Published November 4, 2016
It has begun.
The Tigers’ recent warning that fiscal responsibility was going to start to reign again turned into a first volley, as center fielder Cameron Maybin was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels for a little-regarded prospect—a right-handed pitcher named Victor Alcantara.
GM Al Avila’s epiphany is turning into action—at least for now.
Avila, who would make a lousy poker player but a great drinking buddy, told the media on October 18 that the Tigers had been living beyond their means for “many, many years” and that “changes are coming.”
Which is funny, because this is usually something that a new guy in town says after making his initial assessment of the situation.
Avila, although only the Tigers’ GM since August of 2015, has been with the organization and has his fingerprints on most every personnel move for the past 14 years. His predecessor, Dave Dombrowski, was the man, but DD also leaned heavily on AA for counsel.
So Avila suddenly came to the realization that the Tigers’ $200 million payroll was living beyond their means?
This smacks of someone upstairs making that decision.
But that’s fine. The Tigers can do anything they want. And if Avila was ordered to trim payroll, so be it.
It’s hard, from a pure business sense, to argue with this tact.
What has the large girth of the payroll done for the Tigers, really?
Is the fan base running around wearing “We Own the Central” t-shirts these days?
It was OK to crow about winning four straight division titles when that streak was alive. Back then, it was still seen as the first step toward grabbing the brass ring.
But it’s 32 years and counting since the 1984 magic. The Tigers have appeared in two World Series since then and they were both disasters. The Tigers went 1-8 in those two Fall Classics. No honor.
That’s why, although maybe prudent financially, this apparent new way of running the Tigers won’t set well with the baseball faithful in town.
Fans are OK with Mike Ilitch’s other team going young—to the degree that the Red Wings are. Hockeytown sees the birth certificates and the physical condition that the old guard is in and so they’re ready for youth to take over.
But they’re OK with it because there have been four Stanley Cups won here since 1997.
There’s a feeling of having missed the boat when it comes to the Tigers.
Nobody cares about how many divisions you win. Nobody cares that you have had superstars and MVPs on your roster.
Nobody cares about Triple Crowns.
Those were fine things to celebrate between 2011-14 but what did it bring you as a Tigers fan?
The trimming of payroll is probably a sound decision. But without a World Series title…well, there goes that boat. See it sailing away?
I think most reasonable fans would agree, and maybe even embrace, an infusion of youth. They know the high salaries haven’t really worked. But the trouble is, the Tigers don’t exactly have one of baseball’s best minor league feeder systems. That’s not my opinion.
Baseball America, well-respected, doesn’t list one Tigers prospect among its top 100 in baseball. Not one.
The new kid, Alcantara, isn’t listed either.
But if you scroll through, you’ll see lots of Indians, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Astros.
It’s not insufferable to go through a mini-rebuild if you got to the mountain top with the Yankees-type payroll.
But here’s how those four playoff appearances between 2011-14 ended, chronologically: out in the ALCS; swept in the World Series; out in the ALCS; swept in the ALDS. Those were followed by two straight years of no playoffs.
See a trend here?
Yes, the Tigers woke up on the final day of the 2016 season with a shot at the playoffs. They needed some help, but they had a shot.
But they couldn’t score against the Atlanta Braves. Their vaunted, expensive hitters fell silent when they were needed the most.
It’s funny how an at-bat here and there can potentially decide a franchise’s course.
Remember Miguel Cabrera stepping to the plate on Saturday in Atlanta, with the bases loaded, nobody out and the game in the balance?
Cabrera struck out. Behind him, J.D. Martinez laced the ball but it was turned into an inning-ending dagger of a double play thanks to young Braves shortstop Danby Swanson.
Had those two at-bats gone differently, maybe the Tigers make the playoffs. And maybe the jettisoning of payroll is halted, at least for one more year. Who knows.
The Tigers have indeed been saddling themselves with heavy contracts. But it’s hard to blame them. Some were given to their current stars and some were doled out to free agents to address needs. Because the division titles teased.
But in October, it was always something. The bullpen. Bad base running. An ill-timed defensive gaffe. The bullpen. Lack of clutch hitting. The bullpen.
Meanwhile, all of the above were done quite well by the eventual world champs of any given year.
Al Avila said changes are coming. The Tigers couldn’t even wait until the champagne in the Cubs’ clubhouse lost its chill before making said changes, starting with the trade of Maybin, who ironically wasn’t one of the team’s most expensive players (a $9 million option will be picked up by the Angels next year).
In further dark irony, Maybin was also one of the few Tigers players who actually combined defense with speed—plus a delightful .383 OBA.
But when you start trimming expenses, you have to start somewhere, I suppose.
So who will play center field for the Tigers next year?
Don’t try to answer that now, because today that exercise might depress you.
Maybin was bothered by injuries last year, and maybe that played into the trade.
But more likely, it was Avila staying true to his—or someone’s—word.
Changes are coming. Payroll will be reduced.
Did you enjoy “owning” the Central Division for four years?
How did that work out for you?