Monthly Archives: November 2013

…that’s a question you should ask yourself

I have little to say about the Buccaneers 24-21 win over the Lions. I mentioned last week that Tampa Bay was quickly improving, and had won 2 1/2 of its last three games (1/2 for going to OT @ Seattle), and they’d been playing much better than the 2-8 record they came to Detroit with would indicate.

That was three hours of ugly football.

The Buccaneers played poorly enough to lose, but everytime they tried to hand the hot W back to the Lions, Detroit handed it right back.

Tampa Bay allowed almost 400 yards of Detroit offense.

They committed 9 penalties, many of which were direct hits to prime scoring opportunities.

Rian Lindell missed two makeable field goals; from 35 and 50. The second should’ve been a 43 yard attempt but rookie QB Mike Glennon inexplicably took a sack when he was far enough outside of the pocket to have throw the ball away without a penalty.

Tampa totaled just 8 first downs of their own doing. Another via a Lions penalty.

A paltry 229 yards of total offense.

Bucs’ returner Eric Page also fair caught a ball with nothing but maybe ten yards of hash marks in front him. Then with under a minute to go in the 3rd quarter, down 21-17, Page fielded a punt that pinned Tampa on its own 5 (though Glennon, Chris Houston and the well-traveled Tiquan Underwood bailed him out of that poor decision).

Matthew Stafford had a second straight abysmal week. It went from bad in Pittsburgh to worse at Ford Field against Tampa. His doubters are thumping their chests now and it’s difficult to challenge them.

Some of the other stuff…I’m utterly unable to explain. No SOL. At least not to my eyes. Brandon Pettigrew ducking, Kris Durham, without Buccaneer pursuit, 360’d himself into a baffling turnover. A punt block. Perhaps my eyes deceive me, or it was an optical illusion, but I swear I saw Houston act as Underwood’s turbo button with a subtle nudge to his back while he tried to chase down what would be an 85 yard score.

You can say SOL, but ALL that?! Even SOL isn’t THAT omnipotent.

Hoax or not, the 50 year curse Bobby Layne placed on the Lions supposedly expired in 2008. At this point, is it feasible to blame everything else on some cryptic reason that Lyle Fife and Edwin Anderson, the Lions previous owners, don’t have Wikipedia entries?

Did the Curse of Bobby Layne metamorphose into the Ghost of Bobby Layne; one that now forever haunts Ford Field?

Way too much on a game I didn’t want to talk about.

I want to discuss Calvin Johnson. After the ‘329’ game it was predictable that Calvin vs. Jerry Rice, or Calvin or Jerry would become popular dialogue. I wrote about that last month.

Calvin’s currently the best most gifted receiver in the game, but Jerry is the best ever.

In his latest article on Grantland, Bill Simmons used several thousand words to gush over Calvin.

In four decades of watching football, three receivers stand out for me over everyone else: Rice, Megatron and Moss. I’d take Rice for any important game, Moss for any deep ball, and Megatron for any “sitting at home on a lazy October afternoon expecting to see someone kick ass for three hours” situation. I will remember watching all three. Even if it’s too early to wonder if Megatron can leapfrog those other two, he has launched the conversation.

As I write this, I sit seven tweets away from 16,000. I wish it required less tedious scavenging to find specific tweets, especially with that many. Among that intellect, snark and sarcasm from September to now, there’s been enough to have a follower or observer notice a humble theme of mien when it comes to my 140 characters about Calvin. He’s incredible. That’s obvious without him even requiring a uniform.

Before sharing the opinion, to be sincere, I’ll readily concede that my evidence is anecdotal. Perhaps twitterdotal. I’ve got no bone to pick, and I’m not intentionally trying to play the Calvin iconoclast.

Calvin Johnson doesn’t catch as many passes as I think his reputation would dictate.

Sorry for that convoluted sentence.

As we’ll explore later on, my eyes might even lead my mouth to say Calvin isn’t very clutch.

This is my go-to source when I Google NFL+STATS+DROPS.

By the time you will read this, it’ll have been updated to include Thursday and Sunday of Week 12.

The chart will show Calvin has been targeted 109 times, for 59 catches, with 5 drops for a miniscule drop % of 4.6. For context, Reggie Bush’s numbers go 54/36/7/13. The apparently graceless Davone Bess is 66/32/8/12.1. Rookie Kendbrell Thompkins is in that neighborhood as well.

That site only goes back to 1990. Drops can also be subjective, and sometimes little fault actually can be placed on the receiver.

When that receiver is Calvin Johnson though, with his reputation, I need to evoke the receiver edict that came from Buddy Ryan, and likely many teachers of the sport. If it hits your hands, you better catch it.

I’ll add, if you catch it, you damn well better not drop it.

In the article I linked above, comparing Rice & Johnson, I discovered that Rice was more surehanded that Calvin. At least in the context of turnovers. Semi-officially (can’t count deflections, tips, bad bounces and such…), Rice coughed up a ball every 11 games, and Calvin every 9. Rice also played in a barbaric era where defenders, if they hit like that today, would be exiled from the league.

There’s a quiet, but fierce debate – especially after David Ortiz’s World Series – to declare whether or not clutch hitting exists in baseball. Here’s a Google of the topic to peruse. Advanced statistics say it doesn’t, but perception might disagree with that or if you want to wade through it the way I do could micromanaging every single nuance of every situation.

I’d like to see the MLB sabretric community help decide if receivers exist.

That would be an enormous undertaking.

I’m not going to do that at this time.

Sites like Pro Football Focus have an impressive stockpile of statistics, but without having access to them, I can’t tell you if they have one that would define ‘clutch.’ I’d guess no, since it’s a war within a war among baseball fans.

Amid my admittedly anecdotal evidence, paired with the sour taste of WHO helped Tampa plunge the final dagger into the Lions, I’m going to proclaim Jerry Rice, not Calvin Johnson, a damn clutch receiver.

Perhaps it’s thanks to the veritable volume of 28 playoff games played, Rice leads history in scoring catches with 22. Rice also has 8 scores in 4 Super Bowls. 4-0 too. In those 28 games, Rice accumulated 2,245 yards. That’s average of 80 yards a game, and a score every 1.2 games, against the best teams in the NFL.

This wasn’t supposed to morph into another Rice > Calvin, so my apologies for that.

Calvin admitted to nerve damage last year hindering him, though not enough to prevent his charge towards two thousand receiving yards.

A friend of mine offered this during, then after the Buccaneers game.

<blockquote lang=”en”><p>I asked Calvin if that hit mid 4Q tweaked his back. He blew off the question verbally but his facial expression said more to me. <a href=”https://twitter.com/search?q=%23Lions&amp;src=hash”>#Lions</a></p>&mdash; Denny Kapp (@DennyKapp) <a href=”https://twitter.com/DennyKapp/statuses/404734547566161920″>November 24, 2013</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

The point is that for the reminder of the season, and Calvin Johnson’s career, I want you to tell me if he actually performs up to his impervious reputation. Because of one two things is happening when I modestly, but correctly, censure Calvin; my thoughts are white noise caused by your blind allegiance to Megatron, or you’re blinded by the Lions more easily visible maladies.

By the way, I hope this doesn’t desecrate my chances of someone sending me the Megatron Rises collection from Nike.

Not SOL. Just A Must Win, Not MUST WIN.

The Steelers’ Bumblebee jerseys proved too slippery for the Lions tacklers early on, Jim Schwartz made, IMO, the wrong decision to run a fake field goal, Reggie Bush’s effectiveness was neutralized by the dreary Pittsburgh weather, Suh & Co. couldn’t get a breath on the oft-sacked Ben Roethlisberger and the looming sense of uneasiness I have on the Lions as we depart Week 11 is that the Buccaneers and Mike Glennon are looking formidable these days.

The Lions host the win-streaking Bucs next week. It’s not a MUST WIN, but it’s a must win.

If we rewind the calendar two weeks to the Lions’ bye, at 5-3, I expected and predicted them to be right where they are this second. 6-4. Time travel back with me, and you’d agree too, right?

Loss at Chicago. Win at Pittsburgh.

Of course you’d like to win all the games you can, but if the last two weeks were going to go one win and one loss for the Lions, you need to ignore negative narratives that could arise this week about Detroit in exchange for the enormous tiebreaker the Lions hold over the Bears.

There’s also little chance Aaron Rodgers is 100% healthy on Thanksgiving. So calm down.

The Lions lost on a day where a home-domed team was impeded by weather and by a prideful team that probably its finest game of the year.

It’s the NFL. It happens. If you’d like evidence, and if you believe Seattle and New Orleans are the very best teams in the league, or among them, examine their scuffles away from home.

– Regardless of its outcome, I believe the fake field goal was the wrong call. One of the balls Bush put down was punched out, but if the stormy weather cut in to his playing time, it was not a wise decision to expect a punter to cleanly execute that play from beginning to end.

Yea, I know, if they’d converted and scored 7 they likely would’ve sealed the victory. But if they’d converted a 27 yard field goal there’s NO  reasonable way they can lose the game on the ensuing drive with the score being 30-23.

– The Lions have harassed QBs all year, right? Yes. Curiously, they do only have 16 sacks. Perhaps I underrated Ansah’s absence, and it sucks not having the depth from Jason Jones, Fairley’s been inconsistent and Suh was in and out of the game against the Steelers. That Pittsburgh line had given up 4 sacks a game, and the Lions only got 1 and 1 QB hit. You didn’t need me to tell you that, or a stat sheet to know Roethlisberger had plenty of pocket time all afternoon. So what’s up!?

– Did the Steelers unearth two ways of searing the Lions defense? One, whatever they did to block for Ben. Two, I thought the secondary was going to enjoy a painless Sunday without having to stop a Gordon, Green, Marshall & Jeffrey, or Bryant. Antonio Brown’s done a fine enough job replacing Mike Wallace, but he’s none of the physical marvels the Lions have tried to defend over the last month or so. Is the new strategy against the Lions porous secondary going to be get it to the fleet receivers and let them dart past a not-so-nimble linebacking core and a dreadful back end? With Desean Jackson, Jordy Nelson, Torrey Smith and Victory Cruz looming…uh. Oh.

– Did the DeAndre Levy INT magic wear off? He dropped one, and early in the game a ball was in the air that screamed ‘DEANDRE CATCH ME’ and the ball fell harmlessly for an incomplete, not an INT.

– The Packers lost.

– The Giants won again. This has me thinking they’re about to go on another 9-7 Super Bowl run.

– After I tweeted disagreement with the fake, I got this from Zac at Side Lion Report. I like Zac’s stuff, but sometimes we can bang heads.

@snyder_matthew @Eric_Chase also have to factor in that TD might have sealed the game, like in Washington.

— Zac Snyder (@ZacSnyder) November 17, 2013

Schwartz essentially said the same thing. From Justin Rogers a mlive.com…

“Because we’re trying to win the game,” Schwartz said. “You could have said the same thing about the Redskins game. Why risk it? Why risk it? Every play is a risk. We’re going to try to do our very best to win the game.”

So what happened in the Washington game?

A QB sneak from a yard away is not nearly the risk of a rookie punter busting through the line on a sloppy wet day trying to gain five yards. There’s no comparison here.

A Lady In The Locker Room.

After days of incessantly dissecting and discussing the socially primitive culture of manliness that pervades NFL locker rooms, the Lions have the aid of a friendly female in theirs.

Lady Luck wears Honolulu Blue in 2013.

What was Bears’ coach Marc Trestman thinking by sending a hobbled and mostly immobile Jay Cutler back out for the second half?

He was probably thinking Cutler’s powerful arm strength would be enough to continue to effectively deliver passes to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

I agreed with that sentiment.

At 14-7 Lions, during the Bears second drive of the second half, had Jeffery caught a first down pass from Cutler for touchdown, the Bears approach to the game may have been different. It seemed that after that drive Cutler’s health and play deteriorated drive by drive.

Cutler was 4 of 13 for 19 yards after the drive with the Jeffery dropped TD ended in a field goal.

14-10 Lions.

If that’s a touchdown, perhaps Marc Trestman doesn’t feel so compelled to continue to use Cutler to chase the game. Instead, it’s a handshake, pat on the butt and backup Josh McCown, who’s had commendable games against Washington and Green Bay, comes in during the 6th inning to try and earn the win for Trestman, Cutler and the Bears.

It didn’t happen.

Oh yes, Lady Luck.

Two weeks after a Tyron Smith cost Dallas a win in Detroit, the Bears lost TWO touchdowns on the same fourth quarter possession. First, a hold by Matt Slauson on the smoothest run by Matt Forte all afternoon called back those six points. Three plays later, the Lions begin to see balance in the football universe when Jeffery (him again) can’t complete the process of the catch to make it a 17-14 Bears lead.

More luck?

On the ensuing drive, a Christian Joseph Fauria personal foul (do the Lions get called for any other fouls? Doesn’t seem like it) costs the Lions at least three points. The call on Fauria took the Lions from the from the red zone back to the Bears 32. Six points were a ways off now, and four plays later David Akers narrowly missed a 45 yard field goal.

An ineffective Cutler leads the Bears to a swift forty four second 3 and out.

Making amends for an unconscionable interception two drives early, a steady Stafford lofts a perfect score to Calvin. Up 20-13 now, the Lions SHOULD HAVE GONE FOR TWO.

Why?

If you convert, the game is essentially over, barring Lady Luck being a twisted double agent in the waning moments.

If you don’t convert, it’s still 20-13 and only Riverboat Ron scores the next TD and goes for two. Are you kidding?! If the Bears score next, they’re kicking the extra point and it goes to overtime. In other words, there’s NO REASONABLE WAY the Lions could have lost the game on the proceeding drive. Go for two, get it, go home 6-3.

Standard issue extra point is good. 21-13.

MORE Luck?!

Bears score. 21-19.

On the two point try, Willie Young ferociously, but haplessly, commits a personal foul (see above), and the Bears get another shot to tie the game.

Lady Luck whispers in the ear of Trestman, ‘Pssssst, Marc, Marshall + Jeffery have ravaged the Lions secondary for 16 catches, 253 yards and two scores (almost four counting Jeffery’s follies)…they’ll never suspect a run up the middle from a unit that averaged 1.9 yards a touch on 20 carries all afternoon. Do it Marc.

You know they spot the ball for two points conversions on the two, right? If someone had told Trestman they’d not gotten TWO yards a carry on the day, perhaps he’d have gone with the CORRECT call, and thrown it to one of his mammoth pass catchers.

Nope.

Forte goes 1.9 yards backwards and the Lions win.

Good fortune always finds its way to teams who deserve it. I think Lady Luck enlisting for the Lions is the prize for Jim Schwartz wrangling the really, really, boneheaded plays out of his team, and the continued maturity from the super rich franchise QB.

Lady Luck also broke Aaron Rodgers collarbone.

Where was she when Sam Martin botched a punt against Cincy, and couldn’t heal Reggie Bush’s legs in Arizona? She doesn’t work EVERY week.

Pittsburgh gave up 55 points to the Patriots last week, so they took out that embarassment on a returning rookie, EJ Manuel, this week in their victory. They’re still terrible.

A discriminating focus should have the Lions at 8-3 on Thanksgiving against the Packers. Without Rodgers, the Lions should then be 9-3(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

With @Phi, Balt, NYG, @Min to finish the Lions should be division winners for the first time since 1993 at 11-5, and ready to welcome Chicago, Green Bay or Carolina (long shots Phi or Dal) to Ford Field for their first home playoff game since 1993 when the Packers defeated the Lions in the Silverdome 28-24 in one of the league’s greatest games.

We’ll see if Lady Luck still peers over the shoulders of the 6-3 Lions, or whether Detroit will out-SOL themselves over the season’s final seven weeks.

THE TRADE THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN!

If I had to guess what percentage of Tigers fans wanted Prince Fielder’s days to be numbered in Detroit, I’d say 71.

We all reckoned from the day Fielder signed his Fielder-sized 9 year, $214 million dollar deal two Januarys ago in Detroit, that a day of immense buyer’s remorse would settle in. He didn’t play very good defense, and because of his body, his skills may erode sooner than typical Major League stars in what we thought was a post-PED era.

In the first year of the deal Fielder met my expectations. An OPS of .940, 30 home runs and 1 more walk than strikeouts. Compared to a typical Fielder year, 2013 was a dreary and forgettable one. His OPS was still acceptable at .819 but his OBP was his lowest since his first full year back in 2006. Fielder’s 75 walks were his fewest since that ’06 year, but more conspicuous to me was disparity between those walks and the 117 strikeouts. In ’11 and ’12 Fielder was +1 in BB/K. In ’10 Fielder led the NL with 114 BBs. The -40 difference is the biggest gap since 2008 when Fielder was a -50.

I’m willing to apply blame for Fielder’s porous year, not to the beginning of the inevitable skills decline, but to the troubles in his personal life. 

That career .916 OPS is certainly attainable once Fielder’s personal life is settled. In fact, I think it’s reasonable to expect that type of offensive production for AT LEAST the next two years, before he turns 31.

The giant insect in the ointment is Prince’s inability to produce where the Tigers hope to be every year; the postseason. We’ve gone over this before – and there’s no hold up on sample size – but Fielder’s played 39 postseason games, had 164 PAs, and has hit just .194 with a meager OPS of .620. That’s a quarter-season sized slump. Does Fielder lack whatever courses through the veins of David Ortiz’s DNA? Assuredely. But there’s no transfusion from player to player, Fielder just has to snap out of it one of these Octobers.

If you’re the Tigers, can you risk that your $24 million dollar a year player will eventually come around? I wouldn’t. It may be next to impossible, but I’d shop Fielder’s services. The Tigers can easily put any number of players at first base – Cabrera, Martinez, Castellanos. The position is an effortless fill.

The restless people that wanted Fielder dealt during his slow start in 2012 were complete fools. He adjusted to the league and produced. And you just don’t move deals of that size. Not after a few months. Not after a solitary year.

Fielder has 7 years and $168 million left on deal. First instinct says that moving those years and that money are unreasonable, impractical and most of all, impossible.

Not so.

It takes deep pockets and some inventiveness, but if the Dodgers – rich as they are – can assume over a quarter of a billion dollars in salary, then I’m open to an esoteric discussion on making Fielder an ex-Tiger.

The traits of a team that would receive Fielder look like this:

A. Need a first basemen

B. Deep, deep pockets.

The following would make for the perfect trade partner

C. American League, so he can DH.

D. Your lineup won’t get too lefty heavy.

E. Your looking for a star, or a draw.

F. You don’t plan on being October for a while. I say this somewhat jokingly.

As I’ve said more than a few times, aside from obviously not being in the AL, the Mets would appear to be the perfect trade partner for the Tigers.

Ike Davis hasn’t made it. They’re finally escaping their financial troubles. They need a player who can put butts in seats and can excite people so every now and then they can wrest attention away from the Yankees. They can also weather Fielder’s October struggles, because they need to concern themselves with April through September, before they have to watch him flail away in the postseason.

Texas, Seattle and San Francisco also make sense, to me at least.

After all this though, I want to propose THE TRADE THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN.

The Tigers need a left fielder, right? And if you follow me, you know I’m all about prepping this team to have someone to supplant Cabrera’s offensive genius in case the Tigers have no choice but to move on from him in two seasons.

This team got .206/.259/.370 production from its first basemen in ’13. This SI article previewing the NL Central hot stove will also mention that their prospect on the verge couldn’t even crack that hideous rotation last year.

Bleak would describe the Brewers’ situation at first base.

I’ll give you a minute.

 

 

Yep. I wanna send Fielder back to where he came from, and had so much success. Variable #1, I don’t know if he burned bridges leaving, though I doubt it.

‘But Eric, the Brewers couldn’t afford him to begin with, why would they reacquire him?’

Because, running the Tigers, I’m going to take an enormous financial burden off of their payroll.

Variable #2. I’m not certain how the fanbase feels about this guy. Do they welcome him back with forgiveness and open arms? Did he earn that? Or because he lied to Aaron Rodgers’ face, does Milwaukee want Ryan Braun on the first manned space flight to Neptune?

Prince Fielder for Ryan Braun ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a colossal risk for the Tigers. I’m like you in wondering if all Braun’s accolades were achieved via nefarious means. If his .938 career OPS tumbles a hundred and fifty points, you’re stuck with an 8 year bill at least $147 million dollars for a 30-something league average player.

But, hey the Tigers need a left fielder. And many of you, myself included, aren’t thrilled with Prince returning in 2014.

The risk might pay off.

It’s probably unrealistic to think Braun can be what he was off the PEDs, but what if he excels, even as just an .850 OPS player. With 20+ stolen base speed. On the open market, do you know how much that would cost? Probably much more than Braun’s $18 million AAV. 

I warned you. This was THE TRADE THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN. But it’s the Internet and if you’re a sports fan this was probably a better way to spend ten minutes than looking at porn.

2014 Tigers 1.0

In my first attempt at this, I went conservative and cost conscious. 

No blockbuster deals, just a necessary one. 

No jaw dropping signings, just freedom from financial opporession in the near future, while making another run. 

In future versions of these I’ll ship Fielder off, and maybe Scherzer too. 

(salary)

(salary increased as arb eligible)

(free agent signing)

C – Alex Avila ($4 million)

1B – Prince Fielder (23)

2B – Wilmer Flores

SS – Julio Iglesias (2)

3B – Miguel Cabrera (22)

RF – Torii Hunter (14)

CF – Austin Jackson (5)

LF – Nate McLouth (5 AAV 2 yr deal)

DH – Victor Martinez (12)

C – Bryan Holaday

LF/RF/3B/1B/DH – Nick Castellanos

UTL – Don Kelly (1.5)

INF – Hernan Perez

DH – Michael Young (5)

SP – Justin Verlander (20)

SP – Max Scherzer (16)

SP – Anibal Sanchez (15.8)

SP – Doug Fister (6)

SP – Drew Smyly (500k)

RP – Joaquin Benoit (7.5 AAV 2 yr deal w/option for 3rd)

RP – Scott Downs ( (4.5 AAV 2 yr deal)

RP – Bruce Rondon

RP – Al Alburquerque (1)

RP – Corey Knebel

RP – Jose Alvarez

My estimation is that this roster will cost in the mid 160s. 

Your first question is, ‘who the hell is Wilmer Flores?!’ He’s what I got the Tigers in return for Rick Porcello. Porcello was possibly looking at $6 to 7 million in another year of arbitration. Far too costly for a 5th starter, when Smyly is waiting, so it was time for him to go. Porcello heads to Flushing to pitch just an hour away from his hometown of Morristown, NJ.

Matt Harvey is out for 2014, Santana is not going back and there’s uncertainty with Mets rotation before they can fully rely on Zack Wheeler and their other top SP prospect, Noah Syndergaard. Porcello arrives to a friendly pitcher’s park, in a league with no DH, and can share that winning baseball teams DO indeed exist to the other young vets currently on the Mets staff, Dillon Gee and Jon Niese. 

Wilmer Flores is currently a top 5 prospect (though that’s not saying much) for the Mets. who doesn’t seem to have a role moving forward in New York. He’s not a good defensive player, but he can hit. Think of him as the new Jhonny Peralta, except he’s playing second. 

Nate McLouth isn’t a splashy addition, but he’s now signed for just 2 years at a reasonable price. A bit of a weakness against LHP, but against RHP, he’ll make for a fine leadoff hitter, who’ll take a walk a bit more willingly than Jackson, but won’t strike out nearly as much. He can run too; 30 SBs in 37 attempts. 

Castellanos plays in LF against LHPs, and so that he doesn’t get just 4 or 5 PAs a week, he’ll play a little bit everywhere else, much like Jurickson Profar did for the Rangers last year. He’s in Detroit to play, not sit. 

Michael Young gets another shot at a ring. He’s finished in the field, but if he’s accepts his role as ‘hitter’ off the bench, I like the addition a lot.

Hernan Perez is the newew and speedier Ramon Santiago.

Smyly finally hits the rotation, but when he’s skipped as the fifth starter because of off days, he’s back in his Fireman role. 

Why wouldn’t we bring back Benoit? As long as he can throw that changeup – not the one he threw to Ortiz – I’m as comfortable with him as the closer in ’14 (setup Rondon in ’15) as any free agent closer. I like the familiarity. He gets a $2.5 million dollar raise too. 

All I need to tell you about Scott Downs is that in over 1,000 PAs, LHBs have hit just .219 against him with an OPS of .605. Hello to your new LOOGY.

Though just drafted in June, Corey Knebel will be 22 in November. The Tigers need to find their Trevor Rosenthal/Carlos Martinez/etc…and Knebel may be it. as the closer in A-ball West Michigan this past summer, Knebel had 15 saves, 41 K’s in 31 IP and a WHIP of .77. In 6 AFL innings, Knebel’s K’d 7 and allowed 4 hits. Congrats Kid, you’ve earned a shot at a job in Lakeland. Throw hard. 

The Alvarez spot in the bullpen is fungible, though he’s there as your long man. 

This roster isn’t perfect, but I tried to approach this construction with cost consciousness in mind. With the slew of short deals, it’s not inconceivable to resign Scherzer at an affordable rate. Be wary though, to make that more likely, Fister is the next to get moved a year from now. 

Pros: No insane overpays in free agency, and a lot of money goes away within 2 years to hopefully bring in reinforcements to a blossoming Castellanos and an aged core of Verlander, Sanchez, and whoever else is still around.

Flores and Castellanos may not be speed demons, nor are they Olympians, but with youth comes improved athleticism.

McLouth will have my green light to go. 

Power arms in the pen with Al Al, Rondon and Knebel. 

No Coke. No Dirks. 

Jackson can bat 6th against RHPs. Perhaps, even against LHPs, if and it’s a HUGE IF, Castellanos some how manages to be patient beyond his years at the plate. I just need the Tigers leadoff man to be on base, for the thunder behind him. 

Cons: Light pen, which can be massaged throughout the year.

Flores might be a disaster defensively. 

Benoit and Downs’ age is a little worrisome. 

No one ever called Al Al consistent. 

Knebel and Rondon have to contribute. 

Michael Young could be totally finished and waived before the All Star Game. 

What I *AM* Learning 3 Games In (Pistons).

As opposed to Thursday’s What I *THINK* we learned after one Pistons game.

– Those potential spacing issues that evvvvvvvvveryone was concerned about with a front court  jammed with a 6’9″ guy at SF and essentially two seven footers have not been so apparent.

That’s good and bad.

There’s no lane clogging going on because Josh Smith has been all too happy to float out by the 3 point line. That’s good (when they go in) and awfully bad (when they usually don’t). Smith is firing up over 7 three points attempts per game, and shooting just 27% on those shots. It is what it’s going to be, because that’s his career 3 point average. He’s never shot more than 2.6 per game in a season, so it’s coming down from over 7, but it needs to be down, way down, and soon.

On the good side, when Smith has gotten near the lane he’s be a deft passer, usually to Drummond or Monroe who quietly roamed the baseline and into layup position as defenders converged on Smith’s approach to the lane.

– Monroe and Smith have had 28(!) turnovers in 3 games. Unacceptable. Lemme throw Drummond in, and your front court has you at 10 lost possessions per game. The NBA average last was about 14 a game. After the Friday night game in Memphis I longed for the return of Brandon Jennings. He was back for 31 minutes last night. Jennings, never to be confused with Tony Parker or Chris Paul, can at least be a stable offensive engineer when he’s on the court. As opposed to everyone but Drummond attempting to initiate the offense. It was a careless wreck. Through 3 games, only Boston turns it over more than the Pistons’ 20 per game.

– It’s super early, and it doesn’t take much to derail a season – especially with potentially volatile guys like Smith and Jennings – but the Pistons fought IN Memphis on Friday night like I hadn’t seen in a long time. Previous Pistons teams could’ve easily packed it in at different points at the Grizzlies home opener. But for 48 minutes, the Pistons were equal to a top Western Conference team from last year.

– Jennings return last night came at the expense of minutes for KCP. He didn’t play a second. 8 to 10 of the 44 that Bynum and Stuckey played against the Celtics have to go KCP’s way. Especially since he hasn’t embarassed himself too badly in his first two official professional games. Everyone is aware of the Gores playoff edict, but I don’t think it’s impossible to achieve THAT and get the rookie minutes.

– With the Pistons on the verge of blowing another double digit lead, this time late, and losing to the lowly Celtics, I hoped to see Billups out to settle things. Even if it was just for a possession. I know he’s a defensive liability, but isn’t he there to be a coach and calming influence on the court?

– I’m cool with the MOTOR CITY on the Pistons Sunday home jerseys, but the dark blue is pointless.

Bargains For The Bullpen, Please.

Hmmmmmm.

The headline references bringing in an experienced closer, but Dave Dombrowski’s words don’t use the dreaded E word, which has me a little more hopeful for PROJECT BULLPEN: REBUILD.

From Chris Iott at MLive.com

“We’re going to have a closer,” Dombrowski said. “We’re going to pursue somebody to pitch the back end of the bullpen. Joaquin is in that group, but there are a lot of closers out there. That’s the one area where there are a lot of guys. That is one area I think we need to address with him or someone else and then we’ll look at the rest of our club.”

The names mentioned as potential Tigers are all ones we’re familiar with; Balfour, Nathan, Rodney, Wilson and resigning Benoit. 

Each of those will likely cost at least $8 million dollars for 2014. And it’s unlikely any of them will accept a 1 year deal at that price. Over the last decade, only the greatest closer in history has been more reliable and dominant than Nathan. Based on talent and potential to do the job, I rank them like this.

1. Nathan

2. Benoit.

3. Balfour

4. Wilson

5. Rodney

But contracts – money AND years – disrupts the simply clarity of who’s the best. 

I understand that the Tigers and their fans feel like they need a veritable, proven closer because of the shaky state of the entire bullpen during these postseason runs, but I’d like to assure you it’s not necessary.

Please name the closers of the LCS participants.

Uehara, Benoit, Rosenthal and Jansen.

NONE were closers to start the year. 

I think they may wind up paying a closer $10 million for 2014, but let’s say it’s 8 instead.

If the proper vetting and diligence are accomplished, mixed with a touch of good fortune, it’s very possible for the Tigers to have an entirely rebuilt bullpen in the 8 to 10 million dollar range. 

Remember, the headline said the E word, but Dombrowski did not. Though I AM skeptical that they’ll follow my inexpensive blueprint for bullpen success. 

As I wrote Friday, the Tigers, in my opinion, have NO bullpen right now. My suggestion is to find the bullpen bargain aisle and start picking through it. Or, with Ausmus coming from San Diego, maybe it’s FINALLY time the Tigers acquire one of their relievers, I’m sure Porcello would do quite fine in the vastness of Petco Park. 

Mark Melancon was on his 4th team in 5 years and coming off an ERA in Boston of over 6. He became an All Star for the Pirates at $520,000 dollars. 

Other names that were among the MLB leaders in holds.

Joel Peralta, David Robertson, Tyler Clippard, Rosenthal, Jake McGee, Brandon Kintzler, Tanner Schneppers, Luis Avila, Jared Burton…and, no need to continue on. 

Many of those guys were arms that moved through their parent organizations and are closers-in-waiting, some, even starters-to-be. Drew Smyly is that now for the Tigers. 

How about a LOOGY or two. They’re usually greying, and cheap too. 

There’s no need to remind me that Mr. Ilitch is will go on a financial rampage to win a World Series. I know MLB teams are enriched by TV millions, but still…

Two things to petrify you.

The Angels. They’re a terrifying harbinger. 

The Dodgers spent like crazy too, but they had already internal talent, Hanley Ramirez got healthy and rediscovered his greatness and then the whole Puig phenomenon. 

The other warning is that while Ilitch just may empower Dombrowski to buy all the right pieces to buy a title – I wouldn’t rule out Cano-as-a-Tiger – but what happens after he passes? 

The next owner may not want a payroll with a sizeable luxury tax. There’s also little hopeful talent in the Tigers farm system at this point. 

The Angels are one painful lesson, but where the Phillies and Yankees are now another. An exorbitant payroll with players quickly descending from their prime years is a giant iceberg no team wants to flirt with, and the Tigers could make moves this year that bring Detroit a World Series, but the price they pay may wind up being a historic sunken ship. 

The Tigers New Manager.

Brad Ausmus is the new Tigers manager.

I’m surprised. 

Not surprised by the selection of Ausmus – who had an NFL scouting combine- like rise to the top of MLB managerial candidates – I was in mild disbelief that Ausmus didn’t have more panache in his introductory press conference.

I expected a refined orator, who was prepared with intelligent, rapid fire answers that commanded the attention of the room.  

The new skipper’s body language resembled that of someone who’s uncomfortable stuck in the middle seat of a plane, between the self serving, bombast and 300lb guy that won’t stop falling asleep on your shoulder. 

How is THIS guy going to lead a locker room of 5, 10, and 20 millionaires, who’ve won three straight American League Central titles, and been just 10 wins from back to back World Series titles?

Deep breaths.

Relax. 

Ausmus clearly impressed Dave Dombrowski, his staff and Mr. Illitch. If he’d been timid during that process, as I believe he was yesterday, then there’s little chance Ausmus would have received the offer from Dombrowski. Over this President and GM’s reign, the Tigers are much more successful organization than San Diego, where Ausmus came from. If he was able to captivate Detroit’s senior executives, then they have confidence he’ll be able to corral the twenty man makeup of the Tigers. 

Yesterday we may have seen the weakest tool in Ausmus’ skill set – public speaking and interacting with the media. 

That’s something he’s never had to do before in such the vice of an environment, which included a Sunday afternoon with no Lions football, meaning all eyes, ears and hopes of Motor City sports fans were centered directly at the newly annointed. first time manager. 

Other notes…

– I think Ausmus only mentioned two players by name: Verlander and Fielder. When he was asked about the Tigers needing to hold runners better – and they do – I was surprised he kept saying ‘catcher’ and not Avila. I’m probably reading too much into that, but it stood out to me. 

– If there was a time he did get prickly, I sensed it when he referenced the bullpen, and how he believed it needs to be managed properly. The Tigers may not have the obvious talent there, but it may be Ausmus’ pet project. 

– I hope he seeks input from his veteran starting pitchers on whether Jeff Jones is to return or not. I’m all for having one’s own comfortable circle of trust, but one of the reasons there was fear towards bringing in an ‘outsider’ was the possible alienation of the steady veterans. 

– Ausmus is a risk. But so too would have been McClendon, Rick Renteria, Lamont, Barry Larkin(???), and Tim Wallach. There’s risk with everything. This is now onDombrowski to fbuild a less worrisome bullpen, get a genuine leadoff hitter and decide on second base. All while maintaining a core to play under Ausmus for many years. There sits my biggest worry.