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

10 thoughts on “Gloom, Despair and Agony

  1. My feelings exactly. Great news for the Twins long term
    The Tigers now have 4 players (Fielder, Cabrera, Verlander, Martinez) accounting for $85 M a year total until 2014. Also the 3-non pitchers are horrible defensively. That’s got to hurt. The Twins are in good position to unload some players mid-season if the Tigers start fast, because they have several free agents (Pavano, Baker, Capps, Casilla, Doumit, Liriano ) and look into 2014 when they are in the hook only for Mauer and Span… They could have done that this off-season but they did not want to go that way.

  2. Yeah, I wouldn’t suggest the Twins run up the white flag prematurely. It seems like only yesterday that everyone was talking about this unbeatable starting rotation that the White Sox had bought and that Adam Dunn was going to set HR records playing in the (prison) Cell. Shit happens and the same shit can happen in Detroit, especially if they don’t do something about that defense.

  3. In the long run, I think that the Fielder contract is insane.

    In the short run, I can’t help but admire Mike Illitch’s desire to see his team win a WS championship before he dies.

    I’d like to see Twins ownership replace their cash-register hearts with ones that have a little more desire to win it all in the post-season.

    Surely there must be a reasonable compromise somewhere between the Illitch-type owners and the Pohlads.

  4. I had some notes for a similar post I was going to write, but now I don’t need to. You summed it up quite nicely.

    I’ll just add that if Miguel Cabrera is manning third, with Delmon Young in left field, it’s going to be good for our righty pull hitters, and those of our lefties (#7) that enjoy going the opposite way.

    My gut reaction is this: The Tigers are better today than they were two days ago; and the Tigers are locked into a lengthy contract with a player who, although extremely healthy for the first part of his career, will undoubtedly age. And my guess is that his body will not age gracefully.

  5. JB, in my mind, there are 3 kinds of owners.

    First, there are owners of low-revenue teams. They tell their GMs, “You aren’t going to have the money to compete on an even playing field so you need to be damn good at your job or damn lucky (and probably both) to win.” Think: A’s, Rays, Royals, Pirates, etc.

    At the other end of the spectrum are the owners that say, “Even if you screw up or get unlucky (or both), it’s OK… I’m going to just throw more money out there. In fact, every once in a while, I’m going to step in and MAKE you do something totally stupid.” The Yankees used to have this category pretty much to themselves, but we’re seeing owners like those of the Angels, Rangers and Tigers show similar tendencies, lately. That hasn’t necessarily worked well for the Yankees all the time and I’m not so sure it will work for the others over the long run either.

    Everyone else essentially has an owner that says, “We have enough revenue that we can give you enough money to compete IF you at least do a good job and the team avoids catastrophically bad luck. If you need a little more money at times to put the team over the top, you’ll get it. But don’t screw up and then come ask us to bail you out. Instead, we’ll find someone else to run the place.” The Twins are definitely in this group. Interestingly, I’d probably put other pretty successful organizations like the Phillies and Red Sox in this category, too. It’s not an unreasonable model.

  6. AW, I’m not sure the lefties have to go the opposite way to be successful. Don’t the Tigers rely on a corner outfielder to play a lot of 2B? And Prince is essentially a statue at 1B, so pulling the ball to the right side isn’t a bad idea. I’m not even sure their RFs are all that talented. My sense is that CF and C (so long as they never have to resort to making Martinez their regular catcher in future years) are really the only positions they can say they have covered well. Hitters from either side just need to make contact and run like hell. I’d probably also bunt a ton on those blimps on the corners of the infield. That should be entertaining to see.

  7. JC,
    that one part of team ownership and it is almost become obsolete. A bigger part of team ownership is “capital appreciation” (think it like a house or something.) Owners buy low keep a team for a while then they sell it for 20-100 fold (think Red McCombs ). Family-owned teams (like the Twins and Yankees are few and in-between these days in the major pro sports) Capital Appreciation is the key for those guys…

  8. Good point, JC. I would add Jhonny Peralta at SS to the list of Tigers defenders that are not a liability. So we have C, CF and SS that are in the spectrum of not awful to good. That leaves a pretty large chunk of Comerica, and Target Field, in play.

    I definitely agree on the bunting. I’m looking for a significant amount of bunting from Revere, Casilla, Span, and even Nishioka if he sees action. And not just when they’re playing the Tigers.

  9. thrylos, I agree that the value of the franchise is important to ownership, but in that regard, most owners are in the same boat (at least once they get their sweetheart public stadium deal). The dollars differ, but few, if any, dip in to the “increased value” pool to cover current expenses. After all, those dollars aren’t realized until the team is sold. You and I can take out home equity loans to cover current expenses and theoretically team owners can do the same thing, but don’t hold your breath.

    AW, didn’t the Indians decide Peralta couldn’t play a competent enough SS any more and move him to 3B? I have no idea what his metrics are, but I guess I don’t think about him being an above average fielder. I guess that could leave him in the “not awful” category, though. Then again… in comparison to everyone else in that infield this year, he may look like a superstar.

  10. Peralta was pretty good last year. The Tigers’ camp thought he played well enough for a Gold Glove. I think he had 7 errors on the season. Not sure about the advanced metrics, though.