Friday, December 2, 2016

They're Shuttin' Detroit Down: The Tragedy of the Tigers' Offseason

Danville, Kentucky -- America is a country that likes to live above its means. We love the frosty kiss of sweet, sweet artificial flavors and coloring so much that we grab the 44 ounce Slurpee instead of the more reasonably sized 16 ounce or 22 ounce cup. We can't fathom eating only 12 delicious boneless wings at Buffalo Wild Wings, so we order 18 of them instead. A 6 inch philly cheese-steak, dripping with sumptuous melted cheddar, would never suffice; we demand a foot-long sandwich. Regular SUVs are too 'beta' for many burly American men; so they drive colossal gas-guzzling Hummers. The M60 Patton tank was a thing of beauty, but when America defends freedom abroad these days our men and women in uniform use the gargantuan, 70-ton M1 Abrams tank. Americans homeowners love to buy big and flashy houses to signal our pride and success so much that we created a practice called sub-prime lending and caused an economic collapse. Americans love to go big or go home, regardless of price. It is a glorious lifestyle.

Folks, the Detroit Tigers are an All-American franchise. Their elderly owner Mike Ilitch has tried to spend his way to a World Series. But they too have been living beyond their means. The chunky contracts of Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Upton, and even the long-departed-but-still-on-the-payroll Prince Fielder, have finally caught up to the team, like a hefty bar tab that you hoped wouldn't come due.

Like a pissed off loan shark, 2nd year General Manager Al Avila has come to collect on Ilitch's overdue debts. The party is over, the guests are rushing towards the door, and Mr. Ilitch is about to get stuck with that eye-popping bill that nobody wanted to foot.

Folks, they're shutting Detroit down. Packing it in. Hanging up the cleats. Folding up the tent. Closing the window of contention. In an ominous press conference several weeks ago, Avila proclaimed "changes are coming" to the Tigers and that "we want to get younger, we want to get leaner, we want to run the organization without having to go over the means of the organization." They've already traded the loveable Cameron Maybin, a true fan favorite and spark-plug. There's talks of trading 2 time AL MVP and Triple-Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. There's talk of trading the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner, Justin Verlander. There's talks of trading Ian Kinsler, the gritty-as-heck gold glove second-baseman. There's even talks of trading the electric Mike Pelfrey.

That's not what I would do if I were the GM. I would largely keep the current roster intact and try to patch-up the Tigers' weaknesses via free agency. The Tigers need a backup catcher? Alex Avila, the GM's son who so diligently handled the pitching staff for all those years, is available for a reunion. Need insurance at DH or another outfielder? Chris Carter and his 41 dingers can be had for a bargain price. Need to improve the Tigers' pitching staff? Fernando Rodney, Joe Blanton, and Rich Hill are obvious targets. Proven winners like Ryan Howard and Stephen Drew are available as well.

In spite of this bountiful free agent class, every indication points to a major downsizing of the Tigers' payroll. At a time when Donald Trump is bringing back blue-collar jobs to the rust belt, Mike Ilitch and Al Avila are going to send Detroit Tiger jobs abroad. Lifelong Detroit Tiger Verlander is by all indications headed to Hollywood.
Folks, a mass exodus of all baseball talent is not what the city of Detroit needs right now. The Pistons are coming back to Detroit. Thanks to Trump, manufacturing jobs are coming back to Detroit too. The Tigers nearly pulled off a comeback of their own this past season, falling just a couple games short of a playoff berth. Now is the time to double down and make one last run with this current roster. Don't blow up the team. Trading "face of the franchise" players like Verlander and Cabrera would be an insult to loyal fans. Comerica Park would be emptier than Tropicana Field or a Hillary Clinton rally. It would be a betrayal of the fans who have stuck by the team through thick and thin. It would be a betrayal of future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera, who has said he wants to retire a Tiger.

The Tigers' spending problems will naturally resolve themselves as several big contracts expire after the 2017 season. Listen: I like deal-makers, that's why I admired Dave Dombrowski and why I'm excited about eight years of Trump. If somebody calls Al Avila and offers a top prospect for Verlander or Cabrera, you have to listen. Or at least not hang up immediately, like I do when my parole officer calls. But the first rule of deal-making is to not seem desperate: if the guy on the other end of the phone senses panic, your leverage will evaporate. Stay strong, Mr. Avila. But remember: the fans will be heartbroken next season if Miguel Cabrera is wearing Bostonian red socks and Justin Verlander is wearing Dodger blue.

What can be done? If you live in Michigan, write letters to your state Senators and Representatives. Tell them to slap steep tariffs on out-of-state baseball products if Avila trades popular players away. But at the end of the day, Mr. Avila needs to do the right thing: don't outsource Detroit's baseball talent to elitist teams on the coasts. The true fans would rather Let the Detroit Tigers Go Bankrupt from awful contracts than look Verlander and Cabrera in the eye and tell them that their run with the Tigers is over. Out on the coasts, in the land of high payrolls - Los Angeles, Boston, New York - they're still living it up. Here in the real world, they're shutting Detroit down.