't have any. They've gutted their farm system for years in "win now" mode, but it hasn't happened. Who do they have that would be attractive to another team? Victor Martinez? He's getting old and is good for one thing and one thing only. A DH. He can't field, throw, or run. Ian Kinsler has a hefty contract and is on the back side of his bell curve. J. D. Martinez has been quite the surprise with his bat -- so the Tigers likely wouldn't want to let him go. Miguel Cabrera is likely untouchable. Third baseman Nick Castellanos is hitting .240, on pace for maybe 10 home runs and 60 RBIs, and average at best fielding his position. Most clubs would expect much more out of a starting third baseman. So who else do the Tigers have with value? Andrew Romine, Rajai Davis, or Anthony Gose? Please. Anybody in the bullpen? Pretty please. Former ace Justin Verlander has yet to win a single game this year and has a whopper long-term contract to boot. No other team would touch him.

They could stand pat with their current roster, but that's likely to change anyway after this season. Star pitcher David Price will be a free agent, as will left fielder Yoenis Cespides. This isn't exactly Price's first rodeo. Though he continues to say all the right things, Price has been around long enough to fully comprehend the current and likely future plight of the Tigers. One way or the other, Price is going to get a mega-contract with somebody, because he's definitely proven he's an ace pitcher and is in the prime of his career agewise. The question then becomes -- why would he stick around with the Tigers rather than go to a legitimate contender that has a decent chance of winning a championship for the next few years? Besides the money, isn't that what all ballplayers want? As a free agent, it's totally his call.

That leaves the "sell" option, and the Tigers might as well. True, if they got rid of a few star players their fans would likely not be happy. They've become used to at least seeing their team being contenders. But there comes a time when hard business decisions have to be made, regardless of how unpopular they are. Overall, there is little question the Tigers are trending down with no help in sight.

To owner Mike Ilitch's credit, the pizza man hasn't shied away from spending big bucks trying to bring a World Series championship to Detroit. They've had some great runs over the years, but the title has always remained just out of reach. Some things just aren't meant to be. The Ford family that has long owned the Detroit Lions are well aware of that concept -- or at least they should be. Between the Lions and the Tigers it's been a whopping 88 years and counting since a championship was brought to Detroit. And it doesn't look to happen any year soon -- for either team.

Bottom line? The Tigers might as well blow it up and start over. A local columnist recently made an astute observation regarding that possibility. He said at least the fans could quit hoping for a while. Nothing is worse than people getting their hopes up every year, only to be disappointed in the end. (It should be noted said columnist was leading the hype parade for years, but has recently flip-flopped like the former never happened). Would the Tigers' attendance at the ballpark suffer? Probably. But that matters little. Given the enormous amount of TV money and other revenue sources major league clubs continue to have pourng in, it's not like one of them is going to go broke if they start building again from scratch. Not being a contender for a few years isn't the end of the world. Ask the Chicago Cubs. The Boston Celtics are in total rebuild mode. They'll be back in due time, because such a proud franchise never stays down for long. And the fans of both these teams remain loyal. Sell-outs every game, even though the fans know their team has little or no chance to be contenders.

In their current state, the Tigers have little chance at success and will likely continue to spiral downward. Their window of opportunity has all but closed while other teams are on the rise. Such is the nature of the game. Some come out of nowhere to become champions (see the San Francisco Giants, L. A. Kings, Seattle Seahawks and Golden State Warriors of late) while others seem to be perennial bridesmaids.

And all the hype in the world will never change it. Hype is for suckers, and the media uses it well to prey on gullible fans.

But they don't play the games -- do they?

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