2012 Organizational Rankings: #7 – Detroit

Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.

2012 Organizational Rankings

#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York Mets
#19 – Los Angeles Dodgers
#18 – Colorado
#17 — Miami
#16 — Diamondbacks
#15 — Cincinnati
#14 — Cubs
#13 — Milwaukee
#12 — San Francisco
#11 — Washington

#10 — Tampa Bay
#9 – Toronto
#8 – Atlanta

Detroit’s 2011 Ranking: 16th

2012 Outlook: 63 (T-4th)

“Custom-fitted, custom-kitted wood grain / Custom everything, what’s that on the seat? / Custom mustard stain” — Detroit-based Rapper Eminem, “Ballin’ Uncontrollably”

It must be nice to be rolling in the dough. Pizza magnate Mike Illitch finances an operation that can see one expensive star go down and yet have the resources to go and get the most expensive free agent on the market.

Do the pieces fit together? We’ll see. Once present-and-future designated hitter Victor Martinez went down with a knee injury, newcomer (and possibly future designated hitter) Prince Fielder pushed veteran Tiger first baseman (and possibly future designated hitter) Miguel Cabrera to his old position at third base. That’s fairly unprecedented, given the fact that he wasn’t great at first base. Cabrera will join the below-average defensive shortstop Jhonny Peralta on the infield, and with the way that Ryan Raburn is playing this spring, the second baseman may also have some troubles with the glove. Add it up and you may have one of the worst defensive infields in the history of baseball.

But they’ll mash. Already, the team had the fifth-best offense in baseball (by wRC+) last season. Replacing a .360ish wOBA Martinez with the .380ish wOBA Fielder will only help in that regard, while Austin Jackson, Andy Dirks, Delmon Young and Raburn could all play better this year than they did last year. Should the Red Sox, Rangers or Yankees offense stumble at all this year, the Tigers could enter the top three easily.

How will the pitching hold up? Justin Verlander is a horse, an MVP-type of pitcher, but asking for another 240 innings seems like a tough demand. But it’s him and Max Scherzer that give the team the best defense-independent work from the rotation. Rick Porcello and Doug Fister may spend some time grinding their teeth this year as the resident ground-ballers on the staff. At least the fifth spot in the rotation contains upside that other contenders may not be able to boast: Tigers’ #1 prospect (and #18 overall in Marc Hulet’s Top 100) Jacob Turner saw some shoulder soreness and the team still had interesting, polished college lefty Drew Smyly (and his 3.6-to-1 MiLB K/BB ratio) to step into the void.

2013+ Outlook: 51 (14th)

Though this is a veteran team built at least partly on free agency and trade acquisitions, there are some young pieces at key positions that should help the Tigers remain strong going forward. Alex Avila (24), Brennan Boesch (26), and Jackson (24) give them at least three pre-peak players, and two of them man key positions. Smyly and Turner should produce at least one good, young, cost-controlled starter, too.

But once you start digging deeper, you might get a little more ambivalent about the future for the Tigers. If Nick Castellanos doesn’t give them a third baseman that can pick it and hit it, that position may need some monetary attention soon. And will Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby or Brenny Paulino manage to be Major League arms even after a switch to the bullpen? Our Marc Hulet ranked their system 24th for a reason.

Sure, they have some great offensive talent under contract for the time being. If they don’t age poorly, they should be fine. The last iteration of these same Tigers should create at least some doubt about the likelihood that all of them will age well, though.

Revenue Resources: 54 (T-8th)

When your owner and his family are devoted Detroit residents that have already resuscitated one hometown team and are in the midst of applying the same philosophy to your baseball team, you know that their pockets are deep. The Ilitch family has turned pizza money into casino money, but they haven’t missed a beat. Philanthropists in many different ways, they are willing to pump money into their teams and their home town.

But it’s fair to ask how sustainable the situation is. Mike Ilitch Sr. turns 83 this year, and the team, by itself, isn’t a top-tier financial earner. By value, Forbes had them 17th going into this season, by debt-to-value, they were 21st (and, at 39%, just under the recommended 40% allowance by Major League Baseball), and by revenue, they were 11th. They’re locked into a $40 million per year television contract that expires in 2018, and though that’s not terrible, it’s not on the same level as the top contracts in the game.

Will this team have the same deep coffers with a different owner?

Baseball Operations: 48 (T-14th)

Dave Dombrowski built two excellent farm systems before Ilitch recruited him to be the Tigers’ CEO and General Manager. In Montreal, he wasn’t around to see some of the fruit of his labor, but he did profit from his Minor League talent in Florida once before. And where Florida didn’t allow him the same freedom to sign top free agent talent, Detroit has given Dombrowski the opportunity to bust out the wallet.

The problem is that it’s not obvious if he’s buying custom-kitted wood grain, or if some of his signings will turn out to be custom mustard stains. The team still has $38 million headed to Martinez — will he continue to be worth that much coin when he stops catching completely? Will Fielder age well? How will the team manage Martinez, Fielder and Cabrera in order to get the most of their $55+ million per year going forward? Should he have saved his money for a shortstop or third baseman next year?

Remember, the worst trade Dombrowski ever pulled was trading Jair Jurrjens to Atlanta for a washed-up Edgar Renteria, so his trade history is not impeccable. And at different points in his tenure, the Tigers have looked old. His vaunted farm-building skills have produced some stars in Detroit, but now the cupboard seems a little light. He’s clearly a talented talent developer, but are all of his other skills top-tier?

Overall: 56

They’re a near-unanimous pick to come out of the American League Central division. They’ve got the ace to keep them in any short series. Their lineup shouldn’t be shut out very often. They’ve got some young pieces that will help this year, and most of their core is under contract. In the present, this is a team that is built to win.

A few question marks about their long-term financial future, combined with a couple questions about their farm team beyond the best two prospects, keep them from hitting the top five. That’s fine — anyone in the top ten has a chance to win it all this year, and that’s all a fan can ask for. Well, that and a pair of nice custom rims.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

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