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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.