By: Eric Thomas

Attempting to write a blog about the Tigers off-season is, to quote Cosell, an exercise in futility. The static state of the written word isn’t helpful when attempting to hit the moving target that has been the team’s rapidly changing roster.

Did anyone—outside of the organization—think, of all things, that Joba Chamberlain would be wrapped in an Olde English “D” when they woke yesterday morning? By the time this blog is committed to HTML code and uploaded everything between the banner ads might be out-of-date. This is commenting on the news available to us on early Friday morning.

Joba Chamberlain? The latest in the list of Tigers head-scratchers, that started with the now widely-guffawed Doug Fister trade deal, is difficult to defend even among the people who still reserve all judgment on Tigers’ General Manager Dave Dombrowski. They save money—pulling Joba off the scrap-heap of cast off pitchers who’ve been remarkably unreliable in recent summers. The now-ex Yankee reliever has reliably brightened the hearts of many fans whose teams were in a hole against the Bronx Bombers, Tiger fans among them.

They saved money! Which is good when you hit an Oakland A’s-esque jackpot by dragging your Ivy League economics education into a dugout and begin analyzing a batted ball’s parabolic arc while using ledger loaded with a bird’s nest hastily jotted of statistical arbitrage—but you can hardly argue that Joba wasn’t properly vetted when he wilted under the metal-halide glow of the New York media spotlights. Maybe he’s affordable because his career has been underwhelming.

The numbers are, well, not good. His career since 2010 is pockmarked by injures and poor performances. He had Tommy John’s surgery in 2011, before he dislocated his ankle in 2012 and pulled an abdominal muscle in 2013. He lurched between average and awful in the outings between injuries. “At least he’s in a more pitcher-friendly ballpark?” is a question reserved for optimists.

The confetti from Prince Fielder’s departure has been swept away and fans in the Motor City have been left with a sugary champagne hangover. Those who once loudly claimed that they’d follow Dombrowski regardless of the circumstances have had that same faith shaken like a proverbial paint can only weeks later. The Doug Fister trade, sent many reaching for the Maloxx, and the Joe Nathan signing was a little underwhelming when fans noticed his playoff numbers—along with the fact that he turned 39 years old in November.

The signing of Rajai Davis met with clearly cleaved camps and now Joba Chamberlain has left Tiger fans with the chilling impression of what they feared the most: the Tigers are cutting payroll. The window is closed. Maybe now we can look back at the Fielder transaction and notice with a little more clarity that the Tigers paid a team—in the American League with shorter fences—$30 million to take him off their hands.

Are the Tigers a better team, on paper, than they were in 2013? No. But honestly, did that Tigers team on paper, the bomb-throwing murderer’s row designed to crank fastballs over the fences ever show up in reality? Outside of Miguel Cabrera? …No.

Sure, the Tigers had the second best offense in all of baseball, but those numbers are lying a bit—they include Miguel Cabrera’s unconscious first half. The second half of the season, and certainly the playoffs, the Tigers were difficult to watch. After the All-Star game, the offense was 4th. In September they dropped to 22nd.

In 2013 the starting pitchers were the star of the show, with two starters who competed for a Cy Young AND Justin Verlander. This is the remaining rays of optimism: that core, so far, remains intact.

The Tigers aren’t the same star-studded team they were on paper in 2013, and it remains to see if that’s a bad thing. Boston certainly proved last year that you can dump payroll and fill your team with role players, but you certainly can’t count on a bolt of lightning like that (though there are some who argue otherwise; don’t believe them).

It’s the Fister trade that’s rotted this bunch. Had that not happened, we’d probably feel better about it. Or maybe not.

What do you guys think? Joba Chamberlain?


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