Well, today didn't go quite as planned. It was apparent pretty early this morning that a trade of Rick Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes was going down, and one of my favorite players was heading out of town, again. I was less than exuberant, thinking that if we got another quality starter, this was sad, but good for the Tigers in 2015. We had to get help in that outfield and that lineup, and the team decided to prioritize power and to a degree, defense, rather than sign a quieter option.
Pretty quickly word was out that the Tigers had a deal for a starter worked out with the Reds. And for a while all seemed right with the world. Confident that we were probably getting Mike Leake, Mat Latos, someone like that, and pushing aside wild flights of the imagination to Johnny Cueto/Aroldis Chapman territory, I was feeling very good. And then we traded for Alfredo Simon...
Just about all of us reacted with dismay. I'm still kinda hot about it. But, the question, once I'd cooled off, thought about it and done a bit of research, is always are we a better team than we were when the season ended? I'm confident that we are. Are we better than last season? That is much more of an open question, but the answer to it, I'm convinced, has almost entirely to do with Justin Verlander, and to an extent, Anibal Sanchez and Miguel Cabrera, and how each rebounds from down years and injury, than it does anything that's happened since Victor Martinez was signed.
Are we better on offense? Yeah I think we clearly are. Cespedes' last two years have been a disappointment after the way he broke into the league in 2012, hitting .292/.356/.505. The last two seasons have seen his OBP and slugging percentage plummet 50 points. But that's still a perfectly comparable replacement for Torii Hunter, with better speed. And there are reasons for optimism that the Tigers may get a little more out of him in this lineup. Comerica Park may yield a couple extra home runs for one, and he'll be inserted into a much more potent lineup with several of the games best weapons in front of him presumably, instead of being expected to do much of the heavy lifting himself. And perhaps the influence of Victor and Miggy will be good for him as a hitter too.
I admit I'm a little skeptical of Cespedes, and I've been arguing against doing this for the past month, thinking we should do a little better for the services of Rick Porcello. But with it a reality, I can't help but think about adding Yoenis Cespedes in behind Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Cabrera, and Victor Martinez. That sounds outrageous. There is not a lot of right-handed hitting power around the league, or power period, and Dave Dombrowski's lineup is positively bristling with it. This team has four hitters with a decent chance of hitting 120 home runs between them. Kinsler, Nick Castellanos and the catcher platoon should tack on another 15 each as well. There isn't a team out there close to us in that department, and we've gotten there while adding even more speed on the basepaths, and getting either Anthony Gose or Rajai Davis on the bench everyday along with Tyler Collins, to pinch-hit or run. This is a tangibly more dangerous and versatile offense than the Tigers featured last year.
Obviously pitching is where we look to have lost ground over the 2014 roster. To avoid a substantial drop, Shane Greene has to be as good as advertised. If he is, with David Price replacing Max Scherzer the top four is better with expected improvement and health from Anibal and Verlander. Unless you can somehow imagine getting less from Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez this year as a likely outcome. In which case, we're screwed regardless....
Which brings us to the major object of today's ire, one Alfredo Simon. I could wish for the Tigers to have traded for almost any decent low cost starter in place of Simon. I'm highly skeptical that he's going to be able to hold up and give us a lot of quality starts and not get knocked out early in a lot of games. There's potential for him to do a great job, at least in stretches, for us, but I'm not holding my breath that he even survives to the All-Star break as a functional starter.
If he falters, we're probably going to rely on some hybrid of Kyles with Alfredo to get us through every fifth day. That's actually more of Simon's bread and butter anyway. And maybe that's the way to think of this. If Dave had signed Simon today saying that he thought Kyle Lobstein was ready to pitch every fifth day at the major league level, and that Simon was insurance, and middle-relief help to bridge the youngsters to the later innings, or that he was going to compete for the job in spring training, I think it might have gone down better with me initially. Presumably Simon has the inside track based on stellar (and quite fortunate) results in the first half last year. But I'll remain optimistic that there will be something of a competition in spring training, with the best guy getting the early starting assignments. A hybrid start of Kyle Lobstein/Alfredo Simon, with maybe Kyle Ryan or another guy at Toledo getting into that mix.
Defensively I'll just say with two of the best middle infielders in the game, a pretty radically improved outfield with Torii and Austin out and Gose and Cespedes in, and hopefully McCann performing well alongside Avila, this team bears little resemblance to last year's. It's not unthinkable that we may save 30+ runs compared to last year's unit with defense alone. That may be a substantial salve on a much weaker back-end of the rotation than we started with in 2014. And it should allow every opportunity for Shane Greene and our big three to dominate this year.
So, unless something radical and unforeseen (Max Scherzer) happens, which I'm not expecting, I think it's fair to say the rotation is weaker, but with some upside, than it was going into 2014. But it's going to come down to Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. Particularly Justin. As we've heard from both Dave Dombrowski and Brad Ausmus repeatedly, at some point your guys are your guys and they're just going to have to perform better, and to the standards expected. The Tigers' payroll is pushing it's ceiling, and there's no solution coming for an ace who doesn't perform well.
I can say the same about the bullpen. Dave has gathered a lot of arms with potential together. We don't yet have a bullpen most are enthusiastic about. We have a lot of maybes. But some of these jokers are just going to have to pitch like they're capable of....
So the offense and defense are potent, with some youth and upside, and primed to support a downgrade in the rotation's caboose. The margin for error isn't great anymore, but I look at what our GM did today, and appreciate that he made no long term commitments, and that he's gotten us stronger in two areas and only weaker in one. Hopefully this goes like it should, we score more runs or an amount equal to last year, and we do a better, and hopefully more consistent job, of preventing them.
We should be favored in the Central again despite the hot breath of the competition on our necks, and yet looking around, the team has more positional talent under 30 than we've had in quite a while, and yet is primed to get a lot of money freed up at year's end to continue re-tooling for the future. The guys we're stuck with because of their contracts, are guys we're generally pretty lucky to be stuck with. And the general stinginess shown this off-season leaves me confident that if the Tigers need to make a move during the season, they'll have the wiggle room to make those adjustments.
What this team needs to be a contender to win a World Series is for our best players to be our best players. I feel okay with that. It's never any other way...