Change is afoot in Detroit, as the rebuilding of the Tigers organization began this offseason with the acquisitions of Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth. The team complemented their budget shaving of Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson with a long-term deal for Justin Verlander. The plan is clear: build around Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, and slowly begin to shed the long-term commitments that handcuffed Dave Dombrowski in recent offseasons.
The good news is the sanity of the front office, beginning with Dombrowski, who has his weaknesses but is also a trained artist at rebuilding organizations. Dombrowski’s best signing with the Tigers might be scouting director David Chadd, who has done well with a large scouting budget since coming over from the Boston Red Sox. Surely, part of the sales pitch was the budget itself, as it has afforded Chadd the ability to draft players like Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner, even when their bonus demands scared away other teams.
Every scouting director has his preferences, and Chadd is as transparent as anyone. Porcello is 6-foot-5. Ryan Perry is 6-foot-4. Turner is 6-foot-5. Casey Crosby is 6-foot-5. Etcetera. The team is stacked with these types of pitchers, going after guys with an intimidating presence, an intimidating fastball, and a downhill plane. In this sense, there might be no one better to build around than Verlander.
This is going to create the effect of a revolving door of flamethrowers in Detroit, and could mean some really nice pitching staffs. Porcello is only going to get better in his second season — his start against the Twins last season in Game 163 showed the type of pitcher he can be consistently. Scherzer is a great asset that will be under control for the length of Verlander’s extension, and the lower minors will be stocked with guys looking to join them in 2012 or so. Crosby and fellow lefty Andy Oliver will bring some left-handed mix to the Tigers rotation, and the reports on Turner are fantastic.
The bullpen is just as good, as the Tigers will have a lot of cheap options to pair with the expensive Jose Valverde. Ryan Perry held his own last year after being rushed to the Majors, and is now reunited with a former college teammate on a similar schedule, Daniel Schlereth. It won’t be long until they are joined by Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weinhardt, which again will create a very similar, yet very dangerous, pitching staff.
Once again, however, we are left wondering if a team’s offense will be able to keep up with the pitching staff. It will be important for Cabrera to stay good for a long time, both because of his cost on the roster and a lack of other dangerous middle of the order hitters. Ryan Strieby could add some power in the DH slot, and you’ll still cross an occasional believer in Wilkin Ramirez or Casper Wells, but most likely, the middle of the order will have to come from outside the organization.
Dambrowski can probably make do with the surrounding pieces, starting with his new toy, centerfielder Austin Jackson. Few prospects spark such a wide range of opinions, but I think we can sort of set a median expectation on his performance last season in Triple-A. Jackson has the athleticism to blossom into something more powerful, and the baseball savvy to become more patient, but anticipating anything north of .350 in the wOBA column for his team-controlled seasons is projecting too optimistically.
Jackson will be joined as a rookie on this roster by both Scott Sizemore and Alex Avila, middle-round college guys with low upsides. These aren’t guys that will hurt, and aren’t guys likely to exceed 2 WAR anytime in the future. Truly, the only player in the system I think you can hope for more than that is Daniel Fields, a prep shortstop given $1.625 million last year. But Fields is too far away to be a factor in this series, so the point remains: Chadd’s obsession with big pitchers may have gotten in the way of creating a balanced farm system. Things will be different in Detroit very soon, but the idea of looking for offense on the free agent market will remain a Tigers staple for the foreseeable future.