Offseason Moves the Detroit Tigers Should Have Made
Detroit Tigers fans have been very fortunate over the past few years, since owner Mike Ilitch has been willing to spend whatever it takes for the Tigers to bring home a World Series title.
With Ilitch's willingness to open his wallet, the Tigers' front office, led by CEO, president and general manager Dave Dombrowski, has made some bold free-agent signings, along with shrewd trades to ensure that the Tigers can win.
The Tigers have made two key moves this offseason that position them to be top contenders entering the 2013 season: signing free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter to a two-year deal and re-signing starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez to a five-year, $80 million deal.
My opinion has always been that even though the Tigers are in a "win now" mode, they should always be looking ahead to make sure the roster still has youth on it, along with flexibility in terms of payroll and future players.
While the Tigers' roster will continue to be evaluated up until the trade deadline, there are still some moves that the Tigers should have made this offseason.
Sign Closer Brian Wilson
As I discussed in my previous article, the Tigers should sign Brian Wilson, 30, to a one-year or two-year deal, with a team option in the second year at a much higher salary.
According to Henry Schulman from the SF Chronicle, "Brian Wilson has completed his long-toss program and should begin throwing off a mound soon as he bids to return from his second “Tommy John” surgery."
This timetable appears to have Wilson on track to be ready for the regular season, and if fully recovered, he would provide the Tigers with a reliable veteran closer who has pitched great in the playoffs and World Series.
This move would also benefit young reliever Bruce Rondon by allowing him to get his feet wet in the majors as a middle reliever instead of facing additional pressure as a rookie closer on a contender.
While Wilson has a reputation of being a little eccentric, it overshadows how seriously he takes pitching and the effort he puts in to maintaining his edge as a closer. This hard work would set a perfect example for Rondon, preparing him to eventually become the closer.
Another positive impact that this move would have is that it would allow the Tigers to save their first-round draft pick, which they would forfeit if they signed closer Rafael Soriano.
Give Starting Pitcher Justin Verlander a Contract Extension
Not signing pitcher Justin Verlander to a contract extension before the Tigers re-signed pitcher Anibal Sanchez is a huge mistake that the Tigers will come to regret.
No one can dispute the fact that Verlander is a top starting pitcher in baseball and a bulldog on the mound. At 29 years old, Verlander, who has already won an MVP award, Cy Young award and thrown two no-hitters, is in his prime and appears to be getting stronger each season.
His contract will expire after the 2014 season, and with new regional television contracts and the great health of the game, contracts are expected to keep rising, especially with teams putting a premium on starting pitching.
With Sanchez signing his five-year, $80 million deal to be the Tigers' fourth starter, it makes it very hard on the Tigers to convince Verlander to take a "hometown discount" to remain in Detroit.
The closer Verlander gets to the end of his contract, the more enticing the open market may seem to him, when he sees pitchers like Zack Greinke signing an outrageous six-year, $147 million deal.
With stud pitchers like Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw likely to get large extensions if they stay healthy over the next two years, the Tigers would've been wise to have locked up Verlander as their first offseason move, since it only will get harder to do so from here.
Attempt to Trade for Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton
I believe that teams should hold on to their top prospects, unless they trade them to acquire a young superstar.
The Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton, 23, is the type of player who can be a consistent 50-homer guy. Though Stanton has only played in 373 games, he already has 93 home runs and isn't even close to his prime yet. Teams should hold on to players like Stanton, but according to ESPN's Jim Bowden, the Marlins would listen to calls regarding him:
Dan Jennings Marlins AGM told us they will listen to all offers on Giancarlo Stanton but they're not shopping him and don't want to move him— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) December 30, 2012
The Tigers struck gold in 2007 when they acquired a similar young superstar in Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins, and they should have tried to hook up with their friends down south in trying to acquiring Stanton.
The Marlins, who have dismantled their underachieving team from last season, have several unhappy players. They are very familiar with the Tigers' organization, which would help further talks for the blockbuster trade required to get Stanton. ESPN's Jayson Stark had reported that the Marlins contacted the Tigers about third-base prospect Nick Castellanos before signing Placido Polanco.
The Marlins' interest in Castellano means that the Tigers should have used him as the centerpiece of an offer for Stanton. I believe an offer of Castellano, outfielder Avisail Garcia, pitcher Casey Crosby and pitcher Brenny Paulino would have tempted the Marlins to do more than just listen to an offer for one of MLB's brightest talents.
Sign Pitcher Jair Jurrjens to a One-Year Deal
The Tigers should have attempted to rectify one of Dombrowski's worst trades by bringing back Jair Jurrjens in a one-year minor-league deal with an invite to spring training.
After the Tigers traded Jurrjens at the end of the 2007 season to the Atlanta Braves for shortstop Edgar Renteria, Jurrjens shined for three-and-a-half seasons, before pitching terribly the past season-and-a-half.
Jurrjens will still only be 27 when the season starts and would have been a low-risk move for the Tigers. He would have also allowed the Tigers to have an experienced insurance policy in case of any injuries to the Tigers' starting pitchers.
It would have also benefited Jurrjens to enter a situation where he's not expected to hold a rotation together, since the Tigers already have four established starting pitchers and a talented young fifth starter in Drew Smyly.
That way, Jurrjens could have focused on fixing his mechanics and reestablishing what made him a young All-Star pitcher in 2011.
Trade Outfielder Brennan Boesch to Open Up a Bench Spot
Brennan Boesch has talent, but he has had bad luck with unfortunate injuries and head-shaking slumps.
This is the main reason why I believe that the Tigers would have been smart in cutting their losses and trading him to the Seattle Mariners earlier in the offseason, as Jon Paul Morosi from Fox Sports reported.
If reports were accurate, the Tigers could have added an outfield spot for a younger player who could have a longer future with the Tigers and who would provide a skill set other than power. It would have also allowed the Tigers to acquire a seasoned left-handed reliever to give the team depth in their bullpen.
In Morosi's report, one of the pitchers mentioned was ex-Tiger Charlie Furbush. Furbush would be an ideal candidate to be the "swing" guy in the bullpen who can handle long relief, but also be a spot starter if needed.
Do Not Trade Starting Pitcher Rick Porcello
This move hasn't occurred yet, but I believe it will shortly, and the Tigers will regret it in future years.
Rick Porcello, 24, is a young starter who has already pitched in the majors for four years but yet is still younger than some other pitching prospects. Porcello, like all young starters will, struggled last year and needs to develop a third reliable pitch.
With rumors floating around that Porcello could be traded to either the Chicago Cubs or the Baltimore Orioles for shortstop J.J. Hardy, the Tigers would be giving up on Porcello too soon. The interest shown by other teams should tip the Tigers off to the fact that other teams believe that Porcello can figure out how to succeed.
Also, the Tigers don't have a lot of starting pitching depth in the minors. So if a long-term injury occurs to one of the starting pitchers, then the Tigers' potential success this season could be in jeopardy.
Pitching is always a key to success, but it can turn from a strength to a weakness very quickly.
Sign Starting Pitcher Kyle Lohse to a Two-Year Deal
While I've been advocating for the Tigers to hold on to their draft picks by not signing free agents associated to qualifying offers, there are some players who are worth sacrificing the draft pick.
Unlike reliever Rafael Soriano, I strongly felt that starting pitcher Kyle Lohse would have been one of those players. Lohse, 34, is a pitcher who seems to be getting better with age and is learning how to pitch smart baseball.
Lohse understands that a fly-out or groundout is just as good as a strikeout, and signing him would give the Tigers a veteran pitcher similar to Kenny Rogers in 2006.
Since the Tigers want to compete this year, Lohse would be a pitcher who would be able to take the ball every fifth game and allow the Tigers to have a chance every time.
Critics of his might say that it would be a difficult transition to come back to the AL from the NL since the Minnesota Twins traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in 2006. Yes, his stats were average at best in the AL, but he's stopped throwing and started pitching.
With his experience and maturity, if I had to venture a guess on how Lohse would perform on the Tigers, I would predict that he would have a 3.50 ERA with 105 Ks and 40 BBs and he'd be capable of winning 12-16 games with the Tigers' offense behind him.
At this point, you're probably wondering where Lohse would have fit into the Tigers' rotation, since the Tigers currently have six starting pitchers.
He would only fit if this next move had occurred (see next slide)...
Listen to Trade Offers on Starting Pitcher Max Scherzer
You might think I'm insane, and that this is the dumbest suggestion ever.
I have to agree that on the surface, listening to trade offers on Max Scherzer sounds absolutely ridiculous. But when you start looking at the facts, this will make more sense.
I mentioned in the intro slide that the Tigers still need to have flexibility down the road, and this move would give them the opportunity to win now, plus better position the team for the future.
I want to clarify that I didn't say the Tigers would trade Scherzer, but only that I wish they would have listened to offers.
With the Tigers being in a win-now mode, why would they trade their No. 2 28-year-old pitcher from 2012, who is coming off a career year? The Tigers would already have had a more-than-capable replacement lined up in Lohse to step into the rotation.
Like the Tigers originally did in the trade when they acquired Max Scherzer for Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson, a potential trade could allow the Tigers to restock their roster with younger players who would be under team control longer than Scherzer will.
Scherzer experienced shoulder soreness at the end of the regular season and had to sit out for a few games in September, but he returned for the playoffs and made all of his scheduled starts. Still, the Tigers were cautious with him and never had him throw more than 100 pitches in the playoffs.
The problem is that this isn't the first time Scherzer has experienced shoulder soreness. When he was with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he also had shoulder problems during his rookie season. While Scherzer has never had any major shoulder issues, it is no guarantee he'll have a season like last year, where he had 11.1 Ks per nine innings and a WAR of 4.0.
I personally doubt he will be able to continue with this level of success, as his fastball will lose speed as he ages.
One of the main factors the Tigers' front office should have considered is that Scherzer is approaching free agency at the end of the 2014 season and his value will never be higher than during this offseason.
He could have an inferior year to last year or get hurt this season, and with free agency only one year away, his value would plummet, forcing the Tigers to sell low.
It's no question that re-signing Justin Verlander should be the Tigers' No.1 priority, and while he will cost the Tigers more than re-signing Scherzer, he also has the track record of staying healthy and being the more reliable of the two.
Pretty soon some key players on the Tigers are coming up on their free agency, and the Tigers won't be able to afford everyone. That is why the team needs to prioritize who they want to invest their future in.
While the Tigers have a great relationship with Scott Boras, who represents Scherzer, Boras has a reputation of recommending that his clients hit the open market of free agency.
Boras is infamous for the binders he prints up of his players, and chances are he'll use this tactic to try and sell Scherzer to other teams. I believe as soon as this happens, some team will fall in love with Scherzer and the Tigers will only be left with a draft pick for compensation, instead of many young players.
Even though the Tigers are trying to win the World Series this year, these are all reasons why they owed it to themselves to at least see if there was a great offer out there.
This offseason would also have been the right time, since a veteran pitcher in Lohse (who is also represented by Boras) was sitting on the market; someone who has been very successful the last two seasons and would have been able to step right into the rotation.
I'd love to hear your comments and/or suggestions on what the Tigers should have done this offseason.