Gloom, Despair and Agony

The Hee Haw Gang (Photo: AP)

Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Most of you are too young to remember this little ditty from Roy Clark and Buck Owens from the old “Hee Haw” TV show, but it sure describes much of the reaction around Twinsville to the news that the Tigers had signed Prince Fielder on Tuesday.

I guess it’s understandable, to a degree. It was just a week ago that news of Victor Martinez’s ACL injury gave us all a glimmer of hope that the team that pretty much lapped the rest of the AL Central Division in 2011 might fall back to the pack a bit. Now, just like that, they push themselves out further in to the frontrunner role. If the Twins were 32 games worse than Detroit last year, without Fielder, just how much deeper is that hole likely to be this season?

I’m just not sure it’s worth quite the level of gloom, despair and agony I’ve been reading and hearing. What I am sure of is that this signing doesn’t warrant additional criticism of the Twins more conservative approach to building their 2012 roster. In fact, if anything, it might just be evidence that the Twins’ philosophy will turn out to be the right one, as much as many of us (myself, chief among that group) don’t want to admit it.

My initial reaction to the news of Fielder’s signing with Detroit was something along the lines of, “they must be out of their minds over there!” However, I held off on posting that reaction because, frankly, my initial reactions to things frequently turn out to be wrong and I thought if I waited a bit, maybe I would come to see what the Tigers saw and understand how smart this was. That hasn’t happened. In fact, from what I’ve read of most national baseball writers’ reactions, it appears my initial reaction is pretty much in sync with the “experts.” Of course, that doesn’t necessarily make us right.

But just for kicks and giggles (and perhaps to lessen the degree of gloom, despair and agony around here), let’s try to list exactly what this means for the Tigers and for the Twins in the short term and long term.

  • Immediately, it means the Tigers have replaced Victor Martinez in their batting order with a potentially powerful bat. How many more wins that equates to over and above what they would have had with Martinez is at least questionable. They were clearly the best offensive team in the Division already.
  • They have to find places for everyone to play, since the AL does not allow several DHs at a time. This means Detroit could field a defensive lineup in which Delmon Young is perhaps only the fifth worst defensive player on the field. If he’s still in left field when Victor Martinez returns, he may be among the Tigers BEST defenders. Think about that for a moment.
  • When Justin Verlander is pitching, defense doesn’t really matter. But the Tigers are likely going to have to win a lot of 9-7 games when the other 4/5 of the rotation takes the mound.
  • 82-year-old Tigers owner Mike Illitch is clearly willing to mortgage his team’s future… a future he may or may not be around to enjoy anyway… to buy a championship now. That probably means he’s going to be willing to spend even more money in July, if that’s what it takes to win the Division.
  • So, short term, signing Fielder makes the Tigers pretty much the same favorite to win the Division that they were without him and, long term, it could mean the team is stuck with a rapidly aging former star with detiorating skills that they’re paying $23 million a year to, whether he plays or not.

For the Twins, it probably means:

  • They were right not to spend wildly to try to close a 32 game gap with the a team owned by a desperate old man willing to spend like a drunken sailor on shore leave.
  • Before the Tigers signed Fielder, it was going to take all the stars aligning right for the Twins to compete… meaning everyone healthy and productive and a much improved defense. If that happens, there’s still a similar chance that the Twins will be within range of the Tigers, even with Fielder in their lineup. I just don’t see the Tigers winning many more games… they’ll just win by an extra run or two.
  • The Twins will have flexibility in July. If they’re in the race, they have money to spend on exactly the positions they need at the time. If they’re out of the race, they can sell off parts that they won’t be counting on in 2013 and beyond anyway.
  • Long term, the Twins have to like this deal. Any signing that virtually assures that your competition will eventually be flushing $20+ million a year down a rabbit hole is a good signing. That’s money that could have been spent for younger talent that you’d have to be facing for years to come.

Seriously, those of you who think the Twins are nuts to commit $23 million a year to Joe Mauer, leaving a measly $80 million or so to fill out the rest of the roster, just imagine if the Twins made that deal on top of paying two other players north of $20 million a year. The Tigers have done just that. They’ve got over $60 million in salary going to three players for at least the next three seasons.

Maybe Detroit’s broadcast media rights will be skyrocketing like the Rangers, Angels, and seamingly everyone else’s (except the Twins, naturally) looks to be or maybe their owner really just doesn’t give a damn about money at this point in his life.

All I know for sure is that as much as I may disagree with the Twins front office on various philosophical issues (and I continue to do so), I’m absolutely certain at this point that they are not collectively the dumbest front office in baseball. We have a new leader in the clubhouse in that contest.

– JC