Monday, December 9, 2013

Around the division: Detroit Tigers

Doug Fister was 32-20, 3.29 in two-and-a-half seasons
in the Tigers rotation.
We Twins fans think Terry Ryan's been busy this offseason, signing two new starting pitchers. Ryan's got nothing on his Detroit counterpart, Dave Dombrowski.

As the Winter Meetings — usually the busiest period of the Hot Stove league — gets started, Dombrowski has already:

  • Hired a manager to follow the retired Jim Leyland;
  • Remade his infield, replacing three of 2013 regulars completely and moving the fourth to a different position;
  • Signed a new closer and moved his best setup man to the starting rotation;
  • Created a spot in the rotation by trading a very good starter.

It's a rather stunning makeover for a three-time division champ, albeit one that hasn't really met its expectations during the regular seasons.

I wrote at some length last month about the infield revamp; the only new development there is that Dombrowski has now explicitly said that Miguel Cabrera is moving to first base, with Nick Castellanos at third base.

Joe Nathan is chasing
a ring.
The new stuff revolves around the mound.

Begin at the end. Erstwhile Twin Joe Nathan, now 39, got a two-year deal (option for a third year) to close. The Tigers had issues in the back end of the bullpen the past two seasons, and rookie manager Brad Ausmus (assuming Nathan doesn't decline) won't have to do the juggling act Leyland did.

Joaquin Benoit, who finished 2013 as the Tigers closer, is a free agent, and Dombrowski has said he expects Benoit to sign elsewhere as a closer.

Drew Smyly, who went 6-0, 2.37 with two saves and 22 holds in relief last season, will move to the rotation. I had expected the lefty to take a starting job last spring; it will happen in 2014 instead.

And he won't be dislodging Rick Porcello, but Doug Fister.

Fister was traded to Washington for a package of utility man Steve Lombardozzi (son of the same-named second baseman of the 1987 Twins) and left-handed pitching prospects Robbie Ray and Ian Krol. It's an underwhelming return for Fister, who had quietly become one of the top 20 or so starters in baseball.

Dombrowski probably didn't get maximum value for Fister. I doubt that was his goal. His priorities in this trade were almost certainly

  • Opening payroll space for Nathan;
  • Trading Fister out of the American League;
  • Adding left-handed pitching to a thinning farm system.

Dombrowski achieved those things. That the general consensus around the game is that he could have made a better deal probably doesn't cost him any sleep. The "better deals" presumably didn't meet his targeted desires.

The Tigers aren't in a talent-accumulating position. They're in a talent-arranging position. They're out to win now, not to build a base to win from.

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