This is the last in a series about AL Central division rivals and the race to be the tallest midget.
Offseason Comings and Goings
Back in 2006, Dave Dombrowski was the darling of GMs. He’d rebuilt the long dormant Tigers from both within and without to form a team that reached the World Series. In 2007, they won 88 games but ran into a rampant Indians team and, to remedy that, Dombrowski flexed his prospects and payroll muscles by first acquiring Edgar Renteria and then Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis (signing both to lucrative extensions for good measure). There was talk of a 1000 run offense. And then the 2008 season happened. They scored 821 runs – a solid performance, good for fourth in the AL – but gave up 857 as both their rotation and bullpen imploded.
Dombrowski’s past dealings had largely exhausted his formerly rich farm system. And his spendthrift ways (along with a super economy, especially in the Motor City, which has apparently almost halved their season ticket base) had largely exhausted his monetary advantage, as well. Still, with their collection of older talent and big contracts, the Tigers have to go all-in. And, to the best of their ability, that’s just what they did this offseason.
Knowing his rotation needed help, Dombrowski did about as well as he could and traded/overpaid for Edwin Jackson. Knowing his bullpen needed help, he signed Brandon Lyon to close. Knowing his defense needed help, he signed Adam Everett to play SS. And knowing his pitchers needed help by having someone catch the ball, he traded for Gerald Laird to do so.
Going out the door were Edgar Renteria, Matt Joyce to Tampa for Jackson, and a bunch of relievers – including Kyle Farnsworth – who helped their bullpen stink. The Gambler also appears to have retired.
A projected lineup: Curtis Granderson CF, Placido Polanco 2B, Magglio Ordonez RF, Miguel Cabrera 1B, Carlos Guillen LF, Gary Sheffield DH, Gerald Laird C, Brandon Inge 3B, Adam Everett SS
Bench and Spare Parts: Matt Treanor C, Ramon Santiago INF, Marcus Thames OF, Timo Perez OF, Ryan Raburn OF, Brent Clevlen OF, Ryan Larish INF/OF, Mike Hessman OF
This remains a potent offense. Granderson is an ideal leadoff hitter. The 33 year old Polanco keeps chugging along with his blend of batting average dependent OBP and decent pop. Ordonez also keeps chugging along. While his days of 30+ home runs are gone, his line drive ways should keep his batting average high and power numbers good. While Cabrera’s continued weight gains and plate discipline losses make his contract look more risky long-term, the short-term prognosis is still that of an offensive powerhouse. Guillen struggled with back problems late last season and missed all of September. The Tigers will hope that his power returns. Sheffield has been atrocious since coming over from the Yankees. The Tigers will hope to get anything out of him – though he’s healthy for the first time in a long time. Laird is an overall average catcher, though it will be interesting to see how he reacts to his return to a full-time role (it wasn't pretty last time). Inge and Everett are offensive black holes but their defense makes them adequate and this offense can handle their lack of production.
Rotation: Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Armando Galarraga, Edwin Jackson, Nate Robertson
Bullpen and Spare Parts: Brandon Lyon, Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya, Bobby Seay, Clay Rapada, Zach Miner, Ryan Perry, Juan Rincon, Alfredo Figaro, Scott Williamson, Dontrelle Willis
You want question marks, this pitching has them plastered all over the place. Verlander was not impressive last season and a return to prior form will be absolutely essential for the Tigers. While his peripherals suggest a decent rebound should be expected, the continued loss of fastball velocity is a concern. Bonderman’s 2008 campaign was cut short by surgery to correct a circulatory problem in his throwing shoulder. His velocity and command have yet to return so far this spring. Galarraga was the Tigers’ one bright spot last season as he turned from random offseason acquisition to staff ace; however, nothing in his history suggests anything close to a repeat and his peripherals show massive regression is on tap. Perennial breakout favorite Jackson will continue to entice but be nothing more than backend fodder. Left-hander Robertson looks to be the current favorite for the 5th spot, but a sprained thumb could cause him to miss the opening day roster.
Starting at the top of the bullpen, Lyon just isn’t that good. He’s a fine enough relief pitcher but he’s certainly not the lights-out closer that is usually associated with the role. This would perhaps be okay – because, after all, more of the high leverage relief innings happen before the typical bases empty ninth inning entrance of a closer – however, it’s not like there’s much else to really like in this bullpen, either. Zumaya is hurt again and will be opening the season on the DL. Rodney was erratic last season after returning from injury but, while he gives up too many walks, he does strike batters out and a return to adequacy is likely. Non-roster invitee Rincon has had an excellent spring and appears to have pitched his way onto the roster – though coming off two poor seasons, not much should be expected of him. Rapada will be the LOOGY while Seay, the man responsible for Jerry Reinsdorf’s hate of Scott Boras, will be the primary lefty set-up man. 2008 top draft pick Perry, a win now selection, is a hard-throwing righty whose fastball touches triple digits and has a slider and change which are also good; while his command can be shaky, he could be a repeat of 2006 Zumaya. Miner, who lost out in the 5th starter derby, will be the swingman. Although Willis was almost a certainty to not make the opening day roster, him being placed on the DL on Sunday was a bit of a shock and even more surprising was that it was for an anxiety disorder.
There’s just one man in this depleted system that will make an impact this year.
Rick Porcello is a 20 year old righty. There was talk early in the spring about him breaking camp with the Tigers in their rotation. That talk died down, not least because of control problems, but it is a near certainty that he will appear sometime this season in the big leagues. Last season, against older and more advanced competition, he was the Florida State League (High-A) Player of the Year. His 93 MPH sinking two-seam fastball, 95 MPH four-seam fastball, slider, and change are all excellent to good and his low strikeout rate at Lakeland was attributed to the Tigers not permitting him to use his slider in order to force him to work on his curve. He’ll start the season at Double-A Erie but expect the stay to be short.
This midget is all-in but it still doesn’t look like it’s enough to take this contest.