Even the best teams have flaws, and the Detroit Tigers have a few.
One that sticks out is the leadoff spot, where the Tigers have used Austin Jackson for most of the season and where his .337 on-base percentage and eight stolen bases were simply not good enough of a contrast to the slow, power-hitting lineup that produced the best offense in baseball.
While it didn’t bite the Tigers during the regular season, it did in the postseason. Jackson was dropped to No. 8 in the order and Torii Hunter was elevated to leadoff. We know that at 38, Hunter probably isn’t the ideal leadoff man.
How do the Tigers solve this problem going forward? You may be able to add free agent Jacoby Ellsbury to the list of potential leadoff hitters the Tigers could bid on. Another Scott Boras free agent, Shin-Soo Choo, is also a candidate.
The reason those are possibilities is the relationship between Boras and the Tigers, particularly owner Mike Ilitch. But the Tigers may have bigger fish to fry, such as trying to tie up Max Scherzer, another Boras client, to a long-term contract.
The Tigers have an older team, but one that has a window of opportunity to win over the next couple of seasons. Victor Martinez is entering the final year of his deal. The middle of the order lineup, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, will be in place for a while.
So, it would seem logical that the Tigers would enhance, not take away from, their chances. At a time when they should go for it, why would they hold back and trade Scherzer, and not pursue a solution at the top of the order?
Granted, Jackson is a fine center fielder and excellent athlete. But on a team of base cloggers, he simply doesn’t get on base enough. Imagine Ellsbury getting on base, stealing second, and perhaps advancing to third because he’s forced a bad throw from the catcher? That’s what he does for the Red Sox, who will also be a player in the Ellsbury talks. The Tigers have seen firsthand what a good leadoff hitter looks like.
“That’s the one team we haven’t heard Ellsbury’s name mentioned with,” said one American League general manager. “We’ve heard a lot about the Mets, Mariners, Rangers, but the Tigers make perfect sense. They are a big-market team with big resources. There’s a relationship with Scott and Mr. Ilitch. They’ve done business before and there’s no reason they can’t do business again.”
Ellsbury’s market is growing based on his strong postseason. He’s played with a broken bone in his foot, and played at a high level, still stealing bases and running down balls in the outfield.
“It requires doing my pregame routine and taking care of it,” Ellsbury said. “I’ve been diligent in doing things to prepare that the medical staff has asked me to do, and it’s responding well.”
Ellsbury and Boras have tried to allay fears that Ellsbury could require offseason surgery.
“It just needs some rest once the season ends,” Ellsbury said. “I’ll be fine. There’s no surgery needed. The bone is healing fine.”
The fact that Ellsbury is playing speaks volumes. Ellsbury has been known to take awhile to heal his injuries — ribs in 2010, a shoulder subluxation last season. But none of that affected his talent. The power he showed in his career year of 2011 (32 home runs) hasn’t returned, but there’s some power there. Watch batting practice and the only Red Sox hitter who hits the ball harder is David Ortiz.
Of course, teams often fear signing players who rely heavily on their legs to long-term deals. The Red Sox have been burned by such deals, particularly to Carl Crawford, whom they signed to a seven-year, $142 million contract two years ago but were able to unload on the Dodgers in August 2012.
Signs point to the Red Sox being willing to go five years, perhaps six, for the 30-year-old Ellsbury. It will be interesting to see whether Ellsbury is viewed as a big-splash signing for teams such as the Tigers, Rangers, Mets, or Mariners, who need a player at the top of the order.
Ellsbury is certainly a star. While he’s not quite a five-tool player because of his weak arm, he possesses the other four tools. And with home runs on the decline, Ellsbury seems to be the poster child for the post-steroid era.
The manufacturing of runs has become very important, which is why Ellsbury is so valuable to the Red Sox. There’s no substitute for him, though the Sox are still high on Jackie Bradley Jr., who is a different type of player and has yet to define himself as a base stealer, though he’s an excellent defender with a better arm than Ellsbury.
Organizations come to conclusions with their players, where they believe they’ve gotten the most out of them and that the next phase of their careers won’t yield better results. The Red Sox want to re-sign Ellsbury, but at their price, and all signs are that Ellsbury wants to remain with the Sox if all things are equal.
But the offer may not be equal. A team is going to spend big for Ellsbury.
Montreal now seen as a viable alternative
We’ve written before about a Montreal baseball revival. But now there’s some real talk about the possibility that the Rays, for instance, could see Montreal as a real alternative if plans for a new stadium don’t work out in the Tampa area.
As we’ve pointed out, the Montreal business community is much different than it was in the past. There are large telecom companies and financial institutions with big money. The city would need a new stadium, but Montreal baseball has a very strong grass-roots movement to explore the possibility.
As one AL executive pointed out recently, “Other cities — Washington D.C. and Seattle — have received second chances for franchises. It appears that Montreal would be a viable second-chance city given the financial opportunity there now. There have always been great baseball fans there. They never had a venue that was desirable for baseball and the economics never allowed them to keep the great talent they developed over the years.”
Former Expos outfielder Warren Cromartie, one of those spearheading the return of major league baseball to Montreal, said the group he’s formed will soon announce the results of a feasibility study, which Cromartie said has been positive.
Montreal will also host spring training games March 28 and 29 between the Blue Jays and the Mets, a sign that MLB sees the city as a viable option for expansion and/or relocation. Unfortunately, the games will be played at Olympic Stadium, but part of the feasibility study includes the building of a downtown stadium.
“We’ve sold 50,000 tickets for the games already,” Cromartie said. “We’re very excited about these games and a big gala we’re going to have. We hope to bring back all of the old Expos, like Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, Moises Alou, and many others. We’re going to honor Felipe Alou. It’s going to be great.”
Apropos of nothing
1. OK, so which position sees the least fielding activity (other than pitcher and catcher). Before looking it up, we asked Red Sox manager John Farrell (who said third base), assistant GM Mike Hazen (who said left field), and third base coach Brian Butterfield (who said the corner outfield spots). The winner, according to Baseball-Reference.com numbers for the 2013 regular season? Left field (9,349 chances). It was followed by right field (10,253), center field (12,630), third base (12,902), shortstop (21,280), second base (23,068), and first base (44,720).
2. Jose Iglesias is developing some spunk. When Shane Victorino tried to throw him out at first on a single to right in Game 4 of the ALCS, Iglesias made a hand gesture. Victorino claimed there was no dispute between the two, but Iglesias was obviously irked.
3. Nolan Ryan wasn’t happy that the Rangers let bench coach Jackie Moore go. That’s one of the reasons Ryan has had enough in Texas.
4. The Yankees seem to be on the verge of making some changes in their scouting and player development departments.
5. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Carlos Beltran would be a coup for the Orioles, especially to keep him away from the Yankees.
6. Signs point to the Blue Jays spending to acquire another big bat, two starting pitchers, and a bullpen piece. And maybe I’ll pick them again.
7. One of the few things the Angels have done right recently — hiring Don Baylor as hitting coach. Baylor’s biggest job will be to get through to Josh Hamilton and again make him one of the most productive hitters in baseball.
8. Could Bud Selig stay on another season, even though he says he’s through after 2014? Sure. There’s no collective bargaining until after the 2015 season.
9. Dodgers special assistant Bill Mueller is committed to learning every aspect of being a top talent evaluator. Mueller, the 2003 AL batting champion for the Red Sox, had been scouting them for more than a month in anticipation of a possible World Series between the teams. He’s been very impressed with the Red Sox.
Updates on nine
1. Jose Dariel Abreu, 1B, White Sox — The Red Sox went pretty far in their pursuit of the Cuban first baseman, who was described by some in the organization as Miguel Cabrera-like in size and power, though not as a pure hitter. The Red Sox were in the negotiations until the end, but the White Sox came away with him for six years at $68 million. The Red Sox weren’t willing to go that high. It was a sensitive negotiation for the Red Sox out of respect for Mike Napoli, who will be a free agent after the season and would have been affected by an Abreu signing.
2. Torey Lovullo, bench coach, Red Sox — Once the postseason is over, Lovullo could get an interview for a managing job, unless they’re already filled. Bench coaches whose teams go far into the postseason are usually hot commodities and at least get interviews. The Cubs are going to determine in the next few days whether Lovullo could be a candidate. The Mariners could also be considering him.
3. Tony La Russa, special assignments, MLB — The Cubs are involved in a thorough managerial search since they were unable to secure Joe Girardi. La Russa is certainly the big name out there, but according to a Cubs source there’s been no contact with La Russa, who has told friends he’d rather be considered for a front office job than manage again. La Russa has had chances for high-profile jobs in the past, but preferred the small-town feel of St. Louis. Cincinnati would make the most sense given La Russa’s relationship with owner Bob Castellini, but it appears the leader of the pack is pitching coach Bryan Price.
4. Justin Morneau, 1B, free agent — It doesn’t appear Morneau will return to the Pirates, but he will be out there as an interesting option at first base. The Orioles may very well kick the tires on Morneau as they pursue another bat. If Carlos Beltran is too expensive, Morneau could be an alternative, despite the fact the Orioles may prefer a righthanded bat like Mike Morse.
5. Dave Magadan, hitting coach, Rangers — Magadan is being viewed as a managerial candidate by some executives. He certainly has the pedigree of having served under Terry Francona in Boston, but now he’s spent a couple of years with Ron Washington, as well. It was thought that if Washington had been replaced, Magadan would have been a candidate in Texas.
6. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants — The Giants would probably listen to anyone who had interest in Sandoval and who would be willing to roll the dice that he’s in shape. That’s always the issue with Sandoval, whose weight has been up and down, but mostly up. Entering the final year of his deal, Sandoval has pretty much been told by GM Brian Sabean that it’s up to him. While Sandoval decides whether to get in shape or remain out of shape, anyone needing a third baseman might be mildly intrigued.
7. Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds — USA Today first reported that Phillips was being shopped. There’s no shortage of teams looking for a second baseman, including the Dodgers, Orioles, Royals, and Blue Jays. Imagine a Phillips/Jose Reyes double play combination in Toronto. Phillips looked tired at the end of the season. At 32, he may not be what he was, but the Reds should get some feelers.
8. Gary DiSarcina, manager, Pawtucket — Let’s see how it all shakes out after the Red Sox’ season ends. If there’s an opening on the major league staff, it appears DiSarcina would get it. But he may have other choices for a major league coaching job (Angels?) and perhaps even be considered for a managerial position. Yes, DiSarcina is that good, and the Red Sox would hate to lose him. As of this writing, DiSarcina does plan on coming back to manage the PawSox.
9. Josh Johnson, RHP, free agent — We all know about Johnson’s poor season and season-ending elbow surgery (bone spurs), which is why it’s not far-fetched he could return to the Blue Jays to make amends. The Jays had so much hope for Johnson, who was virtually unhittable in spring training. The dilemma they face: Do they make Johnson a qualifying offer in hopes he reverts to his talented ways? The Jays, according to two of their baseball operations staff, need two quality starting pitchers to go with Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, and R.A. Dickey.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Orioles center fielder Adam Jones hit for 322 total bases, while Red Sox lefty Jon Lester allowed 322 total bases.” Also, “Indians righthander Ubaldo Jimenez walked 80 batters this season without issuing an intentional pass, the most in the majors.” And, “Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings walked 64 times this season without an intentional pass, the most in the majors.” Happy birthday, Rudy Seanez (45) and Juan Marichal (76).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.