Many will advocate that they are doing both, but is that really possible? At times, it seems the Tigers are intent on strengthening the farm system to allow for replenishment of departed players. At other times, it appears the Tigers are doing whatever necessary to win games now. I have to admit; I'm thoroughly confused.
The 2003 season, while miserable, appeared to be the start of the first true rebuilding effort in recent memory.
The Tigers were stripping it down and going to build it back up. The signing of veterans like Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Johnson, Rondell White, and Fernando Vina did not change this appearance, they simply illustrated that ownership was embarrassed, and recognized that they had to put a respectable team on the field during this true rebuilding process.
The trading of arbitration eligible players like Randall Simon and Mark Redman, along with the departure of their most tradable commodity at that time, Jeff Weaver, were also signals that the organization was intent on building from within. It appeared, that for the first time in over a decade, the Tigers had a true direction; they were not lost any more.
Then, throughout this same time, came a flurry of deals that saw the organization part with prospects in exchange for older players, or relatively young players that would supposedly help us win in the near term. Trading away promising youngsters like Cody Ross, Jon Connolly, Jason Frasor, Scott Moore, and Roberto Novoa, demonstrated a desire not to build for the future, but rather to start building for today. Obtaining relievers that either appeared Major League ready, or had years of experience at the highest level, for prospects is not a sign of a team intent on building within. Trades like these are the signs of a team that believes they can win and contend now; but at what cost?
While the Tigers have increased the general level of talent in their minor league system, they have also sacrificed some opportunities to add more. When the Tigers signed aging closer Troy Percival to a two-year deal, they lost their 2nd round pick in the 2005 draft. Is this a smart move for an organization in need of young talent? The merits of such a decision can be debated all day and all night, but the fact remains that the Tigers missed an opportunity to add high round talent to their system.
The recent decision not to offer arbitration to Jason Johnson and Rondell White, while debatable, is another opportunity lost to potentially add more high round talent to a system still lacking overall depth. Yes, there is certainly a chance that one, or both, players may have accepted arbitration, but would this really have been such a bad thing? If, as expected, Johnson had rejected arbitration, the Tigers would have received an extra draft choice. I understand the importance of weighing the risks and rewards involved in this decision, but weighing those risks and rewards becomes far more complex when the direction of the organization has become more blurred by the day.
Now the Tigers are on the verge of signing Todd Jones, and rumors abound they are seriously considering the addition of aging starter, Kenny Rogers. Again I ask; are these the moves of an organization that is truly trying to build from within as the 2003 season suggested? Or are these the moves of an organization that believes they can win in 2006?
In my opinion, the combination of moves we have seen the Tigers make the last three or four years is evidence of an organization that forgot to get directions before they set out on their quest for a Central Division crown. If we are going to build from within, then the vast majority of our moves need to follow this path. If we are going to go for broke and try to win now, then our moves should reflect such a decision. There exists a fine line between the two extremes of striving for contention, and I contend the Tigers are having trouble keeping their balance on that line.
The Detroit Tigers have wandered through the woods and taken wrong turns for far too long, and I think it's finally time for the organization to stop and ask for directions.