Monday, February 7, 2011

Previewing the AL Central: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have had an active off-season and look like they could be legitimate contenders this year, but don't we say that every year?

2010 Record: 81-81; 3rd place, 13GB the 1st place Minnesota Twins

Key Departures:
The Tigers didn't really lose anyone who was integral to the team last year, they lost a few role players, here's a brief list:

* Johnny Damon
* Armando Galarraga
* Gerald Laird
* Adam Everett
* Jeremy Bonderman
* Bobby Seay

Damon is easily the headliner of this group, though I doubt the Tigers will miss him much. He has the knack for a big hit now and again, but he has become slow and is only an average outfielder, plus he's becoming injury prone at this stage of his career. Laird is a handy utility man, but again, nothing more than a role player. Jeremy Bonderman could very well re-sign, though at this point it looks like he may be going to the Indians. Seay is also a free-agent, so who knows. Galarraga, who now lives in eternal baseball lore, was traded to the Diamondbacks, but much like the bats of the hitters he faced, he won't be missed. Bottom-line: the Tigers didn't lose much this off-season.

Key Additions:
I like what the Tigers have added this off-season and I'm somewhat jealous.

Victor Martinez - FA - BOS
Martinez signed a tidy 4-year, $50M deal and will likely split time between DH and Catcher this season. Probably most importantly though, he will provide some serious lineup protection for Miguel Cabrera, making the Tiger offense quite potent. Martinez' ability to play a position will also allow the Tigers to spell Magglio Ordonez from time to time which should keep him healthier. At 31, Martinez should still have some good years left in him and at $12.5M per, he wouldn't be too hard to trade either if Detroit chose to go a different direction in a couple of years. I think it was a good move for them on a lot of fronts.

Joaquin Benoit - FA - TAM
Is there a more fun name to say in the Major Leagues? The Tigers took quite a gamble with this move in a number of ways, first, they gave him a 3-year ($16.5M) deal...he's already 31 years old. Also, aside from last season with Tampa Bay, Benoit has never been a particularly dominant pitcher. He has a career 4.47 ERA and last year's mark of 11.2 K/9 far overshadows his career 8.5 K/9 average. I'm not gonna knock the guy, he had a fantastic year but it simply does not merit such a contract. Who knows, maybe Benoit recaptures last year's magic, but more than likely he'll return to being an average reliever and Detroit will be saddled with an annual $5.5M salary for the next three seasons.

Brad Penny - FA - STL
This was another solid move by the Tigers. On December 8th, they finalized a one-year, $3M deal with Penny with an additional $3M in incentives. Penny is nothing special, but the Tigers really only need back-of-the-rotation help and Penny will fill that role just fine. If it's true that Penny is healthy entering this season, $3M could be a steal.

Coming Up on the Farm:
Though the Tigers have made a lot of moves in the past few years, it hasn't resulted in a very deep farm system. In fact, the Tigers had zero 1st round picks in last year's draft and boast only a select few high-caliber prospects. Here's a couple of their best:

Jacob Turner - RHP
Turner was drafted in 2009 out of Westminster Christian HS (different one than A-Rod) and did well in his first professional season, splitting his year between Low-A and High-A ball. In ~115 innings, he compiled a 3.28ERA, 1.11 WHIP to go along with a very impressive 4.43 K/BB ratio. At 6'5" and 210lbs., he certainly has the frame to support a power arm, and he's young (19 years old) so he'll have plenty of time to develop complimentary pitches. I suspect the Tigers will not rush him along, so realistically we're looking at 2012-13 for his debut on the big stage.

Nick Castellanos - 3B
Nick is probably the only other Tiger prospect worth a whole lot of excitement over. He was drafted out HS in this past year's supplemental draft and because of signing demands he made, he fell quite a bit. He projects as a good hitter and fielder, though he's only played 7 games at Rookie Level, so we'll have to wait till he plays a full season a Low-A/High-A before we can pass more informed judgments. He's worth watching, Baseball Prospectus says, "Many scouts saw Castellanos as the best pure high school hitter in the draft. Despite his tall frame and long arms, his trigger-free swing gets into the zone quickly, and stays there a long time. He should develop power as his body fills out, and although he's not a monster athlete, he is an average runner once he gets going."

The Future of the Tigers:
Who can really say? I can't count how many times I've thought, "man, the Tigers look good this year," only to see them fade away mid-season, doomed to another .500 season. I wouldn't be surprised if Jim Leyland's seat gets a little hotter this season. Management gave him a couple of new, expensive toys and he has the nucleus of talent (Cabrera, Verlander, etc) to make a run at a division title...but he's had that nucleus now for a few seasons and hasn't been able to do much with it. This is Leyland's last season under contract, so if the Tigers once again fall short, he might just be shown the door.
As far as the talent on the field goes, it's there. Miguel Cabrera is a great hitter to build a lineup around and with the addition of V-Mart, the Tigers have to potential to be offensively virile. Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch will have to prove that their 2010 seasons weren't flukes...I think Jackson has a great shot to prove it, I think it will be more difficult on Boesch. How much would the Tigers love to see Rick Porcello bounce back? Verlander will highlight the rotation once again, followed up by Max Scherzer, Porcello, Penny and a likely Triple-A callup (early indications point to Alfredo Figaro or Andy Oliver).
The future of the Tigers is somewhat murky. Their farm system isn't particularly deep, but they have a good young group of players that they can build on. Boesch, Jackson, Porcello, Cabrera (still only 27), Scherzer, Avila; all are good looking youngsters with a little bit of Major League experience already under their belts. I guess the Tigers fortunes will go as those players go, if they continue to produce, the Tigers will be there, if not, they'll continue to be a mediocre team.


  1. Nice write-ups. You've been doing your homework. Thank you

  2. Hey thanks Marv, I appreciate it.