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

Grade: B-

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.

-Hot Offseason Action Index-

14 Responses to “Hot Offseason Action: Detroit Tigers”

  1. I would have given the Tigers a solid “A” grade this offseason, myself. They did far more than I think anyone could have reasonably expected them to do, and I feel that all of their moves were pretty solid.

    I think it is incorrect to say that they didn’t need a shortstop – a shortstop was one of their big offseason needs because Carlos Guillen can no longer field the position and had to be moved to first. So the Tigers deserve credit for moving quickly and decisively to acquire what was probably the best overall shortstop option available this offseason.

    I also think that the Tigers deserve huge credit for the Cabrera trade, and deserve an “A” on the basis of that trade alone. You say that the Tigers don’t deserve credit because the Marlins were just stupid, but I don’t buy that line of reasoning at all. After all, there were 29 other teams, and the Tigers were the ones who landed Cabrera. The Angels tried hard and failed. Cabrera is one of the top five hitters in baseball by almost any measure, so it was a huge deal for the Tigers.

    Also, while I agree with your point that the Tigers rotation is still a bit thin, even with Willis, I think that is *precisely* why the Tigers deserve credit for going out and getting Willis. Wouldn’t you rather have Willis than Andrew Miller, who would have been the 5th starter if that trade had not happened? The pitching market was really thin this offseason, and Willis is a better option than any of the free agents that were out there. He’s not the true ace he seemed to be in 2005, but he’s also not as bad as he looked at times last year. With a better defense around him in Detroit and regression toward the mean, he will be better this year, even in the AL, whose superiority to the NL I think you tend to overestimate slightly.

    Lastly, even though I’m arguing the Tigers deserve an A, I can’t agree with your statement that things are okay because the Tigers are still a young team. You claimed “they’ve got a lot of every day players in their 20s” but I’m not sure which Tigers team you were looking at. Eight out of the 9 players in their starting lineup are in their 30s. The only star players on the whole team still in their 20s are Verlander, Granderson, and Bonderman. And in fact, this is actually one of the reasons I like what the Tigers are doing this offseason – they already had a good team going into the offseason, but they recognized that their roster is aging and their window is small, so they correctly determined that the time to go for broke and try to win it all is now. That is the best time to trade away some of your young talent, if there ever is one – the time when you actually have a shot of winning right now.

  2. Coley Ward says:

    I also would have given the Tigers an A. They added an all-star level shortstop and a once-in-a-lifetime 3B without sacrificing a single regular from last year’s team. Sure, Detroit’s farm system took a hit, but that shouldn’t hinder them in their pursuit of a championship this year and next.

    I agree that the pitching staff has questions, but Bonderman is still a horse I’d bet on (his K/BB ratio is almost 4/1), and I think Willis will be a cabable number three starter.

    I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest the Tigers are the team to beat in the AL this season. And any time you can take a team that missed the playoffs and transform them into a favorite to win the World Series, I think you deserve a pretty high HOA grade.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    Okay, to answer your questions:

    * I said the Tigers were a young team for two reasons. 1. I read a bunch of articles and those that mentioned age, mentioned their youth. 2. I scanned down their roster and saw the number “2” a lot. Hardly exhaustive, to be sure. But their first three starters are all 25 or 26, and two of their key players—Granderson and Cabrera—are also in their 20s. The only key players that are really what I would call “old” are Gary Sheffield (39) and Ivan Rodriguez (36). (I’m not counting Rogers because I’m not counting on him for much this year.) Magglio is 34 but it seems like a pretty young 34—he should give them another good two years, at least. The others are, for the most part, somewhere in between, seems like a lot of 30 and 32. So yes, “lots of every day players in their 20s” was lazy writing on my part. They’ve got a good number of core players in their 20s, and many every day players in their low 30s, and only a couple in their high thirties. But overall, that doesn’t seem to me like it’s time to sell out the farm and win before your players start popping black-market Vioxx.

    * About Edgar Renteria and Dontrelle Willis and the relative weakness of the National League…I think it’s pretty clear which league is the dominant league. These past few years, the NL has seemed like a lamb sent to the slaughter. They get killed during interleague play, killed at the All Star Game, and swept right out of the World Series. Scouts and folk have even started describing pitchers with good, but not great skills, by saying, “He’s got National League stuff.” Given that Dontrelle has struggled for the last two years in the weaker league, I see no reason for him to “regress to the mean” in the tougher one. About Renteria, he still has a question mark, in my mind. His year in Boston was *so bad.* Plus, while his career averages are impressive, his individual seasons have been pretty inconsistent from year to year—great, then awful, then pretty good, then great, then awful again, and so on. Sure, he may turn in another goodie this season. But he may not. Plus, he and Jacque Jones have both on on the record saying that the negative reactions of the fans has bothered them. Now, Detroit’s fans aren’t like Philly fans, or Boston fans, or New York fans….but they’re not Atlanta fans or St. Louis fans either. If Jones or Renteria get off to a tough start and the fans start to boo, it will only get inside their heads and drive them further into the waiting arms of sucktitude. I think Detroit might have been better served getting a decent shortstop and spending their chips on a pitcher. A real pitcher, not Dontrelle F—ing Willis. Look at that lineup—we already knew the Tigers would score a boatload of runs, especially by adding Cabrera. You need pitching to win in the playoffs. If indeed it’s time for the Tigers to win before they get any older, I still maintain they were better served by going after a good pitcher. If they could (hypothetically) trade Renteria and Willis and the prospects it took them for a legit No. 2 starter and any replacement-level SS, I think they would be better off than they are right now.

    * Which brings me to Bonderman. I wouldn’t describe him as a horse—he’s only pitched over 200 innings once in a five-season career. He got hurt last year. His career K/BB is actually more like 2.5/1. I see upside to him (he’s still only 25) but to me, he’s not a reliable No. 2 yet. If the Tigers had gone out and gotten themselves a solid No. 2 starter, so that Bonderman was their #3 and Willis was their #4, and Rogers and Robertson were sharing time in the five-hole, then they’d be the team to beat in the AL. As it is, they’re going to have to fight for the division title, so I don’t feel comfortable describing them as a favorite to win the World Series.

    Also, a correction—it appears the page I linked to on BP of PECOTA’s projections is not static, but changes (although I don’t know why). Now it’s projecting Cleveland winning 93 games and the Tigers winning 91. Who knows what it will show a week from now. Thanks for nuthin’, Nate Silver!

    At any rate, as I mentioned in the post, this was a hard grade to give. I feel like they do deserve an A for getting Cabrera….but then i feel like they deserve a C for having no remaining farm system at all. Willis is a gamble, and Renteria is an unnecessary luxury/gamble. So I averaged everything out and ended up with a B-. Maybe the “minus” part of that was a bit harsh. It’s funny, I went into this post being like, “Yeah, the Tigers, they’re stacked! They’re totally getting an A!” but after I’d written the post, I realized I was just not that gung ho about what they did this winter. It seemed less to me like they sat down, made a list of their needs, and then went out to acquire what they needed, than they were a bit like, “What marquee names can we pick up this winter? Let’s do it! Wheee!” Of course, if the Tigers do win the World Series, their various gambles will have paid off and I will look like a schmuck. But I’m okay with that.

  4. I have to agree with most of what Nick said. I also think you are punishing them for acquiring Willis when he was really just a throw in. They took him as part of the package so they could acquire one of the best young hitters in the game. The fact is that he will probably help them as well but it’s not like they set their sites on getting him to bolster their rotation. The White Sox thought they had a deal done with Florida to get Cabrera but since they wouldn’t take on Willis the deal didn’t go through. It looks to me like Detroit not only got Cabrera but kept other AL teams from getting him. The moves Detroit made in the off season have left them as the prohibitive favorite in the AL, according to some. I don’t think they just picked up marquee names they picked up guys that are going to make them better with the exception of Jacque Jones. I don’t know what they could have done to have improved their chances of winning more than what they did. What could they have done instead of what they did?

  5. Sarah Green says:

    With the buzz Willis was getting this offseason, why do you think the Marlins and Tigers considered him a throw-in?

    At the risk of sounding a bit repetitive, they could have acquired a good pitcher instead of Renteria. The Tigers didn’t fail to reach the postseason in 2007 because they lacked for offense.

    I realize what I’m saying goes against the received wisdom, and clearly the Tigers will have an awesome offense this year. I’m just not intimidated by the starting rotation they’ve put together, and I don’t think the Red Sox or Yankees will be, either.

  6. Nick Kapur says:

    Sarah, I feel like your whole argument rests on your irrational hatred of Edgar Renteria for his one bad season in Boston, and your contention that the Tigers need to be harshly downgraded for their failure to land a second, near-ace starter in addition to the number 3 starter they already landed.

    Edgar Renteria had the 3rd highest OPS for a shortstop in all of baseball last season, behind only Hanley Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins. He was an great pickup. Hernandez and Jurrjens were decent prospects, but the Tigers got a legitimate top-tier player at the most important position on the diamond.

    As for the part about the Tigers’ failure to find a number two starter, you would need to explain exactly where this kind of player might have come from. Near-ace number two’s don’t exactly grow on trees, and the free agent market was awful this offseason. And you could pretty much say that every team in baseball could benefit from having a better number two starter. By your logic every team except the Diamondbacks and the Mariners should get a maximum grade of B- for failing to acquire an amazing number two starter this offseason, even if they added two of the best hitters in the game.

    I feel like you are holding the Tigers to an impossibly high standard. They made themselves into easily one of the top three teams in all of baseball this offseason, and yet you are saying they wasted their chips on “unnecessary luxuries” and “big names.”

  7. Sarah Green says:

    Nick, if you think my argument is irrational, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  8. Nick, getting Sarah to “agree to disagree” is about as close as one gets to getting her to admit she was wrong. Congratulations.

  9. I consider Willis a throw in because Florida wouldn’t deal Cabrera to anyone that wouldn’t also take Willis. I also believe that Detroit only took Willis in the deal because they wanted Cabrera. I don’t think Dombrowski said I want Cabrera but I have to have Willis too. I would like to know how Willis and Renteria are considered gambles? They are both upgrades over what the Tigers had last season and should help give this team a better chance of winning this year. Miguel Cabrera is the best position player to change teams this off season, he’s one of the top 5 hitters in the game. It’s quite possible that Detroit had the best off season of any team in baseball. Consider the possibility that Detroit and Cleveland may both be better than New York and Boston, I’m sure that’s not easy for AL East devotees. The one area I think they could have upgraded but didn’t is their bullpen. I think that could be a bigger issue for them than the performance of Renteria or Willis. I also think they should consider putting Cabrera in left and leaving Inge at third. Jacque Jones is terrible.

  10. Sarah Green says:

    I have to be honest Melissa, this is the first I have heard of the Marlins FO insisting that Willis and Cabrera had to go in a deal together. Nick and I had talked earlier about how stupid it was for the Marlins to get rid of them in the same deal—Nick even gave the Marlins an F because of it in his HOA! So I’m really not sure what is going on there. If no one wanted Willis, the Marlins just should have kept him—especially if the prevailing view is that he is such an “upgrade.” I think I explained above how I consider him a gamble—he’s got one solid year under his belt, and has struggled the last two years in the weaker league. (Just look at how Beckett struggled to adjust to the AL his first year out of Florida…and Dontrelle Willis is no Josh Beckett.) Renteria I consider a slight gamble as well, because of what I saw in Boston—-a player who struggled to hit AL pitching, and who couldn’t hack it in a mean, nasty town like Boston. Last time I checked, Detroit was not exactly a walk in the park either. Anyway, the teams I talked about in the first paragraph of the post (Detroit and Cleveland and Boston and New York) will be in a tight race to make the postseason. I think if Detroit had added a good SP instead of a good SS, they would be better positioned both to make the playoffs and to succeed there. But they obviously feel the best defense is a good offense, while I think good pitching beats good hitting. I guess it will be a war of cliches to see who wins!

  11. It was reported in Chicago by numerous sources that Florida turned down the White Sox offer for Cabrera due to the fact that they weren’t interested in Willis. I certainly didn’t concoct this theory. I believe Florida’s rationale was that they could get more for Willis when combined with Cabrera since there wasn’t as much interest in Willis alone. Willis did have a down year this past season which lowered his value. Cabrera was so valuable that he increased what they could get for Willis when combined with him. I would also caution you dismissing Renteria due to one poor season with the Red Sox. As you pointed out he bounced back the last two seasons and one poor season doesn’t mean he can’t play in the AL. He is an upgrade defensively for them over what they had last year. I do agree with you that pitching beats good hitting which is why I thought they should have upgraded their bullpen. I also believe that Detroit may just have a lineup that is powerful enough to bludgeon opponents over the course of the regular season. I suppose they will have to take it one game at a time. (Insert more tired cliches here.)

  12. Sarah Green says:

    I’m concerned about this mash-mash-mash strategy the Tigers seem to be copying from the Yankees. Since New York’s pitching has gone downhill, they’ve continued to reach the playoffs but get bounced out of them before reaching the Series. I foresee similar things for Detroit if they continue on this path. Turn back, Motor City, before it’s too late!!!!!! Turn back!!!111!!!!1

  13. Brian Sadecki says:

    Adding value to your team makes you a better team. If you see an opportunity to improve your team, you take it. You don’t turn it down because it’s not starting pitching.

    Also, there was no starting pitching available for Detroit. They can’t make it appear out of thin air.

    You have to make the playoffs before you win them.

    Also, I think you adhere too strictly to the pitching/defense post-season formula. The game is still based on RS/RA differential so if you can tips the scales in your favor on either side of that, you take it.

    Detroit had the best offseason by FAR and if they don’t score an A, nobody does.

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