A Disastrous Start to the Tigers Rebuild

There was no question that Tigers GM Al Avila made the right decision 13 months ago when he started tearing down the team and officially closed the franchise’s 11-year window to win a World Series that never came.

Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton and Justin Wilson were all shipped to contenders for a mixed bag of prospects in an effort to replenish the organization’s anemic farm system.

Of course, that process didn’t go exactly to plan either. Avila panicked and dealt JD to the Diamondbacks 12 days before the deadline and actually found a more depleted farm system than his own from which to pluck. For one of the best right-handed hitters in ALL of baseball, Avila acquired Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King.

And in the 179 games since that trade, Martinez has hit 67 homers, knocked in 171 runs, put up an OPS hovering around 1.100 and a WAR of 8.4.  For that insane production the Tigers received three losers who will never amount to anything in the majors.

In AAA this year, Lugo has put up a pathetic slash line of .265/.280/.342. A .622 OPS in Toledo doesn’t exactly translate to a wonderful future in Detroit. The Tigers suggesting that Lugo be added to the Future Games roster at the All-Star Game was an absolute joke. The only future this dude has is in car sales. And Lugo was the supposed crown jewel of the JD trade.

Meanwhile, Alcantara has a sub .700 OPS in Erie and King isn’t doing much of anything at the lowest rungs of the minors. In other words, Avila got jack shit for J.D. Martinez, something we knew at the time when all of the Tigers beat writers defended Avila by claiming JD was a defensive liability!!!!!

It’s not like Avila could have received three WORSE “prospects” if he had waited until July 31st to trade Martinez, so what did he have to lose? And Martinez’s defense obviously wasn’t a huge concern last winter when the Red Sox handed J.D. a 5-year, $110-million contract.

And that inauspicious start to the rebuild has proven to have been a harbinger. Almost everything that could have gone wrong this season, has. Probably the most important item on the agenda this year was Michael Fulmer’s future.

In a perfect world, Fulmer would have had a big first half of the season, proved to the market he was healthy, and been the centerpiece of a trade with a team like the New York Yankees for some top-shelf position player prospects. Instead, Fulmer struggled all spring and early summer and then ended up on the disabled list ten days before the non-waiver deadline with an oblique strain.

And because the 2018 Tigers were an abortion of a roster, they didn’t have anything desirable to sell, unless you consider Mike Fiers and Leonys Martin desirable pieces. In fact, the only break the Tigers have enjoyed this year is that Martin waited until AFTER he was dealt to the Indians for a couple of middling prospects to almost die from a bacterial infection. Try to put that on an ad campaign.

And if you were looking to the team’s farm system for some hope for the future, you probably haven’t perused MiLB.com this summer. The minor leagues sure haven’t been a tonic, unless what you are looking for is laced with arsenic.

The only real blue-chip prospect Avila acquired last summer was stud pitcher Franklin Perez in the Verlander deal. And Perez had the type of season you would only see in the movies ….. if the director were Eli Roth or Rob Zombie.

A lat injury in his back caused Perez to miss the first 3+ months of the season and when he finally did return, he only pitched 19.1 innings, put up an ERA of 6.52, and then was shut down again, this time for the remainder of the year with right shoulder capsular inflammation. I am not saying shit’s gone south with who had been the team’s best  prospect entering 2018, but Nate Silver is projecting there is a 82% chance the 21-year-old will have Tommy John surgery before the Iowa caucus.

Things haven’t gone much better for two of the team’s other top pitching prospects. The Tigers first round pick in 2017, pitcher Alex Faedo — he of the fucked up delivery that should have been fixed during his freshman season at Florida — has been downright awful since he was called up to Erie from Class A Lakeland. In Faedo’s last four starts he’s given up a whopping NINE homers.

And while Faedo has been getting shelled to the tune of a 5.33 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in Double A, his teammate Beau Burrows hasn’t exactly set the world on fire either. While Matt Manning has been fine in his stints in West Michigan and Lakeland, he still hasn’t been promoted to Erie as of yet.

The bottom line is none of these guys will be ready next year and it’s unclear how impactful they would be in 2020.

Of course, not everything has been doom and gloom. Isaac Paredes (acquired in the Wilson/Alex Avila) deal and Daz Cameron (another piece of the JV trade) have had nice seasons in the bushes but the problem is those two are basically the ONLY position players in the entire system worth absolutely ANYTHING (not counting anyone who was drafted this past June).

Unless you count catcher Jake Rogers (also acquired from Houston for Verlander) who spent the spring looking like the second coming of Patrick Leyland but has thankfully heated up in the summer.

Oh yeah, and then there was the draft in which no Carlos Correa or Bryce Harper type player developed and the Tigers ended up taking Casey Mize with the first pick overall. And while he was at least a consensus #1 pick, it’s not like he’s some guarantee with a 99mph fastball either. And to make matters worse, he appears to be a supporter of the racist and treasonous President a minority of you dolts elected in 2016:

In short, the farm system is still a mess and it’s going to be very hard to convince THIS fanbase that PROSPECTS are the way to get the organization back to contention. It’s not like the 2006 World Series team was chock full of blue-chippers. That squad was WAY more similar to the 2004 Pistons than the 1997 Red Wings. For every Verlander there were like ten free-agent and trade acquisitions like Pudge Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez and Kenny Rogers. 

And the Tigers stayed relevant for the next decade through trade acquisitions (Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Ian Kinsler, Jhonny Peralta, JD) and free-agent signings (Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter, etc.).

You are seriously trying to sell a total rebuild to a fanbase that’s experienced Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller (pre-relief conversion), Matt Brunson, Cade Gaspar, Justin Thompson, Mike Drumright, Seth Greisinger, Nate Cornejo, Eric Munson, Scott Moore, Kyle Sleeth, Ryan Perry, Jacob Turner, Chance Ruffin, Corey Knebel, Jonathon Crawford, Jake Thompson, Franciso Martinez, Charlie Furbush, Gorkys Hernandez, Chris Pittaro, Greg Gohr, Matt Anderson, Devon Travis, Christin Stewart, Rico Brogna, Kevin Ritz, Scott Aldred, Steven Moya, Torey Lovullo, James McCann, Tyler Collins, Buck Farmer, Steve Searcy, Casey Crosby, Andrew Oliver, Drew Smyly, Jeff Larish, Aaron Westlake, Austin Jackson, Scott Sizemore, Ryan Strieby, “Bruce Fields, Jr.” (Chris “Officer Barbrady” McCosky TM)

Need I go on?!!?!?!?!?!?

And you wonder why the team’s attendance is down 27 percent, the TV ratings are down 44 percent, and their radio broadcast partners numbers are at a ten-year low????

Selling the Tigers fans on a REBUILD would be like trying to get Kevin Bacon and the Wilpon family in on an investment scheme.

So, yes, this season has been an absolute waste of time and we have almost nothing to look forward to in the next three seasons. I am not saying everything has been a TOTAL disaster, BUT ….

They brought in an antiquated manager out of moth balls and on the verge of retirement in Ron Gardenhire while the rest of the league was going with young, sabermetrically-minded hires like Gabe Kapler (on the verge of first place with a team that can’t play defense and has a pop-gun offense) and Alex Cora (on the verge of equaling the 1927 Yankees).

They hired a pitching coach who probably should have been a Trump appointee and was subsequently fired for calling an African-American clubhouse attendant a “monkey.”

Just TODAY, the front office was so incompetent that they didn’t even know basic league rules, meaning they had to start one failed prospect instead of another ….

I mean ……

And finally, they have been just “good” enough to not be as bad as two other teams in their own division, meaning they will probably pick behind both the Royals and White Sox in next year’s June draft.

There is a path to contention in the AL Central in the next couple of years but it is clearly not the one Avila and Chris Ilitch are on right now.

It’s one Mike Ilitch followed to a T when he finally got out from under the Japanese bank debt he incurred when he financed Comerica Park:

Hope some of these prospects work out; deal some of the other ones for proven commodities in their late twenties making more money than their small-market owners want to pay; and mix in some strategic free-agent signings while maintaining a Top 7 MLB payroll.

That’s the formula they used to make the playoffs five times in nine years while getting to a Game 163 another season.

(This time, fix the bullpen while you’re at it.)

But that’s not what this is all about. This is about getting the payroll down as low as possible so Chris Ilitch can minimize his losses.

And that’s why the highlight of this fucking season is going to be a goose flying headfirst into a second-deck scoreboard.

And not dying.

You want true hope? That will only come once Chris Ilitch sells this team and the new owner cleans house.

And if you don’t believe me, I’ve got a Derek Hill rookie card to sell you.