Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tigers gamble on Justin Upton reversing their decline

Justin Upton
Both Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton are better players than Chris Davis. So, after Davis got paid by the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, you just had a feeling that Cespedes and Upton would soon get their big paydays, as well.

Cespedes still is on the board as of Tuesday afternoon, but Upton agreed on a six-year, $132.75 million contract with the Detroit Tigers on Monday.

Upton hit .251 with 26 home runs and 81 RBIs for the San Diego Padres last season, and he fills the hole the Tigers had in left field.

But does he make Detroit a legitimate contender? I knew the Tigers would make big splashes this offseason. They are coming off a last-place finish in the AL Central, and their owner, 86-year-old Mike Ilitch, has shown that he's willing to spend his millions on trying to build a winner sometime before he dies.

Here's one problem for the Tigers: Several members of their core (Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez) are aging and coming off years where they've spent time on the disabled list, or played through injury issues.

Here's another problem for the Tigers: Despite an active offseason, they won't be entering 2016 with a better roster than the one they had 12 months ago.

Think about it: They have Jordan Zimmermann instead of David Price. They have Upton instead of Cespedes. They have Cameron Maybin instead of Rajai Davis. They have Francisco Rodriguez instead of Joakim Soria. The rest of their core is the same.

Which of these four would you rather have: Price, Cespedes, Davis and Soria? Or Zimmermann, Upton, Maybin and Rodriguez?

It's close, but I think I would take the group with Price and Cespedes. The Tigers had those guys last year, along with Cabrera, Martinez, Verlander, et al., but after an 11-2 start, they slumped badly. They were back to .500 by the first week of June and never got it going again. They struggled so much, in fact, that former GM Dave Dombrowski broke up the band, dealing Price, Cespedes and Soria to contending teams at the July trading deadline.

Dombrowski was ultimately fired for abandoning the win-now mentality that has existed for years under Ilitch. Normally, I'm a proponent of the win-now philosophy, but there's something to be said for a front office that realizes its window has closed. Dombrowski knew that last year, and he changed gears. Just because ownership dismissed him for that decision does not mean he was wrong.

Even with the addition of Upton, I'm looking at a Detroit roster that has significant question marks, and costs roughly $200 million. For that kind of money, a team should probably be a favorite to win its division. But to me, the Tigers (and everyone else in the AL Central) are still looking up at the Kansas City Royals, and frankly, they aren't as close to the top as they believe they are.


  1. Not exactly. Verlander didn't get fully healthy until the end of July when Price was traded so Price is replaced by JV Based on JV's performance in Aug & Sep, that is a wash. Zimmerman "replaces" Sanchez as the #2, Sanchez moves down to #3. Pelfrey and presumably Norris replace the Simon/Greene/Lobstein/Wolf car wreck which will be a significant improvement. Mark Lowe & Justin Wilson were added to the bullpen that consisted of Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy, and a gas can. For the position players, you are correct that Maybin/Gose replaces Gose/Davis which is a positive. Upton replaces Cespedes which should be a wash. Lastly, VMart should be able to put pressure on his right knee again so is unlikely to hit .219/.276/.339/.616 vs RHP. If healthy, and that is the major risk, the Tigers should have a solid bullpen to go with a strong rotation and killer lineup. A major improvement over last year.

  2. Honestly, I think the Tigers are going 84-78. I still think they are a good 10 games behind the Royals. I often say once a player starts getting hurt, he tends to keep getting hurt. I don't expect a big rebound for Martinez in his age 37 season. The next time Sanchez throws 200 innings in a season it will be a first. And I don't think Verlander will ever get back to the level he was at in 2011-12. If healthy, he'll still be solid, but as a White Sox fan, I no longer fear my team facing him the way I used to. And who knows how Zimmermann adjusts to the AL? Cabrera is still a great hitter, but he's coming off an injury-plagued year too. The Tigers are not and should not be the favorites in the division, IMO.