The one thing you can say about the Tigers and the moves they've made over the last five offseasons is "boy, they sure did make some moves over the last five offseasons!" Some of those transactions were great, some were awful, and some were like cranking the handle on a Jack-in-the-Box until -- POP! -- RUN YOU FOOLS HE'S HOLDING A LIT STICK OF DYNAMITE! But mostly it's been great, right?
While we're waiting for Al Avila to start moving pieces on the chessboard for 2015/2016, let's look back at the last five years and see if we can learn anything from history.
This was the beginning of the four-year run at division titles and featured a mix of re-signing established players and picking up some shiny new free agents. Magglio Ordonez and Jhonny Peralta both got new contracts, and in a bold attempt to see just how slow he could make the team, Dave Dombrowski signed Victor Martinez, who made it a whole year before blowing up his knee.
On the pitching side, Dombrowski dipped back into the free agent pool to pick up Joaquin Benoit and a 24-year-old rookie named Al Alburquerque. Sure, sure, look back in time with hindsight and wrinkle your nose if you like, but Al-Al tossed 43 innings and some change that year, posted an ERA+ of 223, struck out almost 14 batters per nine innings, and finished with a FIP of 2.08. Probably that performance ruined his career.
Division title: check. Division Series championship: check. Find a way to beat a PED-loaded Nelson Cruz in the ALCS: crap. Ready to gear up for another shot at making the World Series, the Tigers said goodbye to Magglio Ordonez, Brad Penny, Joel Zumaya, and Ramon Santiago, and then for some reason said hello to Ramon Santiago again. Recognizing that what they really needed was a guy who could fire up the team by clapping a lot, Dombrowski signed Quintin Berry.
With a starting rotation that already featured Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello, the Tigers decided to roll into 2012 by seeing what Drew Smyly could do as a fifth starter (spoiler alert: Dombrowski had to pick up Anibal Sanchez at the deadline), so there weren't really any major pitching moves.
Pretty quiet offseason, I guess.
/digs up old 2012 newspapers
Oh yeah, and on January 26, 2012, they signed Prince Fielder to a three-thousand-year, ninety-billion dollar contract.
But other than that, pretty quiet offseason.
Justin Verlander single-handedly pantsed the Oakland A's in the Division Series, "Phil Coke: Super-Closer" briefly became a thing while the Tigers swept the Yankees in the ALCS, and then a series of large Baseball Narratives fell out of the sky and blew up the World Series. That's why you don't sweep in the previous series. Long layoffs mess with your energy and will to win. The Giants were just a more scrappy team. They were hungrier.
OK, fine, that sounds like a lot of Monday Morning Quarterback bullshit, but how do you fix it in the offseason?
You get rid of Delmon Young and replace him with Torii Hunter, that's how, and so that's exactly what Dave Dombrowski did.
And that was pretty much it for that offseason, because there really wasn't much else to do. The fire-breathing, opponent-smiting starting rotation of Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, Fister, and Porcello was set, the lineup was crammed with sluggers, the bullpen was going to get a flame-throwing new closer in rookie Bruce Rondon (LOL), so ... dealer takes one card, now let's have an October showdown.
Fun facts about this offseason: The Tigers signed Brayan Pena in December and instantly made Detroit a happier place to be, and this was also the year they picked up Kyle Lobstein. From the Mets. For cash. (Don't pretend like you knew that already, you thought Lobstein crawled up out of the ocean, just like I did.)
So close, guys, but so sorry, maybe next year. Joaquin Benoit threw *that* pitch in the ALCS. Jose Veras threw *that other pitch*. Prince Fielder fell right the hell down instead of scoring from third. And that's when all hell broke loose, because holy Moses, the Tigers just haven't been the same since.
This was the season of deciding to do a 180, make the team more "athletic" and scrappy, and finally get a for-sure, top-shelf, sure-as-hell-won't-serve-up-grand-slams-in-the-playoffs closer for the bullpen.
This really was a crazy offseason.
There's an entry on the Tigers' MLB.com transaction page that just reads, "11/20/13 -- Texas Rangers traded 2B Ian Kinsler to Detroit Tigers for cash and 1B Prince Fielder," as if that wasn't the most impossible transaction in the history of Things That Will Never Happen. But it did happen, and just like that, the Tigers had a brand new infield: Miguel Cabrera at first, Kinsler at second, Jose Iglesias at short, Nick Castellanos at third. I mean, damn. It doesn't get much more "about-face" than that.
And then Dave Dombrowski traded Doug Fister for Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi (who became Alex Gonzalez, who became the Howling Nothingness of the Void after nine games), and Robbie Ray (who became Shane Greene a year later). Everyone was pretty cool with all of this, and fans definitely didn't set Twitter and Facebook on fire with flaming hot takes that are still smoldering to this day.
To address the bullpen problem (which some might have argued wasn't really that much of a problem), Dombrowski then signed Proven Closer Joe Nathan because, dang-it all, that'll shut up the Internet forever about how this bullpen always sucks at everything.
Final add-ons: a speedy little scamp named Rajai Davis, and a reliever reclamation project who for some reason was immediately handed eighth inning duties forever and ever in the person of Joba Chamberlain.
Busy offseason? You bet. What could go wrong?
Busy offseasons are stupid, baseball is stupid, proven closers are stupid, everything is stupid, stupid, stupid. The Tigers tripped and fell over backwards into the division title on the last day of the season, then got swept out of the ALDS because LOL YOU HAZ BULLPEN POOPZ, but not before they acquired a new stud starter in David Price, an elite reliever in Joakim Soria, and blew a damned hole in center field by trading Austin Jackson.
Offseason priorities: fix center field, add more bullpen help, replace the loss of Drew Smyly. (Max Scherzer walked away, but the team had pre-addressed that issue by acquiring Price at the trade deadline.)
The work began by trading Devon Travis for Anthony Gose, which, I don't know, let's give that one some time to unfold. (Just kidding, this is the Internet, judgment was passed on that trade five minutes after it happened.)
The two big moves of the offseason were extending Victor Martinez's contract (after a year of freedom from the Fielder contract, apparently Mike Ilitch decided he preferred shackles and cement bricks), and trading Rick Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes and a relief pitcher named Alex Wilson, who actually outlasted Cespedes on the roster, if that helps you hate the trade harder.
To fix the Smyly and (now) Porcello-sized holes in the starting rotation, Dave Dombrowski traded Robbie "Doug Fister" Ray for Shane Greene, and traded Eugenio Suarez/Jonathon Crawford for Alfredo Simon. Hahahahahahaha, wheeeeeeeewwwww! We can laugh about it now.
As for the bullpen, which had gone from 2013's "bit of a head cold" to 2014's "Stage IV: Terminal Suckage," Dombrowski opted for the rather unorthodox plan of setting everything on fire to see if that would help: Joel Hanrahan got a contract, Tom Gorzelanny got a contract, and in February, after 29 other teams said, "No thanks, pass, we're all set for lemons this year," Joba Chamberlain got another contract.
This one hasn't been written yet, but we're probably only days away, if that. In the past five offseasons, I saw splashy moves being made as early as Nov. 13, with the bulk of the big moves coming at the Winter Meetings in early December.
The good news is that it's probably going to be fairly difficult to do worse than the previous offseason, unless Al Avila decides to do something crazy like try to do business with Dave Dombrowski. If Al ever shows up on MLB Network wearing nothing but boxers and saying, "Well, I've just finished speaking with Dave," we'll know what happened.