Well, THAT was certainly exciting!
This past week/weekend saw the (ostensibly) four best teams in Major League Baseball trading shots with one another for a pair of six-game series, fighting for pennants and for the right to reclaim the narrative of the season. What we are left with is the two teams with the best records in MLB this year preparing for a World Series, something which has only been seen three times in the past fifteen-twenty years. (Feel free to fact check me on that) It’s a rematch of the 2004 Fall Classic (remember that one?), and should probably be a bit more than the 4-game sweep it was the last time, when nearly everyone in America was pulling for the Red Sox.
Expect a World Series in-depth preview on Wednesday, but until then, a few comments on the two teams that lost out on a chance for further postseason glories.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Further proof that money doesn’t guarantee a championship…just that you will do well and push for the postseason, only to fall to higher quality pitching/offense/defense.
Or was it?
There were two big contributing factors to the Dodgers pulling up lame in the NLCS, with an emphasis on lame. The first is Don Mattingly’s highly questionable managerial tactics, though as seen with teams like the 2005 Astros, the 2008 Phillies, and any championship iteration of the Florida/Miami Marlins, that isn’t necessarily a death sentence. (The Astros just ran up against an immensely hot White Sox team, for those of you who remember.) However, Mattingly’s decisions, such as batting light-hitting Mark Ellis second in the line-up (second!), his (mis)-management of his bullpen, and numerous other examples of ill-timed steals/substitutions/what-the-hell-was-he-thinking-there? will be around for a while to come, because the Dodgers are simply too talented to fall short. Of course, a $200 million plus payroll will do that to you.
Speaking of, $300 million clams for Clayton Kershaw can either be a bargain or an albatross along the lines of Kevin Brown, depending on how healthy the soon-to-be two time Cy Young winner remains throughout his career. Sure, it looks like a bargain now, but remember the fate of another two time Cy Young winner just up the California coast when thinking about Kershaw as a long term investment. Sure, his mechanics are better than the herky jerky style of Tim Lincecum, and his delivery is smoother and more efficient, but other high caliber pitchers have been hurt before, and investing large amounts of dollars in a pitcher has generally proved to be a highly risky proposition. But then again, the Dodgers apparently are printing money, so expect a sizable contract to be signed this winter.
The biggest thing that will help the Dodgers will be if they can have better luck with health. Many/most of their stars missed sizable chunks of time with injuries this year, including superstar Matt Kemp, who was absent from the entire postseason. Andre Ethier seems like a perpetual DL risk, but his offense has declined in recent years anyway; he won’t be missed. Hanley Ramirez essentially helped to decide this series when he received a rib injury in Game One. LA’s best hitter during the second half of the season, Ramirez came up short in the LCS repeatedly, and because there was no true alternative in the line-up to drive the engine of the team, they suffered for it. If Ramirez, Kemp, and their pitching staff can remain healthy, and if Yasiel Puig doesn’t suffer the dreaded sophomore slump, and if newly signed slugger Alex Guerrero pans out and fills the hole at 2nd base in the line-up, expect the Dodgers to win 95+ games and push for a slot in the World Series next year.
First, a salute to Jim Leyland, stepping down from the Tigers’ managerial position after eight years, four ALCS berths, two World Series, and six years with a winning record. A 50-year baseball veteran, it’s not terribly surprising to see him stepping down after this latest heartbreaking defeat. Veterans like Torii Hunter are on record as saying they suspected this was his last year as it was, and the disappointment of not going all the way once again is impossible to fathom. Leyland will not be retiring from the organization, however, and most likely will be taking an upper management position with the Tigers. Which is fantastic, because Leyland is one of the class-acts in baseball today. He’d been working on a series of one year contracts for the last three years in part because he didn’t want to drag his team down if they decided to go in a different direction or if he decided to retire following the season. This speaks to his devotion not only to his players but to the team that he started with as an 18-year-old prospect all those years ago (it’s hard to imagine Leyland as anything other than the grizzled, chain-smoking image we all picture him as). He will be missed by Tigers fans, but it’s not as though the team is in completely dire straits.
Which brings us back to the issues of health. Miguel Cabrera’s health obviously impacted the team, as his power was only starting to come around in the ALCS, while his baserunning (already terrible) and defense (ditto) still suffered. Then there’s the case of Prince Fielder, who looked completely lost in the series, including this particular gem of baserunning. It’s possible to just chalk this up as a bad year for the first baseman, who has a proven track record of being a far better hitter than he showcased this season. With Iglesias at shortstop for the foreseeable future, the defense should be improved next year…provided the Tigers do something about their gaping hole in left field. Jonah Keri thinks that a run at Jacoby Ellsbury, the best free agent center fielder on the market, is not out of the question.
However, not all Tigers fans are so certain about the team’s willingness to break the bank. Which brings us to the latest edition of the Addison Recorder Mailbag!
“With the payroll the Tigers have committed to players over the next several years, what do you think the advantages or disadvantages are to shopping (presumed Cy Young winner) Max Scherzer around as trade bait this off-season, especially taking into account that he’s eligible for arbitration a year from now?” – Rick, Bowling Green, OH
To be fully honest, this is not a scenario I envisioned as likely going into the off-season. Then I looked at the scheduled payroll for 2014, and observed that they already have $107,000,000 commited to essentially six players. (Jose Veras’s $150,000 doesn’t even make a dint, so he’s excluded from discussions). If Scherzer hits arbitration and asks for something along the lines of $12 to $14 million (not out of the question), that starts to make a noticeable dint. More importantly, after 2014, contracts for Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez expire; Hunter is likely to retire or take a sizeable cut in salary from his $14 million should he decide to stay; Martinez may be expendable, given his recent health and declining productivity. Most importantly, Miguel Cabrera’s contract expires after next year. At this point, it would seem downright ludicrous not to resign the (soon to be) 2-time MVP and bedrock of the Tigers line-up, but then again, people said the same things about Albert Pujols in St. Louis, and it’s not unreasonable to think that Cabrera might age like a sack of potatoes as the years go on. They’re already committed to Prince Fielder for years to come, and given his body shape and off-year this year, it’s not out of the question to think that Fielder becomes a millstone on the Tigers payroll.
Which brings us to Scherzer.
If the Tigers break the bank for the (again, presumed) Cy Young winner, I would expect a long term deal something in the vicinity of four to five years with a range of $15-17 million per year. I don’t think it’s very likely that the Tigers shop him around, because the idea of pairing him with Verlander and Sanchez (in their primes) for the next three to four years, is too tantalizing to pass up, and also because the Tigers are not the Tampa Bay Rays. That being said, if they do decide to dangle him for a missing piece in the line-up, I can see something along the lines of a sign-and-trade for somebody like Ellsbury or for a bushel of prospects from teams like Kansas City or Cleveland. Remember, the Tigers’ farm system has been slightly lessened by their free-agent extravagances in the past three years and by a number of trades that has built the team today. With this in mind, I see the Tigers going all-in for the next two to three years with what is clearly a championship-caliber team. Improvements have to be made on defense and on their infinite baserunning gaffes, for sure, but I don’t see them trading Scherzer (or even offering him as trade bait) after a year in which he clearly stepped into the role of ace.
What’s more interesting to me is if he holds up next year or takes a Cliff Lee post-Cy Young dive. He’s still young, and his early years were marked by inconsistencies. I’m eager to find out if he truly has put his lofty talents together or if this was a fluke of a year. Hopefully, for the Tigers, this was an example of future glories to come. I don’t see them letting go of that just yet.
But I’ve been wrong before.