Heading into the 2014 Major League Baseball season, there weren’t very many people around the baseball world who didn’t have the Tigers winning the American League Central division. Citing the fact that the Tigers have one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball, in addition to a really good lineup that includes, arguably, the best hitter in all of baseball, Miguel Cabrera, a lot of pre season predictions had the Tigers completely running away with the division. But with around five weeks of games remaining in the season, the Tigers finishing in first place isn’t a lock, as it was once viewed.
A game and a half back of the division leading Royals, the Tigers have some work to do to retake their lead in the Central.
Back on July 31st, the Tigers made a move that seemed certain to help them pull away from the Royals. In a three team trade with the Rays and Mariners, the Tigers sent Austin Jackson to Seattle, who in return sent Nick Franklin to the Rays, with the Tigers sending Drew Smyly and a prospect to the Rays in exchange for David Price.
Though Price hadn’t been overly dominant before the trade went down, a team with David Price is much better off than a team without David Price. And that has proven to be true in his few starts since the trade.
In Price’s most recent outing at his long time home, Tropicana Field, Price had one of his best games of the season. Going eight innings, giving up just a single hit, Price was fantastic on Thursday afternoon. However, Alex Cobb, who was on the mound for the opposing team, was just as good. In the end, despite the amazing pitching performance by Price, he was handed the loss, as the Tigers failed to provide any run support whatsoever.
If the Tigers want to win the division and not be faced with a one-game playoff that comes with a Wild Card spot — a spot that isn’t guaranteed by any means, as the Mariners currently sit just a half game back of the second Wild Card — they’re, obviously, going to have to start playing better as a team than they have been recently.
The day the David Price trade occurred, the Tigers were in a great spot. Sitting in first place, four games ahead of the Royals, the acquisition of Price looked to only improve their team, which was already seemingly on the way to another division title.
But while Price has done his job for the most part, as has the always terrific Max Scherzer, the remainder of the pitching staff, along with the lineup, has been hit and miss from one night to the next, with their entire bullpen being subpar at best.
Justin Verlander hasn’t been the same caliber pitcher he once was in quite some time; Joe Nathan, who they acquired to strengthen their bullpen, hasn’t been that great; and although Miguel Cabrera is having a good year, he’s currently on pace to finish out the season around 20 home runs and 30 RBI’s shy of the unbelievable numbers of 44 home runs and 137 RBI’s he posted in 2013.
Those three players are going to have to catch fire for the Tigers to take off in any major way.
With the entire Tigers team underperforming for the most part at the moment, and with the Mariners right behind them, threatening to overtake their playoff chances, the Tigers are experiencing quite a bit of struggles. Though they’ll likely find some sort of groove at some point in September, the Tigers are doing extremely poor in comparison to where they should be with the talent they have. If, somehow, the Tigers miss the postseason altogether, it would be nothing short of a disastrous season on their part.
After winning over 20 games last season and picking up the 2013 American League Cy Young Award, it’s hard to believe that Max Scherzer had never thrown a complete game over the course of his seven-year career heading into Thursday night’s start against the White Sox.
But after 178 previous starts without achieving the feat (the longest streak of any active pitcher without their first complete game), Scherzer was finally able to go the distance against the Sox, outpitching the equally dominant Chris Sale, throwing 113 total pitches over his nine innings of three hit, shutout baseball (it was Scherzer’s first career shutout as well) on the mound.
Moving to 8-2 on the year, with an ERA of 3.05, Scherzer’s great start helped to stop the Tigers’ three game loosing streak as well as put a little more room between them and the White Sox in the American League Central standings. When playing a division rival it becomes even more important to pickup the victory, and Scherzer made sure that happened.
One of only two divisions in all of baseball with less than ten games separating the first and last place teams (a mere four games separate the Twins at the bottom from the Tigers at the top), the Tigers are looking to begin turning around a somewhat disappointing year by their standards.
With the team the Tigers possess (Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez on the offensive side; Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer on the pitching side) many people agree that they should be running away with the division as they had been predicted to do. But despite their strong team on paper, not a lot has been going well for the Tigers this season.
Justin Verlander — once one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball — and Joe Nathan — once one of the most dominant closers in all of baseball — are both trying to figure things out, along with the majority of the Tigers’ pitching roster. With their lineup being hit or miss on any given night (except for Miguel Cabrera, who’s having a great year despite a slow start, and Victor Martinez, who’s having a career season), it’s still going to take a lot for the Tigers to begin increasing their current lead.
Although the Tigers currently sit atop the division, they hold only a two game lead over the Royals. With the Royals on a four game winning streak, and the White Sox, Indians and Twins all within a few games of first place, the Tigers shouldn’t be panicking quite yet, as there’s still plenty of season remaining. However, they need to pay close attention before things get too far out of hand.
With such a small margin separating the Tigers, Royals, White Sox, Indians and Twins in the division, no matter how you look at it, any team in the American League Central currently has a chance at finishing in first place at the end of the season. While it’s a long shot at best for a couple of the teams, if the Tigers want to be the division winners, they’re obviously going to have to start playing better.
But if Max Scherzer’s dominant outing was any sort of sign of what’s to come, the Tigers could easily begin to pull away from the rest of the pack in the upcoming weeks before the All-Star break.
Monday was a busy day for Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove. Several players either signed or were traded, making an otherwise slow offseason pickup a bit. I won’t take the time to go over every single deal that has taken place recently, however, I do want to give my thoughts on the main deals that took place on Monday — and one from today.
The biggest deal, by far, was the Tigers trading Doug Fister to the Nationals, in exchange for Minor League player, Robbie Ray, along with Nat’s second baseman, Steve Lombardozzi, and rookie pitcher from 2013, Ian Krol. This deal helps out the Nationals most, as they have a young prospect, Anthony Rendon, who’s ready to take over at second full time, and Krol and Ray aren’t a lot to lose for a pitcher of Fister’s caliber. (Fister went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA in 2013.)
On the Tigers’ side of things, while it doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense, they’re going to use the money saved by getting rid of Fister to sign Joe Nathan to fill their closer role. The Tigers are still left with a rotation of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Annibal Sanchez, and the signing of Nathan will help them out tremendously.
Theoretically, this furthers the case for the Tigers hanging onto Scherzer, instead of trading the 2013 Cy Young award winner, but it’s still possible that they will. What the Tigers really needed was a closer, and they’re getting a good one in Joe Nathan, who recorded 43 saves in 2013.
As far as closers go, Jim Johnson is one of the games best at the moment, and he was part of a deal between the Athletics and Orioles that sent him out to Oakland for Jemile Weeks — a low-end player who only spent eight games in the Majors last season, batting .111 — and a player to be named later. Johnson, who posted a 2.94 ERA last season while recording 50 saves, has achieved at least 50 saves for the past two seasons. (His 101 saves over the past two years is the best in baseball.) He should improve the A’s bullpen drastically.
The Athletics also signed Scott Kazmir to a two-year deal, who was decent in 2013, having the best season of his career since 2008, and will join a pretty good rotation of players such as Sonny Gray and Jarrod Parker.
This signing likely ends their pursuit of Bartolo Colon, who was great last season, going 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA, but was asking for more money than the A’s were willing to give him. But even if Colon leaves, the signing of Kazmir and Johnson makes them a much better team, at least as far as their pitching goes.
After the great season he had with the Rangers in 2013, batting .272 with 17 home runs and 70 RBI’s, the Red Sox signed free agent A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year contract on Monday.
This more than likely means that the Sox’ catcher from this season, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, will be headed to another team, despite posting decent stats of 14 home runs and 65 RBI’s to go along with a .273 batting average in 2013. As I stated in a previous post, I feel the Rangers would be a good fit for Saltalamacchia, however, it all depends on what the Rangers are looking to do.
With four months remaining until the 2014 season, anything can happen.
The 2013 Major League Baseball season ended nearly a month ago, but the team changing deals that take place every offseason are just now beginning. The biggest trade that has taken place so far is undoubtedly Prince Fielder going to the Rangers in exchange for Ian Kinsler, however, the Cardinals getting rid of David Freese in a trade for Peter Bourjos is up there on the list as well.
As far as free agent signings go — none of the previously named players were free agents — Brian McCann signing to play with the Yankees was a big time deal, with Jhonny Peralta’s agreement to play with the Cardinals (4 years, 53 million dollar) being the deal that has caused the most controversy, due to past his PED use. But I won’t get into that.
Not too many of the 184 free agent players have signed yet — just 27 are off the market, having signed with a team or retired — but there’s still plenty of time left for a lot of exciting deals to go down. (The trades that could be made are nearly impossible to predict, but every free agent has to find a home somewhere — either with their same team or a new one — so that’s what I’ll be talking about.)
Notable current free agents include Carlos Beltran, Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury, among others, but I’m only going to be discussing the top ranked (in my mind) player available at each position, and which team I feel they’d fit the best with.
Keep in mind, these are the teams I feel would be the best fit for each player, not necessarily a team that’s interested in them, or subsequently will sign them.
2013 MLB TOP FREE AGENTS
Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Team I feel should sign him: Rangers
The Rangers were in the conversation for Brian McCann to take over their catcher role, but after the Yankees locked him up, I think Saltalamacchia would be the next best thing — a good fit for both the Rangers and Saltalamacchia. Having played for the Rangers from 2007 to 2010, Saltalamacchia would be returning to familiar territory. Though he never had much success in Arlington — never playing in more than 84 games in a season — Saltalamacchia proved this past season with the Sox that he can post good numbers, batting .273 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI’s. I think the Rangers would be a great team for Saltalamacchia, but he’ll likely remain in Boston.
Designated Hitter: Kendrys Morales
Team I feel should sign him: Tigers
Kendrys Morales had a great season for the Mariners in 2013, batting .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBI’s. Being a switch hitter — a very consistent one at that — I feel the Tigers would be a good fit for Morales. The Tigers have a right-handed-heavy lineup, and a good hitter who can hit from the left side — there are talks they could also be interested in Shin-Soo Choo — when needed would be an important addition. Also, Morales could go a long way in replacing Prince Fielder’s bat in the lineup, though admittedly it wouldn’t replace his 30+ home run power. Nonetheless, Morales is a player the Tigers need to target, in my opinion.
First Base: Mike Napoli
Team I feel should sign him: Red Sox
A lot of teams would be interested in Mike Napoli, but I feel the Red Sox should resign him, as he is a great fit where he is. Playing first base, there are really no other fantastic first basemen on the market, and they’re not about to put David Ortiz there full time. Napoli’s 23 home runs and 92 RBI’s this past season is something that’s hard to replace. He was a big reason the Red Sox were so successful this season, helping to lead them to a World Series title. Napoli shouldn’t be going anywhere.
Second Base: Robinson Cano
Team I feel should sign him: Anyone but the Yankees
Because Robinson Cano is such a good player — a great fit for multiple teams — it’s hard to pick just one team that he should sign with. The top ranked free agent of the offseason, I feel Cano doesn’t need to be in pinstripes next season for both his sake and the sake of the Yankees. Not signing Cano to a deal worth, more than likely, nearly 200 million dollars, would allow them to use that extra cash to sign some lower-priced free agents and develop an all-around better team. With or without Cano, there’s no guarantee the Yankees will make the playoffs, but I feel they’re better off in the long run without him.
Third Base: Juan Uribe
Team I feel should sign him: Yankees
Tying into one of the reasons I feel the Yankees shouldn’t resign Cano, Juan Uribe is a player who would come at a relatively affordable price to the Yankees and would be a good fit at third base, where they are very weak. With no guarantees that A-Rod will ever return, signing Uribe would give them a better defensive player at third than what they currently have, and it would add a decent offensive player to their lineup. Uribe’s .278 batting average with 12 homers and 50 RBI’s last season wouldn’t be a team-changing move for the Yankees, but it would certainly improve their situation.
Shortstop: Stephen Drew
Team I feel should sign him: Astros
The only thing that is for sure with Stephen Drew is that he has a near 100 percent chance of not being with the Red Sox next season; other than that, not a lot is certain. Drew was an impact player for the Sox this past season, playing a good defense at shortstop and coming up big in big spots, especially in the postseason, but with Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at third base, there just isn’t room for Drew. The Yankees could use him down the road at short, but assuming Derek Jeter is healthy, there won’t be a spot for Drew next season, other than Jeter’s backup. For Drew’s sake, I feel he’d be a good fit with the Astros, who could use an everyday shortstop — one of their many weak spots.
Left Field: Quintin Berry
Team I feel should sign him: Diamondback’s
There really aren’t a lot of great left field free agents available, but of them, Quintin Berry is the best. The Diamondback’s have a left fielder, in Adam Eaton, but I feel the acquisition of Berry would be worth it, as they could move some players around to make room for him. Berry hasn’t had a great deal of opportunity to show off any consistency at the big league level, but his speed — he’s never been caught stealing in 24 major league stolen base attempts — alone is enough for the D-back’s to take a shot on Berry, in my mind.
Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury & Shin-Soo Choo
Team I feel should sign them: Mariners (Ellsbury) and Reds (Choo)
I couldn’t pick just one player as the best available free agent at this position, as both Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo have a high value in their own unique ways. Ellsbury hasn’t been able to stay very healthy so far during his career, but an unhealthy Ellsbury is more valuable than a lot of other players in baseball — he’s that great of an impact when healthy. Though Seattle has a difficult time attracting players, due to their location and recent subpar performances, I feel they are going to become a great team in the next year or two. Ellsbury needs to join before things take off. As far as Choo goes, he is very efficient at getting on base, with a .421 OBP this past season. The Reds need to keep him, in my opinion, as their leadoff man, if they want to be as successful next season as they were in 2013.
Right Field: Carlos Beltran
Team I feel should sign him: Yankees
If the Yankees decide not to keep Cano, as I believe they should do, they will likely make a run at Carlos Beltran, who they are reportedly interested in. A left handed hitter, Beltran would thrive at Yankee stadium and would be a big impact for the Yankees in 2014 and beyond. At 36 years old, Beltran isn’t a player you would want to lock up for any extended period of time, however, any time with Beltran on your team is worth it. Batting .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI’s last season, Beltran could have a great season should the Yankees sign him.
Starting Pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez
Team I feel should sign him: Twins
A lot of teams need pitching, including the Blue Jays, Rockies, etc., but the Twins are a team I feel could use a guy like Ubaldo Jimenez the most. The Twins are an interesting team, as they don’t have a lot going for them now, but their farm system is one of the best in baseball and they will be a really good team down the road, similar with the Mariners. Should Jimenez sign with them, I could see him developing into the great pitcher he’s capable of being. He’s shown signs of it in the past, and next year could be a break out year for him. Jimenez could really help out the Twins in a big way.
Relief Pitcher: Brian Wilson
Team I feel should sign him: Tigers
While Joe Nathan and Fernando Rodney would be good fits for the Tigers, I feel Brian Wilson would be the best. Wilson has had a lot of ups and downs in his career, but when he’s healthy, he’s one of the most dominant relief pitchers in baseball — something the Tigers could use. Having undergone two Tommy John surgeries, many teams shy away from Wilson. But after the performance he had towards the end of last season, I feel Wilson could be the piece the Tigers need to clinch them a World Series title after coming up short recently.
So, there are my thoughts on which players are the best remaining free agents at each postion, and which team should sign them. Odds are that things won’t go exactly, if at all, how I feel they should, but this is just the way I see it working out best.
Besides Robinson Cano, who do you feel is the best remaining free agent? Cast your vote:
As always, feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.