The Detroit Tigers and the price of success

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We haven’t seen seen ups-and-downs quite like we’ve seen in Detroit, and 2019 won’t be pretty.

The Tigers don’t play mediocre baseball. Not too long ago, Detroit was the class of the American League Central, finishing in first place for four consecutive seasons. During the streak they made it to three ALCSs, and one World Series. Yet, the lows in Detroit have been dizzying of late, with two consecutive 64-win seasons. a total of 128 wins over the course of two seasons (put into perspective that the best team in baseball totaled 119 wins in 2018 alone).

At the time of their success, it was no secret that owner Mike Ilitch was mortgaging the future to sign players like Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, and Miguel Cabrera. At this stage, most of the multi-year, eight-figure contracts have been divested, and since Ilitch’s death, the Tigers are officially in rebuild mode.

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For a team that had a payroll hovering around $200 million for several years, Detroit has taken a step back, and is in the lower-$100 million range entering 2019. The Tigers hope they have paid the piper with two horrible seasons, including one that earned them the first overall pick in last June’s amateur draft.

Looking forward, Tigers fans can ease the pain of the last two years by capitalizing on any value that can be found with current players who are worth dealing for future assets, and keeping an eye on younger players already in the system can be impact players in the medium-term.

For the former, we can look to players like reliever Shane Greene, and utility players Josh Harrison and Nick Castellanos. There is always a midseason market for relievers, so really anyone from a non-contender can become movable. Greene finished last season with a negative fWAR, but the underlying numbers of a better-than-average reliever remained. He cut his walk rate nearly in half but suffered from an inflated home-run per fly-ball rate over 16 percent, and a strand rate below 70 percent.

Detroit signed Josh Harrison to a one-year $2 million deal making him an easily tradable player at the deadline for anyone that needs corner infield or outfield help. Castellanos is a product of the Tigers farm system, and although he never developed into a star, could be another movable piece this summer.

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From an up-and-coming standpoint, Tigers can look at progress for last year’s number one pick, Casey Mize. The Tigers capitalized on the first overall pick (their first since 1997) by selecting

Mize who quickly earned accolades as the best player on their farm. 2019 is critical for Mize, as this will be his first full-year in MiLB, and expectations are high, as the Tigers anticipate he’ll make it to double-A this year.

Detroit is projected by PECOTA to finish in last place, with a 67-95 record, with FanGraphs equally as bearish, projecting a 69-93 record. These numbers are hardly an improvement over last year’s debacle, and Detroit will need to hit on some recent draft picks, and capitalize on some unexpected value at the Major League roster that can be flipped for younger talent if they are to get back to the winning ways of the not-too-distant-past.

It’s no secret that Dave Dombrowski traded much of their minor league talent for MLB-ready players. With a farm system that is still middle-of-the-pack (ranked 15th by Baseball America), this is the price of that success. Unfortunately for Tigers fans, they can’t even hang their hat on a World Series championship.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano

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