A year after the entire offseason was spoiled by the business side of the game, a host of teams are once again facing major issues that have nothing to do with the product on the field. Diamond Sports Group LLC, operator of the Bally Sports regional networks, including in Detroit, has announced that they’re heading toward an $8.6 billion debt restructuring. The Sinclair owned company is reportedly set to stop paying interest on their debt within a few weeks, triggering a 30-day grace period before bankruptcy proceedings get underway.
The fundamental problem is the declining rate of cable television subscriptions while payments to franchises for broadcast rights have continued to climb. Should the restructuring plans work out, the effect on teams may not be so significant. However, should this go through a full bankruptcy proceeding, contracts can be voided and teams won’t get paid. At that point they’ll all be able to renegotiate deals, or in some cases perhaps choose to broadcast the games themselves.
This comes at a bit of a bad time for the Tigers, who only recently signed a new deal with Bally. For years they were probably getting less than the going rate with contracts negotiated early last decade. The increased revenue they were factoring in from their new deals are in serious jeopardy at this point. Either another entity steps in to buy those broadcast rights, or as has been speculated, perhaps the leagues finally decide to take things into their own hands, end the blackouts, and bypass the regional sports network concept altogether.
Matt Manning is digging in
Cody Stavenhagen at the Athletic Detroit has a new piece up on Tigers’ right-hander Matt Manning that gives some reason for optimism. After a rough start, Manning has been a pretty solid pitcher over his first 148 1⁄3 innings of work. He holds a 4.79 ERA over that span, but was significantly improved in 2022, posting a 3.43 ERA across 12 starts. However, the nagging injuries and failure to develop his secondary pitches have stalled his progress. By Manning’s quotes, it sounds as though Chris Fetter and new assistant pitching coach Robin Lund have gotten through to him about the need to make some adjustments.
“A lot of it is load stuff, getting my body into good positions, leading with the right parts of my body instead of kind of jumping at the plate and using a lot of shoulder and elbow,” Manning said. “Getting into those good positions is what I’ve been working on as I’ve been getting into mound work.”
Lund’s background as a kinesiology professor and college pitching coach made him a very attractive hire by Fetter and A.J. Hinch, and his teaching background should help him get through to young players. So far, the adjustments Fetter and Lund have suggested appear to be working for Manning and getting his buy-in.
Manning’s fastball continues to be a major weapon, but he can’t progress beyond an innings eater type profile without a much more consistently effective slider. And he can’t do much about any of this if he’s regularly dealing with issues that keep him off the mound. There is plenty of untapped potential here, and if Manning can just stay healthy he’ll be a very good starting pitcher. But it’s time things come together for him.
Park factors in cash terms
A few weeks ago, the Detroit Tigers announced major changes to the dimensions and outfield walls at Comerica Park. The center field wall is coming in to 412 feet from the previous distance of 422 feet, and the walls from the flagpole to the right field foul line will be lowered down to seven feet, bringing more potential for home runs, and home run robberies into play.
Crain’s Detroit has a piece up reporting on the cost of the project as at least $2.5 million to complete. The article is paywalled, but you get the picture. Lowering the fences in right-center field and right field will require the seating areas to be adjusted as well, so this will entail a lot more change that just the walls themselves.
Colt Keith looks to push his breakout to new heights
Tigers Minor League Report recently interviewed top prospect Colt Keith on their podcast late last week. It’s an interesting conversation and worth a listen.
Keith added a ton of muscle last offseason and put it on display with a breakout season at the High-A level. The power surge boosted him to the top of most prospect lists, but the additional muscle also left him looked a little less mobile at third base. A rough return to defensive action in the Arizona Fall League after missing over three months with a flukey shoulder injury was referenced by some evaluators as reasons to fear that Keith won’t stick on the infield. That’s a little overwrought, but it’s good to hear Keith discuss the need to focus on his quickness and mobility this offseason now that he’s holding the additional muscle on his frame. Either way, we’re now very confident in Keith’s bat.
MLB Pipeline releases their top 100
MLB Pipeline released their top 100 prospects list late last week and had three Tigers’ prospects ranked. RHP Jackson Jobe led the way at #63, despite a rocky debut season that saw him working on adjustments to all parts of his game. 2B Jace Jung, the Tigers first rounder, and 12th overall pick in the 2022 draft, checks in at 83rd. RHP Wilmer Flores is the final Tigers’ representative at 95th overall.
Personally I think they’re a little high on Jung, and too low on Colt Keith and Cristian Santana, but these things are built to be argued about. We’ll have our say shortly as the new BYB top 30 prospects list will land on the site this week. For now, it’s clear the Tigers lack top tier talent, but the amount of quality prospects in the 45-50 future value range has never been better. New President of Baseball Ops Scott Harris will have plenty to work with, and a fortuitous inaugural draft lottery also gave the Tigers the third overall pick, as well as three in the top 46 selections overall in the 2023 draft. This would all look much better if their five recent top 20 prospects were showing out better at the major league level already, but trust in the rebuilt front office and development staff will take some time to develop.
Around the horn
The Tigers aren’t the only ones reconfiguring their park this offseason. The Toronto Blue Jays also have a renovation planned to be complete by Opening Day. Tigers’ great Justin Verlander collected his third Cy Young award this weekend after a stupendous campaign returning from Tommy John surgery at age 39. Less valuable was the plaque’s engraver, who spelled valuable “valuble” on both JV and National League winner, Sandy Alcantara’s, awards. Either way, congrats to game’s greatest active pitcher, who should have four or five of these by now. We miss you.
The World Baseball Classic is almost here, and we’re having a good time remembering what a blast the last edition was. Adam Jones legendary home run robbery of Manny Machado for Team USA will stick in our minds for a long time. As will the ridiculous no-look tag from Javier Báez on a throw from Yadier Molina for Team Puerto Rico.
Michael Baumann for FanGraphs explores the complicated relationship between Cuban major leaguers and Team Cuba, as they’ll finally be able to play for their home country this time around.