Over the past year, Tigers fans could be forgiven if they expressed some confusion where team ownership is concerned. Owner Mike Ilitch has battled age and illness, and the locus of control over the team between himself and his son, Chris Ilitch, has seemed a bit murky at times. The firing of former GM Dave Dombrowski after the trade deadline was curtly handled with little in the way of explanation offered to a surprised fanbase.
And questions have abounded as to ownership's willingness to increase the already swollen payroll. It was fitting then that Ilitch the elder took the opportunity offered by Monday's signing ceremony for newly inked Tigers' starter Jordan Zimmermann to clear the air.
It was Ilitch's own comments however, that were the sweetest music the fanbase could have heard from their team as the Winter Meetings set to open next week. Appearing alternately fired up, candid and even mischievous at times, the Tigers' owner welcomed Zimmermann to his team and offered some tasty soundbites on issues past, present and future.
"It might sound silly, but I don't care about spending money."
Well I suppose when you're Mike Ilitch's age and all you want is a World Series title, why would you worry about money? But of course, no one doubts his commitment to putting a winning baseball team on the field every season.
"I'm supposed to be a good boy and not go over it," Ilitch said, "but if I think there are certain players that could help us a lot, I'll go over it. Oops, I shouldn't have said that."
That little quote should send the fanbase into a bit of a froth. The team still has glaring needs at several positions, and one could be forgiven for letting their eyes wander to some of the shiniest free agents available this offseason.
Most of Ilitch's comments weren't too surprising. The man wants a World Series title as badly as the Tigers' fanbase does, and he's still hell-bent on getting it. He's made no bones about his willingness to spend, and he's backed it up with one of the larger payrolls in the game in recent years.
However, let's not be fooled here. Despite his apparent age and frailty, Ilitch is still a savvy businessman and he pushed all the right buttons with the paying customers on Monday. He's no doubt aware that many think the Tigers are already beyond the threshold of their best opportunities to bring home baseball's biggest prize. An expensive roster, with most of its biggest pieces in their 30s and already showing signs of the ravages of time is a reasonable target for skepticism. The fanbase is as restless as the team owner and he knows it.
More from Ilitch:
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Ilitch's performance on Monday was equal parts spoken from the heart, and simply good public relations. The Tigers went into the 2015 season with at least one serious question mark in the starting rotation and a readily apparent lack of quality relievers. Yet the Tigers chose to enter the season with Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene, despite Justin Verlander's difficult 2014 campaign. They picked up Joakim Soria's extension, and then failed to add another quality reliever despite Joe Nathan's struggles the previous season.
One or both of these issues could've been robustly addressed with a willingness to spend beyond the luxury tax threshold, but they didn't do it. As it turned out, an injury ravaged roster probably needed more help than any owner could have provided. Still, that unwillingness to go crazy with the checkbook should temper the ambitions Ilitch himself stoked with his comments.
The test of Ilitch's words may well come at next week's Winter Meetings. If the Tigers are able to bolster at least two positions with quality players, their chances of competing in October next season will look pretty good. But the fans should take a serious wait and see approach here. If the team has a major move remaining, it would a nice early Christmas present to the Tigers' faithful, but it's still far more likely that we're going to have to be content with the roster as it's basically constructed already.
Whatever moves the Tigers are able to make, the major factor in their hopes is one that money isn't going to solve. If Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Victor Martinez are healthy and as productive as they're capable of being, the Tigers will be a serious threat to make another deep post-season run and perhaps win it all. But if time has begun to pass them by, and these debilitating injuries are here to stay, even an 86-year old billionaire will find that there are some things that money just won't buy.