Below is an email I sent to a few friends in November regarding future Tigers offseason directions and moves. The feedback those friends gave me from this email is what inspired me to start writing for this site. I think I proved to be correct, especially when re-reading my last paragraph (The Lions were 6-4 and in the driver's seat in the NFC North when I wrote this, and this year's Pistons team has been chronicled as the "Sad Boys." Now, I'm going to go back and examine each of these moves that I examined and/or proposed.
1. Fielder/Kinsler Trade: This one has worked out beautifully so far. Kinsler has played a solid (although unspectacular) second base. In addition, he has delivered a number of clutch hits. He has significantly outplayed Fielder, posting a 97 wRC+ (and 0.4 fWAR) to Fielder's 65 wRC+ (and -0.6 fWAR). In addition, Nick Castellanos has proved to be an everyday big leaguer, posting a 103 wRC+ along with solid defense at 3B (for a total of 0.2 fWAR). Although, this deal is not without faults. Omar Infante is having a great year in KC with a 108 wRC+ and his normal great defense which would account for both Kinsler and Castellanos combined (0.6 fWAR).
2. Bullpen: I suggested that the Tigers should sign Joe Smith and Boone Logan, as I thought they would be available at a discount. Wow was I wrong. Although both of those relievers are having solid years (Each has produced more fWAR individually than the entire Tigers' bullpen collectively), they both were "appropriately" paid as Logan signed for 3/16.5 and Joe Smith (0.2 fWAR and the new Angels Closer) signed for 3/15.75. However, signing Logan may have still been a good idea since he has had a dominant first month of the season with Colorado (0.3 fWAR, 12.3 K/9, 1.58 FIP, 6/1 SD/MD ratio) compared to the LHP out of the Tigers bullpen (Phil Coke = -0.1 fWAR, 5.40 K/9, 5.18 FIP, 0/2 SD/MD ratio, 99 headache factor; Ian Krol = -0.3 fWAR, 6.75 K/9, 6.83 FIP, 2/2 SD/MD ratio, and a serious case of gopher-itis). And perhaps signing Joe Smith would have more prudent than signing Joe Nathan and his "dead arm." The real key to the offseason would have been signing the one free agent that I suggested would be undervalued and was ACTUALLY undervalued. Francisco Rodriguez signed a 1 year $3.25 million contract to return to the Brewers. He has returned to form as the most dominant closer in MLB, leading the league in fWAR for relievers (0.7 fWAR), a league leading 11 Saves, 13.5 K/9, 1.93 BB/9, and a 9/0 shutdown/meltdown ratio. I'm a known supporter of the Joba Chamberlain Deal (1 year, $2.5 million) and his peripheral numbers (12.96 K/9, 2.16 BB/9, 0.92 FIP, 0.4 fWAR, despite a 0.500 BABIP) have been much better than his 0-1 record and 5.40 ERA suggest. Overall, I'd rather have Logan, Chamberlain, and Rodriguez (1.4 fWAR, 16/3 SD/MD ratio) for $11.25 million rather than Coke, Krol, and Nathan for $12.4 million (-0.5 fWAR, 5/6 SD/MD ratio).
3. Right handed backup catcher. I suggested that the Tigers could sign Dioner Navarro (I've since realized he's a switch hitter) to a 2 year $6 million contract. I was slightly off as he signed with Toronto for 2 years and $8 million. I understand the Tigers stance on this decision. They have two good right handed catching prospects (Bryan Holaday and James McCann) and wanted to give them a chance to develop. BUT, Holaday and McCann have underwhelming track records. Holaday projects as a backup catcher with most of his value in his defense and McCann - despite being the Tigers #6 prospect - projects as a career minor leaguer. Navarro is having a solid season for Toronto, posting a 99 wRC+ and 0.3 fWAR. In addition, Avila's 38% K rate this year brings up some real concerns.
4. The Tigers have made Nick Castellanos their everyday (in every sense of the word) 3rd baseman. I can't fault this. He is a rising star in this league and needs to get as many PAs as possible. BUT, Eric Chavez resigned with the Diamondbacks for 1 year and $3.5 million. Although he's had an underwhelming start to his 2014 (0.165 BA, 83 wRC+), he would have proved to be a huge asset. He has been one of the best defensive 3B over his career (Ranked #13 by fangraphs in defense from 2001-2013) and could given Castellanos every 4th to 5th day off against RHP.
5. Rajai Davis. Both I and the Tigers nailed this one. Although I again undervalued (I suggested 3/10, he signed for 2/10), he has been nothing but pleasant for the Tigers, especially in the face of the Dirks injury. Although he's supported by an unsustainable 0.393 BABIP (0.319 career BABIP), he has posted a 148 wRC+, 0.7 WAR, and has any many stolen bases as the rest of the team combined (8 SB).
Overall, the team has been hampered by injuries (Iglesias, Rondon, Sanchez), I think they have done a "C" job with offseason free agents. If you include the Fister trade (despite him being on the DL), it's probably a "C-" or even "D+" range, especially with Sanchez heading toward the DL himself.
BUT, the season is still young. And if I've learned anything, don't bet against Dave Dombrowski.From: Christopher Yheulon
Date: Wed, 20 Nov 2013 23:37:37
Subject: Tigers new wish list
Love the Tigers offseason moves so far. Love the Ausmus Hiring. Love that we have a "defensive coordinator." Love Omar Vizquel as first base coach to mentor Iglesias. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Fielder for Kinsler trade. It takes care of our gaping hole at 2B, allows us to move Cabrera back to 1st (where he can do less damage), and opens up a roster spot for Castellanos, who is ready to be a (nearly) everyday ballplayer.
The current roster looks like this:
C: Bryan Holaday
INF: Hernan Perez
INF: Danny Worth
UTIL: Don Kelly
That's 23 players for the 25 man roster. I don't think of the above bench players are gauranteed a roster spot. We need to sign 2-3 relievers and I sure hope we don't shell out $10 million/year on a "closer." I think there are value guys out there like Francisco Rodriguez (0.5 projected Wins above replacement i.e. WAR), Joe Smith (0.6 projected WAR), and Boone Logan (0.5 projected WAR). Those 3 guys combined might cost as much as one of these following guys alone: Joe Nathan (0.9 projected WAR), Grant Balfour (0.4 projected WAR), Benoit (0.7 projected WAR).
The most successful franchises in baseball have adopted playing matchups, shifts, and platoons. There is a reason that Oakland and Tampa Bay compete every year. We need to adopt this theory as well.
Outside of the bullpen, the teams pressing needs for next season are:
1. A right handed hitting backup catcher for Avila. He flat out cannot hit lefties. He hit .139/.227/.228 (AVG/OBP/SLG) against left handed pitching last year and struck out nearly 40% of the time. He's actually good against righties (.255/.345/.422 line) making him the starting catcher most days. I think that we need to pick up someone like Dioner Navarro who had a secretly great little year with the Cubs last year and could be available for something like 2 years and $6 million. He's an excellent defensive catcher and has a career .267/.337/.441 split against Lefties. To put that in perspective, the difference in OPS between Avila and Navarro against Lefties (.455 vs. .778) is the difference between Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson.
2. A left handed 3rd baseman to platoon with Castellanos. I think Eric Chavez would be great in this situation. Veteran who would want to chase a ring. Had good last 2 years with the Yankees and D-Backs. Still has a serviceable glove (which is like Ozzie Smith when compared to Cabrera) and can still whallop right handed pitching (.279/.335/.492 line last year, and a .275/.354/.500 career line). He played on a 1 year $3 million contract last year.
3. A right handed corner outfielder to platoon with Dirks. I'm happy with Andy Dirks. He's a gritty baseball player in the mold of Bobby Higginson. He plays good defense and can have some pop at the plate as demonstrated by his 2012 season (.322/.370/.487). He had a down year last year and, but is in his prime at age 28. Again, he can't hit Lefties with a .234/.306/.325 split last year. I think we should go after speedy veteran outfielder Rajai Davis. He is an average center fielder but could be a "plus" corner outfielder given his range. His bat doesn't have much pop, but he crushes left handed pitching (.319/.383/.474 last year and .294/.354/.425 over his career). In addition, he stole 45 bases last year and could be a powerful pinch runner off the bench (as opposed to Don Kelly or Ramon Santiago last year). He would probably play for somewhere in the region of 3 years and $10 million.
Overall, I think spending $10 million a year (combined) for these 3 players would service us better than going after a big name free agent like Curtis Granderson. Also, if we sign free agents, we give up draft picks in compensation. There is a reason our farm system stinks, because we sign big free agents every year. In addition, we could use all of that freed up "Prince" money to lock up the players we NEED To keep: Scherzer and Cabrera.
I'm already getting set up for the Lions to miss the playoffs. I've also watched 2 Pistons game and it felt like I watched Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings take 200 bad shots (which, .200 is ironically Drummond's free throw percentage). The wings haven't won a game in over 2 weeks and someone seems to get hurt everyday. I know the baseball season just ended, but I had to get excited about something.