Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Detroit's surprisingly strong finish indicts the yearlong motivational skills of rookie manager Alan Trammell. A disastrous 43-119 record adds a scarlet F on the formerly impressive resumé of GM Dave Dombrowski, nearly wiping away his work in assembling the 1994 Expos, as well as building the 1997 Marlins and laying the foundation for the 2003 Marlins. The Tigers finished the season with the worst record and winning percentage since the 1962 Mets, a team that lacked the benefit of any real minor league system or an historical organization structure. Yet somehow both Trammell and Dombrowski appear likely to keep their jobs through at least 2004 despite bearing nearly complete responsibility for an ignominious performance that nearly obscures the impressive history of the franchise.
Given that they wasted every opportunity to begin rebuilding during the season by only acquiring Alex Sanchez and then shipping Adam Bernero for Ben Petrick, Detroit essentially must start from scratch now, evaluating the franchise from the top down. With few solid prospects even lower in the system, the Tigers must identify the current major leaguers who might develop into long-term at multiple positions while throwing everyone else off the squad in an attempt to diminish the stench of 2003.
Perhaps the lone good news was that Dmitri Young rebounded from a season-ending injury in 2002 to earn a deserved All-Star spot. Although he isn't a solid defender, unless the Tigers can obtain a top outfield prospect and a 23-year-old starter ready for the majors, Young should remain the anchor of the lineup for another couple years. He belongs at DH, however his ability to handle all four corner positions gives the team needed flexibility.
As if developing Sammy Sosa into a Hall of Famer wasn't enough, Jeff Pentland further improved his reputation by drastically improving Kansas City's offense. If the Tigers can't find a way to steal Pentland from the Royals, they need to find a hitting coach willing to teach these toolsy players the importance of plate discipline and patience. If owner Mike Ilitch won't replace the management team, then firing Bruce Fields is the least the team can do.
Bobby Higginson's contracts calls of $20M over the next two seasons, Matt Anderson is due $4.7M by the end of 2004, and Danny Patterson costs $2.8M. While I hate to use the Dodgers and Mets in all my trade ideas, their payroll flexibility and need for outfielders makes them good destinations for Higginson. Offer Higginson and Patterson for Darren Dreifort, or Higginson for Roger Cedeno, or even Higginson for Mo Vaughn. Detroit saves money in each of these deals, and while Dreifort and Vaughn might be injured indefinitely, if they rebound, the Tigers can eat the rest of their respective contracts while shipping them to a contender for a couple of top prospects.
If Higginson goes without Patterson or Anderson, let Anderson close until some team offers anything for him. However, if a team will deal a starting prospect or decent hitter for either reliever, eat the contract a la Damion Easley to get the better players in return.
With #3 hitter Young set, Higginson and the two veteran relievers on the way out, and a Pentland clone in place, the Tigers need to build a solid defensive lineup to allow the young pitchers to develop. Keeping Carlos Pena at first, Omar Infante at second, and Ramon Santiago at shortstop seems the best solution here as long as the new hitting coach works regularly with the youngsters. Eric Munson appeared comfortable at third until his injury, so he completes the infield.
In the outfield, stick Andres Torres in center, hit him leadoff, and see if he can exploit his speed and occasionally solid patience when he doesn't need to worry about demotions. The key to instantly improving the team is to use the 2003 salaries of Steve Sparks, Craig Paquette, and Shane Halter to nab three solid bats for under two million a year in the same vein as Brad Fullmer and David Ortiz a year ago. Sign someone like Fullmer to DH and give him a AAAA right-handed platoon partner in the cleanup slot. Then target veteran corner outfielders looking for starting jobs in a still-depressed market to add power. If two solid starters aren't available at excellent prices, Cody Ross is prepared to succeed in the majors as long as Detroit demonstrates continued confidence in him even if he initially struggles like so many other Tigers' prospects. With Carlos Pena and his rediscovered on-base percentage 2nd and Munson, Santiago, and Infante at the bottom of the order, this team suddenly looks a lot stronger than the 2003 Detroit offense.
I also can't think of a better guy to add here than Rickey Henderson. He doesn't deserve regular starting time, however his skills are exactly what Torres, Santiago, and Infante need to learn. Adding him as a veteran presence might works wonders, and if the chemistry doesn't work, he obviously remains expendable.
Unfortunately, while I see decent upside throughout the offense, the pitching staff is a mess. Jumping Jeremy Bonderman from A-ball was a huge mistake even if he did display more skills than any other starter. Send him down at the beginning of the season, watch him dominate minor leaguers for a couple weeks, and then bring him back, thereby pushing his free agency back another year.
Mike Maroth, Nate Cornejo, Nate Robertson, Gary Knotts, and Shane Loux comprise the starting rotation right now, and Dombrowski will have failed again if more than two of these guys open the year in Detroit. The Tigers need to emulate the Pirates' moves last winter by targeting veteran AAAA relievers and bottom-of-the-rotation starters, signing at least a half-dozen experienced big leaguers to split contracts. Grabbing a Jeff Suppan as the staff ace would be a wise move, and then when contenders come calling for pitching depth, again emulate the Pirates by dealing the new acquisitions for upper-level prospects. Maybe decent prospects like Tyler Walker and Rob Henkel will be ready by mid-season, however adding solid veterans appears like the only way to push this team closer to only 100 losses in 2004 rather than over 120 loss mark.
Detroit obviously ranks as the worst franchise in the game right now as every other team either possesses a few excellent prospects or improving financial resources. Comerica isn't providing a great revenue stream, the system appears largely barren of impact players, and the team lacks the proper vision to return to contention before the end of the decade. Only admitting the need for a complete rebuilding project might result in a winning team here any time soon.
Cody Ross, 22, OF-L
Ross' slugging percentage actually increased this season even after a promotion from AA Erie, a park that aids left-handed power hitters nicely, however a busted ACL prevented him from starting throughout September. While I wish his walk rate hadn't dropped from last year's .11 mark, improvement in his contact rate from .79 to .82 also bodes very nicely for continued development. Giving Ross another season in the minors isn't a bad idea, however given Detroit's lack of power and desire to cut payroll, I see little reason not to give him a starting job out of camp assuming he demonstrates decent power and contact ability during spring training. If he remains largely ignored this off-season as I suspect, try to snag Ross for a couple of bucks at your draft, and you may discover a sleeper Rookie of the Year candidate.
Kenny Baugh, 24, RH Starter
Detroit selected Baugh out of Rice with the 11th pick of the 2001 draft, ignoring the fact that he ranked among the most abused pitchers in college thanks to repeated high pitch counts. Unsurprisingly, after dominating opponents in his first 11 starts, Baugh missed all of 2002 thanks to a labrum tear. His effectiveness at Erie in his first healthy season as a professional, particularly his low walk rate, suggests a relatively bright future for him, and I can recommend him to owners in very deep leagues for the firs time. However, his weak dominance suggests he isn't likely to succeed in the majors in 2004, so you probably shouldn't target him in the spring.
After posting a 43:6 K:BB in 26 IP at A- Oneonta(NYP) in his rookie season and another 101:18 K:BB in 79 IP at West Michigan(Mid) last year, Birtwell now ranks among the best relief prospects in the game thanks to his dominance at each of the four affiliated to which the Tigers have assigned him. Even the most dominant relievers aren't supposed to own career skill ratios of an 11.5 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, .3 HR/9, and 7.1 H/9, and I see little reason why this Harvard product shouldn't reach Detroit by the end of next year. Don't draft him in the spring, but feel free to roster Birtwell as soon as he reaches the majors if he at least echoed these ratios at AAA.
The poor overall command of this minor league free agent suggests he won't see more than a couple of brief looks in the majors. Despite consistently good control, Brittan's nearly nonexistent dominance will keep him in the minors indefinitely, making him an obviously poor fantasy choice.
Cordova simply hasn't developed the dominance I expected to see after his move to the bullpen in 2002. He still should emerge as a decent middle reliever at some point, but he need to prove himself at AAA before receiving any consideration from either the Tigers or fantasy owners.
I expect Eckenstahler to break camp in Detroit, yet his poor control left him in the minors for most of another season, and his terrible skills after joining the Tigers should earn him another ticket to Toledo. Although he may emerge as a decent specialist, I doubt he'll possess the skills necessary to merit consideration for most fantasy teams any time soon.
A poor hit rate obscured decent dominance and control, suggesting that Ennis still could develop into a quality starter in front of a good defense. Unfortunately, Detroit currently can't provide the nurturing environment his skills seem to require. Until he can post better qualitative marks and overall superior skills, Ennis isn't a viable fantasy option.
Gary Knotts and Nate Robertson are nice short-term placeholders for the Tigers, but Henkel is the true bounty from the Mark Redman deal. While back spasms cost him at least 10 starts, he strongly echoed his 2002 performance, indicating that he's ready to succeed in the International League. If you're going to draft a Tigers' pitching prospect, Henkel offers the best combination of short-term and long-term fantasy potential, although his immediate upside pales in comparison to similar pitchers in stronger organizations.
One of the few positives of the Tigers' recent move is their willingness to employ young lefty relievers rather than overpay for a lesser veteran in free agency. Unfortunately, Jimenez just didn't develop like Jamie Walker or Eric Eckenstahler, and now his immediate future appears very much in doubt as a minor league free agent. I still believe Jimenez will emerge as a solid lefty reliever at some point, but I have no idea if he'll earn a steady job in the majors in 2004 or 2014.
Kelly's plate discipline caught my eye largely because so few Tigers' prospects possess decent patience. His poor power unfortunately limits his upside, and he also doesn't own great natural speed. Detroit already heralded Kelly's future role by giving him at least fifteen games at shortstop, third base, and first base this year, so I see no reason to draft the future utilityman in any fantasy league despite his decent upside if he finds significant playing time.
Detroit nearly inserted Larrison into the rotation next to Bonderman in the spring, a move that made no sense for either pitcher despite the success of the latter starter. Larrison didn't exactly dominate the Florida State League last year, and artificially propping him up before sending him back to AA apparently shattered his confidence. Hopefully he'll merely write off these terrible stats and resume pitching effectively since the last two seasons establish Larrison as one of the Tigers' stronger pitching prospects. One poor season, no matter how bad, isn't enough to get me to ignore him. However, his upside also isn't sufficient high to allow me to recommend drafting him in any save the deepest fantasy leagues, leaving Larrison only as someone to monitor during the 2004 season.
Logan's lack of power and unimpressive contact rate keep him from taking full advantage of his prodigious speed skills. Of course, considering Detroit starts Alex Sanchez in center field, Logan certainly could see a couple years in their starting lineup. Consider spending a mid-round pick on him. As long as Logan can hold a decent batting average while flying around the basepaths, I expect him to earn a job in the majors by the end of 2004.
Although Loux's strikeout rate dropped again in his third season at Toledo, his hit rate fell from 11.2 to 9.1 H/9 while he maintained a solid walk rate of 2.1 BB/9. While he couldn't hold those skills in his second year in the majors, Loux's excellent control gives him a better chance of immediate success than most Tigers' pitchers. He isn't someone to target in most spring drafts, however if he breaks camp in the rotation and you need innings, he may be the safest bet on the team.
Aside from an initial impressive season at AA Erie back in 2001, Pearson hasn't demonstrated much overall skill since joining Detroit after several years in the independent leagues. While his decent control suggests he might not hurt a big league team, I simply don't see sufficient here to convince me he'll see more time in the majors, so you definitely should avoid him in fantasy leagues.
Compiling a 7.4 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 while registering nearly thirty saves in the International League qualifies him for AAAA status in our book, so hopefully Schmack can find an invitation to spring training with some team. He rebounded in an obviously impressive manner after departing the Texas system, and as soon as any organization commits a middle relief spot to Schmack, feel free to roster him on fantasy teams.
While Tousa only committed 9 errors in 129 games and owns very good patience, his weak power and consistently poor batting averages suggest he'll plateau as a backup. He isn't a viable fantasy option at this time despite nearly across-the-board improvement upon his promotion from the Florida State League.
I know his record was terrible and he didn't exactly dominate the International League, however Walker belongs in the majors this year more than probably half the pitchers employed by Detroit. He owns a long history of good control and decent dominance. While he isn't going to develop into an ace, he could hold down a rotation spot adequately right now or potentially excel in relief. Kicking him off the 40-man roster into minor league free agency deprived the organization of an intriguing asset, and whenever he receives an extended look in the majors, I expect he'll emerge as a helpful contributor to both his MLB employed and fantasy owners everywhere.
Although he hinted at intriguing potential by posting a 1.1 BB/9 in 85 innings for A- Oneonta of the New York-Penn League a year ago, Connolly effectively exploded onto the prospect scene this season to the league the minors in ERA. His 5.6 K/9 is very weak for his level, however a 2.1 BB/9, 7.0 H/9, and .3 HR/9 all are excellent marks. Of course, Connolly's best attribute is that his skills rank him among the few impressive pitching prospects in a system struggling with rampant injuries and development failures. Yet while he may not emerge in the majors for a few more seasons, Connolly looks more likely to remain with his current organization indefinitely than almost any other prospect at his level.
The Tigers' biggest problem is the lack of potential franchise players anywhere in the system. Aside from a couple pitchers and outfielders at the lowest levels of the system, only Cody Ross, Nook Logan, Rob Henkel, and Shane Loux appear likely to contribute in the near future, and none of them should develop into All-Stars. While Ross and Logan are intriguing fantasy players, Detroit only holds an edge on Boston in these rankings because the Tigers' starting pitching depth is preferable to Boston's relief depth, although the Red Sox relievers generally own superior skills. Neither system offers more than a couple of viable fantasy picks for minor league drafts next spring.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2003, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Chicago White Sox(J.Reed, Rauch, Miles, Gload, Borchard)
7:00(CDT): Florida @ New York Yankees
The Marlins haven't lost to a left-handed starter since early August, and while Penny hasn't dominated in the playoffs, he at least will start on full rest. David Wells pitches on three days of rest even if we ignore his appearance in Game 7 of the ALCS. New York could sweep the first two games, however I have a feeling that Florida should sneak a win in Game One tonight.
1. Cody Ross, OF
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