Thursday, July 13, 2017

How the Quintana trade affects Tigers

By Blake Froling

The Chicago Cubs made the first splash of the MLB trade season, nabbing pitcher Jose Quintana from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for OF Eloy Jiménez, RHP Dylan Cease, 1B Matt Rose and INF Bryant Flete. This trade has ramifications for the Detroit Tigers as well, both positive and negative.

The negative of this trade is that the Tigers lose out on a possible trade partner. The Cubs had been reportedly interested in the likes of Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris, but talks never got too serious. Now Chicago filled its pitching need. The Cubs were seen as a potentially perfect trade partner for the Tigers to dump Verlander because they aren't afraid to spend big money and they have a deep farm system. Now that Chicago is off the table, the likelihood that Verlander gets dealt just plummeted.

In the case of Fulmer, the Cubs had plenty of top prospects to give up in order to land him, as seen with the Quintana trade. This might seem like a blow to the Tigers, but there is a positive way to look at this. Fulmer is younger, cheaper and having a better season than Quintana, which means his trade value should be higher. If the White Sox were able to get this impressive of a haul for Quintana, the return for Fulmer should be even greater, if the Tigers decide to deal him.

I was against the idea of trading Fulmer initially, but seeing the Quintana deal might change my mind. Jiménez is the No. 5 prospect in the MLB, according to Baseball America, and Cease is No. 83. The White Sox are writing the book on how to do a quick and effective rebuild, and the Tigers should be taking notes. The Sox now have seven of the top 100 prospects, according to Baseball America, and only one of them was originally signed by the organization. The rest were acquired via trades like this one and the Chris Sale deal with the Boston Red Sox.

The argument against trading Fulmer, which I used, was that it would be trading the future for an uncertain future. But if the haul included at least two top 100 prospects plus maybe a major leaguer and another lower-tier prospect, that would be a huge boost for Detroit. It would replenish their farm system and signal that the Tigers are finally committed to an actual rebuild.

Other names that could be thrown into trade conversations would be closer Justin Wilson, outfielders JD Martinez and Justin Upton, and catcher Alex Avila. But by far the most valuable commodity in Detroit's organization is Michael Fulmer, and the Tigers absolutely have to listen to any and all offers for the young ace.

The only caveat is that general manager Al Avila must make sure he doesn't take a lesser deal for Fulmer just for the sake of making a deal. After striking out last offseason, he might be more desperate to pull the trigger. If he doesn't get the same or better return for Fulmer as the Sox got for Quintana, it would be a complete failure and could set the rebuild back drastically. What Avila does in the coming weeks could determine his future and the future of the organization.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Keeping tabs on Tigers prospects

By Blake Froling

The Detroit Tigers' season is effectively over.

They have no hope of making the playoffs and a rebuild is looming. Things may look depressing in the present, so let's take a look at the future. Most Tigers fans in the past never cared who was in the Tigers' farm system because they were rarely needed. Why develop the next Miguel Cabrera when you can just trade for him?

Those days are over, and the homegrown talent will shape the future of the organization, for better or worse. Let's take a look at some of Detroit's top prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.

No. 1: Matt Manning, RHP, Connecticut Tigers, single-A short season)

Manning was the Tigers’ 9th overall pick in the first round of the 2016 draft. He’s thrown just 10.1 innings so far, giving up seven hits and two earned runs with 15 strikeouts. He’s projected to make the MLB in 2020, so there's really not much to report yet.

No. 2: Christin Stewart, LF, double-A Erie SeaWolves
Stewart has been flexing his muscles big time. He’s hitting .282 with a team-leading 19 home runs and 60 RBIs. Those gaudy stats earned him a spot in the Eastern League All-Star game, along with OF Mike Gerber (No. 7 prospect), 3B Gabriel Quintana and LHP Jario Labourt (No. 19 prospect), who is also playing in the futures game. Stewart was the 34th pick of the 2015 draft and is projected to make the big leagues sometime next season. Look for him to possibly move to triple-A late in the season and get a shot at making the big league roster next spring training, especially if the Tigers trade JD Martinez or Justin Upton.
No. 3: Beau Burrows, RHP, single-A Lakeland Flying Tigers

Burrows has a dazzling 1.23 ERA in 11 starts. The 20-year-old was Detroit’s first-round pick in 2015 and hasn’t disappointed since. He’s also struck out 62 batters in 58.2 innings of work. MLB Pipeline projects him to make it to the big leagues by 2019 and he'll be representing the Tigers in the MLB Futures Game during All-Star Weekend in Miami.

No. 4: Tyler Alexander, LHP, double-A Erie SeaWolves

Alexander was drafted out of TCU in the second round of the 2015 draft and has ascended the Tigers' organization very quickly. He seems to have hit a bit of a rough patch this season though. Alexander is 4-6, with a 4.85 ERA in 15 starts. Opponents are hitting .311 against the southpaw through 72.1 innings. But at age 22, bumps in the road are expected. MLB Pipeline projects him to reach the majors sometime this season, though that seems way too optimistic at this point.

No. 5: Joe Jimenez, RHP, triple-A Toledo Mud Hens
Jimenez, thought to be the heir to the closer role in Detroit sometime in the future, dealt with some nagging injuries early in the season. Since returning to Toledo on June 18, the 22-year-old has made 10 appearances, throwing 7.2 innings and giving up 8 hits and 4 earned runs. That’s not too encouraging, but Jimenez hasn't given up a run in his last six appearances, so things could be turning around for one of Detroit’s brightest prospects.

Other notables in the minors
Outfielder Jim Adduci was activated from the disabled list and sent to Triple-A Toledo after recovering from an oblique strain. Since returning to the Mud Hens’ lineup on June 26, Adduci is hitting .171 with 4 RBI and 9 strikeouts. Depending on what the Tigers do at the trade deadline with JD Martinez and Upton, we could see Adduci back with the big league club soon. But before that happens, his bat needs to wake up.

LHP Matt Boyd was optioned to Toledo after struggling in the first couple months of the season for the big league club, and he seems to have regained his confidence in the minors. In six starts with the Mud Hens, Boyd is 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 36.1 innings of work. Fellow southpaw Daniel Norris has been battered lately and could be demoted to the minors after the All-Star break. If that happens, look for Boyd to take his spot.

Center fielder JaCoby Jones had a cup of coffee in the MLB this season, but a shot to the head knocked him out of the lineup and back to Toledo. His abysmal hitting kept him there. Since then, Jones' bat has been a bit better. He's hitting .250 with 6 homers and 23 RBI, much better than his .137 average in 51 major league at-bats. Jones' outstanding fielding will keep him in the mix if an injury occurs to a Tigers outfielder, but his bat needs to be more consistent before he gets called up full-time.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Pistons, Red Wings prepare for very different drafts

By Blake Froling

Detroit sports fans have two drafts to pay attention to this week: the NBA Draft on Thursday and the NHL's Expansion Draft, with picks being revealed on Wednesday night. One team has the opportunity to add to its core, while the other will be losing a piece from theirs. There are opportunities for both teams in each draft.

Losing a player sounds bad on the surface, but it could turn into a positive for the Red Wings, depending on who is taken. They decided not to protect goalie Petr Mrazek, a move that surprised most experts. Mrazek is only 25, eight years younger than Jimmy Howard, and makes less money than his elder. But the Red Wings might actually be hoping Vegas takes Mrazek.

He struggled to find consistency in net last year with a mediocre 3.04 goals against average and .901 save percentage, both of which ranked 42nd among 44 qualified goalies. When Howard went down with a knee injury early in the season, he was playing some of the best hockey of his career. When he came back months later, he continued that trend. The Wings are hoping that version of Howard will return this season, and that the injury was just a fluke.

If Vegas doesn't pick Mrazek, Detroit will be in a tough situation. They'll have two spots available for three goalies and nearly $10 million tied up to one position group. Detroit would likely be forced to place either Mrazek or Jared Coreau, who made 14 appearances for the team last year, on waivers. If Vegas selects Mrazek, his $4 million cap hit is wiped from the books and Detroit can use it to try to bolster their blue line. The only problem is that there are better goalies on other teams that were exposed to the draft, so Mrazek will likely stay in Detroit.

The Red Wings are hoping for addition by subtraction. The Pistons might be doing the same.

The Pistons might look to trade the No. 12 pick in Thursday's draft, and maybe a player such as Andre Drummond or Reggie Jackson, for a veteran that can help them in the short term. With a ballooning payroll that's only going to get gaudier when the team re-signs shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (yes, I guarantee they will sign him), the Pistons are almost forced to be in win-now mode. Having a top ten payroll and a lower tier team usually isn't good for job security.

Rod Beard of the Detroit News said on the SportsPen that the "win-now veteran" could be someone like a Dwayne Wade. Not necessarily Wade himself, but an older player with playoff experience that can possibly get the young Pistons over the hump and past the first round of the playoffs. Detroit is hoping a deal like this will materialize before the draft, but just like the Red Wings, I don't think the Pistons will get their wish.

The Pistons, for better or worse, will be stuck with the 12th pick. I don't think that's a bad thing at all; I'm still not sold on this "win-now veteran" idea. That didn't work so well with Josh Smith or Ben Gordon or Charlie Villanueva or Allen Iverson or Tracy McGrady or Chauncey Billups the second time (I could go on and on).They'll end up drafting some teenager who will help them in three years or so but provide limited impact in the short term. The Pistons will be better than last season (I guaranSheed it) but not much better. They're doomed to NBA purgatory unless they blow it up or they strike gold with their recent picks. Sounds a lot like the Red Wings right now...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tigers might be selling, but who's buying?

By Blake Froling

After an up-and-down start to the 2017 campaign, the Detroit Tigers might finally be breaking up the band.

Fox's Jon Morosi reported that if the Tigers are below .500 by the end of June, the front office would go into full sell mode. Basically, do what they tried (and failed) to do last offseason. So if the Tigers really are selling, who's buying?

I can't imagine general managers lighting up Al Avila's phone with offers for Justin Verlander. The 34-year old is owed $28 million per year through the 2019 season with a $22 million option in 2020. That's a hefty price to pay for an aging ace with a 4.87 ERA this season who can't keep the ball in the park on the road.

Teams won't be knocking down Avila's door to trade for designated hitter and noted bunt specialist Victor Martinez. He's 38 and is owed $18 million next season.Yes, he's a year removed from hitting 27 home runs and three years from his best statistical season of his career. But at his age, the decline comes fast. This season, he's going nearly twice as many at bats per home run than a year ago,. which means his power is all but gone. No power and no speed is not a great combination for a designated hitter.

What about Miguel Cabrera? Surely someone will want one of the best right-handed hitters of all-time, right? Detroit certainly won't give away the face of their franchise for pennies on the dollar. He has six years and $184 million left on his mammoth contract, with two options after that. He's also 34 and is going through a slow start this season, hitting just .266 with five home runs in 38 games.

For the Tigers to make a deal happen, they'd likely have to pay a chunk of his contract, similar to the Prince Fielder trade (they're still on the hook for $6 million per year until 2020 for that one). With the MLB gravitating towards younger, faster teams, power hitters like Cabrera might get left behind. Now, I'm not saying his career is over by any means. But in terms of his trade value, what the Tigers would want for him and what teams would give for him are likely two very different things.

Nicholas Castellanos is tanking his trade value so far. Before the season, his value was one of the highest on the team. He was destined to make an all-star team and emerge as one of the premiere young third basemen in the MLB. Since then, he's been hitting .212 with four home runs and 58 strikeouts, second on the team.

Who's first in strikeouts, you ask? That would be $132 million dollar man Justin Upton. If it weren't for an incredible September last season in which he clubbed 12 home runs and batted .307, he'd be known as one of the worst free agent signings in recent memory. He has four years and over $88 million left on his contract after this season, and last time I checked, no one wants to pay that kind of money for a player to lead your team in strikeouts.

It's not all doom and gloom for Avila. He does have an upper-tier left-handed reliever in Justin Wilson who still has another year of arbitration before hitting free agency. Right fielder JD Martinez has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball since his return from the disabled list and he's a free agent after this year. Some teams might be interested in the leather-flashing shortstop Jose Iglesias, but his .226 batting average will certainly hurt his value.

Is a rebuild a good idea for the Tigers? Absolutely. I think it should have happened this offseason. But Avila realized the market doesn't value expensive, aging stars like it used to. If the sell-off does happen, don't expect him to be able to pull any Dombrowski-esque highway robbery. The Tigers will likely get mid-level prospects and return to their pre-2006 losing ways. That's the price you pay for years of going all-in for a World Series and failing.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Ailing Tigers can't catch a break

By Blake Froling

Detroit second baseman Ian Kinsler finally returned to the lineup after a nagging hamstring injury kept him out for five games. Right fielder JD Martinez is expected to make his season debut Friday after he suffered a  Lisfranc sprain in his right foot during spring training. Brad Ausmus was supposed to have his first fully healthy lineup of the season, something he almost never had last year. Then one swing ruined it.

Right fielder Jim Adduci hurt his oblique during batting practice before Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Angels. He's now on the disabled list. With Martinez returning to the lineup, Adduci was expected to move to center field, where he played for two years in the Korean League. Tigers fans were supposed to finally get a glimpse at what this team's potential could be in perhaps the last season before a rebuild. That glimpse will have to wait now.

Coming into Friday's game with the Angels, Detroit is 17-16. Nicholas Castellanos is the only player to appear in every game so far, and we're not even halfway through May. This year was supposed to be different. The Tigers would be finally healthy and show their true potential, give it one last run at a World Series before general manager Al Avila breaks up the band. But they're having the exact same issues as last season, so why should we expect a different result?

On the surface, losing a right fielder who's a career minor leaguer shouldn't be a big blow to the Tigers. But Adduci has been a revelation for the team, posting an impressive .318/.338/.500 line in 13 games since being called up from triple-A Toledo. The combination of Tyler Collins, Mikie Mahtook and JaCoby Jones, three guys who were supposed to lock down center and right field for the time being, have hit a paltry .202. Jones was so bad at the plate that the Tigers decided to keep him in Toledo after he came off the disabled list.

In all, five starters have hit the disabled list at some point this season, make it six now with Adduci. It's actually a miracle that Detroit is above .500 at this point with all these injuries and weird lineups Ausmus has had to use, and that should give Tigers fans hope. If they can hang around while they deal with these injuries, they could pounce when (if) they get healthy. 

Knock on wood, the pitching staff has been largely unscathed by the injury bug so far. If the starting rotation starts to get banged up, Detroit doesn't have much of a backup plan. We could be faced with a situation where *gasp* Anibal Sanchez  has to make a spot start, and you can just chalk that up for a loss right now. Things may seem depressing now, but always remember, it could be worse. Anibal Sanchez could be your starting pitcher.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Lions will pay Stafford. Get over it

By Blake Froling

Matthew Stafford might be the most polarizing athlete in Detroit sports. Many people love the gunslinger, many say he can't win big games and want him gone. But one thing is clear: he will become an even richer man sometime soon, thanks to the Lions.

Stafford is entering the final season of his contract and is looking for an extension, which is currently in the preliminary stages of negotiation. The thought is that Stafford wants to become the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL at about $25 million per year. If the Lions are smart, and I think they're getting smarter, they'll give it to him.

Carlos Monarrez, who covers the Lions for the Detroit Free Press, recently wrote that signing Stafford to a big contract would cripple the team. I think just the opposite, that not re-signing Stafford would cripple the Lions.

Yes, $25 million is a ton of money. Is Stafford the best quarterback in the NFL? No. Maybe not even top-five in some people's minds. But because of how the market works, he can demand to be paid the highest salary in the league. Stafford has given the Lions unprecedented stability at the quarterback position, something they haven't really had since the days of Bobby Layne. Why would you want to throw that away over a few million dollars?

Should the Lions try to get him to sign for less? Of course, that's all part of the negotiating, and the best-case scenario would be if he took less than $25 million. But don't expect Stafford to take a hometown discount. He shouldn't have to, and it's not selfish of him. It's business. Deal with it.

Do you remember the last Lions quarterback to start three playoff games like Stafford has? Erik Kramer in the early 90's. How many quarterbacks have started for the Lions since? 17. Do you really want to go back to that? I didn't think so.

Look at all the bad teams in the league and they all have one thing in common: poor quarterback play. Look at the disaster that is the Cleveland Browns, and you'll be counting your lucky stars that you have Stafford as your quarterback. 

The Houston Texans were so desperate to find a quarterback that they grossly overpaid an unproven Brock Osweiler, only to beg the Browns to take him away a year later.

The Chicago Bears gave Mike Glennon, who had attempted 11 passes in the last two seasons, a three-year, $45 million contract because they were so desperate to get rid of Jay Cutler. 

In his article, Monarrez said "as the winning quarterbacks of four of the past five Super Bowls have proved, teams can be successful with the 18th overall pick, a third-rounder and even a sixth-rounder playing quarterback." 

Do you trust the Lions to find a diamond in the rough at quarterback? That worked really well with Jon Kitna, Jeff Garcia, Shaun Hill, Dan Orlovsky and Daunte Culpepper, didn't it? The Lions were literally the worst team in NFL history with three of those guys under center. Do you really want to go back to that just because Stafford can't beat Green Bay, or hasn't won a playoff game yet? I don't. 

Stafford isn't perfect. His decision-making can be questionable at times. Injuries were a concern at the beginning of his career. But he is still the best quarterback in franchise history, which doesn't say much.

Don't overthink this. Just re-sign Stafford and move on. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pistons, Palace disrespected on national television

Yersterday's NBA matchup between the Detroit Pistons and the Washington Wizards was meaningless for most of the country. The Pistons are out of playoff contention and have been unloading their bench in recent games. The Wizards already locked up their playoff spot and their best player, John Wall, didn't even dress for the contest. Yet the game was still on TNT, and was treated like any other regular season game.

But it wasn't any other regular season game for Pistons fans. Last night was the last game at The Palace of Auburn Hills, as the team will be moving downtown to Little Caesars Arena next season. The night was filled with memories, reunions and tributes, former fan favorites returning to the stadium they used to call home, but you wouldn't know it by watching on tv.

TNT did a horrible job of showing these ceremonies or even discussing the building much at all. It's a travesty that this was a national game, and the local fans got ripped off. Kevin Harlan is one of my favorite basketball broadcasters, but he could only do so much. At one point, he mentioned how the city of Detroit was on the banks of Lake Michigan.

Huh?

Chris Webber, a Detroit native, was even more disappointing. If anyone on the broadcast could have told stories about the team or the building on its last night, it should have been Webber. But he stumbled along the broadcast with Harlan. It was awkward, disappointing and frustrating all at the same time.

I get it, most of the national audience doesn't really care about the Palace, so focusing heavily on it would have probably alienated many of the viewers. That's why Fox Sports Detroit, and more specifically legendary Pistons broadcaster George Blaha, should have been on the call.

Blaha and FSD have done a tremendous job covering the "Best of Seven" series that the Pistons have been running this season, with halftime ceremonies during games against teams that have a historical connection to the Pistons. Blaha has been the host of all these ceremonies and made them a treat to watch for Pistons fans at home. Not to mention his knowledge of the history of the organization and his passion for the team is second to none. He and Greg Kelser would have made the game so much more fun and so much more meaningful to Pistons fans.

What were fans treated to last night? A 20-second montage of former players walking onto the court and bland interviews of Isiah Thomas and Chauncey Billups. TNT mailed it in and disrespected the Palace, the Pistons and their fans. Just look at the tremendous job FSD did for Joe Louis Arena's last game. Extensive pregame coverage, interviews with former players and that incredible postgame ceremony that fans could watch in its entirety, not a 20-second montage.

Did the studio crew of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaq (who might remember a certain five-game sweep) trade stories of their trips to the Palace, or memorable games they had against the Pistons? Nope. They instead focused on this:

As a Pistons fan, this was supposed to be one of the most meaningful games of the season, regardless of the win-loss record of the team. I had been looking forward to watching this game ever since the Pistons announced they were headed to Detroit. But TNT took it away, trampled all over it and left Barkley to laugh at us.

Thanks a lot, TNT.