The 2022 season is another disappointment for our favorite baseball team. The Detroit Tigers are going to lose 90+ games and sadly also bore many of us as they do so.
This version of the team is slow, not very good at fielding the baseball, doesn’t make good contact, and consistently makes boo-boos or outright gaffes that cost them baseball games.
But hey, I’m an optimist.
What the Tigers need to do at this juncture of their history is show boldness. Like they did once previously to transform the franchise.
The Major League Baseball trade deadline is August 2nd, about one month from today. The Detroit front office should be on the phone NOW working to make a blockbuster deal. Because this is a roster that needs an injection of talent and star power. This is a franchise that needs something young to make them relevant with fans.
The Dominican Who Can Save the Tigers
In 2007 at the MLB Winter Meetings, Tigers GM and President Dave Dombrowski made a huge splash when he bundled a group of prospects in a deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. At the time, the trade sent shockwaves through baseball, but most importantly, it gave the franchise a cornerstone to build on.
Cabrera was 24 years old at the time, having matured with the Marlins, a team that scouted him when he was still just 13 years old in Venezuela. One of the men who became friends with the Cabrera family and young Miggy was Al Avila. The GM when Cabrera was called up to the Marlins was Dombrowski.
Today, Juan Soto has a lot in common with the young Cabrera whom the Tigers dealt for 15 years ago. Soto will turn 24 in October. He’s been an All-Star several times, and he’s finished high in MVP voting, just like Cabrera as a young member of the Marlins. And like Miggy, Soto led his team to a pennant as a young superstar. For Soto, who hails from the Dominican, it came in 2019 when he hit 34 homers, drove in 110 runs, and had a 142 OPS+. Sounds a lot like a vintage Cabrera season, doesn’t it?
Soto can become a free agent in three years. He’s not signed beyond this year, but he’s one of the most coveted assets in baseball. Like prime Cabrera, Soto is a power hitter and a batting champion-type hitter (he’s already won a title in 2020), and he understands the strike zone.
The Nats are somewhat like the Marlins were in 2007: a team in transition deciding how to build its next contender. The Marlins have been in discussion with Soto and his agent on a long-term contract that would prevent the outfielder from hitting the free agent market (he can do so in 2025). Some insiders insist the team has offered 13 years and $425 million. Others say he’s been offered something in the range of $380 million for a little less than a decade. Regardless, it’s loads of money and a long-term commitment.
But Soto, like Cabrera when he was 24, is worth every penny.
One player does not a franchise make. But Juan Soto is a cornerstone, and in the Old English D, he would be replacing the outgoing Miguel Cabrera as the lineup building block.
How would Detroit get Soto? Well, if he and his agent are not happy with the offers from the Nats, or if he prefers to play somewhere else, they could catch his attention. If the Nationals front office decides they should cut Soto loose and get something in return before losing him as a free agent, that would increase the chances a team like Detroit could nab him.
What would it take? Detroit has a pile of “top rated prospects” in their system. A bundle of current big leaguers Spencer Torkelson, Matt Manning, and minor league shortstop Cristian Santana, and one of either Ty Madden or Dylan Smith, both promising pitchers currently at High-A ball, could do the trick. Maybe the Nats want Casey Mize instead of Manning, so be it.
That’s a deal the Tigers should make all day, every day. Because prospects are rarely as valuable as you think they are. The future is never as amazing as you think it will be in baseball, especially when it comes to young pitchers.
I’ve written it before: if one of the young Tigers pitching prospects ends up as a long-term star, that will be typical. Two is a stretch. That’s from a group that includes Mize, Manning, Tarik Skubal, Alex Faedo, and Jackson Jobe, a 1st round pick in 2021. There’s a tendency to fall in love with what we can’t see: the promising future of young baseball players. But it’s the teams themselves and the league that hype these guys. And some astute observers know that.
Dombrowski is one of the few prescient MLB executives. He sent Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, and Mike Rabelo to Florida for Miguel Cabrera at those winter meetings in December of 2007.
Some people loved Cameron Maybin. There were people who were drooling over Andrew Miller’s fastball. Heck, I remember “experts” who thought Burke Badenhop was going to be a star pitcher in the big leagues. Badenhop pitched eight seasons in the majors, won 20 games, and started 10. He was a serviceable journeyman right-handed reliever. Meanwhile, Maybin never became a star, never even had one really good season. Miller had a nice career, but he was far from a superstar (7.7 Wins Above Replacement in 16 years as a left-handed relief specialist). None of those other blue-chip prospects amounted to much of anything.
Why do we think Mize, Manning, Torkelson Et al. will be different? Recency bias. Overhype. Whatever you want to call it: we just like to swallow this stuff. It makes us happy to think our favorite baseball team is loaded for the future.
They probably aren’t. Outside of Riley Greene, the promising performance of Tarik Skubal, and solid maturation of Faedo and Beau Brieske, I don’t see young players in this system that should be untouchable. Jobe and Greene, for sure. Skubal probably. But otherwise, these “hot top-ranked prospects” are chips that can be cashed in for talent right now.
I don’t think Al Avila will have the guts to make a big deal for a star like Soto. This franchise is set on a never-ending rebuild. The front office has cover because the Detroit Tigers-owned media has successfully convinced most fans that the young kids are on the way, and it will only be a matter of time before the team wins games. The team has also successfully used the media to sell fans on the bizarre notion that it’s normal for a team to be terrible for 5-7 years, that it’s just part of the cycle of professional sports.
Not me. I’m not thirsty for that Koolaid. I’m a cream soda guy. I’ll take my baseball with some talent and wins, thank you very much.
The time is now to get the next Miggy: and he’s in Washington and he might be available if Detroit has the nerve to make an offer.