The Detroit Tigers Rebuild Was Inevitable

Apr 5, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (right) greets Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (left) during the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 5, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (right) greets Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (left) during the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

While some fans were shocked that the Detroit Tigers intend to dial back payroll and rebuild, it’s warranted since the current system isn’t working, and teams with lower spending continue to win.

As one of the Detroit Tigers’ arch-rivals celebrated clinching their first World Series appearance in 19 years last week, it may have been a bitter pill for Tigers’ fans to swallow.

It’s tough to see the success of the Cleveland Indians, a team we as a fan base (up until this year) love to ridicule. We’ll hurl the hot takes of no one shows up for their games, even during a pennant race. The ownership is terrible and refuses to spend money. They’re from Ohio, which, really, is probably the biggest offense on this list.

Yet this year the Indians turned the tables on the trolls by pasting the Tigers in the rain-shortened season series, 14 wins to 4 losses.

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We can still loathe the Indians, their johnny-come-lately fans, and their state, but we should still respect what they did this year. Cleveland proved doubters wrong by leading the AL Central most of the season and storming to the pennant with just one postseason loss. That lack of respect card will play big as most of the nation will be pulling for the Chicago Cubs in the World Series which begins Tuesday night in Cleveland.

Big Bucks Doesn’t Equal Championships 

The Indians have the seventh-lowest payroll in baseball while surprisingly enough, the big market Cubs rank only 14th. Contrast with the top 10 teams in payroll, who combined for only seven postseason wins (five of those coming from the top payroll team, the Los Angeles Dodgers) this season.

The defending World Series champions, the Kansas City Royals were 14th in payroll last year, defeating the NL Champs, the New York Mets, who were 21st overall.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers, who have been at or near the top in total payroll since the dawn of this decade, have exactly zero playoff wins since 2013. So when general manager Al Avila spoke of the team’s offseason goal to dial back payroll the shocked response from many Tigers’ fans was shocking in of itself.

Time For a Change

As painful as it may be, the high payroll Tigers are not working anymore. We’ve experienced many, many highs over the years. No-hitters, MVPs, Cy Young winners, a Triple Crown, division championships, postseason wins, and AL pennants. This will undoubtedly be considered one of the best eras in Tigers’ history, yet it will always have a virtual asterisk next to it because they didn’t get it done when it counted.

The Tigers are absolutely doing the right thing by rebuilding, even if they won’t call it that. No one wants to see J.D. Martinez leave town. It would be awful seeing Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera spend the last years of Hall of Fame careers setting records and winning championship for other teams. But these may be the realities we’re facing.

However, if it could reset the franchise, allowing them to align their future around the promising young starting rotation of Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, and Daniel Norris, and contend again within the next 3 to 4 years, would you do it? Or let the bloated payroll and aging players bring on another era of 90+ losses that we saw almost annually from 1989 to 2005?

2013-2014 Misstep

The only place to fault the Tigers in this plan is that they didn’t do it sooner, or that they didn’t hold off and wait to begin the rebuilding process. That might be a tad confusing, so let’s clarify.

When the Detroit Tigers lost Game 6 of the 2013 ALCS to the Boston Red Sox, it just felt different. There was a level of finality to it that wasn’t there after the postseason disappointments of 2006, 2011, and 2012.  It seemed the Tigers’ organization felt that as well, and that changes were needed. Jim Leyland stepped down, Prince Fielder was traded, Doug Fister was traded, Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta were allowed to walk. Additionally, the team began balking at retaining Max Scherzer‘s services over his unwillingness to sign a club-friendly contract extension.

The hiring of a rookie manager in Brad Ausmus seemed to indicate the Tigers’ championship window was closed, and payroll was being dialed back. Yet in 2014, the AL Central was still weak, at least at the start of the season. The Kansas City Royals mounted a threat that fell one game short in the standings, then gelled to go all the way to the World Series before losing in Game 7.

Perhaps the Tigers’ stature at the top of the division for much of 2014 lulled them into a false sense of contention, which resulted in the trade for David Price instead of Andrew Miller. The AL Central champs never addressed their true weakness, the bullpen, and were unceremoniously dumped out of the postseason after three straight losses.

The point is, the Detroit Tigers parted with many pieces of their championship core that could have helped them in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Since they were gone, they had weaker teams with less depth to be unable to withstand injuries. Not to mention a now strong division, that has represented the AL in the World Series in four of the last five years, doesn’t let you hide your team’s flaws anymore.

In other words, the Tigers tried one thing, and then quickly reversed course, and now they have to reverse course once again.

Related Story: Detroit Tigers Right to Consider Trading J.D. Martinez

Tough Decisions Loom 

Perhaps the Tigers should have went all out in a rebuilding effort after losing in 2013. If they had, they might have been ready to contend again in 2017. As it stands now, if they do begin a fire-sale, they probably won’t taste the postseason until we’re dealing with the next presidential election (which should make you want to vomit for so many different reasons) at the very least.

As Avila said, tough decisions will have to be made. It may take a good while to see if those tough decisions pan out, even if it does seem many of these tough decisions do need to be made to reset the fortunes of the Detroit Tigers.