Detroit Red Wings 2013 offseason projection

To be perfectly clear, this is NOT an offseason wish list on my part, but rather what I see as a probable and conservative course of action based on what we currently know about the state of the Red Wings’ roster.

First, the basics:

NHL Salary Cap: $64.3 million

Current commitments (rounded to nearest 100K): 19 players, $53.3 million
Pavel Datsyuk — 6.7 million
Henrik Zetterberg — 6.1 million
Johan Franzen — 4 million
Mikael Samuelsson — 3 million (buyout candidate)
Darren Helm — 2.1 million
Todd Bertuzzi — 2.1 million (buyout or retirement candidate)
Jordin Tootoo — 1.9 million (buyout candidate)
Justin Abdelkader — 1.8 million
Patrick Eaves — 1.2 million
Tomas Tatar — 0.8 million
Cory Emmerton — 0.5 million (candidate to be released)

Niklas Kronwall — 4.8 million
Kyle Quincey — 3.8 million
Jonathan Ericsson — 3.2 million
Carlo Colaiacovo — 2.5 million
Danny DeKeyser — 1.4 million
Brian Lashoff — 0.7 million (minor league option)

Jimmy Howard — 5.3 million
Jonas Gustavsson — 1.5 million

Current cap space: $12 million

All salary information via CapGeek: http://www.capgeek.com/charts.php?Team=15

Projected offseason moves/decisions —

1) The Red Wings have two amnesty buyouts at their disposal as part of the new collective bargaining agreement. I fully expect Mikael Samuelsson and either Todd Bertuzzi or Jordin Tootoo to be bought out, wiping off their cap commitment.  For the sake of this exercise, let’s project Samuelsson and Bertuzzi to be bought out, resulting in a cap savings of $5.1 million, upping Detroit’s available money to $17.1 million.

2) Re-sign all four restricted free agents — Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith. This much is obvious. Projecting the cap figure for each of these players is difficult, however, but having looked at what players with similar credentials have received as RFAs in recent years, let’s estimate that these four players collectively cost $8 million, leaving the Red Wings with $9.1 million to work with elsewhere.

3) Due to a lack of available roster positions, let’s predict that Cory Emmerton is traded or released, freeing up $0.5 million and a secured lineup opening for Tomas Tatar, who is over-ready for the NHL and won’t play the year in Grand Rapids again.

4) It’s doubtful that Damien Brunner will end up signing elsewhere, so let’s peg him to return at $2.5 million next season.

5) Ken Holland and Mike Babcock have each expressed interest in re-signing Drew Miller and he would come cheap, so let’s peg Miller for $1.1 million (a modest raise over his last contract).

6) Valtteri Filppula and Ian White will almost assuredly not be retained.  Though Holland has said he’d like to bring Dan Cleary back, let’s also assume (perhaps foolishly) that he is not brought back due to a lack of roster openings and declining skills and health.

Recapping: If items 1 through 6, as listed above, come to fruition, Detroit would have 22 players signed to NHL contracts with $59.4 million committed, leaving $4.9 million of cap space. NHL rules stipulate that a team can only have 23 players on their NHL roster (excluding long-term injured reserve players).

With eight defensemen and two goaltenders among those 22 signed players, the 23rd player would be a 13th forward and $4 million buys the team a good one in free agency. The team will likely leave $1-2 million of cap space unused for trade deadline acquisitions, so we’ll project the addition of one unrestricted free agent signing to play among the top six forwards a $4 million in salary.

Following this very conservative path, which does not consider the possibility of trades, the Red Wings could enter the season with a roster looking like this:

Projected lineup:
Franzen – Datsyuk – FREE AGENT
Nyquist – Zetterberg – Abdelkader
Tatar – Helm – Brunner
Miller – Andersson – Eaves
(Tootoo)

Kronwall – Ericsson
Smith – Quincey
DeKeyser – Kindl
(Colaiacovo, Lashoff)

Howard
Gustavsson

My analysis:
If that projection played out as such, I’d be extremely disappointed with the lack of roster turnover. I’m certainly not advocating a major shakeup, but to sit back and simply expect the younger players of the roster to serve as the sole point of improvement would be foolish and misguided. Darren Helm’s pending return to health will be nice, but he won’t out-produce the departing and much-maligned Valtteri Filppula offensively even in anyone’s wildest imagination.

Brian Lashoff will probably see time in Grand Rapids, but the Wings have several forward prospects that could be recalled to fill in for shorts stretches and alternatively fill out the last spot on the 23-man roster.

That projected forward group definitely leaves something to be desired in terms of guys worthy of playing on the top two scoring lines. Detroit finished in the bottom third of the NHL in scoring this season and that figure isn’t likely to improve much if these are the guys they run out there next year.

The bottom line — With so many players already under contract, even after buying out two players (no sure thing given Holland’s proclivity for extreme loyalty), the Red Wings have very few openings in which to add new players to improve the team. Re-signing Miller, Brunner, all four RFAs, and potentially Cleary would almost completely restrict the ability to bring in the scoring depth and players with size up front that they need most.

Trades could be considered, but it’s quite difficult to envision Holland parting with any players on the current projected NHL roster. Surely there are prospects and draft picks that could be dealt, but I don’t anticipate a blockbuster for an impact player.

I will work on a blog post detailing how I, personally, would like to see the offseason handled next. Check back soon.

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Justin Verlander inks new deal with the Tigers — My thoughts

By Dan Fenner

While it was not the piece of major Detroit sports news I anticipated today (see here), Justin Verlander’s record-breaking new contract with the Detroit Tigers is a more than welcome development. The timing is important — Getting Verlander signed before the season will result in a significant savings, as prices for elite major league talent continues to increase rapidly. This way, the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and other deep-pocketed franchises never get the opportunity to so much as dial Verlander’s agent’s phone number to start inquiring about the odds of hauling him in. All the talk of a $30 million/year contract may not have come to pass with this signing, but it undoubtedly would have had he been allowed reached free agency and an open market for the services of his routine 98+ MPH fastball.

The contract reportedly breaks down as such:

2013 and 2014 — $20 million (pre-existing deal)

2015 through 2019 — $28 million (highest salary ever for a pitcher)

2020 — $22 million (vesting option year; details yet unknown)

Total: $202 million ($180 million fully guaranteed)

It’s an enormous sum of money, but if any pitcher has proven worthy of such a commitment, that player is Justin Verlander, who has long appeared to be a different breed of athlete when it comes to conditioning, preparedness, focus and health. The stats are nearly unparalleled in recent seasons as well.

This exorbitant sum of money does make you wonder, however, about the Tigers’ future financial situation with three players now making well over $20 million annually. Prince Fielder’s contract will eventually become an albatross, but that’s the cost of building a juggernaut and American League favorite ballclub. Miguel Cabrera has three years and $65 million remaining on his current contract. Even with today’s financial commitment to Verlander, it’s hard to envision the Tigers parting ways with Cabrera when the time comes to consider what’s next.

What seems certain from today’s news is that Max Scherzer could be embarking on his final season in a Tigers uniform. A free agent after the 2014 season, Scherzer appears to be a candidate to be traded this winter. Such a move would allow Detroit to strengthen their minor league system or more likely to acquire a major league player at another position. Other MLB teams will be lining up to get involved in a possible acquisition of the reigning K/9 king of the league.

I’ll develop another post that delves deeper into the Tigers’ future salary commitments soon. Stay tuned.

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2013 MLB Predictions

By Dan Fenner

I’ve already run down my division-by-division predictions this week, now it’s time to commit to prognosticate the individual awards and postseason play.

Most Valuable Player

AL — Jose Bautista, Blue Jays — The lineup around him has improved giving Bautista more runners to drive in this season with his ferocious power swing. His career renaissance north of the border will culminate in a hugely productive year and his candidacy will be buoyed by Toronto’s emergence as a legitimate contender this season. Expect 40 home runs and an on-base percentage pushing .400.

NL — Bryce Harper, Nationals — Harper may not ultimately produce the best statistical season in the National League, but if Washington lives up to its lofty expectations this season, the odds of its best player taking home this piece of hardware are pretty good. He won’t turn 21 until October, but Harper’s level of play is far ahead of the typical aging curve. Expect something approaching 30 home runs and 25 stolen bases (a power/speed combo that generally endears players to the voters) as well as some signature moments in the outfield and on the base paths that boost his candidacy.

Cy Young

AL — David Price, Rays — A repeat winner, Tampa Bay’s ace will once again edge of Justin Verlander for the award. Price will be subject to trade talk this winter, however, as the Rays come to grip with the inevitability that retaining him is not in their budget much longer.

NL — Adam Wainwright, Cardinals — Another full year removed from Tommy John surgery, Wainwright will capably carry the load in the St. Louis rotation without Chris Carpenter this season. He may not rack up a strikeout total comparable to Stephen Strasburg, but the bulk of his innings pitched and a few more victories will make the difference in the voting.

Rookie of the Year

AL — Aaron Hicks, Twins — Hicks seems to have a beat on the everyday center field job with the Twins and with this award, opportunity and when it comes to this particular award, playing time are half the battle. Look for Hicks to steadily improve throughout the year, culminating in a second-half performance that manages to fend off late pushes from Jurickson Profar or Texas and Wil Myers of Tampa Bay.

NL — Jedd Gyorko, Padres — If not for an elbow strain that put him on the shelf for the first two months of the season, Arizona’s Adam Eaton might have been the choice here. Instead, Gyorko will emerge as an everyday asset in San Diego’s infield, patrolling both second and third base and contributing to a team that’s rather deficient offensively. Arizona’s Tyler Skaggs will represent the best rookie on the pitching side of things.

The Postseason

AL East Tampa Bay

AL West Texas

AL Central Detroit

AL Wild Cards — Los Angeles over Toronto

NL East Washington

NL West San Francisco

NL Central Cincinnati

NL Wild Cards — St. Louis over Atlanta

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ALDS — Detroit over Los Angeles; Texas over Tampa Bay

ALCS — Detroit over Texas

NLDS — Washington over St. Louis; Cincinnati over San Francisco

NLCS — Washington over Cincinnati

World Series — Washington over Detroit in 7

Admittedly, this is a conservative and predictable World Series forecast. But the two teams stand out above the rest of their respective leagues’ contenders.

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National League Central predictions

National League Central

1) Cincinnati Reds —  There was temptation to select the St. Louis Cardinals instead here, but the Reds prevail due to superior health entering the season. The addition of Shin-Soo Choo, while not exactly suited to play center field, should pay immediate dividends thanks to his strong on-base skills ahead of clean-up hitter Joey Votto. The end of the Aroldis Chapman as a starting pitcher era came to a premature end, but his quick return to the closer role is the safest move for a team already aspiring to be a World Series contender. The burning question will be when the dynamic speester Billy Hamilton finally ascends to the major leagues. He stole 165 bases in the minor leagues last year, after all.

2) St. Louis Cardinals — Injuries have already put an early dent in the Cardinals this spring with closer Jason Motte and third baseman David Freese on the shelf. Fortunately, the team is well-equipped to handle these short-term bruises thanks to solid depth all around and arguably the top farm system in baseball. Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Adam Wainwright should be better in 2013 and return to genuine ace status. Like Cincinnati, the Cardinals have an eagerly anticipated top prospect. Oscar Taveras projects to be a star as soon as an opportunity for regular at-bats arises.

3) Milwaukee Brewers — The Brewers might still be living in fear as the threat of a PED suspension for their best player, Ryan Braun, still lingers in the distance. The rest of the lineup also figures to be potent with several still-productive veterans like Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez around, along with emerging players like shortstop Jean Segura. The eleventh hour spring signing of Kyle Lohse will bolster the starting rotation, but don’t expect a repeat of last season’s surprise all-star caliber performance. The bullpen has the potential for disaster with John Axford in desperate need of a drop in walks issued to keep his ninth inning gig.

4) Pittsburgh Pirates —  No, this still isn’t the year the Pirates break the generational streak of losing seasons. The eventual arrival of top pitching prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon could give this team a midseason jolt, but relying on such youngsters is a risky proposition. Further improvement from one-time elite prospect Pedro Alvarez at the hot corner would also do wonders for the Pirates’ offense, as Andrew McCutchen remains the only hitter deserving of extra attention. Overall, Pittsburgh is trending upward.

5) Chicago Cubs — Under former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, the rebuilding process in Chicago has sure taken its time. First baseman Anthony Rizzo looks the part of a budding superstar, and should easily prove to be the more valuable end of a trade with the Padres last winter. Thirty home runs is not out of the question for Rizzo. Expect Alfonso Soriano to eventually be traded despite undesirable salary and an additional year remaining on his albatross contract. Some power-desperate team will ultimately bite. The rotation could be a sneaky strength for the Cubs, as a number of undervalued arms were added in recent months that could produce quality innings.

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National League West predictions

National League West

1) San Francisco Giants — Just as they did after winning the World Series in 2010, the defending champion Giants were content to simply re-sign their own, rather than seek outside upgrades this offseason. While it’s hard to envision San Francisco being a better team this season, the rest of the division doesn’t appear to have done enough to close the gap. Tim Lincecum has had a brutal spring training, which has tempered expectations of a bounce-back. There are certainly no more Cy Young awards in his future. The Giants will need catcher Buster Posey to come close to duplicating last year’s MVP season.

2) Arizona Diamondbacks — Through a head-scratching series of offseason trades, the Diamondbacks seem to lack direction. Much was made of manager Kirk Gibson’s preferred style of player, which became something of an excuse to trade away a number of players, including former No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton. Arizona appears to have a good balance of hitting and pitching, though no particular strength is apparent. Look for a potential breakout season from starting pitcher Trevor Cahill, who has yet to out-pitch the prospect he was traded for a year ago, Oakland’s Jarrod Parker.

3) Los Angeles Dodgers — This team looks rather volatile, with a hodgepodge of acquisitions over the past calendar year still unsettled into defined roles. The Dodgers appear to have too many outfielders and starting pitchers and too few infielders. The train could come off the tracks in a hurry if the two pillars of the rotation, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, succumb to their speculative injury concerns. Keep an eye on the closer role, as a battle may ensue between setup man Kenley Jansen and closer Brandon League. How long will League’s exorbitant contract status hold off the clearly superior Jansen for the ninth-inning gig.

4) Colorado Rockies — Looking up and down the lineup, it appears the necessary offensive talent is there. But considering the altitude-aided conditions at Coors Field, the stats will represent a mirage. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales, each equipped with huge and lengthy contracts, will need to remain healthy and provide production in line with that they’re paid. The rotation will probably be a mess with a number of pitchers returning from injury being counted on to eat up innings. Colorado could be a significant trade deadline seller if things go sour early.

5) San Diego Padres — With a limited budget and a severe lack of star power, the Padres will struggle to stay afloat. Injuries have already taken a toll on this squad through the spring, with top hitter Chase Headley expected to miss the first month of the season, and top prospects Casey Kelly and Rymer Liriano each succumbing to season-ending surgeries before the first regular season pitch has been thrown. The team could receive a boost after the all-star break when Tommy John surgery survive Cory Luebke returns to the mound.

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National League East predictions

National League East

1) Washington Nationals — This division shapes up as the easiest to project, in my opinion, with the Nationals leading the way as arguably the best team in baseball (on paper). Much will be made of Stephen Strasburg’s supposedly unhindered return to the rotation, but his success is mostly a given. It’s the rest of the rotation, namely Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, that will need to duplicate last season’s effectiveness for the team to approach 100 wins. Look for Bryce Harper to close the gap between he and Mike Trout in their fictitious, media-fueled competition for best young phenom status.

2) Atlanta Braves — Not insignificantly, the offseason hype surrounding this team’s additions (namely Justin and B.J. Upton) seems to have glossed over the departures of some valued contributors in the process. Gone are Chipper Jones (retired), Michael Bourn (Indians) and Martin Prado (Diamondbacks), which in all likelihood will result in something of a wash in terms of offensive output over last season. The focus probably should be on Kris Medlen and the key question of how closely he can come to repeating the dominance he displayed in the final six weeks of last season once he shifted into the rotation.

3) Philadelphia Phillies — Here’s a team featuring a curious mix of old and young, promising and pathetic. I’ll start by saying I no longer believe in the once great Roy Halladay. He had a nice decade-long run of dominance, but his declining velocity and health will amount to an unremarkable (and likely abbreviated) 2013 season. The acquisitions of both Delmon Young and Michael Young should make the Phillies the butt end of many jokes this season, as the two ranked among the very worst position players in the majors last year and were awarded prominent roles in Philadelphia nonetheless. Domonic Brown is the guy to watch, as a former elite prospect finally in line for a sufficient helping of playing time.

4) New York Mets — The Mets got a pair of nice prospects in return for trading R.A. Dickey (whose memoir I highly recommend), but as a result are left with just one genuine impact player, David Wright. Jonathan Niese could be poised for a breakthrough season in the rotation, along with Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee. The trouble is, much of the lineup is filled with players that look more like placeholder youngsters rather than the future core of a contending team.

5) Miami Marlins — Owner Jeffrey Loria stripped the team down to nearly nothing again this offseason, leaving just one compelling player on the roster — Giancarlo Stanton. His trade out of town is inevitable, as the pricy years of arbitration approach. Expect Stanton’s name to be tossed haphazardly around at the trade deadline in July, but ultimately look for the Marlins to pull the trigger on a trade following the season. As for an on-the-field prediction for the 2013 Marlins, I propose simply that the National League’s worst team will reside in a sparkling new, 75 percent empty stadium in south Florida.

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American League Central predictions

American League Central

1) Detroit Tigers — Five predictions here: 1) Anibal Sanchez, the $80 million man, silences those that questioned his re-signing with the best season of his career, winning 16 games and registering an ERA around 3.50. 2) Top prospect Nick Castellanos is called up to the majors in late May when one of the Tigers’ corner outfielders hits the disabled list. Castellanos hits .280 and smacks 10 home runs in 300 plate appearances with Detroit. 3) Five different pitchers register at least one save. This list includes both Drew Smyly and a pitcher not yet in the organization. 4) As the new third base coach, Tom Brookens draws the same (often irrational) ire from the fans that Gene Lamont received for years. 5) Final record: 94-68.

2) Cleveland Indians — New manager Terry Francona coaxes enough quality innings out of his starting pitching staff to bring a semblance of balance to a team whose offense surprises and finishes Top 5 in the American League in runs scored. Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds will each produce, giving the Indians a deep lineup of above average contributors, but one without a true star-caliber player. Justin Masterson will be the key as the de facto No. 1 starter.

3) Kansas City Royals — The overhauled starting rotation will produce mixed results and the surrender of top outfield prospect Wil Myers in the James Shields acquisition will predictably backfire. These two things seem quite certain to occur. The Royals will receive major contributions (some expected, some not) from Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain (both acquired in the Zack Greinke deal), as the duo will help lengthen the lineup. The bullpen, spearheaded by new closer Greg Holland, expects to be a major strength that can cover up for some of the deficiencies in the rotation.

4) Chicago White Sox — There are plenty of players that could regress, from the ever-aging Paul Konerko to Alex Rios, whose career has consistently alternated good and bad years. An injury to either Jake Peavy or Chris Sale in the starting rotation would be detrimental, but not much of a surprise given their not-unwarranted fragility labels. The White Sox challenged the Tigers deep into September last season before ultimately bowing out when they couldn’t topple the lowly Indians time and again. Don’t expect Chicago to have a repeat run at the division crown. In fact, don’t expect any team to push the Tigers too hard to secure the division in September.

5) Minnesota Twins — With an expected rallying cry of “At least we’re not the Astros!,” 2013 doesn’t look like a promising year for the Twins, whose rotation remains filled with soft-tossing journeymen pitchers and underdeveloped youngsters. The offense will be capable of putting up some runs if Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau remain healthy, though honestly that is always the critical caveat with those two former AL MVPs. Look out for outfielder Aaron Hicks, who opened some eyes this spring with his performance.

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