Tuesday, March 2, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Detroit Tigers

Deeeee-troit Tigers!

We last left Detroit losing Game 163 to the Minnesota Twins.  You will recall that the night prior to this game was a bit interesting for Miguel Cabrera, who was arrested after getting in a domestic violence dispute and registering a BAC of 0.26.  Dombrowski picked Cabrera up at the jail the next day, which was nice of him.    My back-of-the-envelope calculations tell me that Cabrera was probably not sober by the 1 pm game time.  He went 0-5.

EDIT: Just wanted to say that going 0-5 when you're intoxicated means you're no Doc Ellis.

Miguel Cabrera has since given up drinking, but wants everyone to know that he isn't an alcoholic.  Glad we got that cleared up.

2009 Record: 86-77, 2nd in the AL Central.  That last loss hurt the worst, I'd imagine.

Key Departures: Buckle your seatbelts.

The Tigers' biggest move this offseason was the trade of Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson in a blockbuster deal between the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Tigers.

The Yankees sent RHP Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks and CF Austin Jackson and LHP Phil Coke to the Tigers.  The Tigers sent CF Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and RHP Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks.  The Diamondbacks sent RHP Daniel Schlereth, son of ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, and RHP Max Scherzer to the Tigers.

Jackson, Schlereth and Scherzer will all be under team control for six years, and Phil Coke is under team control for 5 years.  The Yankees assumed Granderson's deal, which pays him $5.5M in 2010, $8.25M in 2011 and $10M in 2012. Jackson was arbitration-eligible for the first time this year.

The deal between the Tigers, Diamondbacks and the Yankees was about cost-reduction for the Tigers.  They jettisoned two increasingly-expensive players in the hopes of replacing this production with cheap talent.  I don't think Austin Jackson is ready to play CF for the Tigers, but we'll have to wait and see.

Key Additions: After saving Granderson and Jackson's 2010 salary, the Tigers didn't sign a single FA.  They pocketed the difference in the face of declining revenue in a city in which unemployment is high and ticket sales are low.

Huh.  Well, this is awkward.

The Tigers signed Johnny Damon to a one-year, $8MM contract.  I won't go into all the backstory on the failed negotations between the Yankees and Damon, but I will say that I think it is pretty clear that Boras put the interests of Matt Holliday ahead of Damon.  I was surprised that Boras was able to get Damon an 8MM deal after all other bidders had dropped out, but I do think that Damon would be better served with another agent going forward.  It was a conflict of interest for Boras, and Damon got the shaft.

I don't hate the moves the Tigers made this offseason.  They dealt Granderson while his value was relatively high, and replaced him with Austin Jackson, who could become a valuable piece.  They sold high on Edwin Jackson, whose ERA started to align more closely with his FIP in the second-half of last year, and acquired the fire-balling Max Scherzer, who is considerably cheaper than Jackson  They also got Schlereth and Coke, both of whom should be valuable bullpen pieces.  Sure, their 2010 payroll is going to look a lot like their 2009 payroll, but they have acquired cheap talent for the coming years and increased their flexibility going forward.

The two biggest weaknesses I see with this plan are as follows:

1. Austin Jackson is not MLB ready
I'm a big AJax fan.  I've followed his career since the Yankees drafted him in 2005.  I was happy to see him sign and break a commitment to play hoops at Georgia Tech.  He was our premium position player prospect for many years, and I figured he would break into the bigs in September of 2010 or April 2011.  He's not ready now, though.  Sure, his stats aren't too too ugly.  Why, look at that .300 batting average!  You can't be a bad hitter and have a .300 batting average!

While that might be true generally, his .300 BA doesn't begin to tell the full story.  For one, his batting average was artificially inflated by a .384 BABIP.  This is insanely high.  Additionally, Jackson displayed little power in his time in AAA Scranton, posting the lowest ISO of his career (.105) and putting up a SLG of .405. This meant that Jackson's OPS was .759 in AAA in 2009.  Additionally, Jackson posted a Mike Cameron-esque K% of 24.4%.  This is too high.

So you have a few problems, really.  Jackson's AVG was inflated by an artifically high BABIP, and so he should see some regression in 2010.  Secondly, Jackson isn't showing the kind of power you would like to see from your CFer.  Thirdly, Jackson strikes out too much.

He may never fix his strikeout problem, but another year of seasoning in AAA might see him develop a little more power.  This is what I would do with Jackson, and it's what the Yankees were planning on doing. The Tigers are planning on giving him the Opening Day CF job.  I can't see the wisdom of this.  CHONE projects Jackson to have a .265/.320/.387 line in 2010, and I think that's a bit generous.

2. Johnny Damon needs Yankee Stadium. 
Since this is already running a bit long, I'll get to the point.  Johnny Damon posted a .279/.382/.533 line in Yankee Stadium in 2009 and put up a .284/.349/.446 line everywhere else.  That's a .915 OPS at home and a .795 away.  For comparative purposes, Johnny Damon was Chase Utley in Yankee Stadium, and Kosuke Fukudome everywhere else.

That's just one part of the equation.  Damon put up a -9.2 UZR as a LF in 2009.  Now, with UZR it's wise to take at least three years of data into consideration, and in 2007 and 2008 Damon posted a 7.5 and 6.7 UZR, respectively, although he only played 32 games in LF in 2007.  So, that looks to be a bit of a wash, but it has to be a concern for Tigers fans.  If Damon's defense is declining, which would be a reasonable assumption given his age, how will he fare in Detroit's Comerica Park, which is far more cavernous than Yankee Stadium?

One last FA signing of note: the Tigers signed Jose Valverde to be their closer.  I'm not crazy about it, but the terms of the deal ($14M/2) aren't too horrific, and Valverde should be a decent late-inning option.

Talent En Route
The Tigers have a decent arsenal of high-quality pitching and position players in their system. There's a lot to be excited about, particularly RHP Jacob Turner, their 1st round pick in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. Baseball Prospectus had this to say about Turner: 

With his size, stuff, and mechanics, Turner is almost a blueprint for what scouts look for in a high school arm. His fastball sits at 92-95 mph, but he touched 97-98 on several occasions this spring, and that could become more common as he matures. His slow, looping curveball features heavy break, and he already has good arm action on his changeup. He's highly poised and mature beyond his years.

Let's see.  Hard-throwing RHP with a sizzling fastball, knee-buckling curve and show-me change?  Who does that sound like?

 Bingo. Turner will make his pro debut in 2010, probably in Low-A ball.  Another name to watch in the Tigers' system is LHP Casey Crosby, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery. BP notes that Crosby can touch 97 mph consistently with his fastball, and profiles as a top-of-the-rotation starter or a power-lefty closer.  I think Detroit would take either, no?  Crosby will start 2010 in High-A Lakeland.

The last name to note is 2B Scott Sizemore, a hard-hitting infield prospect on the verge of hitting the big leagues in 2010.  Sizemore posted a .307/.402/.535 in Double A and .308/.378/.473 in Triple A.  His defense is scouted as subpar, but his bat is solid and he should hit at the major league level when the Tigers give him the opportunity.

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook
Via the invaluable Cot's Baseball Contracts, we see that the Tigers have 55M committed to the 2011 payroll. $32M of that will go to Cabrera and Verlander, money well-spent, and $20M of it will go to Guillen and Valverde.  Money...less well-spent.  Galarraga and Rayburn will also be arb-eligible for the first time in 2011, and Zumaya and Miner should see significant raises as well.

One more detail, which I found interesting, is that Porcello could theoretically become a free agent in 2011.  He'll make almost $2M in 2010, and the Tigers have two club options on him for 2011 and 2012.  If he seems awfully young to be hitting free agency, it's because he is.  This is the downside to signing your 1st round picks to ML contracts.

If you assume that Sizemore takes the 2B job sometime in 2010, the Tigers will have Cabrera and Sizemore manning the left-side of the infield in 2011.  Both the SS and 3B (Everett and Inge) will hit the FA market in 2011.  The Tigers will also need a new LF, provided they don't resign Johnny Damon, and they may need a new RF if Ordonez's option doesn't vest.  Gerald Laird is also a FA in 2011.

The Future of the Tigers
The Tigers are an interesting case.  They have a superstar in Miguel Cabrera and some young, cheap position player talent in Sizemore and Jackson.  They have a bona fide ace in Justin Verlander, an ace-in-the-making in Rick Porcello, and some injury-prone, high-upside guys like Jeremy Bonderman.  While I questioned their decision to trade Granderson initially, I think Dombrowski is doing a decent job of fielding a competitive team in 2010 while increasing payroll flexibility going forward.  Given where the Tigers play, and the uncertainty of gate revenue going forward, this may prove to be a very wise decision.


  1. Did they get that new stadium built in the nick of time or what?

  2. Sheesh yeah. Scary. Fun fact: Prince Fielder once hit a home run in the old Tiger Stadium.

    As a twelve year old.