As the 2015 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings came to a close on December 10th, after starting on the 6th, it’s no coincidence that many fans didn’t even know they were going on.
Spartan Basketball is ranked number one in the nation, Spartan Football is ranked number three in the nation, the Pistons are semi-decent, and the Red Wings are on a red-hot point streak (we won’t talk about the Lions). While all this is happening, the front offices of all thirty Major League Baseball clubs were meeting in Nashville, Tennessee for the annual Winter Meetings to hopefully formulate offseason moves that will make their teams competitive in the upcoming 2016 season.
So here’s a recap of everything you’ve missed while absorbing the success of Michigan sports.
First year Tigers general manager Al Avila was no stranger at this year’s Winter Meetings, making quite a few moves to fix the problems of last year’s team.
Before getting into everything that happened in Nashville, let’s take a look at what the Tigers did in November, when disgruntled Tigers fans watched the Kansas City Royals capture their second World Series Title.
11/18/15: The Tigers traded for Milwaukee Brewers veteran closer and 2015 All-Star Francisco Rodriguez. In return, the Tigers sent minor league infielder Javier Betancourt, who is only predicted to become a bench utility player, and also sent 28 year old minor league catcher Manny Pina.
11/20/15: The Tigers traded for their 2005 1st round draft pick Cameron Maybin from the Atlanta Braves. This move cost the Tigers left handed relief pitcher Ian Krol and minor league pitcher Gabe Speier (who was then traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks). One could be disappointed the Tigers didn’t go for one of the big name left fielders on the market, but considering what the team gave up for a player coming off the best season of his career, this was a smart move for a team that has depleted its farm system over the past few seasons. Plus, going for a big hitter was not the top priority for a team that led the league in batting average. Which explains why the Tigers decided to splurge on a pitcher instead.
11/30/15: The Tigers agreed to terms with former Nationals pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann. The deal was worth 110 million dollars over 5 years. Zimmermann was regarded as the fourth-best pitcher on the market, making the deal well worth the money. Some will even argue the Tigers got Zimmermann for a steal of a price when compared to the record-breaking contract of Zack Greinke as well as the large contracts that pitchers of less caliber got.
Zimmermann’s numbers were just a plus to the intangibles he brings the clubhouse. Former teammates only had great things to say about Zimmermann’s character and that he is a true leader. Zimmermann also loved the fact that he was on the top of the Tigers’ list. It was a very mutual and positive signing.
12/2/15: The Tigers elected not to offer contracts to Neftali Feliz and Al Alburquerque, two members of the disastrous 2015 bullpen. Alburquerque has been with the Tigers since 2011, when the bullpen started to take a slide downward.
Avila was committed to a complete bullpen reconstruction this offseason. Relief pitching has been the chink in the armor for the Tigers. In the new age of baseball, where pitching is dominant, closing out games is more important than ever. The world champion Royals developed a system where essentially the starting pitcher only had to go roughly six innings before allowing the bullpen to take over. With a Kansas City bullpen that only allowed a .211 opposing batting average (lowest in the league), they had the power to allow their relief pitching to take over early and shut down the game. On the contrary, the Tigers had a bullpen that allowed the opposing team to hit .266, the highest in the league.
12/6/15: This was the first day of the Winter Meetings and Avila got right to work.
The Tigers signed Mike Pelfrey, the potential fifth member of their pitching rotation. Pelfrey is a known “workhorse” and ground ball pitcher. Getting innings out of their starters and having guys stay healthy was a problem for the Tigers last season. So although not the sexiest free agent signing, Pelfrey, who has pitched six full seasons in the past eight years, is in Detroit to eat innings and get guys to ground out to the dynamic duo in the middle infield, Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler.
As of right now, the pitching rotation looks like this:
They also picked up known slugger and catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Saltalamacchia is going to be paid the league minimum, which is $507,500, as the Marlins pay the rest of his contract. This is a steal of a signing in that Saltalamacchia will add a solid bat off the bench and can offer some of his veteran knowledge to young catcher James McCann.
12/8/15: The Tigers agreed to terms with relief pitcher Mark Lowe. Lowe is a consistent arm out of the pen and is supposed to be the 8th inning pitcher before Rodriguez comes out.
“Mark solidifies the back end of our bullpen,” Al Avila said. “He is coming off a solid season and is someone we felt would upgrade our relief pitching.”
Lowe didn’t allow a run in 49 of 57 appearances last season, making him a demigod in the eyes of Detroit fans. He’s a hard thrower and can reach the upper 90’s on the radar gun. His fastball is complimented by his hard breaking slider.
As rumors circulated that there may be a possible reunion in Detroit with outfielder Yoenis Cespedes or even taking former Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, Avila stayed true to his offseason plan in reconstructing the bullpen.
12/9/15: With the 40 man roster full, Avila was limited to trading only. The Tigers went out and traded prospect Luis Cessa, who was obtained in the Yoenis Cespedes trade last July, and right handed pitcher Chad Green for the much needed left hander Justin Wilson of the Yankees.
“He’s a power lefty that can dominate,” said Avila.
I think that’s nice and to the point.
Wilson’s WHIP hasn’t exceeded 1.3 and he has put up a consistent ERA in his three full major league seasons. Avila likes that he’s versatile and can pitch any inning late in the game.
The Tigers have successfully reconstructed the bullpen with giving up very little. The team has three solid 8th and 9th inning guys and will return their one consistent reliever Alex Wilson along with once prospect Bruce Rondon. Avila also has hinted to the media he is not opposed to using the younger pitching prospects in the bullpen as well.
With a lot of worries among the fans after Dave Dombrowski left, Avila has proved to be a sound offseason GM. All that remains is in-season success.
Where do the Tigers go from here? According to ESPN’s Katie Strang, the Tigers will continue to seek out bullpen help (overkill isn’t bad in Detroit’s case) and a possible utility player.