The Hot Corner: End of the Tigers / Start of the Red Wings

So, clearly, I’m not great at this blogging thing.  I try, and I fail, then I try again, and fail more.  Looks like we’re back in the try phase, so expect some failure ahead.  But who knows!  Maybe something surprising will happen.

That said, I’ve had a lot of change in my life over the past six months or so, and my changing tastes should reflect in this blog, if I manage to keep it going.  I’ll probably aim to run weekly posts by topic; The Hot Corner, for example, is sports-related.  Behind The Screen might be gaming/television/entertainment-related.  The World According to PW is, well, me on a soapbox.  I’ll figure it out as I go.

Anyway, in this edition of the Hot Corner, as I start my new categorization system in an attempt to get this going and just write more in general, we’re gonna talk hometown teams – my Tigers and my Red Wings, in particular.  I could get to the Lions, but they deserve their own post later, and I think who the Lions are will become clear after they play the Dolphins this week and the Cardinals next week.

So those Tigers.  Anyone who knows me knew that I had approximately zero confidence in them as a playoff team.  It just didn’t look good.  They looked like the weakest team on the slate, and indeed they were.  But I’m far more troubled about their future, which I think is arriving now.  The Tigers have been in the playoffs for four straight years, with the first three culminating in ALCS loss, World Series loss, and ALCS loss.  Like many MLB teams, the Tigers were in full win-now mode, mortgaging the future in order to get that ring.  The ring never came, and the future can only be held off for so long.  The Tigers’ farm system is largely barren, with their best prospects still being fringe Triple-A players after mashing in Double-A (Moya, for example).  Dave Schoenfield succinctly called them the ultimate “stars and scrubs” team last season, something that was true during their entire run, but really highlighted this year; he was dead on, and that issue looks to continue to get worse going forward.

The Tigers sit at a payroll of about $160M right now, today.  That’s not factoring in that their best pitcher – Max Scherzer – and best hitter – Victor Martinez – are departing free agents.  Neither guy seems likely to return; the Tigers look to lean on their well-paid but aging stars in Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera next year, as they will for the next decade, period.  The issue is going to be depth; the issue they’ve had all along.  The Tigers will trot out a reliable rotation of 4 guys next season (Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello), but who fills that fifth spot looks bleak – will it be a bargain free agent add, or will they dive into the Triple-A ranks, perhaps hoping on Robbie Ray, the centerpiece of that terrible Doug Fister deal?  The lineup looks to be equally anemic – another year of Rajai Davis in center field seems likely, as there’s still no in-house center fielder in the organization with Austin Jackson’s departure in that equally terrible David Price deal; likewise, there aren’t any center fielders on the free agent market unless you want to overpay Colby Rasmus.  Alex Avila no longer seems like a reliable catcher; Detroit loves him, but his bat is streaky and he’s injury-prone.  Torii Hunter also left a free agent, leaving right field open; Andy Dirks is also gone.  Next year’s right fielder is a huge question mark, and are we really counting on J.D. Martinez to repeat his success next year?  Ian Kinsler will remain a solid 2B, and I feel confident in the development of Nick Castellanos at 3B… but this is not a lineup that screams horror to other teams anymore.  The Tigers’ stars are so well-paid that the team is ridiculously top-heavy, leaving little room for depth, let alone a full slate of above-average starters.  The only other team I can think of that went down this path was the late-00s Phillies… and they’re still clawing their way out of that hole.  Ugh.

So yes, I am a Tigers pessimist at this point.  They’re simply not good, and are unlikely to get better.  I admit, I would not be surprised if they only win 75 games next season and finish last in an AL Central that’s getting more competitive than people realize.

Let’s move onto brighter topics, then.  The Red Wings look good so far!  This isn’t a surprise here, but I saw a lot of Wings fans whining last season when they failed to land a high-priced right-handed defenseman in free agency.  No one really paid attention to the fact that the Wings don’t operate that way in the salary cap era, but whatever.

What the Red Wings do have is one of the best young cores in hockey, though.  The group of Gus Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, and Danny DeKeyser – among still others – is absolutely unparalleled in the NHL.  All four are continuing their strong play from last season, and look ready to be the next generation of Red Wing leaders.  I’m stoked.  They’re fun to watch, too.  On top of that, the veterans are playing well – Datsyuk looks like himself, and Zetterberg’s beard is as luxurious as ever.  All in all, the Wings look like the Wings – a reliably competent team that plays at a high level every night.  Sometimes puck luck goes their way; sometimes not.  But they did well in their early schedule – a 6-2-2 start is pretty promising.  If they can manage not to get ravaged by injuries for a third straight season, there’s no reason they can’t make a 24th straight playoff appearance and potentially run deep.

The Wings look set – as dynastic as ever.  I’ve said before, the Wings right now remind me of the ’01-’03 era Wings, just without the Cup (which they almost won in 2013, anyway, when they took the Blackhawks to 7 games).  I remember those years, 12 years ago, when Yzerman and Shanahan were on their way out, as the veterans made room for a new guard to flourish.  The same thing is happening now, as Zetterberg and Datsyuk are aging into grizzled veterans – they’re making room for the new guard, the homegrown kids who are going to keep the tradition alive and strong.  That playoff streak?  We’ll keep it going, and we’ll break Boston’s 30-straight.  I’m more certain of it now than I was five years ago when we lost the Cup to Pittsburgh.  This is the youngest the Red Wings have been in a decade, perhaps even since the early ’90s, and the youth they’re bringing up looks absolutely poised for success.

So I guess we take what we can get right now in Detroit.  Business as usual with the Red Wings, however transitional the team is right now, along with the unsurprising decline of the Tigers.  The Lions look promising, which is a nice surprise, too.  It’s not all bad.  We just gotta take what we can get sometimes, and enjoy what we’ve got.


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