Commentary: Tigers' moves dim division title prospects

The last time we saw the Tigers, they were walking off the field in Minnesota after blowing the Central Division over the last two weeks of the season. The heartbreaking failure down the stretch carried over to the questionable off-season changes made by Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski.

The first move of the off-season was the unpopular trade of All-Star outfielder Curtis Granderson. The team knew the deal would be met with strong resistance from the fan base, as he was a fan favorite. The team claimed revenue problems necessitated the trade and viewed Granderson, who is due $25 million guaranteed over the next three seasons, as a player who would reduce payroll and bring back considerable talent in a trade.

The Tigers’ payroll problems—they were fifth in baseball with a $115 million in 2009—stem from ill-advised extensions given out after the team’s 2006 World Series appearance. In 2010, oft-injured pitchers Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson will both make eight-figure salaries. Carlos Guillen, who hit .242 with little power last year, will make $13 million this year.

On Dec. 9, Granderson was traded to the New York Yankees as part of a three-team deal that brought the Tigers outfield prospect Austin Jackson, pitchers Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth. They also traded starter Edwin Jackson in the deal as he was due for a respectable raise in arbitration despite his below league average pitching during last year’s second half.

Overall, the trade is not bad for the Tigers. They acquired Scherzer (4.12 ERA, 174 strikeouts in 170 innings), who is the best player in the deal sporting velocity in the high-90s and the ability to sustain it deep into games as well as a hard-breaking slider. The upgrade from Edwin Jackson to Scherzer, who is under the Tigers’ control for five years, will help offset the loss of Granderson. Still, Austin Jackson, 23, will likely never approach the power Granderson has—he was one of four American League outfielders with 30 home runs in 2009—and will strike out with the same frequency (Austin Jackson has struck out at least 100 times each of the last four seasons, all in the minors).

OK, so the Tigers are a team in transition who were forced to bite the bullet and deal their fan favorite in his prime because of money, right? Wrong. After completing the deal Dombrowski signed closer Jose Valverde to a two-year, $14 million contract. The spending didn’t stop there as last weekend outfielder Johnny Damon signed a one-year, $8 million contract, when no other teams were seriously bidding for his services.

So, why then did the Tigers even trade Granderson, 28, in the first place? Even more, the question is why did they essentially give him up so they could pay $15 million to Valverde and Damon? If you’re going to pay millions to an outfielder, you’d much rather have Granderson than Damon, 36. Also, a closer is nonessential for a team like the Tigers that isn’t predicted to contend.

The Tigers traded Granderson and then proceeded to waste the money they “saved” in the process. This leaves the team without its most familiar face, but with an aging roster and little hope of a division title in 2010.

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