Originally published in The Tigers Den Blog | 07 November 2010
The Tigers are pretty shrewd at turning tricks, most notably when obtaining talent via trades. From the acquisitions of Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer last winter to the trade involving Miguel Cabrera in the spring of 2008, the Tigers never seem to give up a ton of young talent, yet somehow receive a giant return on investment (and even in their bust trades, i.e., Edgar Renteria, Aubrey Huff – oddly enough, two huge reasons the Giants just won the World Series last month – they never give up too much talent).
That’s something that every General Manager lives for, but it’s not something many succeed at, and while you don’t want to make bold statements all that often, it’s obvious that the Tigers’ G.M. Dave Dombrowski has certainly employed the right decisions when it comes to making moves involving perspective players.
Contract extensions, however, are another topic altogether. It’s one that Dombrowski hasn’t exactly excelled in over the past few years. Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis, and Carlos Guillen are a few of the players that immediately come to mind when you think about lucrative contracts worth about half of the players projected production (In all, the Tigers spent over $136 million from 2007-2010 on those four players alone).
Now that these homegrown biases that have prevented Dombrowski from competing for free agents in previous years are off the books, the Tigers are primed for a very active offseason. In fact, the Tigers are only committed to seven long term contracts next year, an interesting stat because it allows them to nearly overturn the entire roster if they really wanted to (not that they will, they have many young, talented players who are worth bringing back via arbitration).
The incredible amount of leeway Dombrowski has at his disposal means that he is going to make a big splash in the free agent pool this winter. “You can look forward to a lot of moves this wintertime for our club,” Dombrowski said at the press conference announcing Inge’s contract extension in late October.
With that said, it’s obvious that Owner Mike Illitch is going to allow him to spend and that is obviously nice to hear. When players like Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Adam Dunn, and Victor Martinez became available to any major league baseball team on Sunday, Detroit became as sure as any team to land at least one and hopefully two high profile free agents.
You can look at the Tigers’ Free Agent experiences in one of two ways. You can choose to be comforted by the fact that Dombrowski has gambled and won with players from Magglio Ordonez, to Ivan Rodriguez, and even Johnny Damon, or you can choose to be nervous and say that they have just gotten lucky when they overspent on these Scott Boras clients.
So, as 2010 ages into its eleventh month about as quickly as it takes frost to cover an unprotected vehicle in Detroit, Dombrowski and Co. have some work to do. They’ve made an interesting decision on the left side of their infield by already signed Brandon Inge and are currently attempting to resign Johnny Peralta. They will commit nearly $23m between both players over the next two years, and while you can say that they chose too quickly and committed too much money to a pair of players who are just as likely to hit a combined .220 as they are to hit a combined 50 home runs, you can also say that they want to shore up their infield so they can worry about signing the big fish for the outfield.
The Tigers were lucky last year, sort of. Magglio Ordonez had a solid first half before he injured his ankle in July, and Breakout Brennan Boesch exploded onto the scene and had one of the better two month periods anyone could ever hope to have in major league baseball. The duo covered up the skeletal vulnerability that surrounded Miguel Cabrera for much of the summer, and gave the Tigers a false hope that they had what they needed for right field in the future, and that the nearly $20 million option they picked up on Ordonez was worth it.
Alas, the All Star break arrived and so did the reality of the Tigers situation. Miguel Cabrera was intentionally walked 24 of his 32 times in the second half as Boesch began to struggle, Ordonez went down, and the protection of Cabrera became players like Ryan Raburn and then Jhonny Peralta. While respectable as 6th or 7th place hitters, they couldn’t capitalize batting behind the big boy.
The Tigers have officially declined the option on Ordonez’s contract and aren’t obligated to bat him third anymore (at least, until later this offseason, when they can resign him for much cheaper), and that leaves them open to signing players who are in their prime.
Say what you want about former Boston and Cleveland catcher, Victor Martinez, about his age, his health, or his desire for a four or five year contract; he’s a great offensive catcher in an age where production out of that position usually leaves much to be desired. Martinez is not a defensive commodity, not by a long shot, but Detroit is the perfect situation for him because he can play a few games a week catching, and the rest DH’ing, and all hitting right in front of Miguel Cabrera. With DH turning into more of a flex position, it may limit the Tigers in the long run, but having a professional hitter of his caliber may be worth the cost of limiting their flexibility there.
Peter Gammons has reported that the Tigers and Martinez have already had talks, and the Motor City Bengals are as certainly in the mix for the talent as any other team. From past deals, the Tigers may give him the length and money he wants, and in return they will most likely get an incentive laden deal at the beginning and end. But that is mere speculation, and at this point speculation is about as accurate as a compass sitting next to a magnet.
If Martinez is likely a serious target for the Tigers, the next likely free agent to sign with Detroit is Jayson Werth, formerly of the Philadelphia Phillies (and the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers). While there are many writers and bloggers out there that think the Tigers will try to sign Adam Dunn, they should shy away from him not because he isn’t talented, or because he’s old, but because he’s not the right fit. It makes literally no sense to sign Dunn if they sign Martinez because (a) he wants to be a first baseman and that is filled by a certain large figured Venezuelan (b) Martinez could be signed for 4 or 5 years and therefore be a primary DH in year 3 or 4 and the Tigers can’t have two players who will basically be off the field halfway through their contracts.
Jayson Werth poses a better option because even though he’s 31, he’s a great fielder and won’t be relegated to DH duties at any point during a contract (of course, unless he signs a seven year deal like Scott Boras wants).
He can play the outfield better than anyone, he can plant a seed into Brandon Inge’s awaiting glove from 300 feet away at any given moment, and best of all he can hit right behind Miguel Cabrera and give him the protection that he desperately needs (plus, Detroit City fans won’t mind the 55-65 extra base hits and excellent on base percentage that comes with protecting Cabrera).
The Martinez/Werth combo could be a very serious reality but if Martinez goes to play first base for Buck Showalter in Baltimore like some think he will do a Werth/Dunn combo would be another ideal situation. Alex Avila may have had a difficult year in a platoon situation with Gerald Laird last year, but he does show promise behind the plate, so Dombrowski may not feel the need to overpay for Martinez.
Of course, we haven’t even mentioned Carl Crawford yet, and that’s not because the Tiger’s won’t be interested. They are. They’re planning to make a run at him and money is not an option. But Crawford has mired in Tampa, Florida his entire career; he’s a great defender and will slide in awesomely next to Austin Jackson on the field and in the batting order. But it’s more likely that the Tiger’s won’t sign him because the Boston Red Sox will want him more and will give him like $150 million so he can slap doubles off the green monster (and scoop them up during the opposite side of the inning).
Another reason they won’t sign him, is the Scott Boras angle. Boras represents Werth and Dombrowski has a good history with the mogul (good or bad). Boras gets what he wants most of the time and Detroit will probably give it to him.
It will be an interesting offseason of offensive opportunities for Detroit, but one that will be extremely exciting. The Tigers are relevant again thanks to a lone World Series trip, a (near) perfect game, and a batch of exciting young talent that will excite the motor city for years to come.
If they sign two more players and there may be more to be excited about than one lone World Series trip in their near future.