Rumors have a funny way of spreading. One person writes something, another takes it as truth, a couple people start talking, someone else puts together a couple important yet unrelated facts, and suddenly, it's a wildfire and the talk of the town.
That is precisely what has happened over the past few months for the Detroit Tigers.
It all started with one specific beat writer that covers the Tigers pushing the idea that the Tigers should trade wildly popular and baseball ambassador Curtis Granderson. It was their best way to improve the club in 2010, in his opinion. As someone that covers the team on an almost daily basis year-round, he's informed enough for it to be inferred that he can come to that conclusion, and has the pulpit for which to express that opinion. Disagree or not, he gets the column inches to make his case.
And so long as freedom of the press remains a staple in our day and age, he's 100% entitled to that.
But from there, suddenly, more people begin discussing the issue. Beat writers are typically more informed and more in-tune with what's going on in the organization's mind than an average fan, so if he thinks it to be the case, there's a good chance this thought has legs.
And from there, it becomes the talk of the town. Sports radio hosts jump on the story on a slow news day, riling up sports fans on both sides of the argument, which leads to more debate and discussion, and if reporters and journalists know anything, it's that you write about and report on the story readers and listeners are interested in. And so more reporters jump on the story, more stories written, and it's everywhere in the local papers.
And then it happens. A national beat writer that keeps stumbling upon these same stories in his RSS feed (or Twitter feed, or Facebook feed, or stories compiled by his secretary if he's yet to make it to the digital age) thinks about it. And suddenly, on the same page, he sees two stories – Tigers looking to trade popular and productive players, and somber stories about the sad state of the Detroit and Michigan economy.
And out of nowhere the imaginary light bulb appears – this writer has the story!
Without a glance at the balance sheet, without talking to a single employee, the story, simple as it is, has been put together. The Tigers call Detroit home, where the auto industry is in shambles and the economy has been hit harder than just about anywhere else in the nation. Down economy, means people can't spend money on sporting events, the Tigers must not be getting revenue, and they HAVE to sell the players just so that they can be in a reasonable budget range and avoid huge deficits, or possibly worse.
Story told, everyone assumes it to be true (it's everywhere after all) and without a real examination of the truth and the facts, the storyline is written. The Detroit Tigers, due to a struggling Detroit economy and a high payroll, are having a fire sale this offseason. Buyer be ready.
One quote comes to mind when I read these stories: "Not so fast, my friend!"
As the old adage goes, never the let the facts get in the way of a good story, and that is most definitely the case here.
Here are the basic facts:
The Tigers, despite a down economy in Detroit, still pulled in around 2.5 million visitors to Comerica Park this past summer. That's about $40 million in revenue right there, without a beer sold or a car parked. Already a third of the way there, on the gate alone.
The Tigers have a very lucrative television contract with Fox Sports Detroit that has seen continued ratings increases as they carry more and more Tigers games. Don't think for a second the Tigers aren't seeing a pretty penny from that too.
And revenue sharing, oh the popular, much loved or much maligned (depending on your point of view) revenue sharing. The Tigers aren't in line for the same handout that small-market teams like the Marlins or Pirates received, but those mega national TV contracts from ESPN and Fox still pay handsomely, and while they don't get the $80 million or so that the lowest rung teams get, they're still bringing in plenty.
A reasonable estimate puts these revenue sources alone at around $100 million. $100 million, or about 80% of the Tigers' payroll, before a new baseball cap is sold, or a slice of Little Caesar's pizza at the park is scarfed down.
(Ed. Note: Bill Ferris at DetroitTigersWeblog.com did a more in-depth dive into the Tigers' estimated financials. You can read the story here: Estimating the Tigers Financial Situation)
Do the Tigers have an endless budget? Of course not. The economy is going to hurt them just like anyone else – less people come to the game and spend less while at the park, while fewer companies have the money to spend on big ticket ads or luxury boxes.
I'm not privy to the Tigers balance sheet (no one beyond Ilitch Holdings, Inc. is for that matter), but the rough estimates above lead me to believe that while the Tigers might not be swimming in dough, they're not drowning in red ink either. And throw in the fact that Mike Ilitch has never been hesitant to spend when he sees an opportunity to win, and it's not hard to see that the Tigers aren't in a world of hurt, as some might have you believe.
What does that mean as far as the 2010 payroll is concerned? In a nutshell, the Tigers aren't going to be big spenders this winter. But, they've got the money to pay the bills, and fill the holes they need to fill at a reasonable rate.
Without a huge war chest to spend on, the Tigers aren't going to make many, if any, upgrades via free agency. Trying to resign shortstop Adam Everett and relievers Fernando Rodney and/or Brandon Lyon to settle the back end of the bullpen appear to be the extent of the Tigers' shopping list. But beyond that, there won't be any big splashes.
So, the only way to upgrade the team would be through a trade. Hence the discussions about Granderson and Jackson, young, talented, productive players that could yield an attractive return. And if there are teams willing to listen, of course the Tigers will talk. If they can swing one player and fill two holes in return, the deal would make sense.
And to be clear, deals could happen this next week. Granderson could end up a Yankee, Jackson a Mariner, Cabrera an Angel for all we know. It's the winter meetings, anything can happen. Not many expected the Tigers to be in the Cabrera sweepstakes two Decembers ago, and yet with one trade offer and a few phone calls, the Tigers had acquired the biggest bat on the market.
So, trades could happen. But if they do, it will be because the deal makes sense for the organization, both tomorrow and many years down the road. The Tigers aren't shipping Granderson off for young, not-MLB-ready prospects, they're not trying to package Jackson to dump Magglio Ordonez's bloated contract, and they're not worried about Cabrera's commitment given the off-the-field problems that emerged this past fall. They're looking to make the team and the organization better, which is what any good general manager and front office should do at the winter meetings.
But for those still panicking over the media-hyped "fire sale", take a deep breath, put the fire extinguisher back on the hook, relax, and get ready for a fun week to see how the Tigers are trying to field a more competitive club in 2010. All the unnecessary hype and exaggerated storylines, leave those for the people that deserve them;
The storytellers that won't let the facts get in the way of their compelling tale.