Spring training is finally on the horizon. This year, like all the others, will see the Detroit Tigers arrive in Lakeland, Florida with several burning questions that will need to be answered. Some questions will find their answers right away, while others may take longer to develop.
Let’s get right to it. Here are the 6 burning questions as the Tigers head into camp:
Q: Is Jim Leyland on the hot seat if the Tigers don’t contend this year?
A: Come on now! Why are people even saying this? It’s natural to point your finger at the skipper when things don’t go as planned. What I can tell you is the following: Jim Leyland LOVES his players. He coaches with his heart on his sleeve for the entire baseball world to see. He represents everything that is right with Tiger baseball. The Tiger managerial job was the one he always wanted. He wants to bring a title to Detroit. I thought Leyland did a tremendous job last year amidst the plague of injuries that befell the Tigers. Look at the constant manager turnover that happens across Major League Baseball year in and year out. Is that what you want in Detroit? Jim Leyland is the manager of the Tigers and he should be until he is ready to hang up the spikes (that’s right, he still wears spikes!).
Q: Who will be the primary second baseman?
A: Well, Carlos Guillen has surpassed even his own standards. According to recent reports, he will not be ready to start the season due to the knee injury he suffered last year. So, instead of waiting until mid to late April for the first of his 2 or 3 seasonal injuries, he is starting the year on the DL from day 1, or so it seems. Next up are two second year players, Will Rhymes and Scott Sizemore. Anybody who watched Tiger baseball last year is probably pulling for Rhymes. Will hit .304 in 191 at-bats last year and provided a lot of energy along the way. Meanwhile, Sizemore got off on the wrong foot, literally, starting the season not quite ready to play on a recently healed broken ankle. It wasn’t until his recall late in the year that he showed his potential. He hit .224 in 143 at-bats but showed some big power right at the end. If you were paying attention prior to last season, you might recall the love affair the Tigers had with Sizemore. Believe me; he is going to get every chance to win that job. If both he and Rhymes prove they belong right out of camp, look for Detroit to move Guillen late in the spring, eat most of his salary, but clear a roster spot for the young duo of second basemen. This would be my preference. I’m ready to move on from Guillen.
Q: Will Rick Porcello rebound?
A: He sort of already did. Rick was 4-7 with a 6.14 ERA in his first 13 starts of 2010. After his demotion and subsequent return to the team, he went 6-5 with a 4.00 ERA the rest of the way. Porcello just turned 22 and will be entering his 3rd season as a starter. It is completely reasonable to expect him to re-emerge as a huge part of the Tiger rotation. In case you were wondering, some other pitchers who really turned it on in their 3rd year of service include Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson. Porcello learned invaluable lessons these past 2 years and perhaps most importantly, had to deal with adversity for the first time in his life as a pitcher. He is a level-headed, focused player who is going to learn from his mistakes of last year and put himself in the best possible position to succeed. Look for Porcello to bloom in 2011.
Q: What will Victor Martinez bring to the team?
A: He brings a lot. He may not have been the prized free agent on the market but he does do a lot for this lineup. Most importantly, he will protect Cabrera while hitting in the 5 hole in Jim Leyland’s lineup. Martinez is reported to be a tremendous clubhouse guy, which is always a bonus. He adds another Venezuelan to the dugout to go along with Guillen, Miguel Cabrera, and Magglio Ordonez. I can’t pretend to know what that means to these guys but it has to provide a certain comfort level and sense of camaraderie. He is primarily going to DH for the club, though he will catch when a lefty is on the mound so that Alex Avila can get a rest. VMart can also provide the occasional rest for Cabrera at first base, though I might prefer Don Kelly’s defense if it’s late in a tight game. As for his numbers, I expect the following: .290 avg., 17 homers, 90 RBI’s, 40 doubles. Anybody know the Spanish word for juggernaut? If Magglio, Miguel, and Martinez can stay healthy, that is exactly what they will create in the middle of the Tiger lineup.
Q: Will Phil Coke survive his move to the rotation?
A: In his 3-year major league career, Coke has pitched in 158 games with just 1 start. That’s the bad news. The good news is that as recently as 2008 while in the minors he made 21 starts. Overall, while working his way up to the big leagues, he pitched in 125 games, starting 77. He had a 3.61 ERA in the minors. It is this track record that has provided the Tigers brass with the confidence that he can get the job done. He has a starter’s arsenal with a closer’s demeanor. He will need to tame his inner craziness as he’ll be asked to go 6 innings instead of 1. If he can channel his energy, I think this move is going to be a success. As forecasted in a recent article, I expect a record of about 11-11 with a 4.20 ERA. These are good numbers for a back end of the rotation guy.
Q: With Coke out, who will comprise the 7-man bullpen?
A: There is no question that Coke leaving the bullpen creates a gaping hole. He started off more as a lefty specialist but ended up becoming a no doubt 1-inning reliever, including being a setup man late in the year. He was probably the most valuable member of the bullpen if measured out over the course of the entire season. The 2011 bullpen will likely look like this:
- Closer: Jose Valverde
- Setup: Joaquin Benoit
- 7th inning: Joel Zumaya and Ryan Perry
- Lefty Specialist: Daniel Schlereth
- Long Relief: Brad Thomas and Robbie Weinhardt
A lot can change in camp, particularly in the bullpen but this is how I project it out right now. The big unknowns are Zumaya’s health and Schlereth’s reliability. If this pen can stay healthy and get solid innings out of the starting rotation, it looks to be one of the team’s strengths.