Mike Illitch has shown that he will spend to compete. Illitch's real passion is his beloved Red Wings and even they showed the ability to adpat to new conditions. Illitch seems to be an owner who hires and maintains good personnel and allows them to do their jobs. That may not be the case, but it isn't very public if he does meddle and interfere.
The less said about the Pirate ownership, the better.
Dave Dombrowski built a competitive team in Montreal, a World Series winner in Florida (and put the foundation for a second in place before leaving) and has finally cleared away the Randy Smith disaster and has the Tigers contending. The Tigers have revamped their scouting and development sides within the past few seasons after a spell of draft disasters. The fruits of that approach are quickly zooming through the system, or are already in the MLB.
Dave Littlefield apprenticed under Dombrowski in Montreal and Florida. He has made some good trades, found some useable cheap veteran talent and abided by ownership's decisions. However, he has not resurrected the Pirates and in many cases his inaction and incompetence have made the situation worse. His underlings have not produced talent through the minors, yet remain in place.
The funny part is that the Tigers staff could have been the Pirates staff if Littlefield had hired Leyland this past offseason. Instead, Jim Tracy and his proven winning ways were hired from LA, along with several of his coaches (Jim Colborn and John Shelby). The results have fans beginning to wonder if Lloyd McClendon (now the Tigers' bullpen coach) was really that bad afterall. Leyland knows how to manage and more impressively hasn't thrown his team under the proverbial bus yet this season - in fact, the one time the Tigers struggled early in the season, Leyland made the point that everyone was to blame and the Tigers quickly righted themselves. Tracy has done a fantastic job selling out his players a every available opportunity and portraying himself as the victim.
I decided to just use OPS and not account for league variables or anything that complicated. And it really is just a lunch hour for me today.
C - Rodriguez (772) > Paulino (750)
1b - Shelton (831) > Casey (813)
2b - Polanco (690) < Castillo (792)
3b - Inge (783) < Sanchez (896)
SS - Guillen (870) > Jack Wilson (695)
LF - Monroe (703) < Bay (945)
CF - Granderson (864) > Bautista (833)
RF - Ordonez (885) > Burnitz (719)
DH - Thames (996) > Craig Wilson (867)
The benches are roughly comparable, but Detroit is getting good performances from Vance Wilson and Omar Infante, while the Pirates are stuck with Jose Hernandez and Humberto Cota.
The tally - Detroit wins at 6 spots in a lineup, while the Pirates take 3. Added to that, the team OPS for Detroit is 790, while the Pirates sport a 742 value.
The Tigers can run out a starting rotation of Kenny Rogers (ERA+ = 129), Jeremy Bonderman (122), Nate Robertson (142), Justin Verlander (142) and Zach Miner (172)/Mike Maroth (125). The Pirates currently sport a rotation of Zach Duke (93), Ian Snell (93), Paul Maholm (91), Victor Santos (94) and the remnants of Oliver Perez (68) and Kip Wells (38). The positive for the Pirates is that the young starters might get better, but at this moment, the Detroit rotation is lights out and only Rogers is what you'd consider old. Bonderman, Maroth and Robertson all matured as part of the awful Detroit teams of the past few seasons, so the hope is that the young Pirate starters can do the same. But I don't see a Pirate pitcher who can match Verlander for impact or potential.
The bullpens are roughly equal. Detroit has Jamie Walker (352), Joel Zumaya (188), Fernando Rodney (159), Jason Grilli (115), Roman Colon (78), Todd Jones (69) and Bobby Seay (69). Jones is the "closer" and has earned 20 saves. The rest of the bullpen includes flamethrower Zumaya (who could turn into a starter next season or a lights out closer) and various spare parts. The Pirates' bullpen has been a strength of the team and is probably better than the Detroit pen in some aspects. Mike Gonzalez (155), Roberto Hernandez (219), Damaso Marte (132), Salomon Torres (95), Matt Capps (120), John Grabow (93) and Ryan Vogelsong (71) all compare favorably to the Detroit relief corps.
To be nice, we'll rank the Pirates winners of the bullpen and the Tigers winners of the rotation. However, the advantage the Tigers have in the rotation more than makes up for the advantage the Pirates have in the bullpen. Circle gets the square.
The Tigers rank first in Defensive Efficiency (.729) and the Pirates rank last (.662). You could compare the various players, but it matters little. The Pirates should be better based on reputation, but no range fielders such as Castillo, Casey and Burnitz don't help matters much.
The Tigers also sport a run differential of 124 (tops in the AL and the entire MLB), while the Pirates are -63 and second worse in the NL (ahead of just the Cubs).
The Tigers and Pirates have very little in the upper part of their respective systems after gradutating several prospects this season. Each has one good pitching prospect in AAA - Humberto Sanchez for Detroit and Tom Gorzelanny for Pittsburgh. Both teams have an athletic young outfielder in Low A - Cameron Maybin for Detroit and Andrew McCutcheon for the Pirates. They both just drafted highly ranked college pitchers - Andrew Miller in Detroit and Brad Lincoln in Pittsburgh.
Detroit does have some Latin prospects in the system and doesn't seem to shy away from imapct prospects with a price tag. As maligned as Ed Creech is, the Pirates have plenty of major league players in their system and the bench should be well fortified for the next few seasons. None of those players projects as much more than that however, but the Detroit system isn't teeming with high end prospects either.
Both teams play in the Central division. The Tigers have the just the Royals as sops, while the Pirates are the sops in their division. The Tigers have a higher payroll and significantly better hitting talent overall. The Tigers have better ownership, management and coaching, which to me is the main difference. If you switched players, I doubt the Tigers would be much better than .500 and the Pirates would probably be a .400 team, but I would expect the new Tigers to perform better than the current Pirates, while the new Pirates would probably not be playing at a .600 plus clip. The differences off the field are what separate the two teams and the confidence and impetus in Detroit to make things better is a thousandfold better than in Pittsburgh.
The Pirates could turn things around like the Tigers, but they refuse to chop to the core, play young players and develop a team rather than shuffling interchangeable players every few seasons.