Sunday Notes: The Tigers are Rebuilding and Everyone is Available

The Detroit Tigers are shedding veteran contracts and restocking what had become a depleted farm system. That’s good news for the team’s future. It’s bad news for their fans in terms of watching winning baseball. As with any rebuild, near-term pennant contention isn’t part of the plan.

Al Avila is approaching the situation with a stiff upper lip. As unpleasant of a task as it might be — no one likes to lose — Detroit’s GM accepts the fact that in order to get better, his team first has to get worse. That’s why he traded J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, Justin Wilson, and even his own son. And he’s not done dealing.

During the General Managers’ Meetings in Orlando, Avila praised both the prospects he’s been acquiring and the young talent that has already begun contributing at the big league level. He then went on to suggest the latter group might not want to invest too heavily in Detroit-area real estate.

“There’s already a nucleus there for our future,” said Avila. “Are they all going to be here three years from now? Possibly. Look at Mikie Mahtook. We still have a lot of control over Mikie Mahtook and he’s not costing us a whole lot. (Nicholas) Castellanos also. We’ve got this year and next year of arbitration, and we’ll have to see where that goes. Jacoby Jones is still developing. You’ve got (Jeimer) Candelario at third base. Those are young players. (James) McCann is arbitration-eligible and starting to make a little bit more money — we’ll see where he goes.

“Right now, the only guys we don’t have much control over are (Ian) Kinsler and (Jose) Iglesias up the middle. With them it’s just one year. Whether they’re going to be with us this year or not, we’ll see.”

Most people expect the 35-year-old Kinsler to be traded during the Winter Meetings, and while an Iglesias departure is less certain, it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Of course, anyone on the roster being shipped out wouldn’t come as a surprise. Again, even some of the young veterans could be playing elsewhere as soon as next season.

“If you look at our pitching staff, (Daniel) Norris is still young,” said Avila. “(Matt) Boyd and (Michael) Fulmer are still young. Are they going to be part of that process three years from now? Quite possibly they could, but I can’t sit here today and tell you which way it’s going to go. We need to continue to add and acquire, and quite frankly, if we do make any more trades down the road, it’s going to be one of those young guys — maybe.”

What would a Fulmer or a Norris — or a Castellanos or a McCann — bring in return? We may find out during the Winter Meetings. We do know that we’ll learn who the Tigers take in the Rule 5 draft, which is another avenue of player acquisition Avila is exploring. Along with well-regarded prospects, the former scouting director is also on the lookout for under-the-radar talent.

“Maybe we’ll find another Mahtook in one of our trades, or we’ll find another (Daniel) Stumpf in the Rule 5,” said Avila. “Maybe we’ll find another J.D. as a minor league free agent. Those aren’t easy to do, but every team has to once in awhile find something like that. There might be a surprise in the minor leagues, too — a player we don’t talk about all of a sudden does something.”

Right now, Tigers fans don’t have much to talk about besides trade speculation and the future. Barring a barrage of pleasant surprises, Avila’s team won’t be contending in the foreseeable future. Rebuilding takes time. It also takes trading away your best players — sometimes even your best young players.

———

Like every organization, the San Diego Padres keep a close eye on trends. And like every forward-thinking organization, they do what they can to stay ahead of them — but not to the extent of recklessly pushing envelopes and trying to reinvent the wheel. In A.J. Preller’s mind, innovation for innovation’s sake alone has limited value.

“Every few years becomes a narrative, depending on which teams and players are successful,”’ said the Padres GM. “What you try to do is work through that and figure out what is realistic and what isn’t. Something you don’t want to do is just copy what another organization is doing. You want to look at your own your own club, your own personnel, and try to figure out which strategies are going to be best.

“We’re obviously in the building phase, and that maybe gives us an opportunity to take more chances from a personnel standpoint or a strategy standpoint. But honestly, what we really try to do is stay true to what we believe in, to our core philosophies. We’re constantly open to new things, but I don’t think it’s, ‘Hey, we’re building, so let’s be flippant about something.’”

In other words, Preller is as pragmatic as he is progressive.

———

In last Sunday’s column,Thad Levine shared some thoughts on future MLB manager hiring trends. In the opinion of the Minnesota’s Twins GM, there’s a decent chance we’ll see a handful of people with no professional playing experience skippering big league clubs in another 20 years. As Levine pointed out, that’s not uncommon in the NBA, NFL. or NHL.

Why has baseball been different than other major sports in this respect? I asked that question to Los Angeles Dodgers GM Fanhan Zaidi.

“Part of the issue is the pipeline,” opined Zaidi. “Most Major League managers come from farm systems and a career as a minor league manager. Not all, but certainly a good amount. For whatever reason, the pipeline of minor league coaches is almost exclusively ex-players, so I think it’s more of a downstream issue.”

The stream he mentioned runs all the way to the bottom of the farm.

“It’s almost an accessibility issue,” elaborated Zaidi. “Toward the end of players’ careers you start talking to them: ‘Hey, do you want to coach in our system?’ That kind of perpetuates the pipeline. There isn’t a very intense recruiting process for minor league coaches. A lot of it just happens organically.

“I guess if you got to a point where teams recruited more aggressively — and more creatively — for those positions you might start having some more non-traditional hires. It would take a really out-of-the-box notion to say, ‘We’re going to go in a completely different direction and take somebody out of our office and put him in there.”

I suggested to Zaidi that the Dodgers are as likely as any team to make that type of out-of-the-box move. He didn’t disagree.

———

And then you have the Houston Astros. Not only would they be another leading candidate to employ a minor league manager who didn’t play professionally, they may have already gone on a reconnaissance mission. Sig Mejdal was on the coaching staff of the short-season Tri-City Valley Cats this past season, and while the Astros have been coy on his specific duties — his title was development coach — it’s not unreasonable to assume that was one of the reasons.

Mejdal doesn’t personally profile as a skipper, but he did get a first-hand look at how prospects interact with, and respond to, someone who didn’t follow a traditional path. Formerly the Astros’ director of decision sciences, Mejdal is now a special assistant to the GM, focusing on process development.

———

Curtis Granderson is clearly past his prime. The free-agent outfielder will be 37 years old on opening day and he’s coming off a less-than-stellar season. He went yard 26 times, but his .212/.323/.452 slash line suggests he’s nearing the end.

My earliest memories of Granderson are from 2004 when he was playing for Detroit’s Double-A affiliate. A few hours after I interviewed him prior to a game in Portland, Maine, he collided violently with the centerfield wall while making a spectacular diving catch. A concerned crowd held its collective breath as he lay prone on the warning track for several minutes. Fortunately, Granderson wasn’t injured nearly as seriously as it appeared.

A few years later, he was doing serious damage against big league pitchers. In his second full season with the Tigers, Granderson had 38 doubles, 23 triples, 23 homers, 26 steals, and he was worth 7.9 WAR. A decade later, he’s close to wrapping up what has been a stellar career.

———

Adam Dunn was voted into the Reds Hall of Fame earlier this week. The three-true-outcomes stalwart played for Cincinnati from 2001-2008, putting up a .900 OPS and a 130 adjusted OPS. His 270 home runs are fourth-most in franchise history, ranking behind Johnny Bench (389), Frank Robinson (324), and Tony Perez (.287). It was an honor well-deserved.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox voted four players into their Hall of Fame. Three of them are recently retired — Derek Lowe, Mike Lowell, and Kevin Youkilis — while the fourth played over 100 years ago. Buck Freeman put up a 132 adjusted OPS while wearing a Boston uniform from 1900-1907. One of baseball’s first sluggers, Freeman was the offensive star of the 1903 squad, which captured the first ever World Series title.

———

Tomoaki Kanemoto is known as NPB’s “Iron Man,” and for good good reason. An outfielder for the Hiroshima Carp and Hanshin Tigers from 1992-2012, Kanemoto played 13,686 consecutive innings — every inning of 1,492 games — in a stretch that ended in 2006. By comparison, Cal Ripken played 8,264 consecutive innings amid his run of 2,632 consecutive games. Kanemoto is now Hanshin’s manager.

———

Earlier this week we heard from Royals reliever Peter Moylan who ranks third, behind Graeme Lloyd and Grant Balfour, for the most appearances among Australian-born pitchers. The trio is part of a down-under majority. Of the 30 players from their homeland to play in MLB, only 10 have been position players. The reason is straightforward.

“The biggest difference with Australian baseball versus American baseball is the amount of games that kids play,” opined Moylan. “It’s a lot tougher for a hitter to come from Australia because they just don’t see the amount of live pitching that kids do here. Nor do they see the quality of pitching. Here, there are high school kids throwing 98 mph and in back home you have guys barely touching 90. When I first signed, I was a teenager throwing 84 mph.”

The colorful right-hander hasn’t seen the overall quality change much in recent years, but he has seen technological advancements. According to Moylan, Australian baseball “has just now started to incorporate stuff like Driveline with the younger kids. Things like that are reaching over there now, which can only help.”

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Bill Freehan had legendary careers with the Detroit Tigers and at the University of Michigan. The former catcher and coach is now 76 years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Steve Kornacki wrote about him at mgoblue.com.

At The Denver Post, Patrick Saunders suggested that Kyle Freeland’s rookie season could be the start of Rocky Mountain stardom.

MLB.com’s Andrew Simon looked at of some of this year’s best first-year pitchers from a StaCast standpoint.

At the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rick Hummel explored the high turnover rate for pitching coaches.

Over at PressBoxOnline, Rich Dubroff wrote about how a small Latin American scouting staff makes it hard for the Orioles to find another Jonathan Schoop.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

There were 1,215 players chosen in last June’s amateur draft, 660 of which were pitchers. Idaho, Maine, North Dakota and Vermont were the only states that didn’t have a single player selected. California had the most, with 192.

Ryan Goins, who was non-tendered by the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, came to the plate 259 times this season with nobody on and slashed .199/.255/.286. He came to the plate 200 times with runners on and slashed .288/.328/.452. With runners in scoring position he had 33 hits in 100 at bats.

Mike Cameron hit 383 doubles and had 4,954 putouts. Andruw Jones hit 383 doubles and had 4,954 putouts.

Mariano Rivera had a 2.67 FIP, 1.000 WHIP, and 8.28 strikeouts per nine innings. Billy Wagner had a 2.73 FIP, 0.998 WHIP, and 11.92 strikeouts per nine innings.

First-ballot Hall of Famer Willie McCovey had 2,211 hits, 521 HRs, and a 147 OPS+. Jim Thome, who is debuting on the ballot this year, had 2,328 hits, 612 HRs, and a 147 adjusted OPS.

Andre Dawson was on base 3,474 times and made 7,621 outs. Edgar Martinez was on base 3,619 times and made 5,273 outs.

Candy Cummings, the man some claim invented the curveball, went 35-12 for the 1875 Hartford Dark Blues.

Al Spalding went 54-5 for the 1875 Boston Red Stockings. He also had nine saves.

Phenomenal Smith went 25-30 for the 1887 Baltimore Orioles.

The 1917 World Series champion Chicago White Sox featured Shoeless Joe Jackson and were managed by Pants Rowland.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: The Tigers are Rebuilding and Everyone is Available by David Laurila!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

newest oldest most voted
Dominikk85
Member
Dominikk85

Is Avila maybe a little too quick with the trigger? He improved the farm system but some returns where less than great and in JDMs case probably even terrible. I get rental hitters are not worth a ton but I think eric had them ranked like 40 prospects, that’s nothing. I felt had he waited he probably could have gotten at least a good 45, even if that meant no throw in pieces.

I mean grade 40 means non prospects, that isn’t really much better than keeping him and getting a comp pick.

I get hahn had better pieces to sell but still it seems like he sit on his chips a little longer and get a better price. Of course GMs are not dumb and they know what’s going on even if a gm is not honest on rebuild plans but still I feel you need to at least try to get a real return.

Avila is of course smarter than me but was there really nobody offering a 45 for half a year of one of the best hitters in the game?

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

If he waited he might have gotten a 0.

And what gave you the idea that grade 45 means non-prospect?

Dominikk85
Member
Dominikk85

Eric rated the two best guys 40, not 45. If you read my post again you will see that I would have liked a 45. But while 40 is not nothing, is it really better than a comp pick? Especially with the first overall pick another high pick isn’t the worst thing to play with the slots.

Of course I prefer a real prospect over a pick but a pick wouldn’t have been that bad of a safety net here.

Domingo Ayala
Member
Domingo Ayala

Because they were over the luxury tax for multiple years, they would have received a 4th round comp pick. They had no leverage, and there was almost no demand for a bat only corner outfield. Who were the Dbacks competition? Rockies maybe? Dodgers? Even those teams already had more than enough in the outfield.

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

Correction. What gave you the idea that grade 40 means non-prospect?

The comp pick would fall somewhere within the 70-80th picks. In this year’s FG prospect lists, 4 out of 11 CHC 40FV domestic prospects were drafted 80th of higher. 4 out of 6 of STL’s 40FV domestic prospects were drafted 80th or higher, including players drafted 23rd and 33rd overall.

A 40 is about the expected FV for the compensation pick.

Dominikk85
Member
Dominikk85

I think I kind of forgot the new cba, I assumed it was still a sandwich pick after round 1. I think another first rounder would have been at least as good as two 40s because extra picks mean you can play under slot games.

A 40 is of course not a non prospect but 40FV means bench hitter or non back end reliever according to the scouting scale piece.

I get a pitcher is not the same as a hitter as a rental but the Dodgers gave up a 50 for half a year of dervish. Corner wasn’t really a need of many teams but some playoff teams could have used another slugger at a corner or dh (Boston for example).

Was really nobody offering a 45 prospect?

mikejunt
Member
Member
mikejunt

Theres a reason FG and Eric track prospects 40+, a 40 is a real potential MLB player.

Dave T
Member
Member
Dave T

While I appreciate the work that Eric does writing about prospects here, and he certainly knows orders of magnitude more about them than I do, I think that you’re reading far too much into the difference of one grader deciding that a player is a “40” prospect vs. a “45” prospect.

Whatever the details of other offers, we have to assume that the Tigers took what they evaluated to be the best available return. If prospects available from some other team were rated “45’s” by Eric – and who even knows if such a return was available – then it simply reflects a difference of opinion between Eric and the Tigers’ organization, not some sort of certain truth that the Tigers’ front office are idiots.

Dave T
Member
Member
Dave T

If you’re talking about the White Sox trade of Kahnle, Robertson, and Frazier, it’s not at all similar to the Martinez situation. Talented late inning relievers – who were the centerpieces of that deal – have a much broader market because basically any contender can find a use for them. Kahnle also has 3 years of team control at arb salaries after this year.

If you’re talking about bigger deals, Hahn was selling multiple years of control of players who had signed team-friendly contract extensions early in their careers: 4 years of team control for Eaton, 3.5 years for Quintana, and 3 years fro Sale. The Martinez situation wasn’t even remotely similar to these players who the White Sox traded away.

113CandleMagic
Member
113CandleMagic

Keep in mind also that most prospect rankings are done before the season starts. So while a guy might have been a 40 FV prospect in March, he could be better than that by the time it’s July or August.