This is one of a series of posts in which we eviscerate each team for their unintenionally hilarious offseason screw-ups and dole out grudging praise for their not-horrible winter finagling.
Your 2008 American League Division Series are likely to include the Angels, plus three of the four following teams: Tigers, Indians, Red Sox, and Yankees. All four are fierce, but only three can make the playoffs. PECOTA is projecting the Wild Card winner to come out of the AL East (again), which means the dogfight for the AL Central crown will be vicious. Plus, PECOTA also shows the Tigers and the Indians finishing with the exact same record: 89-73. While I feel that both the Indians and the Tigers could well end up with more wins than that, I do agree that barring some catastrophic injuries to either team, it’s going to be super-close. Do the Tigers have what it takes to edge out Cleveland? Let’s go to the videotape!
The Tigers made big moves this winter, acquiring Edgar Renteria early in the offseason for prospects Gorkys Hernandez and Jair Jurrjens. Edgar Renteria has effectively demonstrated that he can be good in the National League, but his last foray into the AL was not so good on either side of the ball—in one year with Boston, he made 30 errors at short, hit only 8 home runs, and hit 20 points below his career batting average while striking out a hundred times. He was promptly dispatched to the Braves where he had two great years. Go figure. Whether he can get ‘r done in Detroit will be enlightening.
The Tigers followed this move with another blockbuster, snagging the Marlins two biggest chips in one deal, a move I felt demonstrated Florida’s stupidity more than it revealed Detroit’s acumen. Dontrelle Willis is another question mark heading into the season—highly touted since something of an annus mirabilis in 2005, since then his innings pitched tailed off a bit and his K/BB rate became a shambles. Can he rebound in the American League against the patient likes of the Red Sox, Yankees, and Indians? I’m doubtful. However, Tigers fans can be legitimately excited about the other player in the deal, third baseman Miguel Cabrera. He hits for power, average, and gets on base. The one thing he may need to work on in the AL is being a bit more patient at the plate—his 3.83 career P/PA is good, but last year’s 3.68 mark was less so. I hope it only reflected his impatience to get out of dismal Florida and onto a contending team. When he is choosier, as he was in ’06, posting a 3.91 P/PA, he’s better—that was also his career high for average, OBP, OPS, and doubles. Sure, he hit more home runs last year, but I doubt a swing-and-slug approach is going to work for him in 2008. Plate discipline is the name of the game in the AL Central and AL East.
The Tigers also made a couple of small moves to give them some flexibility in the outfield. They acquired outfielder Jacque Jones from the Cubs (for Omar Infante), who everyone assumed would start until hot prospect Cameron Maybin was ready for the show—but then Maybin went to Florida in the Cabrera-Willis trade, and Maybin will be starting whether he’s ready or not. They also acquired speedy outfielder Freddy Guzman (for Chris Shelton) to serve in a reserve role.
As for Detroit’s farm system, there wasn’t too much there in October, and now it’s downright depleted. They gave up four of their most promising youngsters in the Renteria and Cabrera/Willis deals (Hernandez, Jurrjens, Maybin, and pitcher Andrew Miller). They did hang on to Rick Porcello, a 19-year old righthander that some see as a Josh Beckett-type. However, if Porcello—-who starts the year at A-ball—doesn’t pan out, Detroit’s got nuthin’.
Clearly, Detroit’s goal is to win now and worry about the rest later. They certainly have the lineup to score a lot of runs, but though these people ranked Detroit’s starting rotation 4th in MLB, I’m not convinced. I agree that Willis can be counted on for at least 200 innings, but that’s about it. They point out that Dontrelle’s strikeout rate has largely been consistent, but they overlook his increasing walk rate. Plus, they don’t even mention his shoddy WHIP. He allowed a .294 batting average last year against National League hitters and, as Paul noted back in July, his HR rate has skyrocketed.
As for the other non-Verlander pitchers in Detroit’s starting rotation, I see Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers both attempting to come back from injury. Nate Robertson as the fifth starter is unobjectionable, but if he has to shoulder more of the load because The Gambler’s on the DL, he becomes a liability too.
Acquisitions: Freddy Guzman OF, Armando Galarraga SP, Edgar Renteria SS, Jacque Jones OF, Denny Bautista RP, Miguel Cabrera 3B, Dontrelle Willis SP
Losses: Sean Casey 1B, Chad Durbin SP, Chris Shelton 1B, Jose Capellan RP, Cameron Maybin CF, Andrew Miller SP, Mike Rabelo C, Eulogio De La Cruz RP, Omar Infante INF, Jair Jurrjens SP, Neifi Perez INF
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer:
CF, Curtis Granderson, .302 AVG, 23 HR
2B, Placido Polanco, .341 AVG, 9 HR
RF, Magglio Ordonez, .363 AVG, 28 HR
3B, Miguel Cabrera, .966 OPS
DH, Gary Sheffield, .839 OPS
1B, Carlos Guillen, .296 AVG, 21 HR
SS, Edgar Renteria, .860 OPS
C, Ivan Rodriguez, .281 AVG, 11 HR
LF, Jacque Jones, .285 AVG, 5 HR
SP1, Justin Verlander, 201.2 IP, 3.66 ERA
SP2, Jeremy Bonderman, 174.1 IP, 5.01 ERA
SP3, Dontrelle Willis, 205.1 IP, 5.17 ERA
SP4, Kenny Rogers, 63.0 IP, 4.43 ERA
SP5, Nate Robertson, 177.2 IP, 4.76 ERA
CL, Todd Jones, 4.26 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
As always, I think you have to assess a team’s offseason moves in the context of their goals, resources, and progress. The Tigers are a top 10 payroll team and they’ve assembled a talented roster. In fact, I predict that the Tigers will beat out Cleveland for the AL Central title this year. So why the “meh” grade?
Because barring some sort of miracle, they simply don’t have the pitching to advance to make it to the Fall Classic. Verlander is as good as any Game 1 starter out there, but the still-young Bonderman has yet to prove himself as a worthy #2. I give them props for landing Cabrera and even Willis (who I wouldn’t mind so much if he were their 4 or 5 starter), but I think the Renteria trade was a blunder. Why give up two high-level prospects for a shortstop, when what you really need is pitching?
The only thing stopping this grade from being even lower is that the Tigers do have a pretty young team. They may have sold out their farm system, but they’ve got a lot of every day players in their 20s and should be able to contend for the next several years, especially if they can add some good free agents next winter. However, I don’t buy the popular notion that all you have to do is get into the playoffs, and then it’s pretty much a crapshoot who goes to the World Series. That’s true to some extent, but you have a much greater chance of advancing in the playoffs if you have a dominant one-two punch in your starting rotation. And as of February 28, 2008, the Tigers don’t.