|Tigers Need Their Roar Back|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on December 03, 2008
There are a lot of people who would argue the success of the Tampa Bay Rays was the biggest surprise of the 2008 season. While that’s a good answer, we can’t forget the collapse of the Detroit Tigers. They came into the season with plenty of World Series championship talk but didn’t even beat the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central.
A big part of the Tigers’ collapse was their pitching. Justin Verlander, projected to be a big-time ace, finished with numbers more indicative of a fourth or fifth starter. Jeremy Bonderman pitched well but only made 12 starts due to injury issues.
The bullpen did its part in helping the Tigers fall. No pitcher finished with an ERA below 3.29, regardless of any minimum innings requirement. Closer Todd Jones was a gas can with his 1.63 WHIP and Fernando Rodney, projected to be the team’s future closer not too long ago, wasn’t much better.
General manager Dave Dombrowski has a lot of work to do this offseason, but he does have some financial flexibility. Detroit parted ways with catcher Ivan Rodriguez (who was owed $10 million) last season and will likely allow shortstop Edgar Renteria ($10 million), pitcher Kenny Rogers ($8 million), and Jones ($7 million) walk. That series of moves gives them about $35 million to play with. We must subtract the $20 million they will owe in pay raises to previously signed players and arbitration-eligible players. That gives the Tigers with about $15 million to spend.
Here are a few things the Tigers can do to get back in contention.
Spend crazy to fix their beleaguered bullpen
The majority of that money should go toward the team’s bullpen. Brian Fuentes makes sense, since he’ll only require about $6-7 million a season, is relatively young, and has had success. Fuentes would give the Tigers a quality option at the end of their bullpen.
Another option is Juan Cruz, who averaged more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings last season. Signing him should realistically cost no more than $4-5 million.
Target a solid catcher and shortstop
Catcher David Ross has the potential to his 15-18 home runs and was well on his way to a career high in OBP last season. He could easily provide .250/.340/.400, which outproduces Rodriguez. As for a shortstop, it pains me to say this, but the Tigers should just go with Adam Everett, even if his batting line is going to be ridiculously low.
Offer minor league contracts to about anyone who’ll listen
This is a great way for the Tigers to catch somebody with a little something left. Starting pitchers like Carl Pavano and Bartolo Colon may have a chip on their shoulder, while Mark Mulder, Jason Jennings and Tony Armas Jr. were not too bad not too long ago.
Mark Hendrickson looked fine in the bullpen last season for the Florida Marlins, but Dombrowski should also inquire about Jorge Julio, who looked quite good in Atlanta; Chad Fox, who, if he can avoid injuries, has the arm to strikeout hitters; and Tom Gordon, who missed the majority of last season with injuries but may still have something left.
And this may sound crazy, but Marcus Giles deserves another chance. Yes, he needs to cut down his swing, but he could be a doubles machine at Comerica Park.
Nate Robertson / Dontrelle Willis / minor league invite platoon
CL Brian Fuentes
SU Juan Cruz
SU Joel Zumaya
MID Fernando Rodney
MID Freddy Dolsi
Lvs.L Casey Fossum
LONG Albie Lopez
3B Carlos Guillen
DH Gary Sheffield
1B Miguel Cabrera
RF Magglio Ordonez
CF Curtis Granderson
LF Brandon Inge
SS Adam Everett
C Cody Ross
2B Placido Polanco
This team may not win the World Series or even the American League Central. However, there is a lot to appreciate. Verlander and Bonderman are likely to be “right” going into next season. Pair them with Galarraga and Miner and the Tigers have a solid front four. Maybe someone like Pavano, who was pitching well before ending his 2007 season with Tommy John surgery, could be a quality fifth starter option.
The bullpen is a little better, but a lot depends on Zumaya and Rodney being quality pitchers. Are they better than they were last season? I’m willing to bet so. Fuentes and Cruz would also give the Tigers one of the better end-of-the-bullpen tandems in the division, which isn’t saying much.
When looking over the lineup, you may have been wondering about Sheffield batting second. With Cabrera and Ordonez behind him, he’s bound to see plenty of fastballs. Sheffield can hit anyone’s fastball. His power has dissipated but he always has been able to get on base. At this point in his career that may be his role.