For the first time in years, it seems like the Detroit Tigers are making real progress, and it feels incredible. Fans were appraised of the front office’s state of mind entering the offseason, and what the team’s brass had to say was considerably more meaningful than the comments of similar press conferences the past several Octobers. The pressing question on the mind of any given Tigers fan is how the team will spend their money, if at all. Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Al Avila answered that question with a well-informed “maybe.”
“This is not going to be spending like a drunken sailor, those types of comments,” he stated plainly. “This is going to be a very measured process, and we’re going to make sure whatever decisions we make free-agency wise, that it doesn’t sink this organization for years to come, but it builds this organization for years to come.”
“Sometimes you don’t have to make a big splash. Sometimes a big splash turns out wrong for you. Going back, there’s no fear factor in signing a big contract,” Avila continued. “But at the same time, we’re not looking at it as, ‘Oh, we have to make a big splash.’ It’s about making the right decisions to make this team a winning team. And that’s the way we’re looking at it.”
Avila knows all too well the pain of a big, splashy contract going wrong. Remember, he was the one who inked Jordan Zimmermann to a hefty multi-year contract that was praised heavily at the time but turned into a monstrous burden in the team. With that Mike Ilitch-created fiasco in the rearview mirror, the checkbook seemingly clear of hindrance, and a much better organizational structure in place, Avila has little excuse to avoid large contracts going forward and he knows it.
The position most in need of a major upgrade, at least by measure of the court of public opinion, is shortstop. Seemingly everyone is connecting the dots between Carlos Correa and his former manager, AJ Hinch. Correa would be an astronomical upgrade over what the team currently has to offer, but he comes with a giant price tag and a lengthy history of injury. If the Tigers don’t get sticker shock this time around, he would solve a big problem for a team that’s trying to round the corner for real this time.
No matter who opens the season at short for the Tigers, Hinch’s fingerprints are all over the blueprints for Detroit’s future under construction. It’s hard to imagine the team that found Ron Gardenhire to be the right guy to have an influential voice in the organization would have swapped out David Littlefield and David Chadd for Jay Sartori, Sam Menzin, Ryan Garko, and Gabe Ribas. The Tigers are angling to model themselves after the Astros and Dodgers in the best possible way and it’s exciting to imagine where this could lead if they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is. However, we’re also starting to see something even beyond the partnership of Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland, as Hinch’s connections and wide range of player development experience is clearly making him a crucial voice in Avila’s ear.
Cody Stavenhagen’s coverage of the Tigers’ offseason ahead has been unmatched over the past week or so, and I’d definitely recommend checking out his work on the topic over at the Athletic. He’s covered the aforementioned press conference in much more detail, taken a look at what the upcoming offseason could hold in terms of roster construction, and dug into Hinch’s first season as a manager in this excellent profile. Reaching back a little further, he also wrote about the organization’s overreaching goals with the redistribution of its power structure.
Now, onto the rest of your Friday morning links.
Tyler Alexander is good now?
For all the pain and suffering Detroit’s depth chart endured during the course of the season, the pitching staff fared better than expected, in no small part thanks to Tyler Alexander. The lefty stepped up as one of the steadiest hands in the north and took on some thing of a Swiss Army knife role, plugging gaps in the starting rotation, as an opener, and in long relief. His final stats on the season are somewhat unglamorous but he outperformed any expectations and was a key part of the bullpen.
During the final two months of the season, Alexander really threw it into gear and pitched to the tune of a 2.91 ERA while also starting 10 games and crossing the 5.0 innings pitched mark seven times. Our friends over at Motor City Bengals examined what changed for Alexander and discovered that improvements to his breaking pitches may have been to thank for titanesque performance in the home stretch. Hinch’s clever usage of the pitcher and pitching coach Chris Fetter’s adjustments to his arsenal seem to have unlocked a much better player than any of us could have expected.
Postseason baseball is a dystopia
The year is 2066, and the title of the best baseball team on earth has come down to two competitors — the Nashville Doritos Dragons and the Portland Wal-Mart Whalers. Ryder Hendrickson Jr. steps to the plate for the Doritos Dragons, a glowing orange triangle emblazoned on his crisp red jersey. Facing him is pitcher Jaxxson Redd, who sports a blue and white striped shirt bearing the yellow star insignia of America’s favorite supermarket, underpinned by the familiar phrase “Save Money. Live Better.” This is the showdown the baseball world has been waiting for.
Redd opens the at-bat with a 109.6 mile per hour fastball down the pipe. He can do better, but it’s strike one nonetheless. The next fastball is a whisker outside, but it comes in at a much more comfortable 114.3 miles per hour. That’s more like it.
Hendrickson Jr. gets the go sign relayed to him from the first base coach. If it’s another fastball, he’s got the green light to swing. Redd fires again, this time missing inside the zone. Hendrickson Jr.’s eyes light up; 111.5 miles per hour is hardly enough gas to dust a hitter of his caliber. He swings his time, and the network flies into action. Viewers need to be kept on the edge of their seat! Years of college education and experience in the field have honed the broadcast technicians’ instincts — this is the perfect time for a commercial. How else are networks supposed to keep people tuned in except to hold their sports hostage?
When it cuts back, replay is available. Audiences globally see an electrified orange blaze tracing Hendrickson Jr.’s swing. The crack of the bat is superimposed with the crunch of a Dorito as a ball with a golden corona is sent flying through the air. It’s a sharp line drive, but it’s hit directly to third base and Wal-Mart’s defense is sound. If Hendrickson wants to get on base, he’ll have to do better next time.
Thank God the network got that ad break in on time. If they hadn’t, people may have tuned out after that at-bat. They never would have had the opportunity to bundle home and auto insurance for a modest but respectable discount. It’s a public service, really.
On a unrelated note, here’s a totally random clip from Thursday’s game between the White Sox and Astros.
MLB’s growth in India is its most important project you haven’t heard about
No longer the beating heart of American sports passion, baseball has stayed alive by finding new markets to dip its grubby mitts into. The sport has spread to popularity across Central and South America as well as much of Asia and has found great success in funneling talent (and broadcasting revenue) from those markets stateside. The next door MLB is trying to shove its foot into is the Indian marketplace, a challenging task that could pay off handsomely if successful.
Last year, the World Series was broadcast in India on Star Sports, the beginning of a longer term relationship with the southeast Asian sports channel. The broadcast agreement also included a portion of 2021’s regular season slate and the creation of three baseball shows to air weekly throughout the season: MLB Weekly, MLB Extra and MLB’s Best. While American viewers would find the content of those shows painfully surface-level, they’re perfect for an audience largely unfamiliar with the landscape of the sport, let alone how it operates on a granular level.
The 2021 postseason marks the end of MLB’s agreement with Star Sports, but don’t expect this to be the end of the league’s endeavors in India. There aren’t many places as comfortable with bat-and-ball sports as India, who have a thriving cricket culture. More cynically, tapping into a market space with 1.38 billion wallets must sound very enticing to the capital-driven mindset of the current league leadership.
Quick hits and assorted minutiae
- The Force3 Defender Mask, created by a minor league umpire to protect from concussions, is getting some traction among MLB catchers. It uses a spring-cushioned shock absorption system to take the force out of foul tips that may have otherwise resulted in bloodied mouths or concussions.
- Old friend JD Martinez was held out of the first game of the ALDS with an ankle injury. Red Sox manager Alex Cora said there’s “a strong possibility” that JD Martinez will start tomorrow, but would make no guarantees.
- Akil Baddoo is a partial owner of a combination barbershop/hangout in Atlanta called The Fade Lounge, and it looks fantastic. His goal is to make it a place where patrons can get a great haircut, watch sports, chat, and be part of the community.
- This date in history is a bad one for fires. October 8th, 1871, a small town in Wisconsin burned to the ground and the Great Chicago Fire began. In 1957, a nuclear reactor meltdown in Winsdale, United Kingdom caused a fire that burned for 16 hours and left 10 tons of nuclear waste. In 2001, an airplane collision caused an explosion at an airport in Milan, Italy. I’ll be checking my smoke detector.
Baseball is awesome
It’s October, so the Rays are busy doing Rays’ things. Last night, Randy Arozarena became the first player in MLB history to hit a home run and steal home in a postseason game. It was also the first straight steal of home in the postseason since Javy Baez during the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 run to a World Series crown.
RANDY AROZARENA STOLE HOME!!!— Ben Verlander (@BenVerlander) October 8, 2021