The ’13-14 Red Wings – The Streak Goes On…

There’s a lot of hand-wringing in the Detroit media and national media over the Red Wings’ 4-1 exit in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to the Boston Bruins. Moreso locally than nationally, though. Everyone’s got suggestions – lots of suggestions – with some even suggested that the future of the Streak is in doubt.

Let’s be clear. The future is more secure than it has been in maybe a decade. Did people think this team looked brighter three years ago, when none of the current Youth Corps were up? Sure, the farm team can always look promising, but you still don’t know until they play at the NHL level; besides which, the Wings’ farm always looks promising due to their system of giving kids more time in the minors than most teams do. But really, this team was a lot older and a lot slower three years ago.

Losing stings. The Red Wings lost a tough series to an even tougher opponent. Boston is the Team To Beat this year; the team smarting from their own tough loss in the Cup Final a year ago. They’re built specifically to overcome last year’s roster deficits and to win that Cup this year. I believe they will. There’s no shame to losing to a better team, though, and that’s something it’d be good to see Detroit fans realize this year. Maybe we’re used to being the better team, I don’t know. It’s a shame to lose on bad officiating, or bad bounces, or mental mistakes – but not when the other team simply happens to be better, to be nearer to championship form. Boston is. We aren’t. So it goes.

A large part of this year’s loss was inexperience. The Wings are suddenly a young team, and not in small areas, but in a lot of areas all at once. We got used to watching the Kid Line – Gus Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar – score every game in March. They’re speedy, shifty, and crafty kids. They have the most fun when they’re skating fast without much resistance. They get frustrated easily. Sure enough, they skated right into a wall when they met Boston. Boston knew coming in – shut down the kids, and the Wings’ engine might putter out. The kids will learn how to deal with a bigger, more physical team. It’s just a question of time.

Prior to last year, the Red Wings were a team scrambling for answers a lot of the time. Since the salary cap era started, they’ve hugged the cap most years, largely unable to make big moves. To be fair, big moves isn’t their style anyway, but even when it came to re-signing guys, it was problematic. A quick look at the Red Wings’ capgeek page is really quite stunning. There’s a lot of bad contracts coming off the books this season, and don’t forget – the cap goes up a few million this offseason, too. Let’s take a look.

Let’s list a few guys that I’m pretty sure won’t be back. The Red Wings have a serious glut of forwards, with yet a couple more remarkable youngsters still in the minors, and as a result, several veterans lost their jobs as the season went on.
David Legwand – $4.5M
Mikael Samulesson – $3M
Danny Cleary – $1.75M
These three? They’re not coming back. There’s just no room. Criticize the Wings all you want for giving up a promising prospect for Legwand, but with so many good young forwards now with the NHL club and more still in the minors, one prospect was an expendable price to acquire a veteran center to secure a playoff spot in an injury-riddled season. But he doesn’t fit the system and seemed to lose Babcock’s confidence at times. Samuelsson and Cleary, despite being injured, but lost their jobs to younger players, even if no one specifically said that.
Daniel Alfredsson – $3.5M
Todd Bertuzzi – $2.075M
I expect one of these two to be back. I’ve read that Alfie will want to play in Detroit if he plays next year; that said, I’ve also already read that the Wings might scratch him more often to give the veteran more days off to stay healthy next year. Bertuzzi, also, is worth bringing back if there’s room, in a diminished role. He looked excellent in Game 4 with the younger players, providing some size and veteran gamesmanship for them. He has a role on this team if he’s amenable to being a semi-frequent scratch.
Riley Sheahan – RFA
Tomas Tatar – RFA
Gustav Nyquist – RFA (after 2015)
Joakim Andersson – RFA (after 2015)
Tomas Jurco – RFA (after 2015)
Tatar and Sheahan are restricted free agents after this season, with Nyquist, Andersson, and Jurco the same after 2015. I’d expect all four to get rewarded with long-term contracts now. Sheahan, Tatar, Nyquist, and Jurco are building blocks for the future. In fact, I look at Nyquist and Sheahan in a similar light as I did Datsyuk and Zetterberg in the early ’00s – these guys are the future. Andersson is of lesser repute, but he’s a good grinder, and can be a solid contributor as a 3rd/4th-line wing or center. I can imagine a reliable 4th line of Miller-Glendening-Andersson for years to come; that’s a line with size, grit, and the ability to score every night.

On defense, a similar situation plays out.
Kyle Quincey – $3.775M
Danny DeKeyser – RFA
Brendan Smith – RFA (after 2015)
After these three, the defense is locked up long-term. I hate to make comparisons to legends, as I do above, but DeKeyser looks like a young Nick Lidstrom in lots of ways. The Wings have to recognize that he’s our second-best defenseman and needs to be locked up. DeKeyser’s conservative back-end play makes him the perfect companion for a pinch-happy partner like Smith or Jonathon Ericsson. Smith, similarly, looks like a good investment in the future. He’s developed very well since his call-up last year and benefits from playing with Kronwall or DeKeyser. He’s probably our third-best defenseman after those two, having displaced Ericsson in the top-3. Either way, a top four of Kronwall/DeKeyser/Smith/Ericsson isn’t bad at all. I don’t imagine Quincey will come back; if the Wings want to splurge on another defenseman, they can do better. The ideal situation is that Jakub Kindl continues to develop, as he’s locked up for several years at a $2.4M cap hit that makes him seem an unlikely trade asset. However, it’s no secret that the Wings are thin on defense – especially if Quincey is not re-signed, their only depth is in youth. If the Wings do make any free agent splashes, expect it on the back end.

As for the goalies…
Jonas Gustavsson – $1.5M
The Monster was good this year. Make no mistake. But he’s expensive for a back-up netminder, and the honest truth is that Petr Mrazek deserves to be a full-time NHL backup. I don’t see Gustavsson back unless he takes a discount, and quite frankly, it seems more fair to let Mrazek play his game at the next level rather than consign him to another year of AHL action (which he dominated this season).

So do some math. If we assume that Gustavsson, Quincey, Cleary, Samuelsson, Legwand, Alfredsson, and Bertuzzi are all gone after this season… that means the Wings shed $20.1M in cap space. Now, with all those guys gone, let’s see where the holes are in the lineup, line by line. I’ll be including the RFAs.

Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Abdelkader / D: Kronwall-Ericsson
Nyquist-Sheahan-Tatar / D: DeKeyser-Smith
Franzen-Weiss-Jurco / D: Lashoff-Kindl
Miller-Helm-Glendening / G: Howard-Mrazek
Depth: Andersson

Uh. That’s a complete lineup. Let’s get that for a second. That’s a COMPLETE line-up, and not a bad-looking one, and the Wings will have $20M to throw around before the cap even goes up. Yes, there is a need for depth. Yes, an Alfredsson re-signing looks attractive. Yes, Weiss is a huge question mark. But let’s face it. The future is not bleak. The Wings will have the highest amount of cap space they’ve had since the cap era started, and they’ll have it in a year where they don’t have gaping holes to fill. The fact is, lots of the money will go toward re-signing the restricted free agents, and locking up the young players long-term to be our fixed building blocks. But even then, the assumption has to be that there will still be a princely sum left over.

I’ve got no worries, and for the first time since watching Lidstrom and Rafalski retire… I truly look forward to the future of the Red Wings. It was a tough season this year. Injuries and the fight to continue the Streak. But honestly? This was the rebuilding year. The young players will gain experience, and will improve. But that Streak? It’s good. It’s good for years to come. The record is 29 years, held by the dynastic Bruins of old. I look at the above, and I think about what the Wings went through this year… and I honestly have no doubt we’ll break that record.


Keeper League, After Week 4…

Ugh. I had a 2-8-2 week, dropping my season to 19-26-3, good for 10th of 12. The week wasn’t that awful – I didn’t get blown out. In fact, it was very close on the batting categories – runs tied, lost HRs by 1, lost RBIs by 5, lost SB by 2, and lost AVG by .004 (.242 to .246). Meanwhile, my opponent just had a brilliant week of pitching – his pitchers gave him a ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP under 1.00 for the week. He had 10 QS. Wow. I mean, there’s not much to do about that except tip your hat and hope for luck to swing similarly your way sometime later.

I keep waiting for my roster to just put it together, but it’s not happening yet, and that power outage mentioned previously remains a large problem. However, I started to try and address what I felt were going to be long-lasting roster deficiencies this week, so changes came.

My Week 5 roster is:
C – Buster Posey
1B – Prince Fielder
2B – Dustin Pedrioa
3B – Pedro Alvarez
SS – Everth Cabrera
1B/3B – James Loney
2B/SS – Jed Lowrie
OF x5 – Starling Marte / Austin Jackson / Nori Aoki / Khris Davis / Alejandro De Aza
UTIL – Matt Joyce
BENCH – Alex Guerrero

SP x6 – David Price / Shelby Miller / Corey Kluber / Zack Wheeler / Tyson Ross / Alex Wood
RP x3 (closers) – Craig Kimbrel / Sergio Santos / Jonathon Broxton
P x2 (setup) – Ernesto Frieri / Adam Ottavino

DL x3 – Matt Harvey / Aroldis Chapman / Chris Davis

I floated some trade bait to my league early last week, offering both speed and saves to anyone who needed. One league member expressed a strong desire to obtain Francisco Rodriguez. I didn’t love his roster, but I did see a potential upgrade for me in Jed Lowrie – I was already a little concerned at my lack of a second SS-eligible player. He relented a bit, so I offered him a choice of Dustin Ackley or Emilio Bonifacio. He offered me Jed Lowrie and Joel Peralta for Bonifacio and K-Rod. I pounced on it. The trade looked good to me on multiple levels, with the league format being a large part of it. Lowrie carried a C12 value, and Peralta E19; on my end, Bonifacio carried F23 value, and K-Rod F25. In short, not only did I gain a big upgrade in Lowrie, I gained an extra C-tier and extra E-tier slot to deal with. This was important to me and the sole reason I pursued Peralta; my E-tier draft choices were Guerrero and Kluber, both guys I want to hang onto. The extra E-tier slot I got from Peralta gives me some room to play there. Meanwhile, Lowrie gives me a potentially reliable keeper option over Nori Aoki, who’s started slow, or Zack Wheeler, although he’s looking sharper lately. So it was both a win-now trade, in that I think Lowrie makes my lineup better, but it’s also looking to the future and next season.

I dropped Peralta to pick up Ottavino. I had planned to stick with Peralta, who generates holds reliably, but the Colorado reliever has been remarkably solid since he came up last season, and seemed worth a flier. In other news, Frieri finally got removed from his closer role. I’m not too worried there; I’ll carry him for the moment and see if he gains it back. I expect he will. In the meantime, I’ve got 3 guys reliably getting me saves, with Chapman coming back soon probably. If Frieri doesn’t pick it up, I’ll worry about it later.

Lineup-wise, I dropped Ackley finally to pick up James Loney, hoping that Tampa’s recent surge holds on and that his slow start was an aberration. Remember, I originally drafted Loney and dropped him for Bonifacio. At any rate, I could easily observe a need for more RBIs in my lineup, and Loney is more likely to produce than Ackley. The other major move I made was dropping Carl Crawford for Alejandro de Aza. I’ve always liked de Aza, and I expect his slow start to taper off, especially in that hot White Sox lineup. I don’t think the White Sox run production is a flash in the pan; I think that’s the best lineup in the AL Central, hands down. I had originally wanted Avisail Garcia, but with him down, de Aza looks safe. Another league member dropped him due to his slow start, but I’m a believer. Besides which, I’ve noticed that the Dodgers are sitting Crawford regularly against lefties – I need a daily player, even in my 5th OF spot. I see de Aza as an upgrade over Crawford; their SB totals will likely be similar at the end of the year, but de Aza will probably hit 10 more HRs.

Beyond that, seeing Chris Davis hit the DL is just another blow. I picked up Matt Joyce to fill the hole temporarily, although I’ll be watching for better options over the course of the week.

I have to keep believing this lineup will produce eventually, but another sub-.500 week might see me drop an active player and put my second bench spot to work holding Gregory Polanco. I have to wonder if it’s worth holding onto Guerrero, but the numbers he’s putting up in Triple-A are pretty serious. With this season going the way it has so far, I suppose it’s all the more reason to hold onto Guerrero as a second-half upgrade or a future keeper at the keystone. And if my season does end up going bust, I’ll have plenty of expiring contracts to offer to contenders for potential keeper depth.

Keeper League, After Week 3…

Week 3 saw me drop a 5-7 week, leaving me hovering around a mid-line. On the plus side, no one’s really running away with anything early – in fact, I’m in 6th place overall in the league right now and 4 GB from the top spot in my division. Not that it’s a huge deal at this juncture, but it’s like they say in real baseball – you can’t win the pennant in April, but you can lose it.

I won a couple categories by a narrow margin this week, and lost a couple by a narrow margin. All in all, it was a close week, so I’m not too discouraged by the sub-.500 performance.

My Week 4 roster is:
C – Buster Posey
1B – Prince Fielder
2B – Dustin Pedrioa
3B – Pedro Alvarez
SS – Everth Cabrera
1B/3B – Chris Davis
2B/SS – Dustin Ackley
OF x5 – Starling Marte / Austin Jackson / Nori Aoki / Khris Davis / Carl Crawford
UTIL – Emilio Bonifacio
BENCH – Alex Guerrero

SP x6 – David Price / Shelby Miller / Corey Kluber / Zack Wheeler / Tyson Ross / Alex Wood
RP x3 (closers) – Craig Kimbrel / Ernesto Frieri / Francisco Rodriguez
P x2 (closer/setup) – Sergio Santos / Jonathon Broxton
DL x2 – Matt Harvey / Aroldis Chapman

No real changes. I continue to shuffle my fifth reliever, but I’ve settled on Broxton. He was sitting on the wire when he came back from the DL, so I decided to pick him up. I might be punting holds for the moment, but when Chapman comes off from the DL, I’ll have a holds-saves combo. That’s a bit of a high risk/reward scenario, but it can work rather nicely, and I do enjoy having at least one team’s setup/closer combo working for me. I’ve investigated picking up Kimbrel’s set-up man, but haven’t succeeded in a trade yet, and I’m not as sure about David Carpenter as I am Jonathon Broxton. That said, I do need to start looking at dealing a closer with Chapman coming back in a month or so. The downside is that the two guys I’d be most open to trading – Santos and Frieri – are busy setting their teams on fire. We’ll see what happens.

The other major issue the lineup is showing is a simple power outage, still. I’m second-to-last in the league in home runs, and that’s not going to change until Chris Davis and Prince Fielder start to heat up. If my big three power guys – Davis, Fielder, Alvarez – are erratic all year, it could spell doom for me. I’m also counting on wild cards like Austin Jackson and Khris Davis to give me 20 or so HRs to help. However, I do lead the league in stolen bases. I might have to look to deal speed for power at some point, but so far I think I’m simply a victim of slow starts. My lineup is too set to really go make a desperation waiver wire add, too; the most droppable guy on my roster is Bonifacio, but damnit, he just keeps hitting and stealing bases. I could try to deal him, but I don’t think anyone in my league is going to bite on a small early season sample size from a guy with his history. The next most likely idea would be to deal Aoki for a 20HR-potential bat, but that seems unlikely until he heats up, too.

Pitching is… questionable, at this point. I end up with respectable ERAs each week, but my WHIP is high. In fact, I have the worst WHIP in the league. I just need guys to make it happen. Miller seems to be getting his act together, at least. Wheeler has done okay but not great. Alex Wood has really caught on, though, as has Tyson Ross. Corey Kluber’s not inspiring confidence yet, though. Yet again, it’s a lineup I’m not losing faith in… there’s just no one out there with the same upside if I were to let Wheeler or Kluber go. Best to just keep riding it out.

Keeper League, After Week 2

Week 2 saw me follow-up a 6-5-1 start with a 6-6 week. It should have been 7-5; I was up in all pitching categories going into Sunday, with my opponent having no pitchers going. I benched my two starters (Corey Kluber and Tyson Ross), because we both had K/9 ratios over 11 and close enough that a good start with a K/9 around 9 would drop me below my opponent – the odds were on that number going down. Anyway, I left my relievers active – all three closers had pitched the last three days, and my two set-up men were gambles.

Turned out, as it would happen, both my opponent and I had one of our setup men pitch an inning yesterday. Mine – Gregerson – struck out no one in one inning. His guy ended up with a 13.50. The end result? I finished the week with a K/9 of 11.054 and he finished with a 11.055. Bah.

Otherwise, I really can’t complain. The lineup is performing well.

My Week 3 roster is:
C – Buster Posey
1B – Prince Fielder
2B – Dustin Pedrioa
3B – Pedro Alvarez
SS – Everth Cabrera
1B/3B – Chris Davis
2B/SS – Emilio Bonifacio
OF x5 – Starling Marte / Austin Jackson / Nori Aoki / Khris Davis / Carl Crawford
UTIL – Dustin Ackley
BENCH – Alex Guerrero

SP x6 – David Price / Shelby Miller / Corey Kluber / Zack Wheeler / Tyson Ross / Alex Wood
RP x3 (closers) – Craig Kimbrel / Ernesto Frieri / Francisco Rodriguez
P x2 (closer/setup) – Sergio Santos / Luke Gregerson
DL x2 – Matt Harvey / Aroldis Chapman

Hey, same roster as last week. I “moved” Bonifacio into my 2B/SS spot and Ackley into my UTIL… at this point, Bonifacio’s speed and leadoff slot make him more valuable a commodity to me than Ackley, if I have to make a choice. I don’t dislike Ackley, though. I just realize that his skillset isn’t specialized enough to keep around if someone else gets hot. Given that I’m bursting with speed (I lead the league in SBs) without either Marte or E-Cab getting on a roll yet, I can probably ditch Bonifacio down the road – but I’d rather keep him around, continue to dominate the speed role, and drop Ackley if I can find a better power option down the road. I’m still lacking in the power category (2nd-fewest HRs), but I’m not going to worry about that yet, since neither Davis or Fielder have hit a jack yet. Once they get rolling, it’ll come around. But there’s no lie – I could use another middle-of-the-order bat. And warmer weather.

I actually almost got Avisail Garcia this week. When he busted his shoulder, his owner dropped him – I jumped on him, not waiting for the MRI results. I liked Garcia a lot going into this season, and dropped Corey Kluber to pick him up in the keeper-friendly E19 (19th round, E-tier keeper). Of course, then the MRI came back, so I just picked up Kluber again in that spot. Had I kept Garcia, I would have ended up dropping Ackley to re-obtain Kluber, whose keeper value I still like.

On that note, pitching had a good week. Only Wheeler struggled, and 4 earned runs isn’t something that puts the panic into me. More than anything, I was really glad to see Kluber put in two good starts, as well as Alex Wood’s great start. Shelby Miller is still struggling some, but hopefully he gets over it. I’ll feel better once I can pick up my 7th starting pitcher, but with the way the Dodgers are looking, I doubt Guerrero will get his call-up until June sometime.

As it stands, there’s nothing to really do with the lineup until either some waiver wire players goes on enough of a tear to get me to drop Ackley. Otherwise, I’m just hoping to see a power surge from Fielder and Davis soon; I’m realizing that I paid too much attention to stolen bases this year and not enough to power, although that was largely because I didn’t want to reach for power knowing that I had Fielder/Davis/Alvarez. And frankly, being short on power from my studs in April isn’t something to worry overly about. But still. It’d be nice to see Fielder and Davis show me something soon.

If I were a GM…

The Detroit sports scene has typically been blessed with favorable GMs (general managers). Well, except for the Lions… sort of. And the Pistons, sometimes. I don’t really follow the Pistons, though; I just know that Joe Dumars went from hero to villain pretty quick during his tenure as GM. The Lions, well, it’s hit-and-miss. But the Tigers and Red Wings, recently, have been consistently excellent under the tenures of Dave Dombrowski and Ken Holland, respectively.

Holland’s only misstep lately was a 5-year signing of injury-prone, largely unproven Stephen Weiss, who is making $4.9M per year. That said, in the space of one injury-riddled year for the Wings, Weiss has become the odd-man out. He missed most of the year due to a sports hernia and the resultant rehab; in that time, Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening emerged as NHL-ready centers. Sheahan has size, a good shot, and incredible passing skills; he’s probably a better player than Stephen Weiss, even this early in his development, and makes more sense centering the 2nd line going forward, especially if he continues to center the “Kid Line” with guys he’s played with for years in the minors, as well. Glendening only recently notched his first goal (it took 51 games), but he’s shown great development over the season. A temporary call-up, he leveraged his size, fearlessness, and skating ability into an everyday role as the 4th-line center and on the penalty kill. He’s essentially the ideal 4th-line center, a guy who can grind with the best of them and still be a danger to score; in fact, his line performs so well, that Coach Babcock has been intentionally matching them up with the other team’s best line on occasion. As for the other two lines, the top line is centered by Pavel Datsyuk, of course. The third line is typically centered by Darren Helm, who has blazing speed, tenacity, and is another top penalty killer. I’m not sure where the Wings fit Weiss in next season when he returns; however, the recent youth movement has suddenly made him the odd-man out. It should also be of note that the Red Wings have ridiculous depth at center beyond that: Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Joakim Andersson can also all play center as necessary.

Other than that, the Wings are in an excellent place – they have a great deal of young talent suddenly, in the same year as several contracts are set to expire. Mikael Samuelsson ($3M), Todd Bertuzzi ($2.075M), Daniel Alfredsson ($3.5M), David Legwand ($4.5M) and Danny Cleary ($1.75M) are all unrestricted free agents. The Wings could potentially re-sign Alfie, but there’s really no room for any of these guys – Samuelsson and Clearly have spent most the year injured, and Bertuzzi has been a regular healthy scratch of late. The Wings look to clear almost $15M off the books and see the cap expand by $4M or so next season. That money will likely be spent on locking up their future – both Danny DeKeyser, Riley Sheahan, and Tomas Tatar are restricted free agents, and all three look poised to be cornerstones of the Red Wings’ future. Gustav Nyquist, another young force, is signed for next year, but the Red Wings might look at locking him up, as well. Those four – Sheahan, Nyquist, Tatar, and DeKeyser are the next generation. Their emergence this season is testament to the scouting and youth development of the Red Wings.

So let’s move on to the actual point of this post, which is to explore the odd offseason of Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers. For one, note that the Tigers made a pretty significant shift in philosophy with Jim Leyland retiring and Brad Ausmus taking over; the Ausmus Tigers are looking to be a quicker team with better base-running. As such, Dombrowski managed to alleviate the major cramp in Leyland’s team last year – he traded Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. This was multi-level move that worked for the Tigers; on paper, the trifecta of Cabrera/Fielder/V-Mart looks really good, until you realize that it locks the 1B/3B/DH positions in stone. Leyland’s lack of lineup flexibility, especially with an injured Cabrera last season, was a major problem. Ausmus doesn’t have that problem; with Fielder gone, Cabrera takes over 1B, and he can always flip-flop with V-Mart as necessary. Kinsler is an upgrade over Omar Infante at 2B; nothing against Omar, who is a household favorite here, but he’s basically a hit-for-average guy and not do much else – a guy who hits .300/10HR/10SB has value, but Kinsler’s upside is simply higher, and it let them jettison Fielder and his massive contract. To be fair, the just took those savings and lavished them on Cabrera with an even more massive contract, but that was just as inevitable as Joe Mauer’s ridiculous Twins contract a couple years back.

No, I have no issues with Dombrowski’s Fielder move or any other position player moves (even the ridiculous shortstop scrambling after Jose Iglesias was lost for the year). No, I’m concerned and confused by the bullpen.

Going into the offseason, two mutually exclusive facts seemed to be true: first, the Tigers’ major weakness was the bullpen; and second, Smyly was due to get his shot starting. Smyly starting makes some sense; he’s a good pitcher with good starter-quality stuff, and he’d paid his dues – two years in the bullpen, largely due to the economics and other situational factors. However, Smyly was essentially our best reliever last season, and there was no burning need in the rotation to move anyone. Sure, Scherzer might walk in free agency, but if he did, that would get Smyly his spot, while holding him in the ‘pen for another year while we patch it up. Honestly, Smyly could have been a candidate to close after Benoit left.

Instead, Dombrowski traded the perennially underrated Doug Fister (another household favorite) to the Nationals for Robbie Ray (a lefty starter prospect), Ian Krol (a young lefty reliever), and Steve Lombardozzi (a utility infielder). This was seen partly as a salary cap move, to clear some room to – people thought – bolster the bullpen. The Krol acquisition is part of that; he’s a lefty arm that replaces Smyly in the ‘pen, since this move put Smyly back in the starting rotation. But make no mistake – this move happened with the knowledge that Smyly was our best reliever last season, that our closer left as a free agent, and that Scherzer (based on things he’d said and the history of Scott Boras) was likely to test free agency next season. The Tigers took what was left of their play money and signed two men – closer Joe Nathan and reliever Joba Chamberlain.

Joe Nathan has been an elite closer in his career. He’s been especially elite against the Tigers. His career numbers include 341 saves, a 2.77 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and a nearly 3:1 K:BB ratio. However, he’s 39. His physical skills – velocity, for example – have been on the decline. That didn’t stop the Tigers from giving him $10M, with a $10M option for next year. Chamberlain got a 1-year, $2.5M deal; Chamberlain’s claim to fame was that he was a top prospect once, who got largely mismanaged by the Yankees due to injury. His career numbers include a 2.5:1 K:BB ratio, a 3.87 ERA, and a 1.39 WHIP. Honestly, I don’t mind the Chamberlain signing so much – his velocity is also down, but he’s seen as a potential reclamation project; it’s entirely feasible that he’ll thrive in a new setting and away from the shorter outfields of Yankee Stadium. However, with the relative lack of depth in the bullpen, it puts Chamberlain in a higher leverage situation than he really should be.

Along with these moves, the Tigers declined a $3.75M club option on Jose Veras, who pitched quite respectably as a Tiger last season. Veras owned a 3.02 ERA and 1.07 WHIP with the Astros and Tigers last year; his career marks stand at 3.86 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. He’s not a flamethrower or a sure-fire closer, but he is a veteran pitcher with proven experience as a closer. For whatever reason, the Tigers decided he wasn’t worth keeping around.

What bothered me about these moves was the desperation behind them; the Tigers, as they did in the past with Jose Valverde, seemed locked into the idea of having a “proven closer.” As a result, they reached and overpaid for Joe Nathan, at the expense of the bullpen as a whole. The relief pitching market wasn’t thin this season; had the Tigers had the gusto to put the closer position up for grabs, they could have filled out their bullpen with quality names instead of blowing a large chunk of payroll on one player, then making a speculative signing on Joba Chamberlain.

So we have $12.5M to play with, let’s pretend. But! Let’s also pretend that we didn’t trade Doug Fister, so we’ll take… oh, let’s say $2.5M off of that. What are we doing with it? First up, I’m exercising the club option on Jose Veras for $3.75M. Okay. $6.25M left. Let’s get some lefty depth. Since Smyly’s still in the pen, I venture after Manny Parra. Parra had a poor 2012 after missing 2011 due to injury; he bounced back in Cincinnati in 2013 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. The Reds didn’t extend a qualifying offer to him, so he hit free agency. He ended up re-signed on a one-year, $1M contract. Let’s give him $1.5M to come to us. $4.75 left. I want more insurance for the unsettled closer position, so rather than let him go back to Milwaukee, we’re going to offer $3.75M to Francisco Rodriguez, who had an excellent 2013 in a set-up role. That leaves us with $1M or so left in budget, which we’ll just consider to be net savings, or leave to be spent on prospects. The only other move I’d make, and I would push for this one, would be to acquire Luke Gregerson from San Diego, since he was on the block. Let’s pretend we trade Andy Dirks and a minor league player-to-be-named later for him, which seems reasonable since San Diego got Seth Smith. At any rate, believe that if I’m the GM and I know Gregerson is on the market, I’m getting him; the Tigers have minor-league OF depth to offset a Dirks trade. If this trade isn’t possible, it’s no worry; the bullpen is still suddenly much deeper than it was, and the open bullpen positions can be staffed by young guys like Evan Reed or Luke Putkonen.

These changes leave us with last year’s starting rotation – Verlander/Scherzer/Sanchez/Fister/Porcello, with the likely outcome of Scherzer walking in free agency (or being trade bait mid-season, even if we’re winning!), with a bullpen of Smyly/Veras/Alburquerque/K-Rod/Coke/Parra/Gregerson/Reed/Putkonen. This results in a deep bullpen mixed with younger guys and veterans, with room for any of Smyly/Veras/K-Rod/Gregerson to complete for the closer job, and the losers to be relegated to very reliable set-up duty. It’s also deep enough that if the Tigers did opt to trade a starter at the deadline, Smyly could step out of the ‘pen without leaving a gaping hole.

I’m no professional, and obviously, I curtail all of the realities of GMing in this exploration, but I’ve watched enough baseball over the last couple years to realize that a deep bullpen is critical to winning. Both Boston and St. Louis had formidable bullpens with no obvious weaknesses last year; by contrast, the Tigers spoiled incredible starting pitching with dubious relief work. That bullpen is no better today; I’d argue it’s worse. If the Tigers are on the outside looking in come October, I doubt anyone will have to look further than the bullpen to know why.

Keeper League, After Week 1

Week 1 came and went, and I saw a 6-5-1 start that could have gone anywhere from 5-7 to 9-3 on Sunday.

I made a couple lineup changes. First of all, I had to plunk Harvey and Chapman on the DL, so I picked up setup men to replace them in my lineup. My normal roster leaves me with everyday position players, 2 setup men, 3 closers, and starting pitching the rest of way, including occupying both bench spots. Right now, I’m stashing Alex Guerrero, so that has me down to one extra SP.

Ironically, one of the setup men I picked up was K-Rod. Then he turned into a closer. Which is great, maybe, but sort of jacks my whole idea of having two reliable setup guys. Holds are a fickle category, even moreso than saves – it’s a hard category to win without two reliable guys, unless I’m up against someone who’s largely punting holds. I picked up Sergio Santos to replace Chapman with my final draft pick, so now I’m set with 4 closers and one on the DL. Eventually, Santos will hopefully make a reliable setup option, but I might be forced into an odd decision when Chapman comes off the DL; I really doubt that K-Rod will have trade value in a league where saves and holds have equal value.

My Week 2 Roster looks like:
C – Buster Posey
1B – Prince Fielder
2B – Dustin Pedrioa
3B – Pedro Alvarez
SS – Everth Cabrera
1B/3B – Chris Davis
2B/SS – Dustin Ackley
OF x5 – Starling Marte / Austin Jackson / Nori Aoki / Khris Davis / Carl Crawford
UTIL – Emilio Bonifacio

SP x6 – David Price / Shelby Miller / Corey Kluber / Zack Wheeler / Tyson Ross / Alex Wood
RP x3 (closers) – Craig Kimbrel / Ernesto Frieri / Francisco Rodriguez
P x2 (closer/setup) – Sergio Santos / Luke Gregerson
DL x2 – Matt Harvey

No real major changes other than dropping James Loney for Emilio Bonifacio. That was a no-brainer for two reasons – first, I never liked Loney much to begin with; second, I like to ride the hot hand with my UTIL spot. My personal choice is to avoid DH-only players like Victor Martinez or Billy Butler because they cramp roster flexibility by cementing my UTIL spot. When Bonifacio cools off, I’ll drop him for another hot hand. Similarly, Ackley is a place-holder until Guerrero gets his call-up later this season; although, to be fair, Ackley looks good so far in a legitimate way.

Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with my lineup. My major concern after one week was a low number of home runs, but that will go up and down. I came out pretty steady on .AVG and .OPS, both of which are scored categories. I also ended up with a lot of speed, even without Marte or Cabrera contributing steals. My only concern going forward might be my perpetual annual concern – too much top-of-the-lineup speed contributing runs and steals, not enough middle-of-the-order power contributing HRs and RBIs. We’ll see. I’m banking heavily on major power coming from Chris Davis, Fielder, Alvarez, and Posey – any week where two or three of them slump a bit and no one else in the lineup (like Austin Jackson or Khris Davis) pick up the slack might see me lose those categories, as I did this week. Khris Davis’s cold start was a little concerning, so it was highly encouraging to see him bounce back with multi-hit games after he got a day off.

People in this league do lots of different things with pitching; I try to cover all categories – my goal is always to have the potential to go 12-0-0 in a given week, so I go after holds and saves. Some guys punt saves or holds completely. I know one guy picks up 3 set-up men for his RPs, and fills everything else with SP. Other guys punt saves and pick up 4-5 setup men. I’m hamstrung slightly right now, with Guerrero occupying a bench spot I’d normally fill with a seventh SP. Likewise, I’m holding 4 closers right now. I rotated a couple different guys through that single setup spot until deciding today on Luke Gregerson, who I’ve always been a fan of. I’ll feel more comfortable when Chapman comes off the DL and I make final decisions on how my relief options will pan out; ideally, by then, the Brewers will have settled on whether or not K-Rod or Henderson will be a long-term closer this season (given the choice, exclusively as setup men, I’d prefer K-Rod to Santos).

It’s too early to be worried about any starting pitching; Corey Kluber’s outing was discouraging, though. I’m confident in a bounce-back, though, and otherwise I’m pretty confident in my starters. I imagine some of them – Ross, particularly – might find their way out of the lineup eventually, but for now, it’s way too early to jump ship for someone else who put up a remarkable first start. I will feel better about my pitching once I can pick up that seventh starter, though; but Guerrero’s potential is too high to ignore – an 18th-round pick who could potentially produce 20 HRs from the 2B spot is, well, worth stashing for now.

Keeper League Post-Draft

My keeper league concluded its draft in late March. We ended up conducting it by e-mail, since we couldn’t get schedules to align and we had people scattered all over. In the end, said e-mail draft took about a week and a half. While that level of delayed gratification drove some people nuts, the delay also saw several draft-worthy players sustain season-ending injuries, thus saving some people from making picks destined for injury.

I had keepers in the 3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 14th, 17th, 20th, and 22nd rounds. Remember that we have to keep a player from each “tier” of draft rounds, with each “tier” being a set of 4 (1-4, 5-8, etc). Keepers are also assigned contracts. My keepers went like this:

3rd round – David Price, TB/SP (2012 keeper; 2nd year of a 2-year contract)
4th round – Craig Kimbrel, ATL/RP (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 1-year contract)
7th round – Buster Posey, SF/C (2012 keeper; 2nd year of a 3-year contract)
8th round – Pedro Alvarez, PIT/3B (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 1-year contract)
9th round – Chris Davis, BAL/1B (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 3-year contract)
14th round – Matt Harvey, NYM/SP (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 2-year contract)
17th round – Starling Marte, PIT/OF (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 2-year contract)
20th round – Austin Jackson, DET/OF (2012 keeper; 2nd year of a 2-year contract)
22nd round – Shelby Miller, STL/SP (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 1-year contract)

So quite a bit, there. I’m admittedly nervous about a 3-year contract on Davis – keepers are undroppable for the duration of their contract, unless they go completely out of baseball (demotions to the minors do not count). My thinking is simply that I can have 30+ HR potential in the 9th round for the next 3 years. That’s hard to replace. But all in all, a relatively solid slate of players. Harvey will be gone all year, but I had no other real options in my rounds 13-16 (D-tier) set, so I put 2 years on him and let him sit on my DL this year. But all in all, got some power and some speed and it’s a nice set. But no middle infielders.

I went into my draft with two picks in the first four rounds, as a result. I had two goals – a big bat in the first round and a solid middle infielder in the second. My big bat was Prince Fielder; I had my eye on him from the start, since I love him in Texas. In the second round, I picked up Dustin Pedroia.

After not picking for a couple rounds, I knew I’d have two picks in the “B-tier” – rounds 5-8. I knew I needed a speedster, ideally from the middle infield again, and then some pitching. I ended up taking Aroldis Chapman in the 5th round; I don’t personally overvalue saves, but I figured having two lockdown closers with good ratios would help, and I have depth all over anyway. In the sixth round, I took Everth Cabrera, as I’m entranced by his speed and I knew he wouldn’t last through the next three rounds I wasn’t picking in; plus, shortstop can often be the shallowest position on the diamond for fantasy purposes. Rounds 10-12 saw me take Zack Wheeler, Nori Aoki, and Ernesto Frieri. Again, the closer was just there; I knew coming out of three rounds of not picking, I wanted a young pitcher with buzz – Sonny Gray and Danny Salazar were my top two picks for that, but they were taken the round prior. Wheeler was my next preferred option. Aoki is just a player I’ve always picked; I think he has 30 SB potential with the free-running Royals, and could top 100 runs as their lead-off man. I see his upside as being .300/30 SB/100 R, with a downside being more along the lines of .260/20 SB/70 R.

Round 13 came then, and it was time to snag a real sleeper prospect – I wasn’t picking in Round 14, and I like having a real prospect to hope for in the “D-tier” (rounds 13-16) and “E-tier” (rounds 17-20). The “F-tier” (rounds 21-25) are less important for that, since free agent adds corresponding to DL moves count as 25th-round picks for keeper purposes; among my “25th-round picks” via injury replacement last season was Sonny Gray, who I almost (and maybe should have) kept over Shelby Miller. Anyway, wanting a young power bat, I took Khris Davis in the 13th round, then watched several of my other sleeper targets go in the next round – notably, Kole Calhoun and Yordano Ventura. Calhoun was my 18th-round target, alas. My next target, then, was going to be Avisail Garcia, who I think has legit 20 HR/20 SB potential… but he was gone, too. I settled for Alex Wood and Carl Crawford for rounds 15 and 16.

In the E-tier, I jumped on Alex Guerrero and Corey Kluber; even if Guerrero misses part of the season in Triple-A, he looks like the Dodgers’ desired 2B. At 18th-round value, if he does come up and show a potential for 20+ HR, he can be a valuable middle infielder as a keeper. I’ve got my fingers crossed; I don’t like choking a bench spot on a minor-league prospect, but I’m stuck doing it for now. Since I missed out on Salazar, I took the other Indians pitcher I’m high on as a consolation prize.

The final set of rounds I more or less just fill needs as necessary. As the draft had gone on by now, we’d had several players sustain injury – including Aroldis Chapman. Plus, I knew I had Matt Harvey destined for my DL, so I needed an SP to replace him. I also had an open utility spot. I ended up playing a hunch and picking up Dustin Ackley to serve as my MI placeholder while Guerrero gets his Triple-A seasoning, and picking up Sergio Santos to hold down saves for Chapman while he recovers. I rounded out my roster with sleeper hunch Tyson Ross and reliable James Loney.

When I draft this league, I try to target one or two keepers per tier, so that as the season starts, I already have a plan. When I brought a couple friends into the league this year, I advised them simply that it’s not about having a stud keeper in each tier; it’s about having options that won’t hurt you. One guy had to choose between Eric Young Jr. and Ryan Cook this offseason in his D-tier; he simply didn’t have other options, and he couldn’t find a trade to better his position. He settled on Cook. I try to avoid those situations. Pedro Alvarez may or may not be worth an 8th-round pick; but he’s not hurting me there. Similarly, I don’t love blowing my 4th-round pick this year on Kimbrel, but my next best option was losing my 1st-round pick to keep Robinson Cano. Kimbrel’s not hurting me, and I’d rather pick up Fielder in Texas than keep Cano in Seattle. Naturally, as the season goes on, free agent adds will change what my roster and keeper options look like, and trade possibilities will happen, but I always look at my draft as a starting slate, and try to pick up guys that I feel make good short-term keepers or have the potential to be reliable long-term keepers. So my plan this draft was such:

A-tier: As it stands, my keeper options will be Fielder or Pedroia. All in all, no complaints there; both are sturdy and reliable, and I won’t mind putting a 1-year contract on either at the end of the year.
B-tier: Chapman was essentially a value pick here, and if it comes down to it, he’s not a bad 1-year option. However, my hope here is that Everth Cabrera breaks out some more – if he hits .270+ and steals 40+ bases, he’s suddenly a 2-year keeper option.
C-tier: Frieri was another value pick for me, and isn’t someone I’d ideally keep. Given the choice, I’d probably throw one year at Aoki instead. However, Wheeler is my hope here – he seems to have the stuff to potentially justify a 2 or 3-year contract at season’s end.
D-tier: Davis, Wood, and Crawford are all hopes here. Crawford seems like a reliable 1-year option. But, of course, I’m digging hard for value at this point, and I’m hoping that Davis or Wood turn in standout years and become strong 2 or 3-year contract candidates. I don’t trust either fully, so I’m hoping one of them works out. If Davis can give me 25+ HRs and bat .270+, he becomes a great value going forward, and that’s my hope.
E-tier: I really wanted Kole Calhoun here, but I ended up settling for Guerrero and Kluber. This is my most “dangerous” tier, as both guys are unknowns and therefore gambles; in the other tiers above, I have someone “reliable” if my prospects don’t work out. This is going to be where I might end up scraping for a trade later. But the hope, of course, is that one of the two pan out – it’s the same as my D-tier, basically, but without the reliable veteran fall-back option.
F-tier: I don’t love any of these guys, but I respect breakout potential in both Ackley and Ross. If that works, great. If not, I know I’ll have several options from free agent adds corresponding with DL placements as the season goes on. I don’t worry about the F-tier.

All in all, a good draft. I have a roster with a high upside for young starting pitching coming through, and a set of hitters who could provide plenty of power and speed and hit for average. Of course, the downside is that no one really has stand-out years and I end up falling short in numerical categories each week, and that my young pitching falters and I lack enough stable veterans to fall back on. Still, starting pitching is always deep. I’m building not just to contend this season, but to build a more solid foundation next year, too.

It’s good to have baseball back.