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Starkey: Tigers Show What Bucs Won't Do

Here's a good article at the Trib:

Make no mistake, the Pirates' only real chance to win it all will have to start with ownership wanting to win as badly as "Pudge" Rodriguez and [Tigers owner] Mike Ilitch.

And that would mean spending much more than $46 million on players. That was the Pirates' payroll last year, and it is not expected to change much this year.

Go ahead and label the Tigers an upstart. Call them a beacon of light for the other teams trapped in MLB's dank and dirty dungeon.

Just remember, they bought their way out.

The point that the Tigers are now winning in part because they're spending is certainly a fair one, and the point that the Tigers' ownership wants to win a lot more than the Pirates' is dead-on.

Still, I'm cautious about railing against the Pirates for not being like the Tigers. No one that I'm aware of predicted before the season that the Tigers would be in the World Series. I'm not even aware of anyone who even predicted the Tigers would make the playoffs - nobody ESPN asked picked them, and ESPN asked some pretty smart people, like Rob Neyer, Jim Callis and Alan Schwarz.

Like the White Sox last year, the Tigers came out of nowhere in 2006. Both the '05 Sox and '06 Tigers won not because they were built soundly, but because a lot of things worked out for them. This isn't to say they weren't good teams, just that they were essentially .500 teams who ended up being more than the sums of their parts. The White Sox got at least 200 innings and ERAs under 4.00 from four starters, including two (Jon Garland and Jose Contreras) who'd been perpetual disappointments before that.

In the 2005-2006 offseason, the White Sox acted aggressively and intelligently to improve their team, adding Jim Thome and Javier Vazquez. Thanks to Thome and an even better season from Jermaine Dye, the White Sox scored 127 runs more than they did in 2005. And yet they won nine fewer games. The reasons why were that all of the big four pitchers from 2005 (including Mark Buerhle and Freddy Garcia in addition to Garland and Contreras) took big steps backward. In addition, the Sox outperformed their Pythagorean won-loss record by eight games in 2005; in 2006 they outperformed it by only two games.

All this tells me that there was no real reason that anyone, including White Sox GM Ken Williams, should have seen the 2005 White Sox coming. They should have been a pretty good team, and they turned out to have an extremely good record because of surprisingly stellar pitching and very good luck. The pitching regressed substantially in 2006, meaning that the White Sox's World Series win in 2005 was at least as much a result of excellent luck as of good planning.

The 2006 Tigers are the same way, and I think they're going to take a pretty serious step backward in 2007 unless they act at least as aggressively as the White Sox did after 2005. Anyone think Nate Robertson is going to put up a 3.84 ERA or lower in 2007? What about Kenny Rogers? I look at Rogers' peripherals and I have no idea how he put up an ERA that low. Justin Verlander, as talented as he is, will probably take a step backward in 2007. And on offense, the Tigers got power from every spot in their lineup - heck, they got 81 homers combined from Marcus Thames, Brandon Inge and Craig Monroe, three career mediocrities. The Tigers also had few serious injuries to key players.

I don't mean to suggest that the Tigers haven't done anything right. Their young pitchers are indeed extremely talented, as is their young centerfielder Curtis Granderson. Their trade of Ramon Santiago and a minor leaguer for Carlos Guillen in early 2004 was highway robbery, and it even seemed that way at the time.

And, though I don't really agree with the way the '06 Tigers handled Chris Shelton, general manager Dave Dombrowski, manager Jim Leyland and Leyland's coaching staff of former Pirates did a great job playing guys who produced. Dmitri Young didn't produce, but the Tigers didn't keep him around to hurt them in September. Pitchers who didn't keep runs off the board (Bobby Seay, Roman Colon) weren't allowed to ruin the team, either. Viewed in that light, the Tigers' handling of Shelton wasn't so much a mistake as a byproduct of what was otherwise a very effective approach to roster management: yeah, the Tigers replaced Shelton with a worse player in Sean Casey, but Shelton hadn't been hitting and the Tigers were generally acting aggressively and intelligently to solve their problems.

Still, the 2007 Tigers are likely to take a step backward. Further, it's misleading to think that the Tigers have done as well as they have this year by tossing money at their problems, as Starkey suggests. Yes, Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez have been decent this year, but they've hardly earned all the money they're making. And the Pirates aren't likely to solve their problems merely by tossing money at them, and neither have their current problems developed primarily as a result of the ownership's thriftiness (although that's certainly part of it).

For these reasons, I think the 2006 Tigers are not a great model for the Pirates to follow, and I think the '06 Tigers as Starkey describes them are definitely not a good model. The Tigers' front office would be an enormous improvement over the Pirates', sure. But I don't think the Tigers are still going to be a great team in two years.

Me, I'd still rather have the A's, who won 93 games this year. 2006 was the eighth consecutive year in which the A's have won at least 87 games. They do it year after year despite a tiny payroll, so they clearly know what they're doing. Most years there's a 2006 Tigers, a 2005 White Sox or a 2003 Marlins that comes out of nowhere. You almost always have to be pretty good to get to the playoffs in any case, but those teams aren't the models I'd most want the Pirates to follow. Instead, I'd want them to take cues from teams who get it done year after year, proving they don't need a perfect storm of good performances and good luck to make things happen.