Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pain, Pondering, and Promise

Before I begin this somber task, I must apologize once again for my tardiness. Someone like Curtis Granderson deserves a lot more promptness. Unfortunately, the Winter Meetings happened smack dab in a two-week period where I am swamped by exams, assignments, etc. as the semester winds down, not to mention work. I deeply regret this. This year’s Winter Meetings will be remembered as a dark time in the Motor City, when Tigers fans were forced to bid farewell to one of our most popular players (and hey, I think most of us were fond of Edwin Jackson as well). I was understandably a lot more upset when Pudge got traded, but Curtis Granderson was in my top 5 (#4, to be precise) and was one of the classiest and smartest human beings, let alone baseball players (and if I was deeply saddened by it, I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone who considered Curtis to be “their Tiger,” to quote an old promotional campaign). And he’ll always be remembered for the numerous sensational catches throughout his tenure. I have longed to be able to watch a great player destined to be a lifelong Tiger. Having been born in 1983, Al Kaline is ancient history to me and I have no memory of Alan Trammel. I badly want a Kaline/Trammel for my generation, and I had high hopes that Granderson would be it. So to have him be gone, just like that, well…it hurts. It hurts a lot. And it will hurt for a long time. I will miss him terribly.

My objective assessment of this trade has taken a day or so to formulate because I have had to gather information from other sources on the background of the acquisitions (though I have watched a surprising number of Diamondbacks games). I wasn’t too sure what to make of Max Scherzer because my perception of him was that he has good stuff but has trouble pitching deep into games. However, I had a tendency to watch games in which the D’Backs lost, particularly if they lost spectacularly (reason being is that Darron Sutton and Mark Grace are downright hilarious when the Diamondbacks lose, but unbearably smug when the Diamondbacks win). Therefore, I probably didn’t have the best sampling, and I admit this. Likewise, I did not know the background on Daniel Schlereth, other than the fact that he was left-handed and his father played in the NFL. All I knew was that the Diamondbacks’ bullpen was so bad that they kept calling up anybody and everybody they could get out of necessity. However, both Scherzer and Schlereth are very highly thought of, as it turns out. In that case, the return on Edwin Jackson looks to be a pretty good one (as an aside, one annoying aspect of this trade is there are too many players with either similar-sounding or downright identical last names). However, I feel like we could have and should have gotten more for Granderson. The word on Austin Jackson from Tiger fans isn’t particularly favorable (though most of their arguments delve a bit too much into the slippery slope of sabremetrics for my taste). They seem to think he’s overhyped. Of the four players we got, Phil Coke has probably been talked about the least. I may have seen him back in July when the Tigers were at Yankee Stadium, but I’m not sure. I did see him in the postseason, but maybe that’s not a good representation of him. In any case, he seems to be serviceable enough, but Grandy was worth more (And as a side note, what is it about Tigers I like constantly getting traded to the Yankees? Cecil…Pudge…now Grandy. Perhaps the reason I don’t hate the Yankees is a simple act of mental self-defense).

Several bloggers more knowledgeable and established than I have come out with numerous posts wherein they basically shed tears and scratch their heads. They absolutely cannot make sense of this trade. On the surface, I agree with them. However, the Tigers have to have some line of thinking to have made this move. It may be flawed (or not), but there has to have been one. This leads me to ponder Dave Dombrowski’s possible motive, and from here on out I will speak almost exclusively on Granderson since I have already reached the conclusion that Edwin Jackson got a good return (Whether you put any faith in the rumor that the Diamondbacks offered Max Scherzer for Edwin Jackson straight up depends on whether you’re more inclined to believe Josh Byrnes or Joel Sherman, so this is the only time I will mention it and it will not figure into my deductions). Dombrowski can be a hard man to figure out at times because his sound bites are so annoyingly cryptic. I’ve become more and more skeptical about the national media’s standard line of saving payroll due to the Michigan economy. For one thing, it’s too simple an explanation, and things are never THAT simple. For another thing, I have read a couple of very well-written articles from
TigsTown and The Detroit Tigers Weblog that attempt to determine where the money comes from and both articles make the assessment that the Tigers’ financial situation is not as critical as one would be led to believe. These articles are very well-researched and their arguments are extremely well-constructed and well-thought out, much moreso than anything the traditional media has come up with. In addition, it would be very uncharacteristic of Mike Illitch to order a huge payroll slash. It’s well-noted how he desperately wants to win a World Series, but the man’s eighty years old. He probably doesn’t have time for another 5-10 year rebuild, and I would guess he knows that. Also, Granderson’s contract for next year was a mere $5.15 million, and everyone knows about how much payroll gets freed up for 2011 anyways, making his contract even more affordable in the long run. So unless I get concrete evidence to the contrary, for now I am ruling out payroll as the (primary) motivation. That leaves “baseball reasons” as the likely explanation. And to that end, I have three theories (and bear in mind that I am merely attempting to gauge Dave Dombrowski’s line of thinking; if they are true, I do not necessarily agree with the logic). The first is that Dombrowski felt that Granderson had peaked and was trying to “sell high” on him. He has done this before (and here I am venturing into unfamiliar territory and am forced to rely on the assessment of others). I do not remember Jeff Weaver as a Tiger, but I do know he did his best pitching in the Olde English D. Since he was traded away, he hasn’t pitched as well (though he did have a decent year for the Dodgers out of their ‘pen in 2009). And I’ve talked to Tigers fans who strongly objected to the Weaver trade at the time it happened (We did get Carlos Peña and Jeremy Bonderman out of the deal). And there was evidence to suggest that Granderson was headed in that same direction (although at this point I believe it was merely a down year). The second theory is that Dombrowski or someone in the front office thinks incredibly highly of Austin Jackson. Jackson was always thought of as the centerpiece of any potential deal for Granderson. Perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence to support this theory is that once the three-way trade talks were believed to be dead, the Tigers suddenly re-opened them and by doing so, they lowered their asking price for Granderson. This would suggest that they believe (erroneously or not) that Austin Jackson will eventually be better than Granderson, and likely within the next two years or so. The third theory is a combination of the first two theories, and of the three, this is most likely candidate. Again, I’m not saying that I agree with any of these. I’m just trying to take a stab at what the Tigers think. Now, it could be that my train of logic is totally off and this was purely a cost-cutting move. It could be that I’m right and Dave Dombrowski’s line of thinking is completely wrong and this’ll blow up in his face. Or it could be that I am right and so is Dombrowski. For all our sakes, I hope this is the case.

The last few days have seen Tigerland rather melancholy, morose, and depressed, and this is understandable. I feel those same things myself. HOWEVER, there is reason for hope. The sun will rise again, and it may rise as soon as next April as far as we know. My best guess is that the Tigers are trying to position themselves for a big run in 2011 (provided they don’t trade away Verlander or Cabrera), but that doesn’t mean that 2010 has to be a wash. The loss of Granderson will cripple the Tigers…if they let it. But what if they could be motivated by it instead? Motivated to not let it happen again, motivated to inspire Austin Jackson and Phil Coke (Grandy’s “final contributions,” as it were) to reach their full potential, motivated to win in Granderson’s honor, or whatever. Now, making some sort of “win-now” move this offseason would not be prudent (with the exception of maybe signing a closer, provided you can get one for one year and less than $5 million). But the team we have right now is certainly capable of providing plenty of wins, especially when you consider the weak division we play in. There’s an awful lot of talent in the front end of the rotation with Verlander, Scherzer, and Porcello, and it’ll be even better if Bonderman/Robertson/Galarraga can shake off their injury woes and pitch like they’re capable of doing. Of the gaggle of relief prospects in the minors, most won’t be ready until at least 2011, but some may make their presence felt in 2010 and one would hope guys like Ryan Perry continue to improve. The offense may be down two men but most of the remaining guys are still capable of putting up better numbers than they did in 2009. A few things that went wrong in 2009 would have to go right in 2010, of course, and some things that went right in 2009 would have to keep going right. But I have a good feeling about 2010, even though I can’t explain why. As a matter of fact, I’d had a feeling of some dread ever since the season ended, perhaps before. Starting about 36 hours after the Granderson trade, that feeling went away. I have absolutely no logical explanation for it, and so you may discard it and that is your right. But I have a fairly good track record as far as the team’s fortune is concerned. After the acquisition of Miguel Cabrera, Tigers fans everywhere were ordering their champagne in January, and yet I had misgivings (nothing to do with Cabrera, of course). Last year, I was one of only a handful of Tiger writers and bloggers who still believed in the team. Now I feel as though SOMETHING good will happen to the Tigers in 2010 (Bear in mind that it may be something like a division title but it could also merely be some sort of individual achievement; I do NOT believe it would be something so indirect as the Tigers finishing with so bad a record they get the #1 pick in the 2011 draft). If I have to be the sole beacon of hope in Tigerland, so be it. And if there was any way at all that I myself could do to personally ensure victory, I would do everything within my power. Admittedly, I have nothing to back this up, and it is contingent of the Tigers not trading away any more franchise players (a loss of Verlander and/or Cabrera WOULD cripple the team in most circumstances I can think of). But as it stands right now, it goes right back to the two things that I preach are essential for success: Ability and execution. The Tigers still most certainly have the ability. Now they must execute.

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