Heading into this week’s Winter Meetings, the Tigers weren’t expected to be particularly active. Yet as things wrap up with the Rule 5 draft on Thursday, general manager Al Avila is a fair piece further along with his holiday shopping than most teams.
On the surface, that haste seems a bit at odds with the current state of the free agent market. The best players available are still getting paid, despite a slow pace, but the middle and lower tier of players once again appear due for a long offseason of uncertainty. There are likely to be some values available as spring training looms.
However, with Matt Moore and Tyson Ross added to the pitching staff, and Wednesday’s addition of shortstop Jordy Mercer, the Tigers have basically handled their major needs this offseason. The Tigers had no internal option at shortstop. They needed at least one starting pitcher with some potential to rebound to better days. With those positions filled, they’re left looking at reasonably deep groups of veteran second basemen and catchers, without much urgency to make a move. Possibly that will end up working in the Tigers’ favor.
The Tigers have Grayson Greiner, who they seem to like enough to start next season. Niko Goodrum and some combination of Triple-A options could be enough to piece together the second base position. It’s not going to be pretty, but the Tigers were terrible at both positions last season as well. The equation wouldn’t change much.
However, that’s also an argument for taking inexpensive opportunities to add some veteran experience at those positions. Small moves could substantially improve the product on the field because the bar is already quite low. Hopefully, the Tigers will still find inexpensive options—Ian Kinsler please—to finish out what could be a halfway decent roster.
The Rays are going for it
While people around the game continue to study the Tampa Bay Rays 2018 season like a revelation, the Rays are zagging in more traditional directions like spending some cash. They inked starter Charlie Morton to a two-year deal worth a reported $30 million on Wednesday. That may prove one of the better acquistions of the offseason, and the exposure is limited.
The late blooming 35-year-old has been very solid for the Houston Astros and showed his mettle in closing out Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. He gives the Rays’ rotation substantially more depth and has the flexibility to work with an innovative front office and coaching staff. Our friends at DRaysBay are pleased. They deserved some good news after the public unraveling of plans for a new stadium this week.
Shane Greene on Instagram
We have no idea how Shane Greene feels about Astroturf, the designated hitter, or long, slow, deep, wet kisses that last three days, but dinosaurs? Don’t be ridiculous. No such thing, man. The Tigers closer took to Instagram for a question and answer session with fans, and while he hails from the land of Florida Man, as well as assorted other gigantic, murderous reptiles, Greene wants you to know he’s not falling for this “dinosaur” malarkey.
He’s just kidding, of course. Probably. While the lack of new episodes of the 619 podcast is vexing to us, Greene is a quality follow on Instagram, unafraid of tough questions, and interacts with fans a good deal.
Gardenhire said he "absolutely" views Shane Greene as closer again in 2019.— Evan Woodbery (@evanwoodbery) December 12, 2018
Ron Gardenhire is open to the opener
We sometimes feel obliged to give Gardy some light-hearted grief for his old school persona. It’s necessary to balance out his insidious, good-natured charm. However, he’s actually proved more amenable to change than some expected since taking over the Detroit Tigers. He and his staff used the shift as effectively as any team in the game this season, for example. While he still appreciates a good sacrifice bunt, and who doesn’t, really, Gardenhire has drastically reduced his use of the tactic as evidence has made clear that in most circumstances, the sacrifice bunt is a terrible idea.
Still, Gardenhire is a self-described traditionalist who also believes the shift should be limited with rule changes. So, amidst the endless tide of rumors, quotes, and quaint insider industry talk on Wednesday, Gardenhire raised a few eyebrows with this surprising perspective.
Ron Gardenhire said he'd be willing to use an "opener" at times but didn't say which pitchers on the roster might be a good fit for role.— Evan Woodbery (@evanwoodbery) December 12, 2018
"I think I'd tell them before I tell you. I'm not afraid to try it....I don't have a problem with it."
Chris McCosky has the story for The Detroit News. It’s quite a mixed bag of quotes. While Gardenhire isn’t planning on using the opener strategy in 2019, he did leave open the possibility. With a staff full of young, and/or oft injured arms, it’ll be interesting to see if the Tigers at least try something like this next season. Perhaps an opportunity afforded by a late scratch of a starting pitcher will bring the concept front-and-center before Gardenhire and his staff.
However, don’t get too excited about Gardenhire’s selective embrace of the current state of the game. As previously noted, he’d still like to ban the shift. Which makes a certain sort of sense. The bullpen game has been around forever. The opener is a well considered variation, but not particularly different in appearance. On the contrary, the heavy use of defensive shifts has altered the aesthetics of the game to a bothersome degree for some viewers, most particularly MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, despite negligible impact on run prevention.
To that end, I offer you some perspective courtesy of FanGraphs’ managing editor, general wise person, and friend of BYB, Meg Rowley.
Around the horn
Tom Verducci looks at the tall task of maximizing Bryce Harper’s contract in the information era for Sports Illustrated. He also has an insightful piece on why J.A. Happ’s fastball plays as well as Justin Verlander’s.
Writer Jayson Stark, currently of The Athletic, has been announced as the winner of the 2018 J.G. Taylor Spink award. Basically he’s the baseball writers’ MVP this year. He spoke to FanGraphs’ David Laurila about his love for writing and the game of baseball, and how the two came together for him and began an outstanding career as both journalist, analyst, and broadcaster.
The Atlanta Braves have shown some interest in trading for Nicholas Castellanos, and coincidentally, FanGraphs published their Braves’ farm system rankings yesterday. The Cincinnati Reds acquired starter Tanner Roark from the Washington Nationals. Finally, J.A. Happ is headed back to the New York Yankees, whose fanbase is still waiting for another major move.