The Detroit Tigers looked lifeless in yet another loss on Saturday, this one an 8-1 defeat against the last place Seattle Mariners. The M’s have outscored Detroit 21-5 in three games so far this weekend, contributing to the Tigers’ MLB-worst -212 run differential. The Tigers have won just eight games since June 1, and have just one series win to their credit since early May. Comparisons to the dreadful 2003 Tigers team, while unfounded last year, are completely reasonable at this point.
To call this a lost season would be an understatement. The Tigers were 10 games out of first place by mid-May, and have been steadily losing ground ever since. They lost nine games on first place Minnesota in June, and another six so far in July. The only standings that matter to Tigers fans, at this point, are the reverse ones that determine the 2020 MLB draft order.
Competing on a day-to-day basis is all but out the window at this point (and one might argue the Tigers have long since stopped doing that, too). With just over two months remaining in the 2019 regular season, it’s time for them to start looking at 2020 and beyond.
Here are a few changes that need to be made as we head down the stretch in 2019.
Stop playing underperforming veterans everyday
Earlier this week, MLive’s Evan Woodberry campaigned for Niko Goodrum to get the starting shortstop job in 2020. My initial response? “Why wait?” As Woodberry notes, Goodrum looked comfortable at short when he got regular playing time there while Jordy Mercer was on the injured list. He hit .284/.333/.463 in 25 games, all at shortstop, from May 29 to June 30, and has been worth +1 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and has a +1.2 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in 262 2⁄3 innings at short this year.
Mercer, on the other hand, has been worse on both sides of the ball. His 62 wRC+ on the year is a bit lower than we expected, but not a surprise. He has been below average (-5 DRS, -2.1 UZR) defensively as well. However, since returning from the injured list, Mercer has made 14 starts at short to Goodrum’s five, all while producing a .269 on-base percentage and .667 OPS.
Goodrum’s versatility has generally been regarded as a positive in his two years with the Tigers, but his utility has proven far more useful on the dirt than in the outfield. Advanced defensive metrics regard him as a below-average outfielder. The eye test has matched that assessment, especially on Saturday.
This also goes for Josh Harrison, who will surely get the lion’s share of starts over Harold Castro when he eventually comes off the injured list. Playing veterans like Mercer and Harrison serves no purpose at this point, especially when they aren’t even out-performing the younger players behind them.
Call up Jake Rogers already
BigMaxN did the heavy lifting in an excellent FanPost you should read, but this one is fairly obvious.
He’s 24, and would be under club control until he is 30 (and that could be manipulated to age 31, if that matters). By every account he is a far above-average defensive catcher, either elite, or bordering on elite. His caught stealing numbers are outrageously good, he’s thrown out 25 of 47 guys who tried to steal off of him in 2019 (10-15 in Double-A, 15-32 in Triple-A). He absolutely crushed the ball in Double-A, hitting .302/.429/.535 (.963), by far the best numbers of any catcher who has played at Erie this year not named Scivicque.
It’s nearly impossible that Rogers will be worse than what Bobby Wilson has provided so far (-0.6 fWAR in 15 games), and not a stretch to think that Rogers would be immediately be an upgrade over John Hicks as well (-1.0 fWAR in 63 games). Service time considerations shouldn’t hold any water either. For one, the Tigers have not been a club to play those games — both Christin Stewart and Nicholas Castellanos are prime examples. Also, Rogers isn’t the kind of top prospect that will warrant a huge payday. This could easily be remedied with an early contract extension to buy out a year or two of free agency; one he, as a catcher, might be more apt to sign than most.
Plus, with nearly every top pitching prospect in the organization down at Double-A Erie, it’s not like Rogers is gaining rapport with his future battery mates in the minors right now.
Give the rotation some new blood
I half-jokingly tweeted the Tigers should cut everyone over the age of 30 following Saturday’s loss, but as this article shows, we’re not far off from the truth. That goes for the starting rotation as well, which has admittedly been decimated by injuries this year. Righthander Drew VerHagen was the 10th true starter the Tigers have used this season, and his outing — a four-inning debacle in which he gave up seven runs (six earned) on six hits and four walks — was about what one might expect from a starter so far down the depth chart.
Barring a miracle, however, VerHagen shouldn’t be fitting in with the team’s long term rotation plans. He showed some promise out of the bullpen last year, but gave up 10 runs in six innings early this season before he was designated for assignment. The 28-year-old still has time to turn things around and become the useful middle reliever he was in 2018, but his starts would be better served for someone like Beau Burrows, who, at 22, will one day get a long look of his own as a part of the Tigers’ rotation. Some might argue he has already earned the chance, with a 4.53 ERA in Triple-A that rivals what VerHagen produced (4.42) in his two months down in the minors. Burrows’ command has been a bit of an issue this year, but not enough to keep him away from the prime development opportunity he could have had in facing an MLB lineup last week — he was even lined up on full rest, having started for Toledo the same night VerHagen was shelled in Seattle.