Which Aggressive MLB Team Looks Like Biggest Paper Tiger of 2016 Offseason?

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 14, 2016

From left to right, Washington Nationals pitchers Max Scherzer, Jonathan Papelbon and Stephen Strasburg watch the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park in Washington, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, after Papelbon got into a dugout fight with teammate Bryce Harper during the inning. The Phillies won 12-5. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

In a baseball winter, it's easy to fall in love. It's harder to see when that love will let you down.

But we know it often will.

We know because we've been fooled before. The Washington Nationals were "where's my ring?" when they signed Max Scherzer but barely over .500 and out of the playoffs when it mattered. The San Diego Padres were finally alive with Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers (and eventually Craig Kimbrel) but as dead as ever when those guys actually had to play.

And it wasn't just last year. The Miami Marlins were back on the map when they signed Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle (and manager Ozzie Guillen) for 2012, only to see it fall apart so fully that Reyes and Buehrle could be part of the Toronto Blue Jays' supposed revival in 2013.

We never learn, and I guess you could say teams never learn, either. But what you could also say is it's a lot harder to see the disaster coming through the excitement of the winter.

So here we are again, with teams spending more money than ever trying to get better, with Dave Dombrowski remaking the Boston Red Sox and Theo Epstein stocking up the Chicago Cubs. Here we are again, knowing that some of these plans will fall apart before the end of May, and others won't last through September and October.

It's hard enough to pick which teams are going to win, so how do you pick which one will fail?

Could it be those Red Sox? Sure, because there's no guarantee the rest of the rotation behind $217 million man David Price will be any good, and no guarantee the promising kids of 2015 will perform nearly as well if they actually find themselves in a pennant race. Oh, and Hanley Ramirez is still there, trying to learn another new position.

So it could be the Red Sox, but the guess here is it won't be.

Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein had plenty of happy press conferences (here, with Jason Heyward), but does that mean the Cubs will win or flop?
Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein had plenty of happy press conferences (here, with Jason Heyward), but does that mean the Cubs will win or flop?Paul Beaty/Associated Press

Could it be the Cubs? Sure, because as much as we all like Jason Heyward, he's never produced as much as the analytics types who love him insist he will. And as good as he is defensively in right field, the Cubs as they stand right now have him in center field. And while the Cubs have to eventually win a World Series, history doesn't favor them.

So yes, it could be the Cubs, but the guess here is it won't be.

What about the Chicago White Sox, who flopped after big moves last winter but have now added Todd Frazier? What about the San Francisco Giants, a popular pick as a winter winner after adding Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Denard Span?

And hey, what about the Arizona Diamondbacks, who spent huge money on Zack Greinke and huge prospects on Shelby Miller? They could be the ones, but just as they'll likely be a popular pick to click, they'll also be a chic pick to flop.

We try to stay away from the chic picks, because in our experience they usually don't work out.

So we're going with the Detroit Tigers.

They've been labeled as quiet winter winners after remaking a pitching staff that badly failed them last year. They added Jordan Zimmermann to the rotation and Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe to their bullpen. They filled an outfield hole with Cameron Maybin.

And as Buster Olney pointed out last week on ESPN.com, they've finally seen stars Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander have healthy winters.

The Tigers could win. They could also flop—again.

While Zimmermann was an ace at his best with the Washington Nationals, his numbers almost all trended downward last year. Now he's moving from the National League to the American League. And even at his best, he's not David Price, the guy the Tigers had in that spot in the rotation when last season began.

While Rodriguez has the most saves of any active pitcher and is coming off an excellent 2015 season, he just turned 34 and had a 1.364 WHIP the last time he pitched in the American League (with the 2013 Baltimore Orioles).

In a game tilted more than ever to the young, the Tigers are old, with Rodriguez, Victor Martinez (37), Ian Kinsler (33) and plenty of other 30-somethings. Even Cabrera and Verlander (both 32) are part of that group.

Tigers general manager Al Avila made Jordan Zimmermann his first big signing.
Tigers general manager Al Avila made Jordan Zimmermann his first big signing.Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

Taken from the start of last year, the Tigers have replaced Price with Zimmermann and Yoenis Cespedes with Maybin. They added to the bullpen but subtracted Joakim Soria.

And they play in the only division in baseball where all five teams are actually serious about winning.

In Mike Ilitch, they at least have an owner who may be as serious about winning as anyone. While the Tigers have suggested they can't afford another big signing, Ilitch's history makes you wonder if they could still add someone like Cespedes or Justin Upton.

They could really use another big bat to make them true winter winners. Or, perhaps, to make them an even bigger potential flop.

As history shows us, someone's got to be it.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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