The Detroit Tigers have had a pretty big World Series window in the last few years, but now, because of bad luck and decisions it might be closing quickly.
GM Dave Dombrowski's first mistake was during the 2013 offseason when he traded Doug Fister to Washington for utility player Steve Lombardozzi. Fister was and still is one of the most underrated pitchers in the league, posting a 3.67 ERA the year before. Most people's initial reaction to the deal was confusion. Why would he trade a solid, back end starter like Fister for an unproven infielder like Lombardozzi? The fact that they later swapped Lombardozzi for Alex Gonzalez (who played nine games before retiring) does nothing to make the situation clearer. To make a bad situation worse, Fister went on to have a terrific season for the Nationals, going 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA.
Dombrowski's second screw up was just a few months ago, dealing Rick Porcello to the Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes is a good player, but has been slightly overrated after his much hyped defection from Cuba. Last year in 51 games he hit .269/.296/.423 in a park practically built for right handed power hitters.
Compare that with Porcello. He was one of the most underrated pitchers in the league last year with an ERA of 3.43. Now, throw the fact that Justin Verlander is nowhere near in 2012 form and you have a thin starting rotation. Yes, I know he had surgery last winter and wasn't able to have the same offseason routine, but I also know that even before that in 2013 he wasn't the same, posting a respectable but nowhere near other worldly 3.46 ERA. There's also no denying his fastball doesn't have the same zip as it used to. According to Fangraphs, his fastball was almost 2.5 MPH slower last year than in was in 2012. Without Porcello, past David Price and Anibal Sanchez (if he's healthy) there are going to be some serious questions on the staff.
I can't believe I've gotten this far in a column criticizing the Tigers without bringing up the doomed from the start Victor Martinez four year 68 million dollar contract that hasn't even kicked in yet. Putting it that way's a little harsh, Martinez was excellent last year, turning back the clock with a .335/.409/.565 batting line and 32 homers while also helping form the most terrifying middle of the lineup in the league with Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez. But he had also made five trips to the DL in his career, including one to the sixty day just a few years before, not to mention the fact that he's 36 years old. If his body doesn't go soon, his skills will. Still, this one goes somewhere between a bad decision and bad luck because 1) this could be one of their last shots at a World Series because of their aging core, and 2) if they hadn't given him that kind of money and years, some other team would have.
Speaking of big contracts, Miguel Cabrera has a doozy as well. Unlike Martinez, this was a good investment at the start and probably will be for a few years. But then it keeps going.... and going.... and going, all the way until 2023. I don't think I need to explain what this means.
All this couldn't be happening at a worse time for Detroit. The central, what used to be the weakest division in the league is strengthening. Obviously there are the reigning American League champs Kansas City Royals, who even after losing James Shields will be dangerous. The Indians won 85 games last year and are returning pretty much the same team from last year. And now even the White Sox, who have been dormant since 2008 could be a contender, adding Jeff Samardzija and Melkey Cabrera. Add all that up and the Tigers could be watching the playoffs this year for the first time in four years.