As spring training draws near, baseball writers and forecasters are taking time to reflect on the 2016-17 offseason. While some teams — the White Sox and the Red Sox, especially — had busy winters, for most the Hot Stove largely remained lukewarm.
ESPN’s Jim Bowden, a former major league general manager, knows a thing or two about the minutiae of the offseason. He recognizes the behind-the-scenes work and effort that go into all those blockbuster trades, and the difficult task facing all GMs when they know there are needs to be met on their roster.
With that in mind, it is somewhat surprising that Bowden missed the mark on the Detroit Tigers’ offseason. By giving the team an F, he showed a lack of awareness in regards to what moves the Tigers needed to make, as well as overlooked the potential positives behind the ones they did make. The grade is not only unearned, it’s actually a little insulting. No other team received the same abysmal grade. Only three teams even received ‘D’ grades: the Padres, Athletics, and Twins.
“The Tigers went into the offseason with the idea they would shop all of their veteran players to get younger and cheaper, and to rebuild their farm system,” Bowden writes. Yes and no. General manager Al Avila said a lot of things this offseason, specifically about a long-term goal to go younger and that he was willing to listen on anyone.
What Bowden singled out as the Tigers needs were a “center fielder, catcher and pitching depth.” The first two were absolutely on the top of the Tigers wishlist this winter, and while the players chosen to fill those roles are not particularly exciting, they also didn’t push the Tigers’ bloated payroll any higher than it could safely go. The addition of catcher Alex Avila was a smart choice. He’s a veteran of the team, a gifted catcher, and will be an asset to the younger pitchers like Fulmer, Norris, and Boyd.
Funnily enough, Bowden used that exact same logic to praise the Twins for their acquisition of catcher Jason Castro. He then went on to say the “rest of the [Twins] offseason was filled with crickets.” Remember, Bowden gave the Twins a D, not an F.
In the center field position, many were left confused and bewildered by the trade of Cameron Maybin, but as we have pointed out before, Maybin is likely to regress going forward, and his salary probably wasn’t a smart buy for the team. Acquiring Mikie Mahtook isn’t a front page story, but it does add some semi-decent depth in center field. The Tigers went a good chunk of the 2016 season with Maybin on the disabled list, and are no strangers to using a rotating selection of utility outfielders for center.
Lastly, Bowden pointed to a need for pitching depth. The starting rotation is stacked with depth, with very little wiggle room to add more players thanks to existing contracts. The Tigers might not have the squadron of aces they once did, but they have a competent group of starters. It’s not saying much, but the Tigers’ bullpen is the strongest it has been in ages, especially with Bruce Rondon maturing and the potential addition of Joe Jimenez this coming season. There is always room for development in these areas, but it was hardly on the forefront of the Tigers’ list of needs. For Bowden to point to it as a place the team missed the mark is unfair.
Where Bowden gets his assessment right is in his conclusion. “None of those acquisitions are difference-makers, and the bottom line is Detroit didn't get better this offseason -- not for the present or the future.” The Tigers didn’t add any long-term youthful talent. They didn’t add any exciting prospects to the farm team. What they did do, however, was keep together a strong core team of players who still have it in them to compete for a playoff spot this season. Avila saw this potential and decided to spend one more year going for it instead of tearing the team down.
Was the Tigers offseason exciting? Absolutely not. Was it often infuriating to read conflicting or vague statements from Avila? Definitely. Were the holes in the boat plugged, however temporarily? Yes. The offseason did what it needed to do, in giving the Tigers a team that is ready to compete, and to win.
It wasn’t a thrill ride, but the job got done. It’s hard to see that as a failure.