Coming into the 2015 season, many expected the Detroit Tigers to win their fifth consecutive AL Central Division title and return to the playoffs. While their roster wasn't quite as talented as its predecessors in 2013 and 2014, the Tigers still featured one of the most fearsome lineups in baseball and a top-heavy rotation. Instead, there has only been disappointment. The Tigers are 49-52 after 101 games and face a 12 1/2 game deficit in the AL Central. The disappointing season has led to an eleventh-hour about-face, as the Tigers are moving from potential buyers to full-on sellers less than two days prior to the MLB trade deadline.
And Tigers fans couldn't be happier.
For years, we've heard the comparisons. Thought to be the next iteration of the Philadelphia Phillies -- sans championship, no less -- the Tigers were running out of time to make this thing work. Trading for David Price last July bought the Tigers another year on their lease, but a subpar supporting cast riddled by injuries and uninspiring performances rendered Price's Herculean efforts largely moot. The Tigers replaced their ace, but couldn't replace those around him, and instead of patching holes, they're now remodeling the entire pitching staff.
This is going to tick off a fanbase or two, but expectations are exhausting. The Tigers have been World Series favorites for the past four or five seasons, but haven't gotten over the hump. Watching a great team is fun, but watching one so weighed down by expectations to bulldoze everyone in their path gets to be damn near tedious, especially when they don't perform. And an awful bullpen doesn't help. Gaining the lead doesn't cause relief for Tigers fans, it causes anxiety.
It's clear that the 2015 Tigers, while maybe not collapsing under pressure, were becoming a stale version of their predecessors. Fans who watch this team day in and day out have seen it. The team has looked sluggish on numerous occasions this season, committing more mental errors than a group this talented reasonably should. When the pitching is on, the lineup disappears. When the lineup scores runs, the rotation and bullpen are liable to give them right back. The Tigers haven't been able to put everything together this season, and with nearly two-thirds of the season gone, it's hard to see them putting things into place at the drop of a hat.
For the Tigers and their fans, selling at the trade deadline is somewhat of a relief. Gone are the World Series expectations, the constant glances at the standings, and potentially even the Phillies comparisons. The team will still be competing to win games, but for the fans, the end result doesn't matter anymore. Sure, it might not be fun to watch this team slink to a fourth-place finish, but there are other reasons to watch. Games like Tuesday's 8-1 drubbing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays won't be so painful, so cumbersome. Instead of "when will this team put it together?" we can say "Hey, Ian Krol had a good outing."
To other fanbases, this seems ridiculous. Selling is a death sentence to some, and an annual rite of passage to others. To Tigers fans, it's a chance for a fresh start. It has been a long time since the Tigers have had to rebuild, but trust me, we remember what it is like. This situation is different. With a talented core already in place, the Tigers don't need to overhaul everything. Miguel Cabrera is still here. So are Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, J.D. Martinez, Jose Iglesias, James McCann, and a few useful bullpen pieces. The cupboard isn't bare, and restocking the shelves may be all it takes to bring the Tigers back into contention in 2016.