The Tigers were oh so close to making the postseason last year, slumping at the worst possible time, and eventually bequeathing the AL Central crown to the Twins in a one-game playoff. Because of this, it seems the Tigers were firing on all cylinders up until September, but a close look at their Pythagorean record and their runs scored/allowed ratio belies a team that played .500 ball.
If they’re to avoid going 81-81, the Tigs needed to add some consistency to their order, solidify their defense, and bolster their bullpen. On paper, at least, they did so by upgrading from within and by bringing in a couple of key veterans.
Although their rotation finished 5th in ERA in 2009, only three starters cracked the 30 games pitched and 10 win barrier, so for 2010, GM David Dombrowski added to the pool of potential starters by acquiring Max Scherzer from Arizona and Phil Coke from the Yankees via trade. Considering Coke, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson and Armando Galarraga will be fighting for the last two spots in the rotation, the Tigs look to have a solid starting five. That does depend on Robertson and Willis bouncing back from horrible seasons and Bonderman fighting off the injury bug.
The biggest move was bringing in veteran outfielder Johnny Damon to patrol left, and he’ll likely also take over leadoff responsibilities in place of the departed Curtis Granderson. Manager Jim Leyland will then be able to move rookie Center Fielder Austin Jackson down in the line-up, but it’d be a stretch to expect Damon to hit anything above 15 home runs and a .275 average.
Meanwhile, Miguel Cabrera kicked the juice and reported to camp a few pounds lighter, and his numbers should be a continuation of years past. But can a declining, 36-year-old Magglio Ordoñez stay healthy all year and contribute 20 home runs and 75-90 RBI?
Defensively, the Tigers aren’t getting any younger, and even though newcomer Scott Sizemore will take over a departing Placido Polanco at second base, CHONE suggests this to be a downgrade. Dombrowski signed veteran infielder Adam Everett to take over short, but Brandon Inge’s knees continue to be a problem, and because of the log jam in the outfield, natural outfielder Ryan Raburn may actually see some playing time at third. The silver lining is removing Carlos Guillen from the filed to DH duties now that Damon will patrol left field.
An interesting scenario to watch will the catching duties, where Gerald Laird returns behind the plate but close behind him is rookie Alex Avila, who already received nominations for the starting job.
As far as the bullpen, gone are Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney. Newcomer Jose Valverde will take over as the closer, and the team welcomes with open arms the return to health of fireballer Joel Zumaya, who at one point feared his career was over. So far, Leyland has been impressed by a handful of rookie arms that, depending on how well the potential starters fare in spring training, may make the team as middle relievers.
The Tigers made some significant moves in the offseason that on paper may make them one of the top two teams in the mediocre AL Central, but they are relying heavily on contributions from rookies like Sizemore and Jackson. Add to that the potential for veterans like Guillen and Ordoñez to miss some time and you could have a line-up of inconsistent hitters. Likewise, the team’s ERA was greatly bolstered by excellent team defense and with Inge possibly out, Granderson gone and Polanco gone, will the defense decline (and take the pitching with it)?
Offseason grade: B-
Johnny Damon, Jose Valverde, Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, Adam Everett, Daniel Schlereth.
Curtis Granderson, Edwin Jackson, Fernando Rodney, Aubrey Huff, Brandon Lyon, Placido Polanco, Marcus Thames, Jarrod Washburn.
Projected lineup, rotation and closer:
C Gerald Laird
1B Miguel Cabrera
2B Scott Sizemore
SS Adam Everett
3B Brandon Inge
LF Johnny Damon
CF Austin Jackson
RF Magglio Ordonez
DH Carlos Guillen
SP Justin Verlander
SP Rick Porcello
SP Max Scherzer
SP Jeremy Bonderman
SP Nate Robertson/Dontrelle Willis
CL – Jose Valverde