Tigers' selloff highlights lackluster meetings

BY foxsports • December 11, 2009

Twice, Jim Leyland managed championship teams that were torn apart because of economics.

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Detroit was supposed to be different.

Now, that's not saying that the Tigers of 2010 are about to become the Pirates of 1993 or, heaven forbid, the Marlins of 1998. During the winter meetings, however, the message was delivered loud and clear — the Tigers are upside down with their payroll, and they are facing a painful time ahead.

Now this shouldn't be a total surprise. The economy is a mess, and nowhere is the mess bigger than in Detroit and its surrounding suburbs. But before the Tigers try blaming the economy, they need to look in the mirror and accept the blame for their own actions — and overreactions.

The Pirates were stripped by free agency after three consecutive division titles — 1990-92 — which led Leyland to bail for Florida, where, thanks to then owner H. Wayne Huizenga, the checkbook was opened, a world championship was purchased in 1997 and then, before the parade even ended, the team was torn apart on orders from Huizenga, who didn't feel the champagne offset the red ink on the ledger.

And after a brief and disappointing year in Colorado, followed by six years as a consultant in St. Louis, Leyland returned to the dugout with the Tigers in 2006, and returned a fading Tigers franchise to championship, guiding Detroit to the World Series that year. In the aftermath, the Tigers have not only signed multi-year contracts with members of the '06 team, but they also acquired Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from Florida prior to the 2008 season, and immediately gave them lucrative contracts.

Not that it matters. The Tigers haven't been back to the postseason since. They did finish second in the AL Central in 2007 and 2009, fading down the stretch and coughing up the division title to Minnesota. They finished fifth in between.

And now the Tigers are paying the price for their overzealous spending.

The contracts make it impossible to deal the likes of Magglio Ordonez, who is guaranteed $18 million in 2010; Cabrera, who has six years and $126 million left on his contract; Carlos Guillen, due $26 million the next two years; Willis, who will pick up $12 million in 2010, and Nate Robertson, guaranteed $12 million in 2010.

So where do the Tigers find breathing room? They have to give up arguably their best and most popular player, outfielder Curtis Granderson, in a three-team deal that sent him to the Yankees and All-Star pitcher Edwin Jackson to Arizona, and brought the Tigers a couple of pitchers with mechanical concerns and bullpen futures — right-hander Max Scherzer and lefty Daniel Schlereth — from the Diamondbacks, and prospects Phil Coke, a left-handed pitcher, and outfielder Austin Jackson from the Yankees.

But then that's modern-day baseball.

Deals are done for dollar reasons.

The price of doing business has risen to the point that one year a team rejoices about securing a player on a long-term basis, and the next year it's trying to unload the contract.

It is why Texas sent Kevin Millwood to Baltimore, along with his $12 million salary and then tries to convince itself that it saved money and filled the rotation void by signing oft-injured Rich Harden, whose history of being a 100-pitch pitcher flies in the face of team president Nolan Ryan's desire for rotation durability.

It is why Houston is trying to claim it can rebound from a miserable season to contend because it took a garage-sale mentality, acquiring reliever Matt Lindstrom and signing free agents Brandon Lyon and Pedro Feliz, hoping quantity will overcome a lack of quality.

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