Cleat Geeks

3-2 Count; Detroit Tigers

The dust has long settled from a tumultuous 2017 season for the Detroit Tigers. With the benefit of hindsight, some questions have clear answers. But with the rebuilding road ahead littered with uncertainty, others do not.

Three Questions: In Hindsight

How great of a return did the Tigers receive for the trades they made?

Image result for jeimer candelario tigersThat depends on the trade you’re talking about. For their trades with the Cubs and Astros, they did very well. Justin Wilson and Alex Avila turned into the Tigers’ third baseman of the future (Jeimer Candelario) and a candidate to man the middle infield in a few years (Isaac Paredes, MLB Pipeline’s #9 overall prospect for the club). Justin Verlander, for all of his loyal service to the Tigers, turned into three great Astros prospects, including Baseball America’s #54 prospect Juan Perez (MLB Pipeline’s #1 overall prospect for the club) and potential future centerfielder Daz Cameron (Tigers’ #5 overall prospect), son of former Major Leaguer Mike Cameron. They fared well in these trades, as they’ve loaded them well for the future at these positions.

The J.D. Martinez trade with the Diamondbacks, however, is a bit more murky. While they received return for a player they were certain to lose in the off-season, it’s debatable as to whether or not it was the best return they could have gotten for the slugging Martinez. Out of the trio the Tigers received, only one (IF Dawel Lugo, #15) registers in the club’s top 30 prospects list. If Lugo or any of the other two prospects receives becomes an everyday player at the Major League level, then the Tigers win the trade. But this will be harder said than done based on the talent ahead of them.

Was firing Brad Ausmus the right decision?

I think so. Say what you will about the players underperforming and injuries hampering what was once an effective lineup, but there’s more to it than that.

Look at the 2014 season. A lineup including a healthy Miguel Cabrera, an effective Victor Martinez, a resurgent J.D. Martinez, and a solid Ian Kinsler, among others. A starting rotation including Justin Verlander, David Price, and Max Scherzer, supplemented by a then-effective Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. An offense expected to carry the team through the playoffs, laden by an ineffective bullpen, found itself out in the cold after the first round at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles.

Throughout his tenure in Detroit there were questionable decisions made by Ausmus that cost the team games. Struggling players and pitchers continued to receive reps in hopes that their struggles would just disappear. When the team looked uninspired he never wanted to lay into them, to light a fire underneath them a la Jim Leyland. It never seemed as though he entirely had the team.

Yes, his hands were tied by albatross contracts that made certain ineffective pieces impossible to move. Yes, he wasn’t to blame for the players he had at his disposable. But he did not always do the best with what he was given. There was no future with Ausmus at the helm. It didn’t seem as though there was ever going to be. The club was right to move on from him.

Would it have been necessary to begin the rebuild in 2017 if injuries were not a factor? Do you agree with the decision to rebuild?

Injuries played a very minimal part in the rebuild. Yes, Miguel Cabrera was playing hurt most of the year. J.D. Martinez missed the first month of the season. But neither of these were enough to spur the rebuild on their own. Also noteworthy, most injuries occurred late in the season, after the decision to rebuild had been made.

The rebuild was more brought about by players like J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, and Justin Verlander, among others, showing their capabilities, making them marketable to buyers that could afford them. And the Tigers reaped the benefits. Players of their caliber and position were in-demand for borderline and certain contenders and they capitalized on their needs.

But overall I agree with the decision to rebuild. It was inevitable and it was wise to hit the reset button when they did, as return would have been either lower or (in the case of J.D. Martinez) non-existent had they tarried until the offseason.

Two Questions: The Future

How long will the Tigers have to wait until they are back in the division race?

Photo By: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

That’s hard to predict at this point. Much of the Tigers’ young talent is still at the AA level or below. But there is promise. Arms like Alex Faedo, Matt Manning, Beau Burrows, and Juan Perez look like candidates to fill out the Tigers’ rotation for years to come. Jeimer Candelario leads a young crop of fielders and bats including Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers, Isaac Paredes, Christin Stewart, and Mike Gerber. Out of this group the only real bets to appear in the Major Leagues in 2018 are Candelario, Stewart, and Gerber. The rest are at least a year away, if not more.

With the contracts of Justin Upton and Justin Verlander off of the books, the Tigers are no longer in a salary bind with more than $90 million off of the books. After a couple of years the club will be able to take inventory of what positions are covered by in-house prospects and players and which still need to be filled, at which point they can explore the free agent market to round out the roster.

Overall, I see it as about five years until they are a competitive team again, if all takes the ideal course.

What players should be traded for more prospects? Which should be kept as building blocks?

Keep: Nick Castellanos, Jeimer Candelario, Mikie Mahtook, Michael Fulmer, Dixon Machado

Castellanos is the future offensive spearhead of this club. It was evident in 2016 and confirmed in 2017. Candelario is more than capable on offense and can anchor the hot corner on defense with some of the best in the big leagues. Mahtook proved to be a sparkplug akin to 2016’s Cameron Maybin, but with more sound defense. Machado is a capable middle infielder with ability to start at either second base or shortstop. And Fulmer is a crown jewel for the club. Injuries proved to be bothersome for the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year but he’s still the man to head the young rising rotation for the Tigers in the coming years.

Shop: Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, Jordan Zimmermann

Ian Kinsler is the easiest on this list to move. He’s a very solid defensive second baseman who can reach base, score runs, and hit for power. Any borderline contender or contending team in need of an upgrade could take advantage of his services. But this is contingent upon Kinsler waiving his no-trade clause, which is easier now given the direction in which the club is headed.

Martinez, Sanchez, and Zimmermann are all hard sells, both for contract size and recent performance. All come with injury and medical issues from 2017 as well. Martinez has a 14-team market, as he’s only able to play as a DH. He’s largely immobile on the base paths and does not move well enough to play the field. Along with heart issues, that’s a hard package to sell. Zimmermann showed flashes of brilliance, only to be far outweighed by outings of constant hard contact and many runs surrendered. Sanchez looked like his old self down the stretch, but was largely battered around in 2017, enough so that he took it upon himself to return to AAA to hone is craft. Sanchez would be easiest to move out of the bunch given his showings of effectiveness.

On the fence: Miguel Cabrera, Jose Iglesias, Shane Greene

Cabrera is hard to move, largely due to the size of his contract. As well, he is more susceptible to injuries, making him a candidate to become a full-time DH in the near future, limiting his market to 14 teams, like Martinez. His injury history is a tough sell as well. Iglesias is still young and is serviceable to the Tigers with sound defense and mostly reliable offensive production. But prospects working through the system could soon be lobbying to take his place. Greene is only 28 and is the best arm out of the Tigers’ bullpen. He could be the team’s closer as they look to return to relevance, though other teams may come calling if they need a player of his caliber. Only if the offer is one they cannot refuse should the Tigers listen and consider doing a deal.



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