Now that the World Series is over, the wheels that carry the giant offseason train are already in motion, slowly at first, but picking up speed as we head inexorably towards the 2016 season. There will be stops along the way, of course, mile-markers where we do some sight-seeing and pick up a few touristy knick-knacks for next spring: deadlines dealing with free agency, qualifying offers, that sort of thing, a bit of a longer lay-over in December while the Winter Meetings take place. Lots of souvenirs to pick up from that pit stop.
But before we get too far down the path, lets appreciate that this is when the offseason is at its most enjoyable, right here, right now, when it's all tabula rasa and empty space on which we can paint our craziest dreams and ideas. As far as any of us knows, this is going to be the most awesome offseason in Detroit Tigers history. That one super-expensive free agent who would most definitely be a postseason hero for the Tigers next year? We're totally signing him. That crazy trade that involves multiple teams and at least two players no one ever believed would be changing uniforms? It's totally going to happen. The Tigers are going to piece together a can't-miss bullpen, lock up a top-shelf starter who will blow your freaking mind, and somehow add a slugging position player who also happens to be a total stud on defense. Mark my words, it's happening.
All that stuff has to fade away eventually, as specific dates pass and actual history gets written, but for now? This is when rosterbation is at peak levels of awesomeness and enjoyment. There's going to a reality to face eventually, and that reality may include a roster move or two that makes us do some months-long brow-furrowing, maybe a trade that makes us bite our collective lower lip, and probably at least a couple of acquisitions that will become the subject of much joyful ink-spilling and declarations of triumph.
Look, do we even know what this team really needs? I'm not talking about identifying the holes and weaknesses, that's easy. I'm talking about identifying the magic collection of ingredients that, when mixed together and baked at 375 degrees for an entire season, results in forkfuls of Victory Cake. The Royals just won the 2015 World Series, and dear lord, are the sports writers and talking heads ever falling all over themselves to issue proclamations that definitively identify how they did it. The Royals had grit, hustle, heart and guts. They were relentless and never gave up. They had a "balanced" roster and everybody chipped in. It was magic, it was karma, it was luck. Basically, the Royals had an entire attic of unopened boxes just full of Narrative, and that's what it takes to win a World Series.
Baseball intangibles. They're the candy corn of the Halloween snack bowl: necessary decoration and color that you'd miss for sure if it wasn't there, but very much lacking substance and good flavor once you start chewing.
Here's something to think about while we're checking our maps and counting down the hours until our next pit stop on the Offseason Tour. The playoffs are a giant gamble, and the best way to win the World Series is to buy as many lottery tickets -- postseason appearances -- as you can. The Royals somehow got past the Astros and the Blue Jays, even though they had losing records against both teams in the regular season. In fact, add up the regular season games and the postseason games, and the Royals had a combined .500 record against those two teams. That 50/50 record is apparently enough, though, because the Royals won the important games in October, the ones that are somehow worth more.
It comes down to runs scored and runs allowed, really, but there are lots of way to get to that final answer. In the runs allowed department, the Royals kept the numbers low mostly with league-leading defense and a bullpen that is clearly an Easter Egg that someone stumbled upon. As for runs scored, just look at the stats: lowest strikeout and walk rate in the AL, which equals a super-high contact lineup, plus the second-highest XBT (extra-base taken) rate in the league. The team BABIP was only around .300, so no crazy luck demons at work there. The team ISO was the lowest in the AL, and for as much as Ned Yost gets labeled a "small ball" manager, the team only executed 34 sacrifice bunts, just four above league average. They only scored .08 runs-per-game above average, for a season total of 724 runs, and they allowed 641 runs, which means that after the machines are done crunching the numbers, they actually out-performed their Pythagorean Expectation by five wins.
Well, yeah, obviously. That's what happens when you win a lot of one-run games (they were 23-17 for the season), and when you have a mediocre offense and an other-worldly bullpen, you're going to be in a lot of one-run games. There's no mystery here, really: lots of contact, lots of aggressive-but-well-executed baserunning, and the ability to go all Stan Van Gundy from the seventh inning on.
Will the Tigers lean more towards this philosophy in 2016? In years past, they've preferred to rely on demigods in the starting rotation to achieve optimal run prevention, and loading the lineup with sluggers to maximize their run-scoring capabilities. The Tigers don't have to look exactly like the Royals, or the 2014 Giants, or the 2013 Red Sox to win a World Series. In fact, they'll look exactly like those teams once the World Series trophy is hoisted in Detroit and the photos go viral on Twitter, which is just a weird way of saying "you look like a World Series team when you win a World Series." There's no need to follow someone else's template -- just get that postseason lottery ticket, bribe the baseball gods for some good luck, and hey look at that, now all the other teams are saying "you're the template!"
So, what do the Tigers need this offseason? If you said "pitching aces up the wazoo," you're right. If you said "more power in the lineup," you're also right. If you said "a lights-out bullpen," you are so ridiculously right that you might as well take the rest of the day off and just enjoy how right you are. The team could use all of those things, but even the right amount of just some of those things would make a huge difference. Just get a lottery ticket. That's top priority.
The signed contracts are coming soon enough, and official trade announcements are just down the road. Now would be a really good time to enjoy the blank canvas and the daydreams.