Kurt Mensching of Bless You Boys exchanged emails this week, getting ready for Opening Day. You can read what I had to say over there, here. Here's his take on my brilliant questions.
There seems to be some debate as to whether the Tigers have been, or were, trying to cut salary this off-season. What do you make of what transpired?
I think it's a combination of two things. How much of each is hard to say.
The first is that maybe the Tigers were indeed trying to cut payroll in 2010. From all appearances, they appeared to be a season away from creating GM Dave Dombrowski's dream -- at least as close as the available free agents allowed for it.
So bringing in some young players with a nice upside, both through the trade and through opening opportunities at the major league level for players already in the organization, made sense.
Them, either Tigers underestimated what that would do to attendance (for a club that would still be paying out about $115 million at the major league level) or owner Mike Ilitch didn't feel like wasting a year. Either way, the decision was made to invest a bit more in the product and make a run at the division, thus boosting sales and enjoyment. I think that's valid. You're already spending $115m to lose, why not add $15m to try to win?
The second theory -- one I subscribe closer to -- is the Tigers just felt like they got as much mileage as they could get out of the roster they've been putting on the field the past few years and wanted to make some wholesale changes. I think almost half the active roster is going to be new this season. The entire offseason, Dombrowski denied every rumor the Tigers were trying to payroll costs and said they were just making adjustments at the major and minor league levels.
Sure, the adjustments cost less. But they also exchanged an aging second baseman whose defensive skills were declining for a younger, better hitter: A centefielder whose power numbers may have peaked who was having trouble getting on base for a young, athletic player at the same position the scouts love. A starting pitcher who had about three good months and two bad months for a kid who strikes out a batter per inning and whose sabermetric stats suggest he's nearly No. 1 pitcher quality -- a solid No. 2. The organization is better in the long term without losing much in the short term. Plus they stashed a possible future closer in Triple-A to continue developing.
In any case, I think the Tigers had a decent offseason.
In retrospect, how do you feel about the collapse at the end of the season?
I'm obviously quite disappointed they didn't win one more game at the end -- or in the first five months for that matter.
Yes, Detroit gave it away. You can't deny they had three opportunities to put the division title on the shelf and move on. But I still feel like the Twins earned it by playing superhuman. What was their winning percentage the final month of the season? .800? If they only played an amazing .750, no one would even be talking about this right now. Detroit basically played at the same level it did for the entire season -- just above .500 -- and got caught from behind.
Is there any one play or game (other than the playoff) that stands out?
Not really. In the playoff game, I still can't believe Placido Polanco couldn't get to what appeared to be the game-ending double play ball. Of course he was playing the final month of the season with a hurt back and that probably slowed him down. But he'd just made the play so many times before it was amazing to see him fail to do it.
What do you expect from Austin Jackson in 2010?
It's really hard to say. He's such a talented player and has so many people excited, but his minor league numbers appear to be a bit of a mirage. One tremendous year surrounded by a lot of peripherals that don't predict anything of great interest. Which would be fine except he's leading off and strikes out as much as Curtis Granderson but with none of the power.
But in spring training, he's appeared to be a different player. He's put a lot of work in. He's still just 23 years old, so you should expect him to continue to improve. He changed his batting mechanics back to what they were earlier in his professional career. Knowing his job is to lead off, he's also said to have changed his approach a bit. He appears to be making better contact and seeing the ball better.
I think he'll be better than sabermetric stats predict. He's still a rookie of course, so I wouldn't want to call him an average center fielder to begin his career. But he could surprise a bit.
Fielding-wise, he's already above average. No worries there.
Dontrelle Willis? Weren't people talking about him becoming an OF a few weeks ago?
Those people are idiots. I don't know why they keep saying that stuff. He is above average at hitting for a pitcher, but far below average as an actual position player with none of the tools that indicate he should be standing out by the cheap seats waiting for a fly ball. I commend Rick Ankiel for what he's managed to do, but I curse him for causing fans everywhere to compare pitchers to him.
As far as Willis in the rotation goes, I hate the idea. He stinks. He had what, three or four good starts of a handful of innings each this spring before reverting to missing the strike zone at his standard rate. In the end, his walk percentage is no different than at any other time. It's going to explode in the Tigers' face. Again. And it's possible they'll be in a razor thin playoff race. Again. If only they realized giving a player too many extra chances in April and May still counts in October's standings, things would look a lot better for Tigers fans.
I hope Eddie Bonine is stretched out.
What do you make of Leyland? How much longer do you think he wants to manage in Detroit?
Leyland makes some ... strange ... decisions. Like batting a player third in the lineup the day the player is sent to the minor leagues. How does that make any sense?
But he's fun in the Ozzie Guillen kind of way. So at least he's got personality.
I think he finishes out his contract, which expires after next season. Tom Brookens is getting his major league education as first-base coach this year and will more than likely take over for Leyland in 2012.