Welcome to June! It used to be May but now it’s June, and it will be June for a little while before it becomes something else altogether. Odd how that works. But what it means is that enough time has passed for us to vote in another approval poll. Yay!
The last time we took the temperature of the Tigers’ fanbase they were very supportive of General Manager Dave Dombrowski, showing a 92 percent approval rating. This was a big rebound month for Dombrowski’s approval, as he posted only a 63 percent approval rate at the end of spring training.
Taking a quick look at Dombrowski’s apparent offseason goals reveals both success and failure. For some time the front office has been trying to improve the team’s defense without sacrificing too much of it’s league-leading offense, as evidenced by the acquisitions of Jose Iglesias, Ian Kinsler, Yoenis Cespedes, and Anthony Gose.
The improvements on defense are obvious, as the Tigers have gone from one of the worst in the league to one of the best, according to any metric you care to use (including the eye test). The offense, however, is a little more complex. The Tigers’ lineup has struggled to score runs far too often this season, despite posting very good peripheral numbers. They are among the league leaders in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging, but rank near league-average in the most important offensive statistic -- runs scored. It’s a strange anomaly that shouldn’t be expected to continue all season, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.
On the pitching side, the starting rotation has taken a big hit since it’s historic level of production in 2013. But that was to be expected, as this current group hasn’t seen the likes of Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, or Justin Verlander yet this season. Furthermore, Anibal Sanchez has been less dominant than detriment so far. However, despite all the obstacles, the rotation has been sufficient, hanging around league average. The boost from an effective Verlander and Sanchez could raise the group back into the upper echelon.
Which brings us to the bullpen. Dombrowski’s Achilles Heel has been surprisingly effective thus far, posting a 2.90 ERA on the season, including a league-best 2.05 ERA in May. This production is coming from a group that many felt looked eerily similar to the unit that failed so spectacularly in 2014, and it has happened with the two most productive relievers -- Al Alburquerque and Joba Chamberlain -- struggling mightily.
Joakim Soria has shown why the Tigers were willing to pay the high cost in prospects to acquire him, plus the additional $7 million option to keep him in Detroit this season. Blaine Hardy and Alex Wilson have each taken a big stride towards proving that last season’s success was no fluke. Angel Nesbitt has been a pleasant surprise as well.
The Tigers currently hold a 28-24 record, on pace for 87 wins. They sit in third place, a position they’re not accustomed to, but their record is the fourth-best in the American League. They’ve been hit hard by injuries, but hopefully we’re on the verge of seeing some of those players return to game action. While the Tigers aren't in an ideal position right now, they are poised to make a run at their fifth consecutive division crown with a little luck.
Another component to keep an eye on is the long-term health of the franchise. Dombrowski has mostly built this four-time division champion through trades of young prospects for established major league talent, and supplementing them with occasional big-name free agent signings and rare in-house prospect. While this strategy has paid off in the win column thus far, it’s also left the farm system devoid of any game-changing talent. Many onlookers see the big contracts of an aging core and the lack of any potential reinforcements from the minor leagues, and assume that the Tigers will be forced into rebuilding mode sooner than later.
Others might point out that, while it’s true the Tigers have little in the way of minor-league talent, they have plenty of youth on the major-league roster. Iglesias, Gose, Nick Castellanos, James McCann, and Shane Greene are all under the age of 26 and yet to enter their arbitration years. While none of these players are shoe-ins for the Hall of Fame just yet, they can serve as an effective supporting cast for the Tigers core of star veterans like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander.
Is it enough?
So what do you think? Has Dombrowski done enough to put the Tigers in contention this season, and keep them in contention moving forward? Has he fulfilled your expectations thus far?