Today, we keep looking at some teams that have legitimate hope, so it gets harder from here on out. And, for those of you who haven’t seen the previous parts (which are linked below), keep in mind that this is a forward looking exercise – we are evaluating clubs on their overall ability to contend for a World Series title in the future. We are not evaluating how they have performed historically. This is about the health of each organization going forward.
Rankings So Far
#22: Detroit Tigers
Over the years, Mike Ilitch has provided significant capital to provide his team with a big market budget. He has a reputation for being a bit too hands on, but that hasn’t manifest itself in any real ways over the last couple of years. To boot, the Tigers have a new ballpark that generates solid revenues for them. So why the low grade? The economy. Of all the cities in America, Detroit is the one with the most uncertain future, as the fate of the automakers continues to be a day-to-day thing. Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country, and they’re feeling the brunt of the recession more so than any other state. Given the way the economy is going, especially in Detroit, it’s hard to see the Tigers being able to sustain the payrolls they’ve been running for the last few years. If they are forced to cut back on salaries, they’d have some tough decisions to make, as a huge part of their payroll is tied up in players with negative trade value. The only way for them to slash payroll quickly would be trade the likes of Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera, and a Tigers team that is forced to move those two in salary dumps is just not very good.
Front Office: B-
Dave Dombrowski will never be mistaken for one of the new, Ivy league type GMs. He believes in tools, scouting, and gut feelings. But he’s really good at it. He has a terrific eye for talent, and he knows how to put together a roster. However, his old school leanings have led him down some paths of poor decisions – he’s too quick to give long term contracts to aging players and pitchers, and those decisions have put the Tigers in a budgetary bind. Given the necessary resources, he can build a championship team, but some mistakes on his part may be part of the reason that he might not have the necessary resources going forward.
Major League Roster: B-
This is still an impressive core of position player talent that Dombrowski has assembled. Curtis Granderson is a terrific player, Placido Polanco is one of the more underrated players in the game, Ordonez/Cabrera/Guillen is still a fierce middle of the order, and Inge/Laird/Everett should provide enough defensive value to make up for their weak bats. But oh, the pitching. Jeremy Bonderman‘s elbow still hurts. Dontrelle Willis still can’t throw strikes. Nate Robertson is struggling to beat out a 20-year-old for the #5 spot in the rotation after posting an ugly ERA in 2008. Justin Verlander is very good, but it gets pretty ugly pretty fast once his turn in the rotation is done. The combination of a questionable pitching staff and an aging group of position players puts the Tigers in a tough spot – their window to win is still open for 2009, but maybe not for 2010, and they might not have enough arms to get to the playoffs this year. If they have to rebuild, Granderson, Verlander, and Porcello are a good nucleus, but there’s not enough young talent around them to do it quickly.
Minor League Talent: D
Rick Porcello is a terrific arm, but doesn’t come without questions. Even with his sinking fastball and groundball rate, 5.2 K/9 in the Florida State League is a little disconcerting. But once you get past him, it gets ugly in a hurry. Almost all of their premium talent was traded away in the Cabrera deal, and what’s left is lower ceiling role player prospects. They just lack prospects that could legitimately replace some of their aging major league core, and besides Porcello, they don’t have any good arms to bolster the pitching ranks. It’s a farm system in bad shape, and for a team headed towards rebuilding, that’s a rough combination.
In a better economy, or a different city, they’d be more in the 12-17 range, because the major league roster is still pretty good, and the guys in charge are dedicated to winning and know how to build a roster. But the combination of economic hardships in their home state, some really bad contracts on the books, expected decline from key players, and a lack of depth puts the Tigers in a position where the franchise has a lot of downside. It could get bad in a hurry, and take a long time to fix. Of course, with a few savvy moves and some good fortune, they could also be throwing a parade in November, so it’s not all doom and gloom. But there’s more risk involved with the Tigers future than pretty much any other club, and that possibility weighs down their future chances for success.