Friday, August 17, 2007

Answering the Detroit Tigers' "Burning questions," volume 6

I'm a day late, but it's finally time to answer Detroit News columnist Lynn Henning's Burning questions about the Detroit Tigers. This week, Lynn gives his thoughts about the Tigers signing Rick Porcello to a big money deal. Let's see what he has to say...

Burning questions as the Tigers head for Yankee Stadium and another gulp of industrial-strength, playoff-stretch pressure:

Q: Was there ever a doubt the Tigers would sign their celebrated first-round pick Rick Porcello?

Henning: Early, it was viewed by most outside observers as a 50-50 shot on Porcello. I suspect the Tigers -- and the Porcello family -- were more confident it would happen. But such confidence could only have stemmed from each party's belief the Tigers would spend an unprecedented $7.285 million to sign a high school right-hander, topping the figure Josh Beckett signed for in 1999.

Clearly, Porcello wanted to sign. Clearly, his parents were going to bite if the financial security was there. And clearly, the Tigers intended to do whatever it took -- even if it was $7 million-plus -- to make him their latest Mr. Universe pitching prospect.

Big Al: The Tigers knew going in that to get Porcello to sign on the line that is dotted, it was going to cost them serious coin. They've also hammered out several deals with Porcello's //Cough// "Advisor" //Cough//, Scott Boras. You don't have Boras on your side if you aren't committed to going pro. So I agree that the parties involved were much more confident going into negotiations than the so-called "Outsiders" Henning mentions.

The Tigers drafted Porcello with every intention to do whatever it took to get him in the fold. Obviously, a $7+ million contract shows just how serious the Tigers were in making sure they got their man.

Q: Were there doubts they would sign hotshot prospects Casey Crosby and Cale Iorg?

Henning: The Tigers knew exactly what it would take to sign Crosby and Iorg: $750,000 for Crosby and $1.5 million for Iorg.

The Tigers got two blue-ribbon prospects for a combined price of less than one year of Neifi Perez's salary. And make no mistake: The upside on Crosby, and the skills and genetics possessed by Iorg, could make these contracts two of the best investments they have made in any draft in any year.

Iorg could be playing shortstop in Detroit in two seasons. Crosby is three years younger and has a longer developmental path, but fans should have fun watching him climb.

Big Al: Again, the Tigers don't draft Iorg and Crosby if they didn't have every intention of signing them, and had a good idea that they could. Considering the relatively small amount of money ($8 million and change will buy you 1 average big leaguer) it took to sign the 3 premium prospects, if only 1 of of them becomes an impact ballplayer for the Tigers, then it was money well spent.

I totally agree with Henning, in that who would you rather pay? A bottom rung player with big league experience and no upside, or a young talented ballplayer who may not pan out, but if he does, you could have a bona fide star on your hands.

It's a no-brainer. When given the choice between an average to below average big leaguer, who's low risk with a very low reward (Think TBHoS), or a prospect who carries a higher risk but comes with the good possibility of a high reward (Crosby and Iorg), give me the prospects, 10 times out of 10.

Q: Is Porcello worth it? Aren't there serious gambles in signing a high school pitcher?

Henning: Sure, just as there were gambles in signing Kenny Baugh and Kyle Sleeth, two college first-rounders selected by the Tigers this decade who likely have been set back permanently by arm problems. There was a huge gamble by Florida eight years ago in signing Beckett.

Scouts will tell you Porcello is right there with Beckett when it comes to extraordinary, 18-year-old pitching talent.

Big Al: Wow, Henning is actually making sense this week. Who knew such a thing was possible?

There's risk involved with every prospect. You're rolling the dice with Porcello. You may crap out, but the odds are goods that you'll roll a 7. Just think of what the rotation will look like 3 or 4 seasons from now. Bonderman, Verlander, Miller, and Porcello could become the dominant rotation of their era, much like the Orioles of the 70's or the Braves of the 90's. Gets me all warm and fuzzy feeling just thinking about it...

Dave Dombrowski just has to trust his scouts that Porcello is a justifiable risk. From all accounts, he's worth taking that leap of faith.

Q: How did owner Mike Ilitch become inclined to spend big money, and irritate Major League Baseball, in going past the hallowed slotting?

A . Ilitch backs his executives when he believes in them, and he believes in Dave Dombrowski and his staff, just as he implicitly trusts Jimmy Devellano and Ken Holland of the Red Wings.

That means Ilitch will write big checks when warranted.

He understands signing thoroughbred amateur talent is the way you compete when you're not the Red Sox or Yankees and can't carry payrolls in the $200 million range.

Big Al: When you have absolute trust in the people running your franchise, you aren't afraid to open the checkbook. As Henning mentions, Ilitch has complete confidence in the Red Wings front office, and is more than willing to pony up the cash when needed. He now has the same attitude when it comes to Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers.

Trust means everything. It's obvious that Dombrowski has earned Ilitch's. If Dombrowski says that a huge contract for Rick Porcello will be money well spent, considering his excellent track record in identifying young arms, Ilitch would be silly to believe otherwise.

Q: So why does Major League Baseball and plenty of rival teams act as if the Tigers are heretics who should be burned at a Bud Selig-erected stake?

Henning: Because the Tigers sometimes identify high-caliber talent that is more expensive than Selig's slotting system allows.

Give Ilitch credit. It isn't easy to buck the commissioner's office, and it isn't easy to be the target of the cold war MLB and some of its more obedient members are waging against Detroit.

But Ilitch has prudently decided the Tigers can be competitive at a far saner price by investing in amateur talent than by spending $103 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka or $126 million for Barry Zito.

Big Al: Because many owners, specifically the small market ones, are cheap ass bastards, who would rather have have a few million dollars extra on their bottom line, than have a competitive team. The Tigers have proven that it makes infinitely more sense to spend heavily on excellent prospects, than totally mortgaging the future on a free agent or three.

Think the Giants wouldn't want to take a mulligan in regard to the Barry Zito contract? It was a stupid deal when they signed Zito, who had shown warning signs of no longer being dominant, it's still a stupid deal now, with Zito on the DL, and it'll remain a stupid deal as Zito's skills decline, but will continue to be paid like one of the best pitchers in baseball. The Giants hamstrung themselves with just 1 contract, a contract they are going to regret for years to come.

The Tigers have figured out that it's better to develop pitching from within, than buy free agents, or trade for help using pitching prospects who have been developed in-house, to fill holes in the everyday lineup. It's a philosophy that's worked very well to this point.

Q: What kind of pressure can MLB exert on the Tigers?

Henning: Specific details are rarely divulged. But think of it this way: If you have a tense relationship with a business client, or with an overseeing body, you know how many days can be made miserable by the sheer stress and acrimony produced by an entity that doesn't much like you.

The Tigers have been good citizens in all aspects save for the occasional, and rare, decision to pay good prospects more than Selig's arbitrary slot-ceiling.

That's a gutsy move on their part. But it pays off for the club and the fans.

Selig's office should also acknowledge that it makes financial sense for the investing clubs when paying over slot is done rarely and judiciously. And that's what the Tigers have done all along.

Big Al: As I'm not an "Insider" like Henning, I can only guess what the grand poobah's of MLB will do. But I can imagine...

Bud-lite - Ooooo, I'm sooooo angry with youse guys! I'm really hearing it from from the Twins, the Royals, and the Reds about the Porcello contract! They are sooooo mad! I even made a salary slotting chart, and you ignored it!

Mike Ilitch: Sorry to hear that, Bud. But I did what I thought was best for my team, and the fans. Don't forget, we didn't break any rules.

Bud-lite: But..But...But...Didn't you get the memo? There was a gentleman's agreement!

Mike Ilitch: Wouldn't that be collusion? That's against the law, Bud.

Bud-lite: Ooooo, now I'm really mad! I'm...I'm...I'm going...

Mike Ilitch: Going to do what, Bud?

Bud-lite: I'm going to send you a sternly worded e-mail, and I'm going to CC it to EVERY owner in baseball! I'll forward it to the media too! That'll show youse guys who's boss!

Mike Ilitch: Is that all?

Bud-lite: Is that all?! Just for that, I'm going make you wait in line for the all you can eat buffet at the winter meetings! So there!

Mike Ilitch: Well, if you say so, Bud. We'll just have to abide by your ruling.

Bud-lite: Damn straight, you'll abide by my ruling! The commissioner says so! I'm glad we had this talk. Don't let it happen again.

Mike Ilitch: Uh... sure thing Bud.

Bud-lite - Off the phone: I sure showed them!

Mike Ilitch - Off the phone: Just wait till he hears about the Iorg and Crosby contracts...

No comments:

Post a Comment