2011 Organizational Rankings: #16 – Detroit

The Tigers may not have had the most efficient offseason, but then again, they sort of pigeon-holed themselves into that strategy.

Present Talent – 74.17 (T-22nd)

Tigers Season Preview

Future Talent – 70.00 (26th)

Tigers Top 10 Prospects

Financial Resources – 83.46 (6th)
Baseball Operations – 76.67 (T-22nd)

Overall Rating – 76.96 (16th)

The Tigers find themselves in a position much like they found themselves at the start of last season. In last year’s organizational rankings piece, it was noted that though the Tigers had a bunch of expiring contracts, they would likely have to reinvest in free agency to fill those spots, which more or less came to fruition. The Tigers decided not to let Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta depart, and imported Victor Martinez, Joaquin Benoit and Brad Penny. The signings signal what we already know – the Tigers don’t have a lot of faith in their farm system. Only the White Sox, Mets, Brewers and Astros had farm systems who ranked lower in our voting. As a result, unless the Tigers can identify a scenario where they give up little in return in exchange for eating the contract of a productive player – a type of trade we seldom see in baseball these days – they will once again have to resort to taking fliers on players whose stars have fallen (see: Willis, Dontrelle) if they are to try to upgrade their roster in-season. It also limited their flexibility this past offseason.

The aforementioned doesn’t necessarily make the Tigers a dumb front office. The Tigers may not have a great farm system right now, but the chops of Dave Dombrowski – the man who built the core of the 1994 Expos – really shouldn’t be called into question. A few years back, Rany Jazayerli called him one of the “five greatest front office executives of the past 25 years,” and that still holds up today. In Al Avila, Mike Smith and David Chadd, he has a trusted group of lieutenants that have been roundly praised in past seasons. But they have certainly had a head-scratching offseason.

The ranking here reflects the fact that you can’t always win by playing the free agency game, and that’s what the Tigers have been reduced to. At some of the Tigers positions of need, there simply weren’t a lot of talented players. Look at the list of free agent shortstops and third baseman who signed this offseason. With the exception of Adrian Beltre, were there really any better options than Peralta and Inge? If the Tigers had more depth in their system, perhaps they could have dealt for Dan Uggla, J.J. Hardy, Jason Bartlett or Mark Reynolds. But they didn’t. So they repeated the same cycle with the same players. What’s more, they did so pretty quickly:

- Brandon Inge, signed 10/21/10
- Jhonny Peralta, signed 11/08/10
- Joaquin Benoit, signed 11/17/10
- Victor Martinez, signed 11/24/10
- Magglio Ordonez, signed 12/16/10
- Brad Penny, signed 01/01/11

Now, with many of the deadlines moved up, the offseason kicks into high gear quicker than it used to, but that doesn’t necessarily justify handing out $89.25 million worth of contracts before Thanksgiving. The quickness with which the decisions were made also reflects a feeling that the Tigers knew they were resigned to free agency and free agency only. And that led them down a road where they had to decide quickly. Now, when a player is in high demand, it makes sense to lock those players up quick, but that’s precisely the problem. By bleeding the farm dry, the Tigers were put in a position where – because of their inability to leverage the trade market combined with a dearth of palatable options on the market – quickly resigning average players like Inge and Peralta became imperative. But that still doesn’t explain the timing of the Benoit signing. I’m not sure that anything can.

Dave Dombrowski once told Jonah Keri that the hardest thing to do in baseball is winning and building for the future at the same time. The Tigers are bearing that out right now. Their situation isn’t likely to change any next year – in Carlos Guillen, Ordonez and Jose Valverde, they will once again have $30 million coming off the books. But until they really bottom out – something that may never happen as long as Miguel Cabrera is mashing – they are likely to spend that money in free agency. But with so many needs, a series of $5-10 million contracts, rather than a pair of $15 million contracts, will likely be the order of the day. Kind of like what they did this past offseason. Homer Simpson once described life as a series of terrifying lows, dizzying highs and creamy middles. The Tigers are currently in the latter stage – too much talent to not go for it, but too little talent to win it all – stuck in the creamy middle.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for the Boston Globe. He has also written extensively for ESPN MLB Insider. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

60 Responses to “2011 Organizational Rankings: #16 – Detroit”

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  1. johan says:

    I feel like this is a pretty fair and accurate assessment of Detroit. Good work.

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  2. Big Baby Jesus says:

    Gotta say that the praise for Dombrowski is pretty ridiculous. The guy is infatuated relief pitchers. He burns high draft picks on them, trades for them and still has to sign relievers in the offseason.

    He’s ran the team at a $100 million deficit the last three years alone.

    And 90% of his successful moves came about only because the owner opened the pocketbook by going overslot or overspending on free agents. Verlander and Porcello, both overslot. Their top 5 prospects all over slot. Cabrera was acquired because Florida couldn’t afford him and Illitch agreed to give him a huge deal and he was acquired by offering up prospects who were overslot draftees.

    With any other owner, the Tigers would be the Pirates.

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    • Randy Smith says:

      With Mike Illitch as the owner and me as GM, the Tigers were the Pirates.

      +29 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bronnt says:

      I think I have to agree with this. He spent 5 years in Montreal before leaving for Florida, and he gets credit for having a top ranked system there, even though it was mostly AFTER he left. He’s spent 9 seasons in Detroit, with much greater financial resources, and has never seen his farm system rank nearly so well.

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      • Matt C says:

        I think the Tigers system was considered solid up until around 06. Before the 06 season I think Verlander, Zumaya, Granderson, Humberto Sanchez and Maybin were all considered premium prospects. I’m not sure where they were ranked as an organization but I would imagine it was a top 10 farm system. It wasn’t until the Sheffield, Renteria and Cabrera trades and them devoting most of the 08 draft to relievers(atleast early on) when the system went downhill.

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  3. Big Baby Jesus says:

    He took over a historically bad Tigers team and turned it around pretty quickly, partly because of Illitch’s resources (Verlander, Magglio, Pudge, Kenny Rogers) but he pulled off a couple of savvy trades (Carlos Guillen, Bonderman, Nate Robertson). Since then, he’s been a disaster. On the field and financially.

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    • Matt C says:

      I think Illitch is part of the problem. Obviously there is no way for me to know for sure but I think he has/had is hand in many of the ridiculous signings(particularly the extenstions) because he is such a loyal guy. After the 06 season where they went to the World Series I think it was Illitch who wanted to “reward” those players which is why extensions were given out to the likes of Bonderman and Inge.

      Also Illitch is supposedly the guy who wants to “win now” which is one of the reasons their farm system is so bad. Just about every offseason and/or trading deadline you always hear things here in Detroit like “Mike Illitch doesn’t know how much longer he is going to be around so he wants to go for it now.” I think he’s the one that wanted them to trade the farm for guys like Sheffield and Renteria and give up draft picks to sign guys like Valverde and Martinez.

      I will say though that my one gripe with Dombrowski is that he seems to over value relievers and is a little too old school but overall I think he’s done a decent job. I think one of the misconceptions about Detroit is that since they have such a huge payroll they went out and signed a bunch of players but that really isn’t the case. Victor Martinez was the first position player the Tigers gave a multi year contract to in 6 years, and they haven’t given any SP one in that time frame. For the most part this team was built through trades and drafting yet in the past 5 years they have spent more time in first place than any other team in the division.(granted they have no titles to show for it but that shows you that they are atleast competitive despite this.)

      With that said rumors are that this will be Dombrowski’s and Leyland’s last year if the Tigers don’t win, and most people have them finishing 3rd so this time next year they may have a different management.

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      • Matt C says:

        Also I’d just like to add that I agree with their overall ranking of 16 but I don’t see how they are 22nd in present talent. I think they are much better than that. Last year they ranked around 10th in total WAR(8th in offense, 13th in pitching) and this year they added Martinez. I don’t see 21 teams that are better than them this year.

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      • EricS. says:

        Something to consider when talking about the Tigers farm system is how little time most prospects spend there. In almost any other organization Porcello, Perry, Avila, Wells, etc would still be in the minors. The way that they push players through makes their player development model look bad.

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  4. Bronnt says:

    Baltimore? Where are you?

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    • Nick V says:

      They must be very high on future talent, because current talent, baseball ops and financial resources all must be at worse than 16…

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    • Bill says:

      Agree, Baltimore should be here. Detroit has a better current team and have shown an ability to be among the league leaders in spending. Detroit’s system is worse than Baltimore’s, but I think their other advantages should put them above Baltimore. I guess it depends on how high one is on Zach Britton (who’s had a great spring) and Matt Wieters’ future.

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    • Ben says:

      As an O’s fan, I’d say this is about the most optimistic look anyone’s had on my favorite team in at least a decade. To be honest, after we got past the first three teams on the first day these started to roll out, I kept checking back to see when the O’s would be up thinking it could be any time.

      My guess is that present talent is actually going to be higher that many of you are assuming. The future talent cannot possibly rate all that high, as it is the very definition of a top-heavy system. Truth is the present talent is really not bad…put them in any non East division and they’d be considered a team where, if all breaks right, could be an upset playoff contender. Most projection systems have them pegged at roughly 80 wins.

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      • Luke in MN says:

        I don’t have any big issues with the offense, but it’s a pretty weak group of starters. If they’re a better present-talent team than Detroit, I’m not seeing it.

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  5. Cloud Computer says:

    Great write up… is it fair to assume that present talent is pretty tightly grouped right around 75? 22 seems a bit low for the Tigers but it would make sense if lots of teams were grouped near them…

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    • mhad says:

      I had this thought as well. It’s hard to see a team with one of the top starters, first baseman, and offensive catchers ranked 22nd. But frankly, I don’t know the team all that well.

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  6. Matt says:

    Surprised the future talent ranking is so low with guys like Verlander, Cabrera Scherzer, Porcello, and Jackson under team control for a good amount of years. Plus, although the farm system isn’t deep, it does boast some high-impact guys in Turner, Castellanos, and (kind of) Oliver. A potential starting five next year (and beyond) of Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello, Turner, Oliver looks great on paper.

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    • Bronnt says:

      It’s pretty much all about prospects. The “Future talent” rankings have been a real disappointment in this series.

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  7. Oscar says:

    Orioles be crushing bitches.

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  8. Reuben says:

    Baltimore at #6 count on it!

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  9. Matt says:

    “The Tigers are currently in the latter stage – too much talent to not go for it, but too little talent to win it all – stuck in the creamy middle.”

    This kinda sums it up, and the worst thing is that they are usually in really good shape until AFTER the trade deadline, so by that they point they couldn’t sell off any assets that they have. In 06, 07, 09, 10 they were either leading the division or within a couple games at the deadline so they had to either go for it or stay put. There was no way they could justify to the fans being sellers though. It sucks as a fan because usually right after the deadline is when they collapse when it’s too late to really do anything.

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  10. Grant says:

    22nd in present talent seems absurdly low for the Tigers, they are more in the 13-15 range and are real contenders to win their division, even the favourite for many people.

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    • Big Baby Jesus says:

      No depth. Like last year’s team, an injury or two even to relatively minor players would derail the team. Their 6, 7, and 8 starters are Andy Oliver, Charlie Furbush and Jacob Turner. Not gonna cut it for a team that is looking to contend.

      Even if a bum like Inge goes down, the team is in a lot of trouble.

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  11. Fake Dave Cameron says:

    I don’t understand the Simpsons reference.

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  12. Otter says:

    Totally fair of Detroit… but seriously worse than Baltimore? What am I missing here? Did Angelos hand over the team to someone else?

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  13. Grant says:

    What are we going to see for Baltimore?

    20-25 in present talent, hard to dispute that.
    Probably in that big tie for 5th in future talent
    15-20 in financial resources
    No idea for baseball ops, probably 15-20? Could go higher I guess

    I must be wayyyy off on something or they would already be ranked.

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    • Xeifrank says:

      Baltimore is the #6Org D’Jour. :)

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Present talent is actually pretty damn good.

      Weiters, Lee, Roberts, Reynolds, Scott, Guerrero, Markakis, Jones, is actually pretty good. SS is their only real glaring hole (for the players).

      Zips has them with 2 pitchers and 2 relievers that are above league average … which was my concern.

      They could be a “fun” team in the same way the Blue Jays could be a “fun” team … in otherw ords, they might just hit (an allow) a lot of homers.

      My guess is something like …

      Present = 14
      Future = 8
      Finances = 10
      Baseball Ops = 20

      … and they end up 15th.

      In the end, it just doesn;t matter because of their division. TOR and BAL can have some really good “Battles for Last Place” in the next few years.

      But they could be a fun team to watch if you like high scoring games.

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      • Bronnt says:

        They’re not 8th in future talent-they’re either in a 10 way tie for 5th, or they’re somewhere below that.

        As for their ranking…shouldn’t results matter to an extent? If their big battle is to NOT be a last place team, and that’s all they can really fight for over the next five seasons, how can they be a better organization than even a team like the Marlins, who should have some teams around 82-86 wins with outside playoff hopes?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I made the same arguement previously (that divisional placement should/could) factor in (but I understand why it doesn’t).

        I was just guessing at how the FG guys conducting the activity would rank BAL, not ncessarily how I would.

        I’ll save any further Oriole comments for their thread. I’d lik to talk about the Tigers,but I can’t figure them out. Every year they could be 10 games out or win the division.

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  14. Xeifrank says:

    Detroit was long over due imho. I have them as the #24 ranked organization. Why? They haven’t made the playoffs of late, and probably won’t again this year. Their minor league system is pretty bad right now. The franchise itself is not worth that much money and for their large payroll they aren’t getting much results. I’d have them sandwiched between Washington and Kansas City.

    -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jeff says:

      LOL you are joking right????

      even if all KC’s top prospects become 2WAR or better players, then they will be the Tigers… LOL

      When they get a Cabrera and a Verlander, then they can be in the teens on lists like this…

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  15. Jordan says:

    I have to wonder how Detroit is ranked 6th for financial resources and Washington is ranked 20th. According to Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/lists/2011/33/baseball-valuations-11_land.html) they have less revenue and less value as a franchise. Both teams are willing to spend. Yes, Detroit’s payroll is still higher, but I don’t think a disparity this high is warranted.

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    • Jordan says:

      I should add that the Nationals’ payroll would rival Detroit’s if the players they offered contracts to, accepted them.

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    • mscharer says:

      My guess is it comes down to owners and past payroll. Ilitch has shown he will use personal finances to bankroll the Tigers (and Red Wings), irrespective of the status of his clubs revenue streams.

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    • Duane says:

      They have a multi-billionaire who is willing to spend that’s why. They give up draft choices to sign people. But, because they are picking later in the draft they have the ability to pick players that other teams figured would be too expensive and difficult (Scott Boras clients) to sign that drop in the draft that otherwise would be top five picks (see Verlander, Porcello, Castellanos). Now you see a few other teams doing this but Detroit was kind of the first to really employ this strategy because of Mike Illitch’s pocketbook.

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      • Jordan says:

        “They have a multi-billionaire who is willing to spend that’s why. They give up draft choices to sign people. But, because they are picking later in the draft they have the ability to pick players that other teams figured would be too expensive and difficult (Scott Boras clients) to sign that drop in the draft that otherwise would be top five picks”
        this whole section also applies to the Nationals, and Ted Lerner is the richest owner in all of baseball.

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    • Keith_Allen says:

      Detroit’s television market is one of the largest. They currently have a $1 billion dollar contract with Fox Sports.

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  16. Daniel says:

    no sign of the Orioles yet…cautiously optimistic?

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  17. Anthony says:

    what a crock of shit this list already is. No AL East teams and we’re halfway through? I thought ESPN was retarded with AL East bias.

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  18. smelly shelly says:

    Who cares about rather arbitrary rankings of any organization?

    Especially ones like the Tigers. They pretty much stink. How many organizations would allow a GM to continue to piss money down the drain with little result other than to be mediocre? I guess the Mets, but at least their fan base is drunk and angry enough to not just lie down and accept it.

    On top of that, the manager is senile. Claiming if there are any organizations with more talent than Detroit, he doesn’t know anything.

    Well, Jim Leyland, truer words have never been said.

    -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. The Nicker says:

    Tied for 22nd in present talent? I’d like to see how you got there.

    As others have pointed out, the team is in the top half of the league in WAR last year and they’re going to go backwards from that why? Because they added Victor Martinez? Because Austin Jackson’s BABIP regression won’t be countered by his UZR upswing that all the other fielding metics had him at? Because Scherzer and Porcello are going to be worse despite both going through terrible stretches and spending time in the minors last year? Because thet don’t have Dontrelle anymore?

    I just really don’t get how that team is in the 22-24 range in present talent. They have two of the best 15 players in the league, and surround them with some decent talent, especially the pitchers.

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  20. Keith_Allen says:

    If the Tigers have no faith in their farm system, then why did they have 12 rookies on their roster last season? And why are many of those players still on the roster?

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  21. Jonathan says:

    What does everyone think about taking divisions into account when calculating organizational rankings? Even with the loaded farm system of Toronto and Baltimore’s above-average future talent, not to mention their substantial ability to generate revenue, I’d still rather be in Detroit’s position since they’re in the AL Central. Maybe we could weight financial wherewithal according to the division in which a given team plays. After all, a $90 million payroll and loaded farm system doesn’t get you as far in the AL East as it does in the NL West. On the other hand, it’s simpler to do these rankings if they’re context independent.

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  22. Colin says:

    The Tigers may have a bad system, but they sure seem to get more mileage out of it than most teams.

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    • smelly shelly says:

      How so? All of those playoff appearances?

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      • Keith_Allen says:

        Just examine how they got the players on their 25 man roster.

        They flipped some home grown talent such as Granderson, Joyce ( via Edwin Jackson) , Maybin, and Andrew Miller for Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, and Dan Schlereth. They also traded Giovanni Soto for Peralta and got Carlos Guillen for Santiago (who is back on the Tigers)

        Other home grown players: Verlander, Porcello, Perry, Zumaya, Villarreal, Avila, Raburn, Inge, Boesch, Wells, Rhymes/(Sizemore), and Santiago .

        The only players coming from the FA market are VMart, Ordonez, Valverde, Benoit, Penny, Brad Thomas, and Don Kelly.

        Apparently, about 75% of the players (19 players) are products of their farm system. While only 7 players came from free agency.

        Now compared that to others. Boston has 13 players from free agency.

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      • nathan.reno says:

        Don Kelly himself was a Tiger’s draft pick in 2001.

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      • Keith_Allen says:

        Thanks. I didn’t know that about Kelly. He’s the only player I didn’t double check at b-ref.

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      • Colin says:

        Not sure what your point is here. Because they have only made one playoff appearance recently they have not used a lot of minor league players from their system to build their team as compared with other clubs?

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  23. Shasta says:

    So when are the Tigers going to get around to building up their farm system and building a team that will win a WS. I’m really sick of them fooling around. They need to get down to business.

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  24. Jeff says:

    #22 in present talent? lol

    I love hindsight…

    but even then they had Miggy, Verlander, Avila, Scherzer, Porcello, Boesch, Vmart, and Jackson all under team control until 2014… now add Fister to that.. plus they had Perlata, Valvede, and others…

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    • Dave says:

      Maybe someday they will even match the stellar talent fielded on a daily basis by the Minnesota juggernaut (#7 in present talent).

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  25. JG says:

    But seriously, if Jacob Turner is half as good as prospect mavens think he could be, the Tigers probably have the best top-to-bottom rotation in the AL next year outside of Tampa, and all five are locked up beyond 2012.

    Pair that with a top 5 offense whose only weakness is easily-fixable holes (3B in particular, but I think Santiago is better as a utility player/defensive replacement than a starting 2B) and pretty much all long-term contract players being on the right side of 30 (except V-Mart), I would be shocked if the Tigers don’t jump 7-10 spots next year.

    Unless, of course, “future talent” is still defined only in terms of who is in the minor leagues and not the young players on the ML roster. Because I think that everyone who even vaguely follows baseball knows that Detroit has a lot of future talent, and most of it isn’t in the minors.

    Pretty much their only weaknesses are two long-ish contracts (V-Mart and Benoit, both of whom played well this year), and the fact that they aren’t the Yankees.

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