If you were to describe the 2016 Detroit Tigers in one word, what would it be? According to sports talk radio host Mike Valenti, that word would be “perplexing.”
The Tigers have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the MLB. They began the month of April by winning seven out of their first 10 games, but began May by losing 11 out of their first 13. More recently, the Tigers have clawed their way back into the American League Central standings after a four game sweep of the pesky Seattle Mariners, only to lose three straight against the red hot Cleveland Indians—a team the Tigers have yet to beat all season. Currently, the Tigers stand at 39-38. This average record has disheartened many baseball fans, some of whom have called for the termination of manager Brad Ausmus. But is this lack of success Ausmus’s fault? What exactly is happening to the Detroit Tigers?
How could the Tigers have fallen from American League champions in 2012 to a sub .500 team? To answer this question, it is important to understand how the Tigers became a championship caliber team in the first place.
Former General Manager Dave Dombrowski gave himself quite a reputation for bringing some of the nation’s most elite players to Detroit. Under his reign, the Tigers have been involved in numerous trades involving some of the best players in all of baseball. But how did he manage to sign big-named players such as Anibal Sanchez, Jarrod Washburn, or Doug Fister? He did it by giving up prospects.
To acquire Sanchez, along with Omar Infante, the Tigers traded prospects Jacob Turner, Rob Brantley, Brian Flynn, and a draft pick. For Washburn, Dombrowski traded youngsters Luke French and Mauricio Robles. To receive Fister, along with David Pauley, the Tigers shipped away Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez, and first round draft pick Chance Ruffin. Many Tigers fans rejoiced at the notion of receiving top-notch players through the magician Dombrowski, but these men did not come free. It came at a price of several minor league prospects, thus depleting the Tigers farm system.
The success for the Tigers on these deals was brief. Anibal Sanchez managed to rack up merely three years in Detroit with an ERA under 4.00 and struggles mightily to this date. Jarrod Washburn played only one season in Detroit with an ERA of 7.33 before retiring. And Doug Fister only lasted two and a half years as a Tiger before being shipped away to Washington.
Many other big-named players made their way into Detroit including Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter, Joaquin Benoit, and Joe Nathan during the offseason. There was only one problem—money. Dombrowski broke the bank trying to buy his way toward some of the greatest players in all of baseball, but his raucous spending soon caught up with him.
From 2013 to the present, the Tigers did not have the financial means to keep their all-star roster. They could not afford to keep high-caliber players such as Max Scherzer, David Price, or Yoenis Cespedes. To make matters worse, many young Tiger stars, including Rick Porcello, Austin Jackson, and Drew Smyly were traded away in a desperate attempt to build a veteran roster that was too expensive to sustain. Combine this with a lack of prospects, and the demise of the Detroit Tigers was almost inevitable.
By 2015, it was clear that the Tigers did not have the money nor the farm system to reach the World Series. While Ausmus has made questionable moves as a manager, it is difficult to blame the Tigers’ struggles on him considering the number of all-stars that were stripped away from him upon his arrival in Detroit. On the other hand, it is difficult to blame Dombrowski. After all, he did everything in his power to win a World Series, yet his team came up short every year.
Recently, the Tigers have made a number of moves including trading Cespedes, Price, and Joakim Soria in an attempt to rebuild the farm system and gain cap money. Dombrowski along with current GM Al Avila decided that it was time for the Tigers to buy prospects and not sell them. To a certain degree, this plan has worked. The Tigers roster currently centers around young players.
Nick Castellanos, JD Martinez, and Michael Fulmer have each taken center stage as young stars. With this, the Tigers have a limited number of true veterans in their lineup; Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and Victor Martinez remain the only three men in the starting lineup in their thirties. Mark Lowe and Francisco Rodriguez are the only two relievers on the 25-man roster who are in their thirties.
Many Tigers have seen a limited amount of action in a Detroit uniform including Lowe, Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Upton, and Cameron Maybin. Transitioning to a new baseball team can be very difficult. This, along with the youth of many players, accounts for the unpredictability of the 2016 Tigers. Many fans feel that the Tigers are too talented to be a sub .500 team, but this record should not come as a surprise; their lineup is based around players who are inexperienced in a Tigers’ uniform.
What can one expect for the future of the Detroit Tigers? Expect that in two years, the Tigers will be back on top, contending for a World Series. Take a long look at the Tigers’ roster and notice its youth: Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris are 23, Steven Moya, Kyle Ryan, and Nick Castellanos are 24, Matt Boyd and Bruce Rondon are 25, Jose Iglesias and James McCann are 26, and Shane Greene is 27.
As the next couple seasons roll by, few Tigers will be tarnished by age while a hefty group of talented youngsters will grow and develop, bringing the Tigers exactly where they belong—fighting for a world championship.