Most times, the Tigers get their man.
Tiger general manager Dave Dombrowski targets a pitcher or a hitter in July and figures out a way to bag his trophy. If it’s the offseason, and a free agent or a trade piece is waiting to be OK’d by an owner who likes upgrades and secured by a general manager who sees a way to seal the deal, the Tigers get it done.
Friday, they lost.
They wanted Rusney Castillo, a 27-year-old Cuban whose speed, power, and defense could have been their answer for patching a growing hole in center field. Castillo might have helped yet this season, or post-season, but his core value would have been as an up-the-middle outfielder you could expect to see regularly at Comerica Park in 2015 and for a few years thereafter.
After a week of big-bucks bidding that included the Tigers, Red Sox, Giants and others, Boston managed to win the Castillo sweepstakes, thanks to a reported seven-year deal worth $72.5 million.
The Red Sox are superb talent scouts. They may well have gotten a steal in Castillo, which is what the Tigers would probably acknowledge, given the zeal Detroit had for bringing a Cuban defector here, even if Castillo has not played professional baseball in over a year.
Lots of issues simmering
The Tigers weren’t worried about any layoff. And neither were the Red Sox. Each club’s scouts had checked out Castillo during his workout in Coral Gables, Fla., and again at each club’s private audition. They loved two talents, specifically: Castillo’s speed and power.
They can be difficult qualities to find in an everyday talent who is ready to play, pretty much now, in the big leagues. To bring that level of potential to your club, you either sign or draft a youngster and hope the skills develop. Or, you spend the equivalent of a small country’s gross domestic product in signing that player as a free agent, which usually involves the additional forfeiture of a first-round draft pick.
Or, of course, you can trade for such a talent. And then pray for a long time that the expectations you held and the heavy price you paid won’t lead to long-term buyer’s remorse.
There, in a nutshell, is why the Tigers — and Red Sox — loved Castillo. He had ready-to-go talent obtainable by way of a hefty paycheck. No additional compensation was required.
How much better of a deal will Castillo represent as the Tigers — perhaps sooner than they planned — begin rearranging furniture for 2015 and beyond? As they retool an outfield that will need serious realignment in 2015, how enviously will they view the Red Sox, who can use Castillo in center, or at a corner spot, knowing his bat, speed, and defense represent a probable, flexible gain wherever they deploy him?
The Tigers already know the answer. They could know it more harshly during the coming autumn and winter as they try and wrest from the marketplace a new center fielder, a replacement (probably) for Max Scherzer, and maybe a corner outfielder, given that Torii Hunter’s contract expires in a few weeks.
They might even need a designated hitter if, say, Victor Martinez gets a one-year qualifying offer from the Tigers and another team signs him to a longer deal. At his age, one could argue that’s not likely, but Martinez’s bat is so respected another club might pay the freight. We’ve seen our share of surprises in the free-agent shopping aisle.
All of which makes Friday’s loss of Castillo a more bruising blow for the Tigers than most fans will likely acknowledge.
OK, so now what?
The Tigers are getting by today, barely, with a makeshift combination in center. Austin Jackson was a more skilled overall package than Detroit is today gaining from the Rajai Davis-Ezequiel Carrera tandem. But the Tigers wanted David Price and they believed Jackson was worth offering when he was a year from free agency and had Scott Boras as his agent.
They had to have figured their options in center would deliver more of a dividend than has so far been the case.
And at some point, they had to have believed they would be the title-holders to Castillo, who would have offered brighter and more affordable blue-
The Red Sox won. The Tigers lost.
Worse for a Detroit team’s front office and fans, their next game of Who Plays Center? could offer half the benefits at a steeper relative cost than their losing bid for Castillo.