Detroit had a good offense this year — they were fourth in runs scored, second in homers, and third in OPS. But they were in the bottom five in the league in pretty much every pitching category — runs allowed, opponents’ batting average, strikeouts, ERA, walks. They were also in the bottom five in defensive efficiency and fielding percentage.
So the Tigers actually have two problems: their pitchers are clogging up the basepaths with walks and hits, but their fielders are exacerbating the problem by not getting to balls in play, and mishandling them when they do.
Irritatingly, the Tigers thought they fixed this problem last offseason, when they sent Gorkys Hernandez and Jair Jurrjens to Atlanta for Edgar Renteria — this was designed to let them move creaky Carlos Guillen out of shortstop, thus upgrading their defense, while also providing a boost to their offense. They followed this up with a move designed to upgrade both their offense and their pitching, sending six prospects to Florida for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. The six? Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Mike Rabelo, Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, and Dallas Trahern. Eight prospects dealt and not even a playoff berth to show for it. Not even close.
One problem? The Tigers took back with one hand what they gave with the other; yes, moving Carlos Guillen was vital. But no sooner had they upgraded their defense there, than they acquired Cabrera, whose terrible defense presented manager Jim Leyland with but one of many headaches: where do you put Guillen and Cabrera on the same infield?
And to add insult to injury, Jurrjens finished the year with a totally respectable 3.68 ERA in 31 starts and 188 and a third innings. The Tigers would have felt lucky to have such a performance from Dontrelle Willis, who went a grand total of 24 innings and finished the year with an ERA of 9.38. Ouchie.
So now, unfortunately, the Tigers find themselves right back in the same position they found themselves in at the end of last season — except this time, their farm system is depleted and their veterans are another year older. What to do now?
Well, they could use a catcher. A couple of starting pitchers. A shortstop. And pretty much an entire bullpen. No biggie, right?
The Tigers can choose to trade their remaining prospects and hope their veterans bounce back. If that happens — especially if they can get the pitching they need — they could make a run at a playoff spot in 2009. A Rafael Furcal here…a Miguel Montero there…maybe a Trevor Hoffman or Brandon Lyon or Darren Oliver over there…it could happen.
The best time to do that may not be now — I could see Ordonez actually commanding a higher price at the July deadline. And who knows? If they take a wait-and-see approach and things click in the first couple of months of the season, the Tigers could decide to keep Maggs and make a run. But to do that, they’ll need to get creative and find cheap ways to plug their (many) holes now.