Could this truly be it for the Detroit Tigers’ offseason leading up to a hopeful 2014 campaign? GM Dave Dombrowski has acted in a quick and decisive fashion to remodel the roster from a group of plodding bashers to a speedy, more energetic team.
The merits of that makeover can be debated until the sun goes down next October but offensively all we can say at this point is that the Tigers are different. We can’t know if they are better or worse, we just know that the look and feel is a complete 180 from a year ago.
Some baseball enthusiasts favor a more power-laden approach to a lineup while others would like to see a team that can manufacture runs when the sluggers inevitably slump. And the latter batch of fans has won out this time.
Offensively, we have seen the departures of Jhonny Peralta, Prince Fielder, Brayan Pena, Matt Tuiasosopo, and Omar Infante. This quintet will be replaced by Rajai Davis, Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Kinsler, Bryan Holaday, and Nick Castellanos. Defense and speed over extra bases and run production.
Which group do you prefer? Who will produce at a higher level? It doesn’t matter now. These are your 2014 Tigers.
Andy Dirks will platoon with Davis in left. Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter will man center and right. The Tigers are on record anointing Castellanos as the new 3rd baseman. Jose Iglesias and Kinsler will form the new keystone combination, wearing the all-too-familiar #’s 1 and 3 on their backs. Miguel Cabrera is back to first, Alex Avila behind the plate, and Victor Martinez is ready for his last go-around as the DH. Don Kelly, Holaday, and Lombardozzi will be the primary backups.
Manager Brad Ausmus will have an interesting task in front of him when assembling a proper batting order. Does Kinsler bat 1st? If he does, where does Jackson go? If he doesn’t bat 2nd, then Hunter will. And if Hunter doesn’t bat 5th, then who the heck does? There isn’t a player among the remaining group who profiles as a sturdy insurance man to cleanup hitter Martinez.
If the top four is Kinsler, Hunter, Cabrera, and Martinez, then the bottom five of Castellanos, Jackson, Avila, Dirks/Davis, and Iglesias could be a real mess.
Detroit desperately needs Jackson and Avila to stop messing around and start producing at a high level. Pressure to perform will also fall on the young Castellanos. He cannot be a part of a bottom five black hole. A return of the .300+ hitting version of Andy Dirks would also do wonders. But will all of these things happen? In very un-Dombrowski like fashion, a tremendous amount of uncertainty exists in the lineup.
And on that note, same goes for the new look bullpen. Out are Joaquin Benoit, Jose Veras and a cast of other fill-ins. In are Joe Nathan, Ian Krol, and Joba Chamberlain.
Detroit’s bullpen wasn’t very good in 2013, but at least the commodities were known. The level of unknowns that exist with the potential production of this unit is alarming.
As of today, the 7-man pen is probably Joe Nathan, Bruce Rondon, Ian Krol, Joba Chamberlain, Al Alburquerque, Phil Coke, and Luke Putkonen.
That unit could be really good if everything comes together. But the odds of that happening are not favorable.
Nathan is the only sure thing.
Rondon had major ups and downs in 2013 but most importantly battled injury. I truly believe that if healthy he is a difference-maker and probably a legit setup man as soon as next year. But he has to stay on the field. Can he? We just don’t know.
Ian Krol has great upside as a late-inning lefty but has pitched exactly 27.1 innings of big league baseball. What will he give the Tigers over a full season? Nobody knows. He could dominate. He could be average. He could flame out.
And speaking of flaming out, the trio of Chamberlain, Alburquerque, and Coke were a giant mess last season.
Joba had a 4.93 ERA and absurd 1.74 WHIP in ’13 a year after putting up numbers nearly as ugly. He gave up over a hit/inning and walked 26 batters in just 42 innings. As a 28-year old on a 1-year deal, the risk level is low, but so are the expectations. Can pitching coach Jeff Jones get him back to where he was five years ago when he was one of the most exciting young arms in the game? Seems debatable. His arm is still good as he sits at 94 and can dial it up to the high 90’s on occasion but he has been lacking command for a few years now. In Joba, the Tigers either have a true diamond in the rough or just something rough.
Alburquerque had his worst season as a pro in ’13. 34 walks in 49 innings will do that to a guy. He still doesn’t give up many hits and has crazy strikeout ratios (70 in 49 innings) but he has also mastered the art of the free pass. It’s almost as if he walks the first batter each time he takes the mound. He has to find the strike zone or he’ll continue to be an enigma.
Coke gets a 1-year non-guaranteed deal to see if he too can find the strike zone. Coke walked 21 hitters in 38.1 innings while giving up over a hit/inning, hence the disastrous 1.67 WHIP. I’ve preached it all offseason but the Tigers need a stud lefty such as JP Howell. Do that, cut Coke, and the pen is vastly improved. But that’s not where the Tigers are headed.
To see Dombrowski play this fast and loose with his bullpen is shocking after what transpired a season ago. They are willing to give $2.5M to a shaky Joba but let the reliable Jose Veras walk when facing his $4M option. That same $4M would probably be enough to lure Howell in as well.
Moving Drew Smyly to the starting rotation not only makes the rotation weaker (as Smyly is unlikely to produce at Doug Fister’s level right away) but also weakens the bullpen as Smyly was dynamic in that role in 2013.
The Tigers have held on pretty tight to Owner Mike Ilitch’s wallet so far this offseason, which comes as a bit of a surprise with $25M worth of new TV money being infused into the organization. Historically, Ilitch takes a loss on the Tigers, but not a big one.
The public message is that Detroit wants to win a World Series at any cost. The offseason transactions thus far aren’t telling the same story.
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