So, Cameron J. Kaiser over at Bless You Boys dropped me a line the other day after the Chicago White Sox started the season 2-0, alarmed at the state of our tank. I reassured him that no, Chicago was still in lockstep with the Detroit Tigers with regard to the race to the bottom.
Anyway, as long as, you know, I was being reassuring, it made sense that the two of us have a little chat, as the Wintry Mix Tour ’18 blows through Chicago, beginning today.
My disinformation campaign across enemy lines ran earlier today. And here’s what I was able to gather from Mssr. Kaiser:
So, how’s the tank going?
The tank is going according to plan. The Tigers are coming off a sweep at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates and lost on Tuesday 1-0 against a random Kansas City Royals pitcher who was possessed by the ghost of Cy Young. In their lone starts, both Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer have pitched well, which bodes well for the future, and Miguel Cabrera is already making last season look like it was just a blip on the radar. Regardless of a few solid individual performances, though, the Tigers are doing what tanking teams do, and that is lose games.
Hey, how did you manage to outank us in the course of like, one season?
Brad Ausmus? But seriously, the Tigers went into 2017 with playoff aspirations and somehow managed the worst record in baseball. Just about everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong. Al Avila traded away J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila, and Justin Verlander in the middle of the season, but unlike the White Sox who unloaded many of their valuable players, the Tigers farm wasn’t restocked with a plethora of blue-chip prospects like Chicago. Obviously that has to do a lot with the ages and contracts of the players traded, but the White Sox seem to be set up for success a lot sooner than the Tigers.
Miguel Cabrera has started off hot, but he had a scary step back last year. Has he hit the wall? And what is the vibe you get from him, being on a team that will not compete in the near term?
Cabrera had lower back issues throughout 2017, and being the competitor that he is, didn’t come out of the lineup very much. While it’s become a cliché, he truly came to spring camp in 2018 in the Best Shape of His Life. Something that people forget is that Cabrera was consistently hitting the ball hard last season, he just had a hard time getting around on certain pitches due to his back troubles. This year, looking healthier than he has in years, he’s squaring up the ball again and there doesn’t look to be the same issues with the lower half of his swing. As arguably the greatest hitter of his generation, he looks like he still has quite a bit left in the tank.
Something that all Tigers fans, and baseball fans in general, have loved about Cabrera his entire career is that he almost always looks like he’s having a blast on the ball diamond. Sometimes his frustration boils over and will result in an occasional ejection, but more often than not, while watching the Tigers you’ll see Cabrera yucking it up with either a teammate, a competitor, or even a fan. He’s a great guy to have in the clubhouse to teach younger players, and will hopefully continue to hit for a few years. As a fan, Cabrera is what keeps me watching this team. While the Tigers don’t have much hope to win over the next couple years, if Cabrera is out there, watching a living legend is good enough for me.
White Sox fans have a long, er, knowledge of Gardy dating to his Twins days. What’s the response been to him in Detroit? Are the Tigers going to be recast in his mold (that is to say, a bit Yosemite Sammy, not literally but maybe, yeah, literally)?
Ron Gardenhire the person has been received very well in Detroit, but Ron Gardenhire the manager is kind of old school, no-stats kind of hire that makes you worry that maybe the front office has no idea how to analyze the modern game of baseball. Gardy had a lot of success in Minnesota getting the most out of his young players, and the general hope around the fanbase seems to be that he will be here long enough to teach the young guys and then hand the reigns off to someone else during the next competitive window.
Personally, I’d love to see all the members of the Tigers grow awesomely long beards and mustaches. Not sure it would help them to play better, but it would be entertaining. As far as their style of play, I’ve been told by others that Gardenhire gets guys to “play the game the right way.” I don’t know exactly what that means (hopefully no sacrifice bunting), but it sounds better than him teaching them to play the game the wrong way.
On the South Side we’re hyped for 2020 as a season when the window will be, if not swung wide open, unlocked. How do our windows line up? You guys gonna be polite enough to let us win a couple of World Series before getting going on your run?
You had your fun in 2005. We’re next up in the division for a World Series title (yes, I’m skipping Cleveland).
Optimistically, the Tigers window will start to crack open around 2020 with Fulmer, Boyd, and hopefully Daniel Norris spearheading a young and successful starting rotation. The Tigers also have quite a few top pitching prospects that will hopefully either be in the majors or knocking on the door of it by then. As far as the lineup goes, Cabrera figures to be the only guy on the current roster that could be an impact bat unless they can get Nicholas Castellanos to sign an extension, so GM Al Avila will most likely have to dip into the prospect pool to acquire those via trade or convince owner Chris Ilitch to open up the checkbook to sign some free agents. While the best years will most likely be ahead of 2020, it’s not unreasonable to expect better, more competitive baseball will be played in Detroit then.
Can I get some thumbnail info on the three Tigers starters scheduled to go against us in the series?
Jordan Zimmermann pitched well on Opening Day outside of one inning, and was able to get a lot of off-balance swings with his slider. Still, he hasn’t commanded the strike zone consistently since joining the Tigers, so I won’t be surprised if he gets shelled by the Sox. Due to off-days and injuries, the other two games are TBD with the options being Michael Fulmer, who will almost definitely pitch on Saturday, and either Mike Fiers or Francisco Liriano on Sunday. Fulmer looked great in his first start of the season, with his velocity and command showing no signs of offseason elbow surgery, and Liriano induced a lot of weak contact Monday against Kansas City. Fiers had a really poor spring, but was dealing with back issues throughout.
Holy crap I just refreshed myself on your top prospects and I am already starting to shake over those arms. OK, feel free to stop short of giving me me a heart attack, but talk to me about your ideal 2020 rotation and give me some skinnies on those new guys we’re gonna have to learn to hate.
As exciting as the prospect arm’s race is for the Tigers, expectations have to be tempered because young pitchers are so volatile. Both Franklin Perez and Matt Manning are already on the shelf with injuries to start the season, and that’s just a perfect example of why you have to be cautious as a fan before getting prospect fever. Still, Beau Burrows has consistently gotten outs at every level of the minors, Alex Faedo showed a lot of promise in spring camp, and even Kyle Funkhouser has been nasty when healthy. Ideally, all of those guys will be cornerstones of the future rotation, but that will almost surely not happen.
With Fulmer, Boyd, and Norris all being under club control in 2020, and even Zimmermann in the final year of his contract, any of those prospects contributing to the rotation or bullpen would be a huge plus not only to the team, but also the payroll. In Perez’s case, we’re all rooting for him a little extra as he was the centerpiece in the Justin Verlander trade. Considering Houston got the face of our franchise and a World Series title in that trade, it’d be very nice to see Perez come in and pitch well.
It could have happened to us, with Chris Sale or Jose Quintana winning three games in a World Series or something, but instead it was Tigers fans who had to watch Justin Verlander get a ring in Houston. What was that like? Mixed feelings I’m sure, it had to be weird to have to begin to “share ownership” of Verlander.
No mixed feelings at all for me. Wherever Justin Verlander went, I was going to follow. I think everyone should emotionally invest in a good baseball team when their teams are in the tank, because good baseball is a lot more fun to watch than bad baseball. I’m 22, and 2006 is my first year of vividly remembering baseball. Verlander won Rookie of the Year and took the Tigers to the World Series. At risk of sounding weird, JV is my guy. Knowing that Verlander was on the trading block was tough to stomach, and after shedding many tears when the trade actually went down, I was all-in on the Houston Astros.
The Detroit Tigers will always be the team I root for over anyone, and despite the low game attendance to start the season, the city of Detroit loves its baseball and follows its players. The saddest part of Verlander leaving and winning the World Series is that he never won it in Detroit. However, given the current state of the club and where he’s at in his contract, there’s a good chance he wasn’t ever going to one in Detroit. Knowing that he’s a world champion regardless is great, especially given that he’ll be going into Cooperstown wearing the Old English D.