Due to Detroit’s economy, Tiger General Manager Dave Dombrowski conducted a fire sale over the winter to lower the payroll. Gone are fan favorites, Placido Polanco, Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson. Also gone are Brandon Lyon and long time Tigers Fernando Rodney, Nate Robertson and Marcus Thames. The Tigers will replace these significant losses with youth in an attempt to rebuild while still contending. The influx of youth and talent is a welcome sign, but with so many question marks, this year’s team could finish anywhere from first to last in the AL Central.
The Tigers showed they are still trying to contend by bringing in free agents Jose Valverde and Johnny Damon, as well as Yankees top prospect Austin Jackson and Arizona top prospect Max Scherzer. Dombrowski has a history of being a very shrewd deal maker and talent evaluator. It will be exciting to see what the Tigers have acquired.
Starting Line Up: Austin Jackson and Johnny Damon (.282, 24 HR, 82 RBI, 12 SB) should be an exciting one two punch. Jackson has great speed and Damon is a clutch, intelligent big league hitter adept at moving runners. They will set the table for Miguel Cabrera (.324, 34 HR, 103 RBI) and Magglio Ordonez (.310, 9 HR 50 RBI).
Maggs suffered a power outage last year but was also fighting through some difficult times at home. If he can stay healthy, expect him to have a big RBI year. The bottom of the lineup will struggle. Injury prone and ageing Carlos Guillen (.241 11 HR 41 RBI) returns as the DH. Top prospect, rookie second basemen Scott Sizemore, will get his chance to be an everyday player. He is coming off a broken leg in the fall and how those two players hold up will be very important for the offense. The Tigers will need to find a quality everyday number five hitter to prevent teams from pitching around Ordonez and Cabrera. Like last year, they are favoring defense over hitting at the bottom of the line up with Brandon Inge (.230, 27 HR), Adam Everett (.238, 44 RBI) and Gerald Laird (.225 33 RBI). The Tigers won’t win many shoot outs. Expect them to be toward the lower half of the league in offense. Overall, they don’t have a lot of great average hitters, not a lot of speed, and not a lot of power. And there will be a lot oof pressure on rookies Sizemore and Jackson. They will have to win close games with smart timely hitting. Grade C.
Bench: I like the Tigers bench better than some of their starters. They have a versatile group that can hit. I think Don Kelly is in for a break-out year. Everywhere he goes, he hits. The Tigers will sorely need Kelly, Ryan Raburn (.291, 16 HR, 45 RBI), and catcher Alex Avila (.279, 5 HR) to carry a significant offensive load. I expect infielder Ramon Santiago (.267, 7 HR, 35 RBI) and Avila to see increased playing time as the year goes on. Kelly and Raburn may have bigger roles if Guillen gets injured or struggles. Grade B+
Defense: Not much has changed; they still will rely heavily on Brandon Inge, Adam Everett and Gerald Laird. Austin Jackson is lightning quick and is expected to be a good defensive centerfielder. It hurts losing Polanco’s reliability, but I think they’ll be as good as last year defensively. Grade B+
Starting Pitching: This group is as talented as any starting five in baseball, but having electric stuff and being a reliable big league starter are two different things. Starting pitching is the most important aspect of any team and you just don’t know what you’re going to get with these youngsters. Justin Verlander was phenomenal last year and if the Tigers are going to contend, he’ll have to be just as good. But, can he really pitch 240 innings and win 19 games again? Remember 2008, 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA?
Rick Porcello (14-9, 3.96 ERA) lived up to all the hype and then some giving the Tigers a possible dynamic one two punch, but he’s only 21, and lots of things can happen to young guys not used to carrying the load.
Max Scherzer (9-11, 4.12 ERA) has loads of talent and has shown flashes of being a dominate big league starter. The four and five starting spots are real shaky. Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis have had strong springs. Honestly I never thought we’d see Willis in the majors again after his mental breakdown the last two years. Bonderman won 14 games in 2005 and 2006 and Willis won 22 games in 2005, but has done very little since. This is Russian roulette. I’m going to stay positive on this one mostly because, talent + Pitching Coach Rick Knapp usually means wins. Grade B
Bullpen: If they can make it to the 7th inning with a lead, the bullpen will close the door. Long time Mud Hen Eddie Bonine has developed a knuckle ball and will work long relief. Zach Minor will also be used but will start the year on the disabled list. The Tigers have an abundance of lefties, Fu-Te Ni, Phil Coke, Brad Thomas and Bobby Seay (who’ll start the year on the disabled list). Ni excelled last year after being called up from the Mud Hens finishing with a 2.61 ERA. Coke came over from the Yankees in the Granderson trade and was 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA. Thomas is an Australian born pitcher who the Tigers fell in love with while he was pitching in Korea. Joel Zumaya and Ryan Perry give the Tigers two big time power arms to set up closer Jose Valverde. With Zumaya and Perry reaching 100 mph on the radar gun and a proven closer in Valverde (4-2, 2.33 ERA, 25 Saves), the Tigers bullpen should be lights out. Zumaya’s injury history is worrisome, but this unit looks primed for a big year. Grade A-
Overall: An exciting team and I like the chemistry. Success rides on the shoulders of the starting five. If they pitch well, the Tigers have enough pieces to win the AL Central. I think they are moving in the right direction, but too many ageing injury prone players and question marks will slow them down. They will contend, but will fall short to the improved White Sox, Finishing second at 89-73.