Columns ran in both the News and Free Press this weekend about Alan Trammell. He's lost control of the clubhouse, they said. A depressing air has settled in, the players are too sad to hit, and it's probably Trammell's fault. We have the talent to win but we're 52-58, so it must be the manager's fault.
I can't claim that Trammell is one of the best managers in the business -- I have no objective way to measure such things, and subjectively, he's well behind several managers who have actually had winning seasons. But I can recognize discontent for discontent's sake, agitating for a visible change to give writers something to write about and losing teams excuses for promoting new beginnings.
We don't need a new beginning. We're in the middle of a long and painful turnaround. Remember that in 2003, we were a franchise devoid of any major-league talent, or even any minor-league talent. Remember Kevin Witt? Ramon Santiago? Nate Cornejo? Eric Munson? We've gotten to where we are today -- a slightly below average team that's not infrequently exciting to watch and has a few top-level prospects -- by overpaying for aging free agents, committing to a generation of reasonably promising youngsters (Inge, Bonderman, Robertson, Maroth, Shelton), and waiting for the post-Randy Smith drafts to bear fruit.
Blame Trammell for decisions he makes on the field -- leaving Spurling in too long against the White Sox last month or throwing Jamie Walker out there for complete innings against RH-heavy lineups. But don't, O Detroit Sports Columnists, blame the manager because the team is falling short of your dramatically inflated expectations. The starting rotation is below average, was always going to begin to show it, and has now begun to show it. The lineup is reasonable, but there's a flaw in its construction -- it's too dependent on batting average to be consistent. Not enough walks, not nearly enough power. Too many hackers like Craig Monroe.
Patience, friends. On-base percentage and power are extremely expensive (witness recent quotes by Billy Beane to that effect, and the Reds' stupendous asking price for Adam Dunn at the trade deadline). More help is on the way. Curtis Granderson will be an improvement over Monroe and Nook Logan next year. Zumaya and Verlander will provide eventual top-notch pitching, barring injury. Perhaps a free-agent power-hitter to play left field. Bullpens are the easiest parts of a team to restock -- I think that making Urbina and Farnsworth closers, thereby increasing their value, and then trading them is a brilliant strategy and one I hope we repeat many times in the years to come.
.500 may happen this year. The playoffs will not. We need to avoid two things. First, we as fans need to avoid ratcheting our expectations up too high. Secondly, the team, even if the first no-no happens and creates a frenzy, needs to avoid making rash moves that mortgage the future for a few weeks of public-relations relief. If Trammell gets fired, I suspect that that's the sort of win the Tigers will get out of the whole mess, and he deserves better.