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.


Keeper League, After Week 8…

Missed some weeks there, due to some travel and other various life circumstances.  It’s been bad, though.  Just a lineup that’s not coming together – for every good day or stand-out performance I have per week, I have another that swings the pendulum back.  As a result, my team sits at 34-53-9, good for last place in the league.  There’s been some changes since the end of April, including a trade that just concluded this morning.

My Week 9 roster is:
C – Buster Posey
1B – Chris Davis
2B – Dustin Pedrioa
3B – Pedro Alvarez
SS – Everth Cabrera
1B/3B – Garrett Jones
2B/SS – Jed Lowrie
OF x5 – Starling Marte / Austin Jackson / Nori Aoki / Khris Davis / Marlon Byrd
UTIL – Seth Smith
BENCH – Alex Guerrero / Gregory Polanco

SP x5 – Shelby Miller / Corey Kluber / Tyson Ross / Sonny Gray / Marco Estrada
RP x3 – Aroldis Chapman / Ernesto Frieri / Jonathon Broxton
P x2 (starters) – Rick Porcello / Trevor Bauer

DL x2 – Matt Harvey / Prince Fielder

Well, so much for my grand power trio of Prince, Crush Davis, and Pedro Alvarez.  Prince is gone, Crush is having some predictable regression (but remains a good 9th-round value), and Alvarez is being his streaky self.  When one of them is hot this season, the other is not.  I picked up Marlon Byrd and Seth Smith as they started to heat up, so they’ve helped round out the roster lately.  Garrett Jones was thankfully available after Prince hit the DL; he immediately had a multi-homer game for me, and hasn’t had a hit since.  Great.  At that point, I realized this is probably a lost season for me, so I dumped an extra starting pitcher and picked up Gregory Polanco.  At least I know he’ll be up in a couple weeks probably; Guerrero… well, after getting his ear bitten off, who knows.  But if I’m out of it this season, there’s no reason to give up on holding onto a middle infielder with 20HR+ power.  He’s gotta come up sometime this year.

As for pitching, Alex Wood’s shift to the bullpen made him expendable.  Maybe I’ll pick him up again later if he’s not held already, but I noticed that I’m already loaded for young keeper-potential pitching.  With Corey Kluber and Tyson Ross both looking very worthwhile, Wood was expendable anyway; I don’t want to keep too many pitchers.  Chapman came off the DL, and Frieri (sort of) reclaimed his closer job, so that helped solidify my relievers.  I dropped any holds guys until today, when I picked up Broxton, giving me a 1-2 HD/SV punch when Cincinnati wins.  It’s gonna be feast-or-famine for me there for awhile.

The big trade involved pitching.  In this keeper league, you sign your keepers to contracts; once the contract is up, they return to the draft pool.  Two of my expiring contracts were David Price and Craig Kimbrel.  Last week, I floated some bait to my fellow managers – that my expiring contracts were available for keeper depth.  I looked around at which keeper tiers I wanted to shore up, and who might be open to a trade.  I floated a question to a fellow manager I’ve made trades with before – what would he want for Sonny Gray?  He said Price and Kimbrel.  I said done.

I love Sonny Gray.  Really.  I should have kept him last season – I had him at 25th-round value, but elected to keep Shelby Miller instead at 22nd-round value; while both the A’s and Cards are excellent at working with young pitching, I trusted the Cardinals a little more.  I chose poorly; Gray looks like an absolute beast, and Miller has looked a lot like Lance Lynn in his sophomore season.  However, there’s a silver lining here – whoever I kept between Gray and Miller last season, it would have been a 1-year deal.  This season, perhaps not.  My trade partner drafted Gray in the 8th round, so that’s the value I inherit.  It’s very likely that I keep Gray long-term, freeing up all of my earlier picks for big bats.  But this is a lesson for me – I should have trusted what I saw in the postseason.  Miller was relegated to bullpen duty and barely used; Gray was a stand-out, going toe-to-toe with Verlander in the ALDS and looking mighty impressive doing so.

It’s entirely possible this team bounces back; the potential is there.  But a lot of guys will have to get hot all at the same time to do so.  It’s a lineup full of potential, but so far not much else – as I said, for every day that goes right, the next goes bad.  This past week was a perfect example – my Friday was excellent; the bats were electric with 6 HRs, somewhere around 15 Rs and RBIs, and a .450 average.  It had pulled me and my head-to-head opponent to a 6-6 lock.  Then Saturday and Sunday passed, seeing a combined average of about .120, 0 HRs, and about 5 Rs and 2 RBIs combined over both days.  My team sank to 2-7-3.  It didn’t help that another Corey Kluber gem was spoiled by Rick Porcello and David Price both getting blown apart, too.  But that’s just how it goes sometimes.

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.