Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I'm not sure if I should be happy, or worried sick

Why the indecision, you ask? Because of the latest word from the hairpiece himself, noted pizza maker and owner of the Tigers, Mike Ilitch.

"I guess the best way to word it is we’ll continue to keep the team up there. Whatever it takes to do. It’s so hard to get it to a point where you feel like you have a solid organization. It feels good, after you’ve been down so long, to have a good organization, and I want to protect it."

On one hand, this is good to hear. The Tigers current payroll is just south of 100 million, around 94-95 million. It's only going to go up over the coming seasons. It's encouraging that the Tigers owner sees that this is a team that could be competitive for the long term, at least for the rest of this decade.

That's if the right moves are made.

Which brings me to why the pizza man's statement is reason for concern. When Mike Ilitch has said in the past that he would spend whatever it takes for the Tigers to be competitive, it didn't end all that well.

Remember the early 90's, when the Tigers had the biggest payroll in baseball? Or should I say, remember Mike Moore, free agent bust?

The Tigers of that era could hit like stink, but they pitched like shit. At that time, Ilitch was spending huge amounts of cash on bad pitchers like a drunken George Steinbrenner. One of the worst examples was when the pizza man dropped a 3 year, 10 million dollar contract in Mike Moore's lap, well, just because. That wouldn't even buy you a Neifi Perez in today's market, but back then? That was monster money.

That big time pitcher that Ilitch had to have went 29-34 over the 3 seasons, with a low ERA of 5.22 in 1993. But that's not the only mistake of that era. Tim Belcher, anyone?

Compounding the mistake of throwing good money after bad, in 1994 the Tigers signed Belcher to ace money, when he was not much more than a end of the rotation innings eater. Belcher proceeded to have the worst year of his career, 7-15 with a 5.89 ERA.

For that matter, the front of the Tigers rotation in 1994 were all highly paid (for that time) free agents. Along with Moore and Belcher, the Tigers had probably the worst pitcher to ever have a 20 win season, Bill Gullickson.

How's this for a 1994 free agent "Murderers Row" of pitchers? Moore lead the charge into mediocrity with a 5.42 ERA, Gullickson contributed a 5.93, and Belcher fit right in with that 5.89.

And I can't forget another big money player, Eric Davis. Davis had hall of fame caliber talent, but his finest talent was finding ways on to the disabled list. He just couldn't stay healthy. The Tigers traded for him in late in 1993, and rewarded his 75 healthy AB's with a big contract for 1994.

Davis proceeded to get hurt (Big surprise) and hit .183.

After some horrific seasons, the Tigers looked to be turning the corner in the late 90's. But it was a mirage. It didn't stop Mike Ilitch from opening his vault, and allowing the worst GM this side of Matt Millen, Radar Randy Smith, from dishing out some absolutely awful contracts.

You all know the names. Bobby Higginson. Tony Clark. Dean Palmer. Damion Easley. All were signed to long term, big money contracts that for various reasons (Injuries, sudden suckitude, the Baseball Gods getting pissed) they would never live up to.

Line up boys, vault's open! Multi-year deals for EVERYONE!

Good lord, it was total fiscal insanity. Don't forget the multi year deals that journeymen the likes of Steve Sparks and Shane Halter couldn't wait to sign. God forbid if the superstar Mike Ilitch just had to have, Juan Gonzalez, accepted that insane 7 year, 140 million plus deal that was on the table. The Tigers would STILL be reeling from the after effects of that contract if Juan Gone had signed.

Notice what happens with players the pizza man just had to have? It isn't good...

So it was no wonder that Ilitch tightened the purse strings after the fiasco that was the first few years of this decade. Hell, I'd would have turned into Scrooge McDuck too...

I'd rather lose 119 games than pay Higginson another CENT!

The Tigers still have the occasional bad contract on the books (Magglio Ordonez), but the Tigers have spent money smartly over the past few seasons. They have gotten plenty of bang for the buck. So when I now hear that Mike Ilitch, once again, is going to keep the vault open wide, I get a nervous tic just thinking back to those previous spendthrift eras.

What does make me feel better is that the Tigers actually have a smart baseball man in charge, Dave Dombrowski. He knows when to gamble, and when to just cut bait. Dombrowski will keep Ilitch from spending stupidly. I hope...


  1. Seeing as how Dombrowski seems to have total control over player personnel, I'm not especially worried. Most of those moves may have had Ilitch's fingerprints on them, but a strong GM would have put his foot down. We all know Randy Smith was not a strong GM.

    I think you'll continue to see the kinds of moves that Dombrowski made over this offseason. Trading for Sheffield could prove to be the biggest deal of the offseason. Plus, there are finally some talented players in the farm system who can fill out a roster for less than a million per.

    Those kinds of players can keep your total payroll down and let you absorb an occasional flyer on a high-risk, high reward FA signing (Ordonez, for example -- who to be honest has barely underperformed his contract to date).

    Long story short, I don't see anything in this story to worry about. If the Tigers were going to panic in the FA market, they would have done it this previous offseason. Given the decision to more or less stand pat, I think there's a new sheriff in town and he knows what he's doing.

  2. I just introduced myself to your writing and it's a shame that it took me so long. I really enjoy your thoughts and from a local based up in Calgary, AB it is refreshing to hear some familiar takes on the things that matter... Keep it up!

  3. Knowing how I feel about Shane Halter, I humbly ask that you NEVER EVER put his name that close to that loser who wore #19 and played (?) RF and whined because the fence was too far out for him to hit a HR.

    And don't get me started on Randy Smith. He's lucky he didn't get his house egged when he sent my Brad away for that pretty boy with the rag arm, not to mention my issues with his ability to supervise children!

  4. I think that if Ilitch was back to his free-spending, over-paying ways, he would have already overpaid for Guillen. As long as Dombrowski is around, I think he'll keep things in check as far as payroll is concerned.