Players like first baseman Miguel Cabrera should be reason enough to draw fans to Tigers games. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
So, RoboCop was to throw out the first pitch at Comerica Park on Tuesday night. Well, I don’t think it was the real RoboCop, just like it’s not the real Santa Claus at your local mall in December.
Speaking of Christmas, soon it will be Christmas in July at a Tigers game near you. Then “Star Wars” night, because what would a baseball game be without Stormtroopers and Ewoks?
And in between, there will be giveaways of bobbleheads, Fatheads and picture frames — nice collectables, to be sure, if you don’t mind showing off big Belle Tire and Frito-Lay logos. And a tumbler, too, though that one makes some sense. Coffee by the gallon is one possible way to make it through these increasingly drawn-out baseball games.
Oh, that reminds me. The Tigers offer baseball games, too!
Look, I get all the theme nights and giveaways and fireworks shows. All major-league teams have them. They’re fan friendly, so they draw folks to the ballpark, sometimes by the thousands. Then again, there’s maybe an easier way to do that: Make Miguel Cabrera your first baseman. Or, if that’s still not enough, try selling beer for $5 a glass. Surely, a 500-percent markup is sufficient.
Call me cranky, call me no fun. Doesn’t bother me. All this peripheral silly stuff is for the minor leagues, which don’t have name-brand players — and thus need to get creative to move their tickets. I have no problem with the Toledo Mud Hens rocking Ghostbusters-themed uniforms.
But in the major leagues? Boy, it’d sure be nice if they simply stuck to selling the product on the field, with some exceptions. If the Tigers want to have a Motown night, who am I to argue? But mostly, “Turn Back the Clock” nights are the absolute best, especially if teams wear throwbacks. The Tigers should do these more often, and package them with an Old-Timers Game.
Baseball fans love baseball history — heck, probably even more than they love a “Back to School” sandwich case (presented by SVS Vision).
Let’s move on to this week’s Tigers Mailbag.
Question: Say the offensive swoon extends and they drop out of first near the trade deadline. Do the Tigers consider trading Max Scherzer? — Brett Yarger (twitter.com/DrDetroit68)
If the Tigers were going to trade Max Scherzer, they would’ve done so during the offseason — when his trade value was much higher than it is today. It’s still relatively high, despite a couple blah starts, but teams aren’t all that interested in giving up the moon for a guy who’ll be a free agent within weeks.
The bigger issue, however, is this: The Tigers are much more likely to win a World Series with Scherzer than without him. That’s simply a fact. He’s the second ace of the staff, and this team remains in position to win it all this year. Vegas still has them the favorite to win it all this year.
Sure, the Tigers have struggled. (Like every team has, or will.) The offense has been inconsistent. The stud starters apparently — and for sure momentarily — forgot how to pitch. Really, only the bullpen’s been solid lately. Who would’ve thunk it?
But all those woes hardly will be enough for the Tigers to fade out of contention in the American League Central race. Heck, they’re in a 4-10 stretch, and still have the largest lead in the AL, at five games. They may not win this division for a fourth consecutive year — they probably will — but they’ll certainly remain in the postseason hunt all season long. The Central isn’t awful, but it’s not good, either.
There’s also this: Even if the Tigers wanted to move Scherzer, there are several other big-ticket pitchers expected to be shopped — Jeff Samardzija, James Shields and David Price, off the top of my head — so buyers will have the bargaining power here. The supply will be too steep.
So, Scherzer, 29, will stay in Detroit, pitch his heart out — and then, in all likelihood, move on this winter, the Tigers reaping only a prime draft pick as compensation.
It’s not much, to be sure. But neither are the Tigers, should they trade Scherzer this summer.
Question: Where do the Tigers go from here? Will the Indians trade their Cabrera within the division? — Jamie (twitter.com/JPtach)
Answer: Jamie is talking, of course, about shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who appears to be available.
It’s unclear right now whether the Indians would, indeed, trade Cabrera to another AL Central team. A lot depends on whether the Indians are contending. If they are, they’ll likely be competing against the Tigers, so they wouldn’t be keen on helping them out, and vice versa. If they are out of it — like they were when they dealt Jhonny Peralta to Detroit in 2010 — then I don’t see why they wouldn’t.
This is especially true because the Indians wouldn’t have to worry about Cabrera haunting them for years to come, at least not in a Tigers uniform. The Tigers, at shortstop, are in need of only a short-term solution, with Jose Iglesias expected back next year and Eugenio Suarez on a rapid rise. So the expiring contracts of Cabrera and Jimmy Rollins would figure to be much more appealing than a younger guy, like, say, Didi Gregorius of the Diamondbacks.
Between Cabrera and Rollins, Cabrera, 28, would have to be the better fit with the Tigers, given he’s a switch-hitter, giving the Tigers a much-needed left-handed bat. That said, he’s in a two-year funk, and is a rare switch-hitter who actually has better career numbers from the left side of the plate. Rollins, meanwhile, appears to be playing motivated, at age 35.
It’ll be interesting to see which way Dave Dombrowski goes, because we know he has to go somewhere.
The Indians, by the way, are comfortable moving Cabrera, with Double A prospect Francisco Lindor looking ready for prime time, even at age 20.
The Phillies can trade Rollins because, well, the Phillies are ph-athetic.
Question: All new outfield by 2016? — atlantatiger (twitter.com/atlanta_tiger)
Answer: This is a very interesting question, and potentially spot on the money.
Left fielder Rajai Davis is under contract through 2015, Torii Hunter through the end of this season, and Austin Jackson can become a free agent for the first time after the 2015 season.
And none of the three are guaranteed to be here too much longer. Davis, 33, is a journeyman, a nice ballplayer with some good tools — namely his speed — who can handle an everyday job perfectly adequately, until a better option comes along. Hunter is hitting like the 28-year-old he isn’t, but playing defense like the 38-year-old he is, so he’s probably gone after this season. And as for Jackson, 27, just months ago, it’d seem the Tigers desperately wanted him long-term. But he’s in one of his “off” stretches again, and when he’s off, he’s really off.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they actually have outfield depth, with left-handed sluggers Steven Moya, Daniel Fields and Tyler Collins in the upper levels of the minor leagues, and Austin Schotts a kid to continue paying attention to in the lower levels. They’ll probably draft some more this week.
But outfield also is the easiest fix on the free-agent market. They are available, in abundance. The Tigers will have their pick — and just might not pick Davis, Jackson or Hunter. Of the three, of course Jackson is most likely to stick around, given he’s shown the ability to fight through slumps and play like an All-Star.
Andy Dirks, by the way, is a free agent after the 2017 season.
Question: What an awesome week of Tigers baseball. — Bruce Bentley (twitter.com/brucebentley)
Answer: Of course, Bruce wasn’t talking about the last week.
He was talking about that week — or 11 days, really — down the stretch in 1987, during which the Tigers and Blue Jays battled to the bitter end. With the Blue Jays in town this week, and both the Blue Jays and Tigers in first place right now, I wrote about that rivalry of the 1980s in Tuesday’s edition of The News.
What surprise me most is how passionate the ex-Tigers are in reliving that magical stretch of baseball.
They all call the last seven Blue Jays-Tigers games in 1987 a “World Series.”
And Frank Tanana, who won 240 games in a 21-year major-league career, called that Sunday game — the 1-0 shutout in Game 162 — the pinnacle of his career.
“By far!” he told me this week. “Pitching for my hometown team — and never having pitched in a World Series — with national TV, a sellout home crowd. A World Series couldn’t have had a bigger atmosphere. That was, by far, my highlight moment of my career.”
Question: Recently you answered a question about a Drew Smyly start. You said something about Alex Avila giving up on the ball too soon or too early. May I ask you what that means? — Jim, via email
Answer: Sure thing, Jim. I apologize for not clarifying earlier. Sometimes I just assume everyone knows what I am talking about. Too often, I find the opposite is true.
What I meant by that was, Smyly’s breaking ball had good action — and was moving perhaps more than even Avila anticipated. Several times during a start last month, Avila lunged up a bit out of his crouch to catch the pitch — where had he stayed down and just reached with the glove, he might’ve gotten a few more strike calls from the plate umpire.
Umpires almost always will call a pitch a ball if a catcher makes any major movement other than reaching with his arm.
Therefore, Avila “giving up” on a few pitches — or expecting them to finish more out of the zone than they did — might’ve cost Smyly a strike or two. Truth is, it might not have, either. Just an observation.
Sorry for the confusion.
Catch Tony Paul’s “Hardcore Baseball” every Saturday from noon-1 p.m. on Detroit Sports 105.1