The Detroit Tigers are shedding veteran contracts and restocking what had become a depleted farm system. That’s good news for the team’s future. It’s bad news for their fans in terms of watching winning baseball. As with any rebuild, near-term pennant contention isn’t part of the plan.
Al Avila is approaching the situation with a stiff upper lip. As unpleasant of a task as it might be — no one likes to lose — Detroit’s GM accepts the fact that in order to get better, his team first has to get worse. That’s why he traded J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, Justin Wilson, and even his own son. And he’s not done dealing.
During the General Managers’ Meetings in Orlando, Avila praised both the prospects he’s been acquiring and the young talent that has already begun contributing at the big league level. He then went on to suggest the latter group might not want to invest too heavily in Detroit-area real estate.
“There’s already a nucleus there for our future,” said Avila. “Are they all going to be here three years from now? Possibly. Look at Mikie Mahtook. We still have a lot of control over Mikie Mahtook and he’s not costing us a whole lot. (Nicholas) Castellanos also. We’ve got this year and next year of arbitration, and we’ll have to see where that goes. Jacoby Jones is still developing. You’ve got (Jeimer) Candelario at third base. Those are young players. (James) McCann is arbitration-eligible and starting to make a little bit more money — we’ll see where he goes.
“Right now, the only guys we don’t have much control over are (Ian) Kinsler and (Jose) Iglesias up the middle. With them it’s just one year. Whether they’re going to be with us this year or not, we’ll see.”
Most people expect the 35-year-old Kinsler to be traded during the Winter Meetings, and while an Iglesias departure is less certain, it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Of course, anyone on the roster being shipped out wouldn’t come as a surprise. Again, even some of the young veterans could be playing elsewhere as soon as next season.
“If you look at our pitching staff, (Daniel) Norris is still young,” said Avila. “(Matt) Boyd and (Michael) Fulmer are still young. Are they going to be part of that process three years from now? Quite possibly they could, but I can’t sit here today and tell you which way it’s going to go. We need to continue to add and acquire, and quite frankly, if we do make any more trades down the road, it’s going to be one of those young guys — maybe.”
What would a Fulmer or a Norris — or a Castellanos or a McCann — bring in return? We may find out during the Winter Meetings. We do know that we’ll learn who the Tigers take in the Rule 5 draft, which is another avenue of player acquisition Avila is exploring. Along with well-regarded prospects, the former scouting director is also on the lookout for under-the-radar talent.
“Maybe we’ll find another Mahtook in one of our trades, or we’ll find another (Daniel) Stumpf in the Rule 5,” said Avila. “Maybe we’ll find another J.D. as a minor league free agent. Those aren’t easy to do, but every team has to once in awhile find something like that. There might be a surprise in the minor leagues, too — a player we don’t talk about all of a sudden does something.”
Right now, Tigers fans don’t have much to talk about besides trade speculation and the future. Barring a barrage of pleasant surprises, Avila’s team won’t be contending in the foreseeable future. Rebuilding takes time. It also takes trading away your best players — sometimes even your best young players.
Like every organization, the San Diego Padres keep a close eye on trends. And like every forward-thinking organization, they do what they can to stay ahead of them — but not to the extent of recklessly pushing envelopes and trying to reinvent the wheel. In A.J. Preller’s mind, innovation for innovation’s sake alone has limited value.
“Every few years becomes a narrative, depending on which teams and players are successful,”’ said the Padres GM. “What you try to do is work through that and figure out what is realistic and what isn’t. Something you don’t want to do is just copy what another organization is doing. You want to look at your own your own club, your own personnel, and try to figure out which strategies are going to be best.
“We’re obviously in the building phase, and that maybe gives us an opportunity to take more chances from a personnel standpoint or a strategy standpoint. But honestly, what we really try to do is stay true to what we believe in, to our core philosophies. We’re constantly open to new things, but I don’t think it’s, ‘Hey, we’re building, so let’s be flippant about something.’”
In other words, Preller is as pragmatic as he is progressive.
In last Sunday’s column,Thad Levine shared some thoughts on future MLB manager hiring trends. In the opinion of the Minnesota’s Twins GM, there’s a decent chance we’ll see a handful of people with no professional playing experience skippering big league clubs in another 20 years. As Levine pointed out, that’s not uncommon in the NBA, NFL. or NHL.
Why has baseball been different than other major sports in this respect? I asked that question to Los Angeles Dodgers GM Fanhan Zaidi.
“Part of the issue is the pipeline,” opined Zaidi. “Most Major League managers come from farm systems and a career as a minor league manager. Not all, but certainly a good amount. For whatever reason, the pipeline of minor league coaches is almost exclusively ex-players, so I think it’s more of a downstream issue.”
The stream he mentioned runs all the way to the bottom of the farm.
“It’s almost an accessibility issue,” elaborated Zaidi. “Toward the end of players’ careers you start talking to them: ‘Hey, do you want to coach in our system?’ That kind of perpetuates the pipeline. There isn’t a very intense recruiting process for minor league coaches. A lot of it just happens organically.
“I guess if you got to a point where teams recruited more aggressively — and more creatively — for those positions you might start having some more non-traditional hires. It would take a really out-of-the-box notion to say, ‘We’re going to go in a completely different direction and take somebody out of our office and put him in there.”
I suggested to Zaidi that the Dodgers are as likely as any team to make that type of out-of-the-box move. He didn’t disagree.
And then you have the Houston Astros. Not only would they be another leading candidate to employ a minor league manager who didn’t play professionally, they may have already gone on a reconnaissance mission. Sig Mejdal was on the coaching staff of the short-season Tri-City Valley Cats this past season, and while the Astros have been coy on his specific duties — his title was development coach — it’s not unreasonable to assume that was one of the reasons.
Mejdal doesn’t personally profile as a skipper, but he did get a first-hand look at how prospects interact with, and respond to, someone who didn’t follow a traditional path. Formerly the Astros’ director of decision sciences, Mejdal is now a special assistant to the GM, focusing on process development.
Curtis Granderson is clearly past his prime. The free-agent outfielder will be 37 years old on opening day and he’s coming off a less-than-stellar season. He went yard 26 times, but his .212/.323/.452 slash line suggests he’s nearing the end.
My earliest memories of Granderson are from 2004 when he was playing for Detroit’s Double-A affiliate. A few hours after I interviewed him prior to a game in Portland, Maine, he collided violently with the centerfield wall while making a spectacular diving catch. A concerned crowd held its collective breath as he lay prone on the warning track for several minutes. Fortunately, Granderson wasn’t injured nearly as seriously as it appeared.
A few years later, he was doing serious damage against big league pitchers. In his second full season with the Tigers, Granderson had 38 doubles, 23 triples, 23 homers, 26 steals, and he was worth 7.9 WAR. A decade later, he’s close to wrapping up what has been a stellar career.
Adam Dunn was voted into the Reds Hall of Fame earlier this week. The three-true-outcomes stalwart played for Cincinnati from 2001-2008, putting up a .900 OPS and a 130 adjusted OPS. His 270 home runs are fourth-most in franchise history, ranking behind Johnny Bench (389), Frank Robinson (324), and Tony Perez (.287). It was an honor well-deserved.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox voted four players into their Hall of Fame. Three of them are recently retired — Derek Lowe, Mike Lowell, and Kevin Youkilis — while the fourth played over 100 years ago. Buck Freeman put up a 132 adjusted OPS while wearing a Boston uniform from 1900-1907. One of baseball’s first sluggers, Freeman was the offensive star of the 1903 squad, which captured the first ever World Series title.
Tomoaki Kanemoto is known as NPB’s “Iron Man,” and for good good reason. An outfielder for the Hiroshima Carp and Hanshin Tigers from 1992-2012, Kanemoto played 13,686 consecutive innings — every inning of 1,492 games — in a stretch that ended in 2006. By comparison, Cal Ripken played 8,264 consecutive innings amid his run of 2,632 consecutive games. Kanemoto is now Hanshin’s manager.
Earlier this week we heard from Royals reliever Peter Moylan who ranks third, behind Graeme Lloyd and Grant Balfour, for the most appearances among Australian-born pitchers. The trio is part of a down-under majority. Of the 30 players from their homeland to play in MLB, only 10 have been position players. The reason is straightforward.
“The biggest difference with Australian baseball versus American baseball is the amount of games that kids play,” opined Moylan. “It’s a lot tougher for a hitter to come from Australia because they just don’t see the amount of live pitching that kids do here. Nor do they see the quality of pitching. Here, there are high school kids throwing 98 mph and in back home you have guys barely touching 90. When I first signed, I was a teenager throwing 84 mph.”
The colorful right-hander hasn’t seen the overall quality change much in recent years, but he has seen technological advancements. According to Moylan, Australian baseball “has just now started to incorporate stuff like Driveline with the younger kids. Things like that are reaching over there now, which can only help.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Bill Freehan had legendary careers with the Detroit Tigers and at the University of Michigan. The former catcher and coach is now 76 years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Steve Kornacki wrote about him at mgoblue.com.
MLB.com’s Andrew Simon looked at of some of this year’s best first-year pitchers from a StaCast standpoint.
At the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rick Hummel explored the high turnover rate for pitching coaches.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
There were 1,215 players chosen in last June’s amateur draft, 660 of which were pitchers. Idaho, Maine, North Dakota and Vermont were the only states that didn’t have a single player selected. California had the most, with 192.
Ryan Goins, who was non-tendered by the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, came to the plate 259 times this season with nobody on and slashed .199/.255/.286. He came to the plate 200 times with runners on and slashed .288/.328/.452. With runners in scoring position he had 33 hits in 100 at bats.
Candy Cummings, the man some claim invented the curveball, went 35-12 for the 1875 Hartford Dark Blues.
Al Spalding went 54-5 for the 1875 Boston Red Stockings. He also had nine saves.
Phenomenal Smith went 25-30 for the 1887 Baltimore Orioles.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.