The Tigers Winter Season.

Part One.

I wish MLB fan bases could swap shoes with one another. One of two things would occur as a result.

There’d only be four or five teams left in MLB who’d still have managers. Or fans would return to their own shoes and shackle down their manager, because their eyes were opened to just how good they have with the guy they want gone.

If Winston Churchill were still alive today to have taken part in my little fan swapping exercise as a Tigers fan, I’d surmise he’d throw back on his white jersey with the Old English D and say, ‘Jim Leyland’s baseball’s worst manager…except for all the rest of them. Go Tigers!’

Joe Torre was a lousy game manager. He had to manage cab rides, not necessarily games.

Bobby Cox won a litany of NL East titles, but just a single World Series ring with the Braves.

Charlie Manuel was a buffoon, who couldn’t comprehend double switches, then Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins blossomed into annual MVP contenders and Charlie was brilliant and a Champion. Those players and the Phillies pitching began to erode, and Charlie was back to being called a buffoon, then semi-unceremoniously out of a job.

For all his esoteric moves, I’m certain if he were to ever manage again Tigers fans, or any fanbase, could easily glance past Tony La Russa’s championship successes and find nits to pick in fiery rages.

There’s no perfect manager in baseball. Even when the ‘right’ move is made, sometimes the result is not a positive one. The emotion that energizes fans, also blinds them from seeing that fact. It’s hard to recall fans harnessing their reason and complimenting a manager for a statistically based, or fairly obvious maneuver, that wound up in failure anyway.

If I were elected to manage the Tigers and led them to a 162-0 record and a World Series, I’d be hailed, even though my knowledge of the game is infitessimial compared to the game’s most inept skipper. I don’t want to manage. Consult the GM, hmmm, let’s talk.

The Tigers dishearteningly lost the ALCS to a better team, that invested more financial resources and was motivated by a horrific 93 lost season in 2012 whose flame began to burn around chicken, beer and a pile of lifeless losses in September of 2011.

The Tigers never seemed to offer any confidence in the ALCS did they? Even with no hit innings to start games seemingly as routine as on deck circle practice swings, the Tigers were unable to erase any doubt that they could topple the Red Sox. I’m not thinking overly pessmistically am I? No, I don’t think so. The Red Sox didn’t dominate the ALCS, but when the Tigers were able to wrest away any semblence of its control, it felt like they were trying to helplessly cup water in their hands. It was only a matter of time before it slipped away, and back to the Red Sox.

With a silenced cleanup hitter (Fielder), and a crippled BEST PLAYER HITTER ON THE PLANET, an unsteady bullpen and a precarious defense that could appear at the worst of times, the Tigers run differential in the American League Championship Series was (do you know?)…

A single run. The Tigers scored 18 runs in 6 games. The Red Sox tallied 19.

Here’s a lengthy list of preseason MLB predictions. Not one of them has the Cardinals or the Red Sox winning the World Series. Not one of them even has either of those teams even reaching the World Series! It’s onerous to try to predict the World Series, even when we arrive in October. Onerous may be too kind a word. Perhaps futile is the better word.

Cardinals and Red Sox in the World Series. The Red Sox perhaps simply because a player who hit .091 with a single homer and just 4 RBI’s hit a grand slam in Game 2 (David Ortiz) and another player (Shane Victorino) hit only .125 with 5 RBIs, 9 K’s and 0 BB’s in the LCS hit what was a game winning Game 6 grand slam. Totally predictable! Tonight’s Powerball numbers are forthcoming.

Did the Cardinals advance to the World Series because starter Joe Kelly put a ball into the ribs of Hanley Ramirez in Game 1 thus causing him great pain and anguish, but to the delight of Cardinal fans Ramirez was harangued into a .133 average in 19 at bats and even had to miss a game.

Now. Part Two.

I didn’t expect the Tigers to need a new manager in 2014.

In fact, I don’t think they needed much going into next year. Tweaks. Not overhauls.

Resign Benoit and Infante for short, practical deals.

Get what I’ve been asking for now for two years, a viable lefty killer out of the bullpen.

Modestly, because that’s all you can expect, upgrade the bench.

There. Done. See you in Lakeland.

Then the pitching machine went haywire and started firing balls at my head.

1. I’ve already brought up my feelings of Austin Jackson needing to be dropped in the lineup. For his own performance and the Tigers overall. In a tiny sample size of three postseason games, my theory was supported and confirmed!

2. Hmmmmm, maybe they CAN find a place for Peralta. MAYBE.

3. The 12 month powder keg that is now the Scherzer situation.

4. I actually have sympathy for Prince Fielder after his post series candor. And I’m not sorry fans are abhorred that he 1. clearly had domestic issues all season impairing his performance 2. he’s got kids he wants to go home to, which can hopefully act as his haven after a year of hell. I know fans think their money paying his salary allows them to demand more – and that’s fine – but don’t instruct another person how to think and feel. Not everybody lives and loves their job no matter how glamorous it may appeal to those not in it. HOWEVER, after about a 1/4 of a regular season of October games (39) and 164 plate appearances, it’s not unfair at all to say Fielder turns into a player who should be benched during the playoffs. Fielder owns a .194 career postseason average, a .620 OPS and has never had more than 3 RBI’s in an October series. That is bleak.

5. Jacoby Ellsbury’s being bandied around as a solution for the Tigers lead off conundrum I mentioned above.

6. The Leyland successor.

I have to start with #6 here.

Is the strategy going to be to hire as close as you can get to a get-me-over-the-top guy, like Manuel, who surely exemplified player relation qualities that Leyland did to take advantage of a window that’s not going to be opened any farther north?

With that comes the realization that Cabrera, now in his 30s, has a deal ending in two years, and we have to at least consider than he MAY be at the tip of a breakding point like Pujols began to enter into a few years ago.

Scherzer may be gone this winter, or may be gone after next winter.

We saw how Verlander had to meander through the regular season to have the resources to explode in October.

Martinez has one year on his deal left.

Avila’s prime may have passed, or may never even arrive because of the damage he’s suffered behind the plate.

Iglesias may never be an offensive answer.

There ain’t much in Toledo and on down.

And Castellanos may not live up to his hyped offensive status.

If there’s a justification that the Tigers needed to do it now, it’s because of what I just pointed out. I’m not certain they can mimic the Cardinals decade of playoff relevance because their organizational pipeline has always been bursting with playoff contributors, which has helped defer their free agent costs. The Tigers have repeatedly had to exhaust personnel and financial resources to help Mr. Ilitch tirelessly chase his World Series. I fear if that path continues, as in going with the Two Year Plan, a title may or may not be won, but then they end up falling flat as the Phillies have the last two years. A roster full of has-been, former megastars making $20 millions of the dollar for pathetic production, while the Twins led by Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton rule the AL Central.

There are two other, at least managerial routes to go.

Retread. A former MLB manager now consultant, sitting at home pining for another chance, or on a TV production set somewhere. Well, there’s a reason that guy is where he is.

New blood. In the middle of 2012 when there was a defeaning cacophony of #fireleyland, I suggested Omar Vizquel. With all those Gold Gloves, undoubtedly he’d emphasize defense. He’d been around the game for two decades and in a variety of atmosphere. Well traveled may not do his ventures justice. And, I kinda like that nothing came easy for Vizquel offensively. Minute details of efforts would not be missed. But, that was last year.

The new blood could be Joe Maddon’s bench coach, Davey Martinez, finally getting an opportunity to lead his own team. Or Sandy Alomar Jr. who’s coached since 2008, ending this past year as Terry Francona’s bench coach in Cleveland. And damn, do those former MLB catchers make for quality Big League managers.

Want my answer?

It’s, I don’t know. If you want a Maddon-type disciple or believer, the days of a mashing Tigers lineup may end. After 8 years of loyalty and a lot of conventional decisions, it might be a baffling sea change for players who’ve been Tigers a long, long time and they’re used to the Leyland way. Which won, a lot.

With the MLB season not over until another four wins occur, even though the Tigers are done, it’s too early to answer most of the questions and topics I’ve pondered above.

But, because I’m anxious to turn on the ECHS2014, (ERIC CHASE HOT STOVE 2014. Check your local Sears or Best Buy for your edition!) and start working on problems NOW, I’m happy to share some scratch note thoughts.

– For a manager, I’d lean new blood who is a mix of old school baseball, where the Tigers land now, but not ignorant and defiant towards the analytical advances of the game. New CAN work. Mike Matheny was never a manager until TLR retired. That’s worked out just dandily! 

– I’ve got enough postseason data on Prince Fielder. As daunting as dealing him and that monstrosity of contract is, I make calls. If finding a new home for Fielder offers flexibility for upgrades elsewhere or resignings, I don’t even mind what the return is. I’d call the Mets. Even though Brandon Belt was a 4+ WAR player in ’13, I call the always-desperate-for-power Giants.

It’s always better to move an impact player to the other league, but Fielder’s contract may make for easier deals in the AL so no one has to worry about his horrid defense, as he fades in DHdom. Reach out to Seattle (if they’re inclined to spend, maybe they are with Ellsbury rumors), Toronto, and Texas who needs to be addressed again shortly.

– Joaquin Benoit. One big money year and an option for two. Or two years of less value with an option. There also needs to be a prayer that Rondon’s elbow is sound. If he needs surgery, see you in 2015.

– Get a LOOGY. They’re usually old-ish, bounced from team to team and cheap. Dombrowski can’t keep skipping over this.

– Thank you for October Jhonny, but we’re moving on. Castellanos is going to play left field, and barring an automatic out average against right handers, he’s going to play everyday.

– We’ve still got second base to handle AND if we’re bumping Jackson down in order, a lead off hitter. Philosophy comes into play here. Are they going to green light a stolen base fiend, or cement him on base with Cabrera, Fielder, Martinez coming up. If he’s parked, just get a reasonably athletic player with OBP well north of Jackson’s .337 number in ’13. If you’re going to let that guy run, WELL, I still don’t want Jacoby Ellsbury for what he’ll cost.

He’s 30. As incredible as ’11 and ’13 were, ’10 and ’12 didn’t give him 100 games combined.

He’s 30. I don’t think I could write him the check for well over $100 million dollars guaranteed that Scott Boras will demand for a guy who could speedily wither away into Juan Pierre.

I haven’t solved that part yet, but I will!

Though rolling around in my mind are a few trades, and I told you I’d come back to Texas. It may be time to move Ian Kinsler to the outfield to make room for Jurickson Profar, who played everywhere in ’13, but if not, hey Jon Daniels, any interest in putting some thump back into first base for the Rangers? Oh, no? Then let’s discuss my soon-to-be Cy Young winner and maybe that’ll get your Profar or Andrus attention. If that doesn’t work, remember dealing Scherzer this winter likely requires a big bankroll team to extend him, I’m dialing up his nearly hometown Cardinals and asking if they have interest, and if so, just HOW enamored are you with Matt Carpenter.

I know. I’m getting all wooooozzy and dreamy now. Look at the pretty unicorns.

We better wrap this up.

A month ago, it looked like the Tigers needed to resign Benoit and Infante, and Sharpie Castellanos onto a lineup card.

The Tigers offseason got a whole lot more complicated, and I’m really excited to offer help any way I can!


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