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Is The Tigers Rebuild...Kinda Working?

Duane Burleson. Shutterstock Images.

I can’t believe I’m writing this blog. Two months ago, I was done, done, done, with the Tigers rebuild. The major league product was completely awful yet again. It looked like it was going to be another miserable, awful, terrible, no good, very bad season for the Detroit Tigers. Yet somehow, against all odds, the Tigers have played respectable baseball over the last two months. Now don’t get me wrong, the 2021 edition of the Detroit Tigers are not a good baseball team. They have glaring holes, especially offensively. It’s not a good lineup. If AJ Hinch finds a way to get this team to 70 wins, he deserves Manager Of The Year. They’re not good, but they are enticing. They have a trio of solid, young, promising pitchers. They have, in my opinion, the best manager in baseball, and they have a great pitching coach in Chris Fetter. Things are kind of looking up. So what’s changed? How is it that this train, which two months ago seemed like it was about as far off the track as it could possibly be, found a way to stabilize itself? 

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Well for one, and I already alluded to it, I think that the Hinch Effect and Fetter Effect are real. This team is eminently more watchable than they have been over the last several years and I think a big reason for that is there’s been a culture change. Winning is now not just accepted in Detroit but expected. I think Chris Fetter has done a marvelous job with the young pitchers on the roster. Both him and Hinch have known when to be hands-on and when to be hands off, when to push them and when to hold back. Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, Spencer Turnbull, and Gregory Soto have all pitched some excellent baseball this season. The powers that be in the dugout have done everything they can, but the major league product is still a work in progress. 

I think what has me most excited, aside from the good pitching, is that we’ve seen from the young core of starters that the Tigers have hyped up for the last several years is the fact that the position players that they took in the last two drafts are not only reaching expectations, but exceeding them down in the minors. I figured Spencer Torkelson would find his footing, and I knew Riley Greene would do his thing, but Dylan Dingler, the Tigers second round pick in last year‘s draft, has probably been the Detroit's most impressive prospect so far this year. The guy has a 1.80 pop time behind the dish and is hitting for power and average in Erie. What’s awesome is that those guys aren’t that far away right now. They’re going to be on the major-league roster probably as early as next year.

I need to make something abundantly clear, I am not saying I believe that Al Avila is a good GM who has done a good job. This rebuild has been as arduous, long, and frustrating as any in recent baseball history. The return they got for star players like Justin Upton, Justin Verlander, and JD Martinez was quite frankly pathetic. The only instance in which Avila has been given a blank check, which was following the 2015 season, he gave Jordan Zimmermann the worst contract in Detroit sports history. My trust in him remains low. I don’t know what to think of Chris Ilitch. Maybe this is some awesome master plan. Maybe he’s known from the beginning that they weren’t going to spend until after this year. I kind of doubt that because I don’t think he’s that cunning. I’ve called him a hack on several occasions, and as of the time of this blog, I don’t take back those words. The ultimate success or failure of this rebuild will depend on whether or not Chris Ilitch is willing to spend and whether Al Avila can spend that money wisely. 

I still believe that all of my concerns are legitimate, but the core of this rebuild that we’ve talked so much about over the last several seasons, this young core that was going to take the Detroit Tigers from the basement all the way to the penthouse, they are for real. Yeah, I could be the ultimate pessimist and say that one of these pitchers might end up getting injured, or one of these hitters might not pan out but at a certain point the fanbase (myself included) is going to have to stop assuming that the sky is falling down. There’s finally some reasons to come to the ballpark in Detroit right now, and over the next several years there’s going to be even more reasons. It’s been a brutal, brutal rebuild and there’s still a ways to go but I can say with confidence that the worst of it is over. Brighter days are coming.

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