The Detroit Tigers have gone through a lot of changes over the past year, and nearly all of them have been for the better. From the major league club’s renewal under new manager A.J. Hinch, to the influx of blue chip prospect talent from the farm system, suddenly a lot of things are going right in the Tigers’ world. However, one of the most sweeping transformations in the organization is going a bit under the radar. New hire by new hire, the Tigers have completely remade their player development staff over the past four months. On Monday, they were at it again, hiring Max Gordon as their new Hitting Coordinator.
The 31-year-old Gordon has spent the last five years coaching for Driveline Baseball under the same title, and seems to have an excellent reputation as a coach. He played college ball as a walk-on for Oregon State and has a really interesting life story as documented in a biography by Jacob Kornhauser and Dylan Kornhauser. Gordon survived a car crash as a teenager that left him in a coma and was told he’d never play baseball again, among other obstacles. You can check out this podcast for more of his backstory as well as his development and philosophies as a coach. Gordon made the announcement of his hiring on social media on Monday evening.
Let’s go!— Chris Fetter (@ChrisFetter41) January 4, 2022
Gordon volunteered as a coach for the University of Michigan in 2020 according to Tony Paul of the Detroit News. One assumes he made a good impression on Chris Fetter, among others. The Tigers have done a decent job developing pitchers over the last five years, aided by some top draft picks, but we still have to look back to Nick Castellanos and Eugenio Suarez as the last two hitters of note. Greene and Torkelson will change that narrative, but the Tigers will now, hopefully, be picking much later in the draft for years to come. To sustain a strong prospect pipeline, the new development group needs to do a better job developing position players as well as continuing to fine tune its pitching development as well. Hopefully Gordon can make an impact on that front.
Back in September, the Tigers replaced longtime development head, Dave Littlefield, with new Vice-President of Player Development, Ryan Garko. That decision finally signaled a whole new era in player development for the Tigers. A flurry of new coaching hires has followed, with many sharing lineage in the Los Angeles Dodgers player development system, as well as several former Driveline coaches. The Tigers have been talking a good game about modernizing the organization since Al Avila took over as general manager back in August of 2015. Progress was slow for the last half decade, but with a restructured front office, a top shelf analytics department, and now this radical overhaul of the player development leadership and coaches, most of the big pieces of that expected modernization are finally in place.
Rob Manfred vs. Ken Rosenthal
As reported by the New York Post on Monday, reporter and broadcast analyst Ken Rosenthal will no longer be featured on MLB Network. Speculation is rampant that he was let go because of his occasional criticisms of the league and specifically Commissioner Rob Manfred. Rosenthal was apparently shut down by the network for several months in 2020, with the Post’s sources claiming it was in response to Rosenthal’s criticism of Manfred’s negotiations with players’ association over the COVID shortened season. Whether any specific recent comments may have finally prompted the move is unknown.
Rosenthal writes for The Athletic and is still a weekly feature on FOX Sports, so he’ll be fine. He isn’t irreplaceable, but he is one of the more respected baseball reporters around and probably the most recognizable to viewers, so the decision seems weird any way you look at it. If this is really just about Rosenthal’s occasional and always diplomatic criticisms, that certainly comes off as pretty weak from the Commissioner. Either way, the league is hearing about it as a storm of colleagues, fans, and MLB players went to bat for Rosenthal all over social media on Monday evening.
Ken Rosenthal has been an excellent writer and reporter on all things baseball since covering the Orioles years years ago in Baltimore. For the MLB Network to let him go is terribly shortsighted and reduces the credibility of the whole product.— Ken Singleton (@29alltime) January 4, 2022
@Ken_Rosenthal stands at 5’4 1/2” but still towers over Rob Manfred. Fire one of the premier reporters in baseball because he critiques you? That’s his job. #soft #rentfree #doinglaps— Tyler “Nutsack” Matzek (@TylerMatzek) January 4, 2022
The timing, with no other stories to distract and the league and the union locked in a low intensity PR war with no resolution likely in the coming weeks, appears less than ideal. That may well simply be a matter of Rosenthal’s contract renewal deadlines, but the impression left is of a league that can’t hold up to even quite modest criticism without lashing out. This isn’t the mid-90’s anymore. There aren’t just a small handful of top tier reporters that can be bullied and manipulated for access these days, and if Manfred or league officials were trying to insulate their network from allowing any criticism, they’ve instead encouraged it.
Rosenthal confirms the split, but doesn’t get into any details.
Can confirm MLB Network has decided not to bring me back. I’m grateful for the more than 12 years I spent there, and my enduring friendships with on-air personalities, producers and staff. I always strove to maintain my journalistic integrity, and my work reflects that. 1/2— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 4, 2022
Cameron Maybin hangs ‘em up
It’s been a pretty good run, but former Tigers outfielder, Cameron Maybin, finally hung up his spikes on Monday. Drafted by the Tigers with the 10th overall pick in 2005, Maybin became a top prospect and after his 2007 debut, was of course dealt away to the then Florida Marlins along with pitching prospect Andrew Miller in the Miguel Cabrera deal. Maybin went on to play parts of 15 seasons in the major leagues, mostly with the Marlins and the San Diego Padres before bouncing around in part-time roles for a host of different teams over the last six seasons. The 34-year-old finishes with a career 93 wRC+ and 187 stolen bases.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. pic.twitter.com/oSSX5WZ83F— Cameron Maybin (@CameronMaybin) January 3, 2022
The jokes come hot and ready
Little Caesars raises price of Hot-N-Ready pizza https://t.co/w9587ZSUCU pic.twitter.com/GokCItAseN— azfamily 3TV CBS 5 (@azfamily) January 3, 2022
Best shape of his life
Around the horn
FanGraphs investigates the mystery of Ian Anderson’s changeup. They also have a collection of best quotes from David Laurila’s 2021 interviews up for your enjoyment. Dayn Perry takes stock of negotiations between owners and the players union for CBS Sports as talks look ready to start up again in the next few weeks. Finally, the invasive Emerald Ash Borer beetles have decimated ash forests across the Midwest over the last 15 years, and in the process made ash bats a nearly extinct species around the game, with maple becoming the hardwood of choice. A new article—paywall alert—from Stephen Nesbitt and C. Trent Rosecrans writing for The Athletic, tracks the story of the borer, Barry Bonds converting the league to maple, and Joey Votto’s attempt to stockpile enough ash bats to last the remainder of his career. It’s quite a ride.
Baseball is awesome
Small ball at its best. This was one of the best wins of the 2021 season.
June 27, 2021: The @Tigers are clawing back from a dreadful start & playing tough. 25-20 in their last 45 & looking for a split vs. the eventual AL Champion @Astros. In the long ball age, AJ digs into his bag of tricks with Akil on 3rd & Robbie at the dish. #squeeze #DetroitRoots pic.twitter.com/Fcxd9oEPzr— The Ghost of Ernie (@ErnieHarwell1) January 2, 2022