Detroit Tigers burning questions, part 1

The hot stove in regards to the Detroit Tigers isn’t exactly burning at this point in the offseason. Smoldering, maybe. The Tigers may very well make some additional moves to tighten up the roster but by and large the attention is turning to the roster as it currently sits.

With that in mind, here are some burning questions that fans are demanding answers to. This will be a 2-part post.

Bruce Rondon, Detroit Tigers

Bruce Rondon

Is Bruce Rondon capable of being an effective closer for the Tigers?

It’s important to remember that the Tigers made it to the World Series in 2012 with the moldy potato, Jose Valverde, as their closer. Papa Grande was featuring a steady diet of 92-94 MPH fastballs and a flat splitter. As a result, his K rate tumbled. He fanned just 48 hitters in 69 innings of work compared to 69 and 72.1 respectively in 2011. No deception requires a power arm. Valverde had neither. Rondon has both.  Rondon started in high-A ball and finished up 2012 at AAA Toledo, narrowly missing a call to the Tigers in September. He saved 29 games with a 1.53 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He struck out 66 in just 53 innings of work. Rondon has the goods and the Tigers seem intent on letting him prove his worth as the team’s closer. I for one love the move. And when you see him dial that fastball up to 102 MPH that very first time, with such little exertion, I think you’ll be hooked too. Oh yeah, and he has a strong slider to boot. I’m all in on Rondon.

Do the Tigers trust Andy Dirks with 140+ starts in left field?

I honestly don’t think so but can’t figure out why. GM Dave Dombrowski has made it clear that he would love to find a right-handed corner outfield bat to compliment the roster. In other words, to replace Dirks against lefty starters. This thought process is what prompted me to write the Giancarlo Stanton article on Monday. Click here if you missed it. To me, Dirks is a winning player. It’s actually somewhat of a shame that we have to debate the merits of a guy who hit .322 with a .370 on-base % in his 2nd year in the big leagues, not to mention a boatload of intangibles and solid defense. Most teams would be handing him the keys to the kingdom. Dirks held his own against lefties as well, hitting .274 with 3 homers in just 73 at-bats. A year from now left field might look a lot different as Avisail Garcia and/or Nick Castellanos could be ready for everyday roles. Right now though, Detroit wants those guys to get full-time at-bats, so Toledo is likely their joint Opening Day destination. In the meantime, in Dirks, the Tigers should trust.

Can Victor Martinez bounce back?

Martinez hasn’t swung a bat in a meaningful situation since the end of the 2011 season. The general tone in camp seems to be that he will be ready to rock come spring training. Jim Leyland knows that it’s a tough task to miss a full year and come back just as productive as before but notes that if anyone can do it, Victor is the right man for the job. His knee, if healthy enough to swing, shouldn’t limit him otherwise. VMart will be a full-time DH in 2013. Something will have to go array for him to put a mitt on his left hand this season. The basic task is to hit the ball hard and jog around the bases. The bottom half of Detroit’s lineup really struggled in his absence in 2012. The thoughts of a 3-4-5 of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Martinez is awfully tantalizing and should boost the entire lineup’s production level. My expectation is that Martinez will be ready to go full throttle come Opening Day. Let’s not forget that he hit .330 in 2011 with 103 RBI’s. The guy is a hitting machine when he’s healthy. Martinez is signed through 2014. Hopefully he plays out the last 2 years of his contract with the health and productivity you’d expect of a $13M/year player. I think he will.

Part 2 of this series will be released on Monday. Leave your comments below.

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  • vietnamvet

    Just saw this on Valverde: The story is breaking from several sources today that former Detroit Tiger closer, Jose Valverde is being pursued by the New York Mets. Being a closer is no lock for Valverde as MLB Trade Rumors is also reporting the Jose Valverde is the Mets’ second or even third choice for the closer job in the Big Apple. So why has Papa Grande’s stock fallen so far? As a Tiger fan you will probably never forget Jose Valverde’s stretch run flame out which left our Detroit Tigers scrambling to find a closer in the 2012 World Series. But on the surface his 2012 numbers don’t look too bad. 3.78 ERA and 35 saves is usually enough to garner a lot of interest from clubs in need of a fireman. The problem is that Valverde was more arsonist than fire man down the stretch.

  • burrwick

    Thanks Joe for the invite to the site. Very insightful article and I think you nailed it on each one of these guys. I really hope you are right about Rondon or the Tigers will be scrambling. I’m really concerned that despite the tools, the lack of major league experience makes him a high risk experiment. How many guys at that age with those number of innings in the minors step into a closers role and and have consistent success in their first season. I think he and the Tigers are in for a lot of bumps in the road and ultimately one of the veterans will have to close more than hoped for.

  • gr0mit

    Just discovered your site with the Stanton story. I’m signing up to be able to post a comment for future stories, thanks for some meaningful thought on the Tigers Joe.

    • Joe White


  • Joe White

    Rondon did well enough with his control last year and should continue to improve with it. And he’s not just a fastball either. Good slider. Not worried at all.
    Vet, you must be the only guy in America that believes in a Valverde comeback. Without his splitter,which he never had last year, he is done. 30 teams have passed on signing him all offseason. It’s a shame. Good guy.

  • vietnamvet

    Martinez is an experienced player with all the properties of a professional player and he will be ready to play when the season starts. He has done all the things he needs to, to be ready for this season. He should be fine.I agree with you guys below that Dirks is a hidden gem waiting to shine. He has the skills and the mindset of a good player. As far as Rondon, like Vince said below………….he can throw 102 mph……..but can he control it consistently and not groove it to the good hitters. As far as Valverde he had a off year plus they wore him out by the end of the season when it really counted. I think he will come back this year if he doesn’t let his mind get the best of him.

  • jrohlman

    love the Filipinocupid ads :)

  • Vince In MN

    Rondon. Yup, he throws 102. What could go wrong? Answer: he throws 102. We’ll see. Even if Rondon doesn’t pan out, I think the rest of the bullpen is good enough to pick up the slack, and the absence of Valverde will amount to addition by subtraction there.

    I don’t get the reticence on Dirks either. Maybe they think there is a durability issue. Or maybe it is just Leyland’s gut. Or maybe it is some other mysterious factor. The Tigers make some odd roster moves form time to time in my view, so maybe it is just me.

    ’13 Martinez may not be ’11 Martinez, but I expect him to still be able to put up solid numbers. .280/.340/.475 would be a reasonable season. The biggest boost from having V-Mart back may well be that he is NOT Delmon Young. Even a below average Martinez will be a big improvement at DH.

    • Joe White

      Agreed on all counts Vince.

  • Joe White

    Russ1984: agreed, but not sure where to find that right now.
    alaruss1942: Not sure what site you mean but I’m glad we agree. Holding runners on was a major problem last year. I definitely agree that they need to address that issue. If Avila and Peralta could give us 2011 all over again the offense would be unstoppable. Even something close to that would work just fine.

    • alaruss1942

      Amen brother, keep preachin’!!

    • alaruss1942

      The Fox Sports MLB, Detroit Tigers site, where I found your article, is what I’m refering to…..there are about 40 of us who have a ball going back and forth. All of us agree that this should be the Tigers year!! And if Rondon can’t cut it, I’m sure that if he’s asked to get only 3 outs, one of them “K,” we could see Coke as the closer. But DON’T ask him to get more than 3 outs! He also appears to have a rubber arm and is able to throw every day for as long as needed; as long as he doesn’t run out of saliva! I’ve never seen a guy expectorate as much as Phil!!!

  • alaruss1942

    Joe: Did you read my post on the other site? We have the same thoughts, identicallly. I would even like to run Dirks out in the 2 slot because he seems to do better under pressure situations. He can handle the bat!! Hunter would do well at 6 because he’s going to hit under any circumstances, a professional hitter, like VMart. The guy that has to rebound this year is Avila, soph. year is done, now let’s hit like your capable of. My other thing is that the pitchers need hard work at holding the runners on to give Alex the chance to throw them out. Our pitchers mostly leave (not Fister) the runner alone and Alex has no chance to throw them out, and he has the arm to do it.

  • russ1984

    A right handed outfielder with a little power wouldn’t hurt at all….

  • Joe White

    He had the Achilles injury that cost him a lot of time last year but he hit before that and after it too. He’s just a good, tough player. A guy you can win with.

  • Rob White

    Good point on Dirks, I wonder why it’s always a question as to whether he can play a full season. I remember last year Mario and Rod were questioning how durable he was and if he could last a full season.

  • Craig Coxen

    Things that make you hmmm… I didn’t realize what Dirks numbers were last year, surprising he doesn’t get more love from the front office. Vmart coming back firing on all cylinders would obviously be huge, not as huge as Rondon dominating hitters in the 9th.

  • BobWhite

    Dirks is the man.