Sunday, January 25, 2004



Full Body Overhaul To a Complete Junker In Detroit.
Last year was nearly the biggest disgrace of a baseball team ever, but a 6-1 stretch after losing 10 straight kept the 2003 Detroit Tigers from losing the most games in a season. Sweeping changes were in order from the front office. Owner Mike Illitch had to loosen the purse strings for GM Dave Dombrowski to have any chance of improving this disaster. Well Illitch cooperated, though maybe too much with moronic comments about how they'd be willing to pay more than necessary just to land certain players, but nevertheless this opened the door for things to get done.

The Tigers made an early splash by announcing that they'd make serious runs at SS Miguel Tejada and OF Vladimir Guerrero. Vlad didn't answer the phone and Miggy had fleeting interest. On to Plan B: aged, injury concerns to plug the many holes --- aka Plan AARP. Mission accomplished. The signing of 2B Fernando Vina to a 2-year $6 million dollar contract brought mixed reviews, mostly negative. Tough to understand why a team in this state would want a 34-year old middle infielder coming off of a 61-game season and four straight years of OBP decline. Sadly, his 2002 OBP of .333 would have placed him second on the Tigers team last year. So, while it's an improvement, the cost is steep.

Next up on Plan AARP was OF Rondell White. A signing that again brought mixed reviews, though notably more positive. An immense struggle in New York is the lone anamoly in White's career, though an inability to stay healthy remains a constant:

Year GP HR AVG OBP SLG
99 138 22 .312 .359 .505
00 94 13 .311 .374 .493
01 95 17 .307 .371 .529
02 126 14 .240 .288 .378

03 137 22 .289 .341 .488


The positive note is, of course that his GP is trending up. Will he stay healthy in 2004? Who knows. He's 31 and history says not a chance. Though if he does, he'll be a solid addition to the atrocious lineup in the Motor City. White is a better $6 million dollar/2-year investment than Vina. With Matt Walbeck retiring, the Tigers needed to fill their "old, crappy catcher" role. Enter Mike DiFelice. The former Royals backup was signed to a one-year/$650,000 dollar deal. Who will he be backing up this year? More on that later.

The first of three pitching additions did not sway from Plan AARP. 35-year old reliever Al Levine was signed to a one-year deal worth $925,000 dollars making him the third former Kansas City Royal to join the Tigers in the offseason. His 2.79 ERA from a year ago will be very welcome as it would've been the team's best in 2003. The crafty vet won't mow anyone down, but should be a useful piece in the Tiger 'pen.

At this point in the offseason, while happy to see them actively making moves, I rated the Tigers' offseason a C+. Improvements are nice, but at what cost? And with four guys at an average age of 33.5 years, what do any of these moves do for the future?

Soon, Illitch's plan to overpay a free agent was enacted perfectly. The 2-year/$7 million dollar contract given to RHP Jason Johnson was astounding. Though just 30, it's tough to justify that kind of money for these numbers:

Year IP W-L K/BB ERA
00 107.2 1-10 1.30 7.02
01 196 10-12 1.48 4.09
02 131.1 5-14 2.37 4.59
03 189.2 10-10 1.48 4.18

At least he's coming to a pitcher friendly park and even if he loses double digit games for the fifth straight year, he's sure to have company. Since 1999, he's hit 6.60+ K/9 on even numbered years, let's hope that continues. Boy, you know you're stretching for your team when you trying to use even-odd year trends. I liked the idea of moving to get him after he was non-tendered by the Orioles, but they as recently as 2002 had a pitcher who was nearly the same price ($3.6M to $3.5M), the same age and a good deal better in Mark Redman. Why not just keep him???

The Tigers then pillaged the Colorado Rockies for a host of minor-league signings, most notably IF Pablo Ozuna. Ozuna was an undrafted amateur signed by St. Louis and moved to Florida in the Edgar Renteria deal, he was to be the heir apparent. It wasn't to be as he was soon shipped to Colorado as part of the Preston Wilson deal. Ozuna had loads of potential leading up to his major league fizzle-out. In 575 minor league games from 1996-2002, he put up impressive numbers:

AB AVG SB BB SO
2292 .324 186 132 241

Why would a supposed phenom need so much time in the minors, you ask? Consider that when he started his career in 1996, he was just 18 years old. At 25, there's still hope that he could be a useful player and a stolen base threat, but he obviously has dimished the potential he had just a few years ago. There is hope, however little, that Ozuna can be Damion Easley-esque. The Tigers acquired Easley from the Angels in 1996 at age 26 and he was thought to be more or less a scrub and soon went on to hit 20+ HR and nab double-digit SBs for three straight years as a Tiger.

The continuing effort to strengthen the middle was bolstered with the trading of SS Ramon Santiago to Seattle with minor league SS Juan Gonzalez for SS Carlos Guillen. I prefer potential over sheer mediocity, even if Santiago is destined to be another Guillen. The breakdown for the two:

Player AGE G AVG OBP SLG SB HR FPCT
Guillen 28 109 .276 .359 .394 4 7 .969
Santiago 24 141 .225 .292 .284 10 2 .975


Four years, a better fielder, a better runner and a cheaper cost make Santiago the choice. A bad trade in my book. Most recently, the Tigers signed veteran reliever Esteban Yan to a minor-league deal. A man whose ERA has never seen the better side of 3.80 won't end up anywhere near the Tigers closing role despite two seasons with double-digit save totals (22 & 19). He should get used to Toledo.

That brings us up to date on the Tigers offseason and ready to talk about what would be their biggest move if completed. Serious talks are on-going to bring C Ivan Rodriguez to the Motor City. As a Tiger fan, I experienced the initial rush of potentially signing a big name free agent followed by the back-to-Earth realization that his agent is Scott Boras and if he's not up to some sort of hijinx to use the Tigers in a ploy to entice other teams, then he is up to some sort of hijinx to rake the Tigers over the coals for his 32-year old client. The latest offer appears to be 4-years/$40 million dollars, with the 4 years being set in one:


Ivan Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, said he had lengthy conversations with the Tigers on Friday and that the two sides agreed upon the length of the contract -- four years. Boras made his counteroffer to the Tigers yesterday and faxed proposals to two other teams. It looks like Boras' proposal to Detroit did include an out clause, allowing Pudge to get out of his contract after one or two years if certain conditions aren't met. (Source:Rotoworld.com)


I have no problems with bringing in a guy that can get on base at a 37% clip, or 7& more than the team average, but as the theme as been this offseason, this AARP'er has been abused. His last 150 game campaign was way back in 1997 and is just one of two in his entire 13 year career. And if he's not open to a position change a la Craig Biggio, then you're essentially spending $10 million dollars (or more) for a DH. No thanks. His first inning behind the plate in 2004 will be his 13,0077th of his career. So while I eagerly await the decision of the two-time MVP, I hope the Tigers aren't being had by Boras as the Rangers were in the A.Rod debacle and I hope that while they are drawing up every clause to make him happy, they put a few protections in there for themselves so that the career .304 hitter is playing on a consistent basis in four years.

If Pudge inks with the Tigers, it easily gives them a Top-10 offseason and maybe even a Top-5 when you consider the vast improvements to a rather shoddy team. After the final decision comes down from Boras and Rodriguez, I'll take a look at the new and improved lineup in Detroit.

Here and There...
I've added a few new sites to the rundown that are worth checking out. Avkash Patel's Raindrops site dedicated to the goings-on of the New York Mets ia a very solid read... Brian Gunn heads up the always interesting Redbird Nation, devoted to the St. Louis Cardinals. Be sure to take a look at the latest regarding Pujols and various thoughts on the validity of his age... Finally today, is Daniel Devereaux's RJIA which is his stock market for fantasy baseball players. Daniel is a great writer and will always entertain. His site takes part of its name from Rotojunkie.com, a great fantasy baseball source.