Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Major League Baseball’

It’s Time For Ilitch, Dombrowski To Admit Defeat

You can’t blame Mike Ilitch for wanting to win. The 85-year-old pizza magnate has owned the Detroit Tigers franchise since 1992 but has seen just eight winning seasons, half of which have come in the last four seasons. His franchise is starved for another championship; the loyal fanbase in Detroit has waited more than 30 years for a World Series title.

So what was his solution? Throw money at the problem.

Over the past few years, Ilitch and Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski have gained the reputation of spending big to win ASAP. Since the beginning of the 2008 season, the Tigers have had top 10 team payrolls each season, and have been in the top five in six of those years. Among the contracts that the Tigers have taken on since 2008 include:

  • Up to eighteen years of Miguel Cabrera’s services for just over $300 million in base pay, and potentially $60 million more
  • A total of up to 11 years and $220 million for Justin Verlander
  • Five years and $80 million, with a $16 million club option for Anibal Sanchez
  • Four years and $68 million for aging designated hitter Victor Martinez
  • Nine years and $214 million for Prince Fielder, to whom the Tigers will be paying a total of $150 million from 2016 through 2020 following his trade to the Texas Rangers

These contracts have brought in and kept some of the best players in baseball – stars that a team can build around. These contracts also become burdensome once a player begins to show signs of wear and regression. Contracts like Verlander’s seven-year, $180 million deal and Cabrera’s eight-year, $248 million deal are signed when the player is in his prime and providing the most value to a team. As the players age, develop injuries that suddenly take longer to heal (see Verlander’s core muscle, or Cabrera’s legs), and begin to slow down, their values decrease and the money gets tied up into paying former stars on their falls from glory. It’s at this point that teams like the Tigers cannot unload these contracts, better players are harder to sign without the financial flexibility, and the team begins to struggle.

This is where the Detroit Tigers currently reside.

To their credit, the Tigers have been one of the most successful teams in Major League Baseball since the start of the 2011 season, winning 366 games as of the start of the 2015 season. All four seasons resulted in playoff appearances, including a World Series appearance in 2012.

But none of those appearances ended with a parade down Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit. For a team with the star power that they possessed, not winning a championship meant that they failed as a team. Their best shot came in 2012 when Cabrera became the first hitter to win the Triple Crown since 1967, Fielder hit 30 home runs and posted his only .300 batting average, and Verlander led the league in strikeouts and ERA+ while finishing second in Cy Young Award voting. But after defeating the New York Yankees to win the American League pennant, the heavily favored Tigers were swept by the San Francisco Giants. Their strategy was to spend big to win big, and it had failed.

So Ilitch and Dombrowski doubled down. They re-signed Sanchez, inked Torii Hunter to a two-year, $26 million deal, and signed Verlander to his $180 million extension. After losing to the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS in the 2013 postseason, the Tigers gave Cabrera the richest contract in baseball history at the time, traded Fielder for Ian Kinsler, and traded for David Price midway through the season. Another failure – this time a first-round sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles.

The theme here is that throwing money at the problem has not worked.

Now, the Tigers are stuck watching the likes of Alfredo Simon, Shane Greene, and (until recently) Joba Chamberlain try to bring Detroit back to the promised land. The Tigers offense has done its job for the most part, with Cabrera hitting .350 to lead the league, Jose Iglesias and J.D. Martinez making their first All-Star team, and Yoenis Cespedes providing some pop in the middle of the order. However, outside of Price and Joakim Soria, the pitching staff has been mediocre at best. As a result, the team sits at 44-44 at the All-Star break, nine games back of the Kansas City Royals and 3.5 games out of the second wild card spot.

Meanwhile, the Tigers farm system is ranked as one of the worst in the league with few glimmers of hope waiting in the wings. No “next in line” top-flight starter is in their system, no future face of the franchise is waiting to be called up – and the worst part about it is that likely won’t change anytime soon.

The reason is two-pronged: finding a team to take one or some of the Tigers’ massive contracts of their hands is highly unlikely, and the front office is too obstinate to find out. Barring another Fielder-Kinsler deal, finding a trade partner for a contract like Sanchez’s or Victor Martinez’s will be difficult, as teams don’t typically look for long-term solutions at the trade deadline. It’s not even worth mentioning moving Verlander or Cabrera. It’ll never happen.

But some Tigers could find themselves elsewhere by August. Heading up to the July 31 trade deadline, the Tigers could move Cespedes, Soria, or even Price – but that’s if the front office wants to. Dombrowski has stated several times in recent weeks that he believes the Tigers are still in contention and can once again reach the playoffs, meaning the likelihood that one or more of the aforementioned trade chips leaves is small. Keeping these players for the rest of the season means that the rebuilding process of the minor leagues can’t begin, and the cycle of throwing money at the problem continues.

The time has come for Ilitch and Dombrowski to admit defeat and start anew. As their aging stars continue to command absurdly large paychecks, gambles like Simon, Greene, Chamberlain, etc. will continue to roll into the clubhouse. Some may pay off – look at J.D. Martinez and Iglesias – but until the contracts of Cabrera, Verlander, Kinsler, Fielder, Sanchez, and Victor Martinez come off the books, the Tigers front office will be almost entirely dependent on their stars to carry the team well past their primes.

After four years of strong baseball without a World Series title, the Tigers’ run may be at its end, its window for bringing a championship back to the Motor City closing. But the residual effects of the contracts offered by Ilitch and Dombrowski and the money paid to eventual fallen stars may very well linger throughout the rest of the decade in the form of mediocrity and missed playoffs.

Advertisements

Heyward Trade The Latest In Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak’s String Of Brilliant Deals

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak did what he does best on Monday. By acquiring right fielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden from the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, Mozeliak directly filled one dire need while indirectly addressing several others at the same time. The trade may have cost the Cardinals some young pitching talent, but it will likely result in the team making fewer moves and taking on fewer risks to build a championship-caliber team for 2015.

Read more…

Detroit Tigers Spending Habits Have Dangerous Precedence

November 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Detroit Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski stated earlier in the week that bringing designated hitter Victor Martinez back to Detroit was his “top priority.”

Mission accomplished.

Martinez inked a four-year, $68 million deal on Wednesday, securing the team’s best hitter from 2014 and providing Miguel Cabrera with the lineup protection that he needs. The Martinez deal means that the middle of the Tigers lineup should remain strong through the 2018 season — even with Martinez at age 39 and Cabrera at age 35 at the conclusion of 2018.

With two aging stars, though, the major concerns obviously lie with their ability to maintain the skill level that earned them their large contracts. Major League Baseball players typically reach their peak in their late twenties, and see substantial decline by their late thirties.

Read more…

Are The Tigers Losing With Their “Win Now” Approach?

November 9, 2014 Leave a comment

The Kansas City Royals’ miraculous run through the 2014 MLB playoffs exposed baseball fans across the country to the idea that, contrary to popular belief, a team could win in today’s game in a small market. A team could spend multiple first-round picks across several years and build a truly homegrown lineup and have success.

Meanwhile, over in Detroit, the Tigers could only sit and watch as the team they pulled away from late in the season to win their fourth consecutive American League Central Division title pushed the San Francisco Giants to Game 7 of the World Series. The Tigers had put together a team full of recognizable names — Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, and so forth — and spent a lot of money in the process to end up being swept out of the American League Division Series by the Baltimore Orioles.

One team’s small-market success by no means defines a trend or proves one system better than another, but the question is worth asking: do the Tigers have the right approach in building their team?

Read more…

An Open Letter To MLB Baserunners

October 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Dear Major League Baseball baserunners,

I admire your athletic ability, your grit, and the skills it takes to face (and occasionally succeed against) the best pitchers the sport has to offer. I can only dream of being able to hit a 95 mile per hour fastball out of the infield let alone out of the park. In short, I’m impressed.

However, there’s one thing that bothers me more than just about anything when watching an MLB game, and it involves baserunning. Yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more hustle running out grounders, and maybe some more stolen bases, but that’s not what this is about. I’ll put it loud and clear, so there’s no beating around the bush:

STOP SLIDING HEADFIRST INTO FIRST BASE!

I say this for two reasons, one logical and one scientific. I’ll start with my favorite: the logical. You slide into second and third base for the specific reason that you can’t overrun those bases like you can first base and home plate. Sliding into those bases gets you to the base quicker while also giving you more contact points to the base as your body slides over the bag.

Compare that to having to slow down and come to a complete stop at second or third base without sliding. Which would you rather do? Slide, of course.

But imagine you could run through those bases. All it would take is a dead sprint at the base – beat the fielder there and you’re safe, simple as that. Still want to slide?

That’s exactly what first base is. You beat the ball/fielder to the bag and you’re safe. So why would you slide?

Let’s move on to the scientific side of this, and to help, I’ll enlist the ESPN Sport Science experts to demonstrate. Take a look:

Sport Science: Run Or Slide?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes

As you can see just from the screenshot ESPN decided to use, running through the bag gets you to first base quicker than sliding headfirst. The 50 percent deceleration you see occurs when the runner leaves his feet and loses the propulsion from his feet. By running through the base, you get one more step – one more opportunity – to push off your feet and make one more lunge toward first.

So take it, please.

You have likely heard about the most recent inspiration for this: Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer slid into first base in an attempt to beat out a double play in the fourth inning of Game 7 against the San Francisco. After originally being ruled safe, the call was later reversed and Hosmer was doubled up.

The play was so close that it begged the question: would Hosmer have been safe running through the bag? Obviously we’ll never know, but take into account the 10 milliseconds difference (on average – Hosmer looked like he hit the dirt a little too far in front of first, which theoretically would have slowed him down more) that Hosmer lost by sliding, and the Royals’ fourth inning could have been completely different. Who knows, maybe Kansas City would be planning a World Series parade for Friday instead of San Francisco.

In closing, please never forget how much I love your sport, and that now that the World Series is over, we as fans must now wait four excruciatingly long months for the glorious day that competitive baseball returns. But when it does, please, please make it a point to rid yourself of this bad habit. It’ll make me, as well as countless other baseball fans across the world, much happier.

Cordially yours,

Scott

 

Cardinals Clutch Hitting Woes More Damaging Than Shaky Bullpen

October 19, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s easy to say that St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s usage of his bullpen was the main reason that the his team lost in just five games to the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series.

In many ways, it’s a fair argument – Matheny made several questionable decisions when it came to his bullpen, and he saw the immediate results when his relievers either lost the lead or lost the game in four of the five games against the Giants. Matheny’s misuse of his bullpen was capped off by the series-winning three-run home run that Travis Ishikawa launched into the right field stands off of Michael Wacha, who entered the ninth inning of the a must-win game for the Cardinals having not pitched in over three weeks. Standing in the Cardinal bullpen just beyond first base ready to go were lefty Randy Choate (who could have faced lefties Ishikawa and shortstop Brandon Crawford) as well as righty Seth Maness (whose uncanny ability to induce double plays has been invaluable to the Cardinals the last two years). Instead, Matheny chose to stick with Wacha, who ultimately gave up the series-clinching home run.

Throw in a couple of other poor choices – leaving Choate in after walking Crawford in the tenth inning of Game 3, and Matheny’s quick hook of both Maness and All-Star Pat Neshek, and there’s no doubt that the bullpen played a large part of the untimely demise of the Cards’ World Series hopes.

But don’t pin this all on Matheny. The Cardinals offense failed to put their team in a position to win without unnecessary drama from the Matheny and the bullpen.

Read more…

St. Louis Cardinals 2014 Season Preview

Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals put together an incredible season that far exceeded many expectations. The Redbirds set an all-time record for batting average with runners in scoring position (.330), which was key to scoring runs in an offense that ranked 27th in the majors in home runs (125). Meanwhile, the pitching staff saw several young arms emerge from the farm system. Rookies Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Michael Blazek, Kevin Butler, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, Tyler Lyons, John Gast, and Michael Wacha all saw playing time in 2013, and all made meaningful contributions to the team.

2013 could easily have been a disaster for the Cardinals, but somehow they were able to hit and pitch their way to a 97-65 record, tying the Boston Red Sox for the best regular season record in the big leagues. The Cards rode that momentum to a National League pennant, and held a 2-1 lead in the World Series before losing to the aforementioned Red Sox. All in all, the season was a rousing success for the Cardinals, although anyone in the organization would probably tell you otherwise after falling short of a championship.

Entering 2014, the expectations are high. With major league experience–as well as valuable playoff experience–their young arms are expected to carry the load alongside veterans Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, and Lance Lynn. Offensively and defensively, the team has upgraded in multiple positions from a few wise offseason moves. However, power may once again prove to be the team’s Achilles heel.

Read more…