So the Tigers have acquired Alexi Casilla, leading to one major question: Why? As human beings we try to find meaning even in the smallest things in life. We search for patterns that unite the web of existence and erase the nagging questions and doubts that haunt us. We perpetually fabricate whys by which we live. However, this transaction eludes even the most insightful among us. Acquiring Alexi Casilla brings to mind the image of a small boy smashing a spider into the pavement not because he is angry or sadistic, but because a simple and mindless impulse compels him. If you ask the child why he would do such a thing, he just shrugs and walks away, leaving you to look at the broken spider and feel terror before the inner hearts of children. That feeling is what acquiring Alexi Casilla is like.
Luckily, there are a few theories as to why Dombrowski would do such a cynical thing that screams of a nihilistic move made for the sake of making a move. The first theory is that the the Tigers need minor league depth. This is obviously false. Since when do the Tigers care about the minor leagues? The second theory is that the Tigers will move Nick Castellanos or Dixon Machado. Nothing can be put past Dombrowski, but this still seems early. The third theory is my favorite. This theory holds that the Tigers are desperate to replace what they lost in Don Kelly and Dombrowski is searching the wide world of baseball in an attempt to get that magic feeling back.
Tempted to write an article titled "Tigers acquire Alexi Casilla, still looking for their rebound Don Kelly"— Rob Rogacki (@BYBRob) June 30, 2015
This is that article. Despite a wide range of recent New Don Kelly candidates, it appears that Dombrowski recognizes that the void remains unfilled.
Accepting the premise, it has to be asked why Don Kelly would need to be replaced. Have you been disappointed this season? Has there been a feeling of emptiness when Romine takes over as a defensive replacement in the 9th inning? Has the internet been a darker place? Have you wondered who to irrationally hate or irrationally love on your favorite baseball team? You are probably suffering from a lack of Don Kelly. I have broken down Don Kelly into five essential traits in case you are wondering what it is you are missing.
- He is not very good at baseball. The thing that sticks out the most when looking at Don Kelly is that he is simply not a very good baseball player. This would be fine if he did not play baseball, but he absolutely does play baseball and does so for a living. Don Kelly plays decent defense and boasts a career .232/.296/.335 line, leaving him worth .4 WAR over the course of 572 MLB games. One could make a case that Don Kelly has been one of the more unremarkable players in baseball history. The corollary is that he is not a very bad baseball player either. Don Kelly is not a man of extremes and he modestly chooses to be middle of the road. He can, however, play multiple positions. This trait seems to be Don Kelly's primary calling card. I have a baseball card of Don Kelly as a Pirate in which he is described as both a shortstop and a prospect. Those titles seem ambitious, but they may have been accurate. He eventually blossomed into a utility player who has played all nine positions. At the end of his time in Detroit he mostly played at first base, third base and the outfield.
- He is a great person. Kelly was an ambassador of sorts for the Tigers, the type of player who signs autographs without complaining and always comes across as exceptionally polite and kind. The internet ran with Kelly's consistent polite behavior and created #DonnieDeeds. While hilarious, these fabricated Donnie Deeds do not hold a candle to actual things that Don Kelly did including meeting a girl who was mauled by a bear. He did that. Don Kelly waded into the abyss of human suffering that is a child getting attacked by a horrifying bear and he was there to comfort her.
- He is weirdly compelling. The Wizard is a compelling character both on and off the field. Although generally a mediocre player, he showed streaks of greatness, especially against Justin Masterson who, as crazy as it sounds, was once the best pitcher on the Tigers' biggest division rivals. Add in a game winning RBI in the ALDS and another few clutch hits and you have a player who could be good sometimes. He is also Jim Leyland's adopted son, Gene Lamont's best friend, Neil Walker's brother in law, and anything else that fans would like to reflect onto him.
- People love Don Kelly. They just do. There are (too) many Don Kelly parody accounts on twitter and even a store devoted to Don Kelly merchandise. Don Kelly became a minor internet sensation due to his play, off field intangibles and longevity. While many would be Don Kellys like Steve Lombardozzi, Alex Gonzalez, Ryan Raburn, Danny Worth and others fell to the wayside, Don Kelly remained. He played for the Tigers for five years and DFA him as they would try, he always came back.
- People hate Don Kelly. Many people look at the 25th player on a roster and feel contempt towards this usually aging utility man. Don Kelly inspired a surprisingly large amount of internet hatred. Indeed, watching Don Kelly bat third sometimes for the Tigers was frustrating. One website spent a shocking amount of time devoted to detailing the reasons to hate Don Kelly. People on twitter would consistently lose their mind over every bad at-bat taken by the Wizard and launch into a fury every time he was written into a lineup. The great irony is that someone so vanilla would inspire such intense feelings in both directions. By all accounts Don Kelly was a player who should have flown under the radar with most of us not thinking much about him, but that was not his fate -- Don Kelly is too big for that. Instead, he is both loathed and loved in equal measure.
Since he has left, there has been an undeniable void. The Tigers have shown an odd dedication to carrying utility infielders, presumably to recapture that old Don Kelly feeling. This is the only reasonable explanation as to why someone like Tyler Collins is still not on the team.The candidates to replace Don Kelly in 2015 have been the following:
- Hernan Perez. While Hernan has the positional eligibility and even learned to catch this offseason, it simply was not working out. He was deeply hated by the fan base, but the love wasn't there. He was cut and picked up by the Brewers where he boasts an .816 OPS (obviously a small sample) prompting us to wonder if he was not actually a mediocre baseball player the whole time. This revelation would be a betrayal beyond the pale for anyone hoping to be Don Kelly. How dare you, Hernan.
- Josh Wilson. Wilson was called up to replace Hernan Perez. You may wonder why? To be Don Kelly obviously. There is literally no other reason. Wilson actually has a career slash line worse than Kelly at .229/.279/.318, but both have played for parts of eight major league seasons and both are worth.... exactly .4 WAR according to Baseball Reference!!! I did not believe it at first either, but it is true. Further, Wilson has pitched and played all over the field, though he is a bit more infield heavy than Don. Wilson's most damning trait is that he inspires absolutely no feeling whatsoever. I routinely forget that he is on the team and I invest too much time knowing things about this team. Wilson receives the treatment that Kelly should have received, but lacks Kelly's knack for doing everything so blandly that it becomes its own brand of normcore flair.
- Andrew Romine. Romine appears to be the front runner for new Don Kelly and boasts an odd .245/.296/.296 career line. If it weren't for his surprisingly good 2015, his career WAR would also be .3, which reeks of Don Kelly. He derives most of his value from actually being able to handle middle infield positions, though he spent this offseason learning the outfield and catcher position in a pretty bald-faced attempt to become Don Kelly. Romine appears to be slated to last at least two years and maybe with time, he will mature into a fairly decent Don Kelly.
- Alexi Casilla. This is an odd choice by Dombrowski since Casilla notably broke the hearts of Tigers fans everywhere in 2009. His road to Don Kelly would be one of redemption as the author of one of our darker moments would then miraculously become a shining beam of light. Will this happen? It is hard to say, but his career line of .247/.302/.331 is very Don Kelly and if you Porcello out 2011 and 2012 he is also worth .4 career WAR.
At the end of the day, things remain pretty bleak on the Don Kelly front. Andrew Romine is our best potential Don Kelly, but he is no Don Kelly. People just look at him and make lettuce puns. There is no internet sensation and no one is even angry when he starts over Castellanos. Meanwhile, the actual real life Don Kelly is injured in Miami where he would probably be playing a lot of outfield due to Giancarlo Stanton's broken hand were he not also on the disabled list. This cruel twist of fate has Don Kelly written all over it. Of course Don Kelly would never condescend to benefit from an injury to one of baseball's great players.
Meanwhile, we soldier on looking for small players we can fill with great importance. We read news about Alexi Casilla and think, "Yeah, maybe." We mourn the loss of a unique player. Don Kelly united and divided Tigers fans like no other player that I can recall. He became a large figure in our odd community and we miss having so many hot takes about a player that is so lukewarm. Don Kelly was not the superstar athlete, he was the regular guy who liked to play baseball. Don Kelly reminded us of ourselves and that is why we loved and hated him so much.
Don Kelly was a paradox and those are fun. Josh Wilson is a stranger and Gene Lamont can be spied every game sitting forlornly in the dugout, thinking of his friend and taking hidden pulls from his flask. Don Kelly is in Miami. It is too hot there and he doesn't understand what people are saying. Dombrowski seeks to undo his mistake and shrewd analysts can only assume that the acquisition of middling hitters who can play multiple positions will continue endlessly until Don Kelly returns or a new Don is anointed.