The Indians face the Tigers for the first time this season tonight, kicking off a 3-game series that will leave us all in either a very good mood, or a very foul one. Rob Rogacki of Bless You Boys (our Detroit cousin) and I exchanged questions with one another in advance of the series.
You can find my answers to his questions at BYB, here are his answers to my questions:
The Tigers made a pair of major trades over the offseason, sending Prince Fielder to Texas and Doug Fister to Washington. How did you feel about each of those moves at the time, and how do you like the 2014 roster as compared to last year's group?
I hated both moves initially, but it's worth noting that I have initially hated just about every big trade the Tigers have made since Curtis Granderson was sent packing in 2009. Yes, this includes the Victor Martinez deal (man, I'm dumb). The money and roster flexibility the Tigers gained from trading Prince Fielder made the deal a win by itself. They will save $72 million over the life of Fielder's contract even after you factor in the money owed to Ian Kinsler and the $30 million being forked over to the Rangers once Kinsler's deal expires. The trade also allowed them the luxury of rearranging their infield, resulting in a vastly improved defensive unit. They are far from elite, but going from "grounder = hit" to actually turning the occasional double play is a nice change.
The Fister trade still burns, but only because the return seems so underwhelming. The Tigers have since flipped utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi to the Orioles for 37 year old shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who has already worn out his welcome in a Tigers uniform despite hitting a walkoff single on Opening Day. The other parts of the deal -- lefty reliever Ian Krol and lefty starter Robbie Ray (currently in the minors) -- need to pan out or this may very well be Dave Dombrowski's worst trade as a Tigers GM.
The 8-year, $248-million contract extension for Miguel Cabrera (covering 2016 to 2023) involves a massive commitment by Detroit. Why do you think the team felt compelled to work out that kind of extension with Cabrera still two seasons away from free agency? Do you worry about what that deal will look like five years from now? Why/why not?
Owner Mike Ilitch has never shied away from trying to bring star players to Detroit, and I think that the long-term extensions given to both Cabrera and Justin Verlander show the lengths that he is willing to go to retain said star power on his teams. Cabrera's history with Dave Dombrowski -- who originally signed him with the Marlins back in 1999 -- adds an additional wrinkle to his case, but ultimately I think that this deal was all Ilitch.
As for the contract itself, it's an overpay. Plain and simple. The relative sting of the deal in 2019 and beyond will depend on whether the Tigers win a World Series in the next few years, and how healthy and effective Cabrera remains. Albert Pujols notwithstanding, Hall of Fame caliber players tend to age well into their late 30s, and Cabrera's recent move back to first base should help preserve him for a little longer. It's definitely a concern in the long run, but the short term benefits could outweigh the long term consequences if things go right.
I was surprised when the Tigers released a statement on their negotiations with Max Scherzer, in which they seemed to be trying to paint him as the bad guy, the reason a deal hadn't been worked out. What was the reaction among Tigers fans to that move, and do you expect to see Scherzer back with the team in 2015?
The Tigers' front office has never been one to hint about upcoming moves, so the fact that they released a statement to the public is about as shocking as the idea of a Lions-Browns Super Bowl in 2015. That said, I think it had the intended effect, and 2014 will probably be the last season we see Scherzer in a Tigers uniform. Many Tigers fans think Scherzer is being "greedy" for turning down a reported six-year offer, while others seem to be ambivalent towards the drama unfolding. No one seems to think the Tigers are in the wrong here, which was probably the entire purpose of the statement. I think that Scherzer will be elsewhere in 2015, but not because of the back-and-forth that the public statement momentarily caused. The Tigers already have nearly $45 million committed to Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez next year, and I think that Robbie Ray (the prize of the Fister deal) is intended to be Scherzer's cost-controlled replacement.
The Tigers are heavy favorites in the AL Central. If they don't win the division, what do you think will have been their undoing?
Other than a surprise 95+ win season from one of the other four teams in the Central, I think that injuries are the biggest threat to the Tigers' divisional reign. They have been remarkably healthy for the past few years, with Victor Martinez's torn ACL in 2012 being the only major injury to a marquee player during this run of success. The team would be in serious trouble if Verlander, Scherzer, or Cabrera go down for an extended period, but a long-term injury to a "lesser" player like Ian Kinsler, Anibal Sanchez, or Austin Jackson would also be difficult to overcome. The team is already without a few contributors for significant portions of the season, and another loss or two could start to take its toll.
Who on the Indians worries you most when they're facing the Tigers?
There are several players on the roster who can do plenty of damage with one swing of the bat, but I'm honestly shocked any time a Tigers pitcher gets Michael Brantley out. It feels like he bats 1.000 against us -- in reality, it's a healthy .305 -- and he always seems to take eight or nine pitches to do his damage. Jason Kipnis wins the "most feared even though the numbers say otherwise" award, as his splits against the Tigers are actually pretty awful. Of course, now watch him hit .600 in this series with four homers.
Finally... Victor Martinez was one of the most beloved players of the last 10-15 years in Cleveland. Is he being well taken care of by fans in Detroit?
If there is one thing both of our fanbases can agree on, it's that Victor Martinez is awesome. I was not happy about the signing initially, but Victor promptly shut me up with a monster 2011 season. It's a blast watching him hit, especially when he is as hot as he was in the second half of 2013. Add in the GIF of him dancing like a fool on a random road trip, and his adorable son running around Comerica Park in full uniform, and I fully see why he is still so popular in Cleveland.
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A big thanks to Rob for taking the time to do this. I'm sure he understands why I can't wish his team good luck.