Today's Free Picks for
Posted on March 29
Detroit under 82½ -115
On February 10, long time Tigers owner Mike Ilitch passed away. The Little Caesars entrepreneur left behind a large family, a robust history of business success, a smattering of important charitable works, and this Tigers team. Ilitch’s mark on the Tigers is indelible—so long after signing with the Tigers as a player back in 1952, he presided over the team’s complete inadequacy from 1992 to 2005, before bringing them back to relevance with a 2006 World Series run.
Since then, Ilitch desperately wanted to see his Tigers win a World Series and he was willing to spend big—both in cash and prospect capital—to see that dream realized. After years of doing just that without a ring, the 2017 Tigers are bringing back an aging, expensive, and top-heavy roster, a fitting tribute to their former owner. There is a great chance that we’ll look back on the 2016 Tigers and remember them as a requiem for not just a man, but an era in Tigers baseball—the last breaths of a window of serious World Series contention.
We’ll start with projections, where this franchise appears to be cruising for a disappointment to rival 2015, when they lost 87 games and wound up last in the AL Central after four straight division titles. This squad is currently projected to be around .500, which is “good” enough for third place in a depleted division. Despite carrying three or four future Hall of Famers on the projected 25-man roster, general manager Al Avila had a difficult choice between two paths this offseason: buy up more talent using the last of his assets and make one final crazy push for greatness, or sell the secondary pieces on the roster in the hopes of building something new and great a couple years down the line. Shockingly, Avila did ... nothing. He dealt away Cameron Maybin and acquired Mikie Mahtook to replace him. That’s the baseball equivalent of replacing the ugly dented side panel on your car with another, slightly newer dented side panel. (Avila also signed his son, Alex Avila, to return as the team’s backup catcher.) This Tigers’ team is stocked with high-priced, high-value players either in or past their primes, but also faced with a lack of depth and the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power. Someday soon, one or more of these stars will dim or suffer serious injury, and the result will be even worse than the just-about-.500 team they project to be today.
There are a few pieces to like for the future in Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, and Nick Castellanos but those players are far outnumbered by the aging, somewhat brittle veterans. Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are capable of defying time and logic and remaining elite for a few more years but what happens if one or both have average years? Relying on Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez, and Anibal Sanchez for this upcoming season might actually be relying on them for one year too many.
The great thing about the 2017 Tigers is that if all the principals stay healthy and effective, and they get a little bit of luck from Mahtook, Norris, or the bullpen, they have the ceiling of a contender. The much more likely not-so-great thing is that the former condition is getting less and less likely by the year. A stars-and-scrubs roster is great when you don’t have to play the scrubs. If this team must replace Miguel Cabrera for a month—with, say, Andrew Romine—it’s likely that they’ll lose many more games than they win. You can count on Verlander, Cabrera and Victor Martinez to all spend some time on the DL whether it’s 15 days or 50.
There’s no dynamite prospect or set of solid young talents on the way, so the team may finally be forced to sell off assets in order to rebuild with an eye on 2020. In other words, come trade deadline, expect the Tigers to sell off everyday players, thus, making the final six weeks of the season more of an uphill battle. Nothing in baseball is certain, but it appears that this franchise is following the path of the Phillies in the National League, where committing so much toward building a window and extending it forces the team into a dark bottoming-out period. If everything goes perfect for the Tigers, they will be hard pressed to win 83 games and beat us. Over/under win totals for the season do not take injuries into consideration because it is speculation. It is for that reason, we prefer going under as oppose to over. Aside from the inevitable injuries to the guys mentioned above, one has to expect other injuries to starters, relievers or everyday players. The Detroit Tigers are not deep.
An era in baseball has ended, or will end because everything ends. In poetry, the funeral song serves two purposes: to mourn and regret the past and to hope for the future. It is of sorrow and longing and presents everything as lost and gone or absent and future.” This sounds like a fitting metaphor for a Tigers season that’s unlikely to find sufficient value in the present and will reflect the owner who was, the former peaks of their players, and the longing desire to see a contender rise again. Mike Ilitch did many things, was many things, succeeded in many things. He also wanted to build a World Series winner, but didn’t. We can howl and lament over the reality that wasn’t. Perhaps he’ll eventually see his Tigers take a championship home—if so, from a much different viewpoint—but it probably won’t be for a while, and it certainly won’t be with this aging, fragile and very average team. The 2017 Detroit Tigers will finish well under .500 and we'll see you at the cashier's window on October 2.
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Detroit under 82½ -116 (Risking 3.48 units - To Win: 3.00)