Buster Olney: Detroit Tigers

DodgersStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig serve as spark plugs for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- Hanley Ramirez attends the meetings that the Dodgers hold for the hitters at the outset of every series to go over scouting reports, but he does this to be respectful and polite of the process and not because he actually gleans information. He does not study video, either.

“None,” he said Saturday as he waited his turn in batting practice.

He does not care to know the identity of the opponent's starting pitcher, Ramirez said, until he is preparing for his first at-bat -- and even then, as he watches the pitcher throw to the first batters of the game, what Ramirez only wants to know is how hard the pitcher is throwing, and how much his fastball moves.

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videoTo understand just how terrible the industry reviews are of the Detroit Tigers' deal with Miguel Cabrera, it's appropriate to draw on the examples from the movie industry.

The Cabrera deal, in the eyes of rival executives, is "Disaster Movie" bad.

The Cabrera deal, in the eyes of officials with other teams, is "Battlefield Earth" bad.
It's is "Heaven's Gate" bad. It is "Sahara" bad.

Folks from around the sport believe that Cabrera's deal is a guaranteed loser, and they do not understand what the Tigers could be thinking to sign on for this money pit that they know will have ripple effects on the entire industry.

"I just don't get it," one high-ranking NL executive said. "They lost their minds."

Said another: "It's an awful deal for the Tigers, and it's worse for baseball."

The criticism of the contract should not be confused with criticism of Cabrera, whose skills as a hitter are universally respected.

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The future is now for Tigers 

March, 22, 2014
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Brad Ausmus, Victor MartinezAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBrad Ausmus, right, has high expectations for the Tigers in his first year as manager.
The presumption within baseball is that the Detroit Tigers have been absorbing financial losses for years, owing to Mike Ilitch’s deep desire for a World Series title.

Consider the payrolls of clubs similar in market size and geography. The Cleveland Indians operate in a similar-sized market as the Tigers, and last year they had a payroll of just under $80 million. The Cincinnati Reds’ was just under $110 million. The Milwaukee Brewers' payroll was about $85 million. The Pittsburgh Pirates spent about $80 million.

The Tigers, on the other hand, had a payroll of about $150 million despite inhabiting a city that has had tremendous financial trouble. Ilitch, who is 84, has done everything he can to build a winner in Detroit, and the fans have certainly responded: The Tigers finished fifth in AL attendance in 2012 and third in 2013. Some rival executives, including owners, have marveled at Ilitch’s willingness to essentially dig into his own pockets, from his personal wealth, to try to win.

“God bless him, he wants to win,” said another owner. “I don’t think anybody in baseball wants to win more than he does, and he puts his money where his mouth is.”

But an often-asked question in baseball is: What will the next generations of Tigers ownership be like?

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jose Iglesias will be out for a long time because of his shin trouble, the Tigers now have a clear need at shortstop, and Stephen Drew would certainly fill that need. To borrow a Kevin Bacon line from "A Few Good Men," these are the facts, and they are undisputed.
[+] EnlargeStephen Drew
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesStephen Drew is represented by Scott Boras, who also represents the injured Jose Iglesias.

Drew and Iglesias are both represented by Scott Boras, who has had a good working relationship with Mike Ilitch, the Tigers’ owner who relentlessly seeks a championship. Through the years Detroit has signed Boras clients like Magglio Ordonez and Prince Fielder. Again, these are the facts, and they are undisputed.

All of this suggests that Drew and the Tigers could be a match.

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Toughest lineup quandaries in MLB 

February, 1, 2014
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Xander BogaertsRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesBoth Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia could see time leading off for the Red Sox in 2014.
When Joe Torre managed, he jotted down lineups in his time away from the park, mulling over various possibilities, internally debating certain combinations.

In other words: He was like a lot of baseball fans and reporters, who like to think through different lineup quandaries, especially in the cold of winter.

Around baseball, there are interesting lineup quandaries.

For the defending champion Red Sox: Who hits leadoff?

Boston’s leadoff hitters ranked first in on-base percentage last season and third in runs scored, but the guy primarily responsible for that is gone. So now John Farrell has to decide who will replace Jacoby Ellsbury in the No. 1 spot in his batting order.

He’s got a few imperfect candidates such as Dustin Pedroia, who actually has done some of his worst work when he’s hit leadoff, or Jackie Bradley, who doesn’t have a lot of experience, or maybe Xander Bogaerts, who may ultimately be needed to hit in the middle of the Boston order.

But the Red Sox are likely to open the year with Bradley at or near the bottom of their lineup to help ease his transition into the big leagues.

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Top 10 teams in the majors 

December, 31, 2013
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Miguel CabreraMark Cunningham/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesWith Miguel Cabrera no longer out of position, the Tigers should be even better in 2014.
As 2013 becomes 2014, here's a look at the top 10 teams in MLB.

1. Detroit Tigers

Some of the teams that employ advanced metrics determined at the end of the last regular season that the Tigers were the best team in the American League -- by far. This, in spite of a bullpen that repeatedly went through changes at closer, and in spite of what was widely regarded as the worst defense in the majors. The Tigers won the AL Central for the third straight year, and again they couldn't win the World Series, losing to Boston in the ALCS. And since the end of the season, Detroit GM David Dombrowski has gone about the business of plugging the holes.

He allowed Jhonny Peralta to depart, cementing Jose Iglesias' spot at shortstop.

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Top 10 rotations in the majors 

December, 27, 2013
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Max Scherzer and Justin VerlanderMark Cunningham/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesYou are in good shape when your rotation starts with these two Cy Young winners.
Mashiro Tanaka will represent a significant upgrade to the winning bidder, and as some executives said last week, the expectation is that he'll get a contract well over $100 million. Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez will also land someplace. David Price could be traded someplace soon.

With those big names still in limbo, we rank the top 10 rotations in MLB.

1. Detroit Tigers

Rick Porcello could not have been more ill-suited for the Tigers over the last two seasons, because he needs the support of his defense and Detroit had little to offer. Now that the Tigers have upgraded at shortstop, with Jose Iglesias, and at third base (with Nick Castellanos taking over for Miguel Cabrera) and first (where Cabrera will be stationed), Porcello's ability to generate ground balls should be better exploited.

Remember, Porcello turns 25 years old on Friday and already has 149 starts in the big leagues; numerous evaluators believe he's headed for a strong season, at the back end of a rotation that includes the Cy Young Award winners from 2011 (Justin Verlander) and 2013 (Max Scherzer), as well as the highly underrated Anibal Sanchez.

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Many teams capable of a big move 

December, 15, 2013
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Shin-Soo ChooJamie Sabau/Getty ImagesShin-Soo Choo is one of the big names still available in free agency, and he has a number of potential suitors.
The Mariners have spent about $250 million this offseason, and the Yankees more than $300 million. Most of the best free agents have come off the board, and as general managers rushed out of the building with the dolphin on the top to catch flights out of Florida on Thursday, a lot of the winter work was done.

But some teams still have room for a big move before the offseason is over:

1. Texas Rangers: GM Jon Daniels says he does not expect any more major moves for the Rangers this winter. But Texas remains in an excellent position in its negotiations with Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, because it appears the Rangers are one of the last teams -- maybe the last team -- prepared to spend big money on an outfielder.

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Cano's 3 likeliest non-Yankee suitors 

November, 27, 2013
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As the Robinson Cano stalemate continues, it's a good time to play the same game that folks in the Yankees' organization are playing.

It's called: If Not Us, Then Who?

Meaning: Who could possibly afford to sign Cano in the same sort of range that Albert Pujols got two winters ago, $240 million over 10 years? The Yankees offered around $160 million in May, the Cano camp asked for a record-setting deal of more than $300 million, and despite recent talks, a massive gap of about $100 million between the two sides probably still exists.

The Yankees ask: If Not Us, Then Who?

In order to go through this exercise, you must suspend any thoughts of team-building logic, because they really don't apply. It's been demonstrated time and again -- through the Yankees' A-Rod deal, through Pujols' contract, and others -- that giving a player in his prime a deal of eight or more years is probably not going to pay off.

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Here are the biggest winners of the Detroit Tigers-Texas Rangers blockbuster, and the biggest losers:

Winners

1. Detroit Tigers: General manager David Dombrowski described to reporters how quickly this deal came together in a little over 24 hours, and you can understand the scramble by Detroit to finish this. In the Tigers’ front office, there must have been a rush of adrenaline similar to what the Red Sox experienced when they were able to unload the contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett on the Los Angeles Dodgers.

When teams sign megadeals like the nine-year, $214 million contract that Prince Fielder got in January 2012, executives will privately tell you that their reasonable hope is for a few good years of elite production before the gradual decline begins and the final years of the deal turn ugly.

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10 biggest holes on contenders 

November, 13, 2013
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A year ago, Marlon Byrd was coming off a season in which he had been suspended for the use of performance-enhancing drugs and was limited to just 47 games, and he eventually settled for a make-good minor league deal with the New York Mets.

Now he's 36 years old and getting a $16 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, which speaks to the level of desperation in play for teams wanting to get better, needing to get better.

As baseball executives meet in Orlando this week for the GM meetings, these are the 10 biggest holes that have to be filled among would-be contenders:

1. Texas Rangers: middle-of-the-order bats

Josh Hamilton walked away a year ago, Nelson Cruz is prepared to walk away now, and the Rangers -- who have historically posted top-notch, productive lineups in the way Duke has had good basketball teams -- have a problem. With Cruz, they clubbed 176 homers last season, and without him, they will lack thump.

This is why Brian McCann could make sense for them, or Carlos Beltran, or both. This is why they could be the best match for the Dodgers for an outfielder trade. This is why rival executives believe that if and when Giancarlo Stanton is traded, the Rangers will be at the front of the line and sticking their elbows out.

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Days of superstar managers are over 

October, 23, 2013
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Joe Torre and Don MattinglyKelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsDon Mattingly will never attain the managerial superstar status of Joe Torre, his former boss.
BOSTON -- Bobby Valentine was hired to be the Red Sox manager in the fall of 2012 largely because he is a big name, a big personality -- and the theory of the club's ownership was that fans would be familiar with him and energized by him. The Marlins used the same logic in hiring Ozzie Guillen in the same offseason.

Both were fired in less than a year, of course, and they will be among the last of a fading concept: The Manager as Franchise Savior, the Manager as Franchise Leader, the Manager as Face of the Franchise.

The days of John McGraw, Casey Stengel and Earl Weaver being bigger than anybody else in the organization are over.

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Collision ban seen as inevitable 

October, 19, 2013
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David Ross, Alex AvilaAP Photo/Matt SlocumAlex Avila suffered a strained patellar tendon when David Ross ran over him at home plate.
BOSTON -- In the aftermath of two home plate collisions in the American League Championship Series on Thursday, officials from other teams reiterated that they expect the topic of banning that play to be raised again in meetings this winter.

Given how quickly sentiment within the sport about collisions is shifting -- particularly as information about concussions has come to light, including the cost of concussion-related lawsuits faced by the National Football League -- some officials talk of change as inevitable and predict that it could come swiftly.

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White Sox place huge bet on Abreu 

October, 18, 2013
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Jose AbreuAP Photo/Koji SasaharaJose Abreu's deal with the White Sox is the biggest contract ever for an international free agent.
DETROIT -- When the Dodgers signed Cuban defector Yasiel Puig to a seven-year, $42 million contract, there were lot of evaluators who thought the deal was reckless, at the very least, and maybe a little insane. And now every team would love to have him at that rate.

There was similar sentiment in the sport when Oakland signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $38 million contract, and in two years with the Athletics, Cespedes has established himself as one of the better right-handed power hitters in the majors. So it’s always possible that the White Sox will be proved correct for their $68 million investment in Jose Abreu, a 26-year-old first base/DH type who defected from Cuba this summer.

But to put the Abreu signing into perspective: His contract is a bigger deal than any signed by Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn or Albert Belle or John Danks or Mark Buerhle or any other White Sox player in club history.

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Data, scouting fuel Red Sox win 

October, 16, 2013
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DETROIT -- Think of the postseason as a final exam, and the pitchers in the American League Championship Series as summa cum laude-caliber students: former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, presumptive Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Cy Young candidate Clay Buchholz, etc.

Now, on top of that, imagine the students had access to the best tutors in the world as they prepared for the final exam. Then, on top of that, imagine the exam was an open-book test.

This is what we have in the Boston-Detroit series. Some of the best pitchers in the world are using the extraordinary advance scouting provided to them, and are applying it to each hitter pitch by pitch. And when they see a hitter struggling with some problem, they exploit it expertly. The period from the late '80s to the earlier part of the last decade should be known as the steroid era, and what is occurring now should be called baseball's information era.

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