In light of such a letdown, the immediate impulse is to view the Tigers as a failure. How could this happen? Who can be blamed?
But that would be a mistake. Obviously, making it to the World Series is a tremendous accomplishment. Perhaps it should be considered even more so for a Tigers team that was generally perceived as an underachiever throughout the season when it didn't dominate the AL Central.
Fans, reporters and analysts will ask what the Tigers can do to improve upon this season. Most of the scrutiny will be aimed at a lineup—notably Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera—that scored only six runs in four games. Big changes, big additions will be expected.
While virtually none of Detroit's hitters—with the possible exception of Delmon Young—performed up to expectations in the World Series, the Giants' excellent pitching was certainly a reason for that. The Tigers' big bats ran into a buzzsaw and were sliced apart.
Some Tigers fans and baseball observers will look at that and think Detroit needs to add another top slugger—perhaps someone like Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, who's likely to become a free agent.
The Tigers certainly have an opening for Hamilton. They'll need a left fielder next season.
Quintin Berry—who hit .258 in the regular season and .192 in the playoffs—clearly isn't the answer. He was easily the worst and most overmatched player on the field during the World Series. Andy Dirks or Avisail Garcia could take an outfield spot, but that still leaves the Tigers with a major hole to fill in their lineup.
The prevailing belief is that Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, 83 years old, will continue to spend big money on his team to get the World Series championship he has yet to win.
If you saw Ilitch during Detroit's ALCS-winning celebration, you surely noticed how frail he looked. At the risk of being morbid, how many more chances will he get at the big trophy?
An owner who pushed loads of cash at Fielder when his team arguably didn't need him could very well make a mega-bucks offer to the best outfielder on the open market. And as with Fielder—and trading for Cabrera before that—it won't matter if Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski thinks it's the right move or not. If Ilitch wants Hamilton, he will very likely get him.
But would that really be the right move? Would bringing in a player like Hamilton be a significant overreaction to getting swept in the World Series?
For one thing, the Tigers will get Victor Martinez back next season. With his .300 average, 20 home runs and 100 RBI, Detroit's lineup will be better with an upgrade at designated hitter over Delmon Young. (As impressive as Young's postseason contributions were, the Tigers will likely let him seek free-agent fortune elsewhere.)
As impressive as another big middle-of-the-order slugger would be, Dombrowski needs more batters who can get on base and add some speed to the lineup. The World Series exposed this glaring flaw. Detroit couldn't create runs. Without the big extra-base hit or home run, they couldn't score.
Another big addition some might call for with the Tigers is a replacement for Jose Valverde. In the past, Dombrowski has spent big money on free-agent closers. That's yielded Troy Percival, Todd Jones and Valverde. But such an approach left the bullpen with little depth.
Part of the problem is that the many reliever prospects the Tigers have invested in never materialized. Joel Zumaya could never stay healthy. Ryan Perry was never consistent. Those are just two names. There have been many others who didn't develop as hoped.
Yet rather than sink big money again into a free-agent closer—and Rafael Soriano looks to be the big target on the open market—Dombrowski is better off distributing that money among one or two relievers that can join Al Alburquerque, Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke.
Lack of bullpen depth has killed the Tigers in the past two postseasons. Signing one expensive arm isn't going to change that. But spending that money on more than one reliever, preferably two, could solve the problem. Building a bullpen can be done without a big-money closer. Look at what the Tampa Bay Rays have done. Check out what the Pittsburgh Pirates did this year.
One thing the Tigers don't have to worry about is starting pitching. Their rotation got them to the World Series and figures to make them a contender again next year.
Re-signing Anibal Sanchez would help. But even if he gets a better offer elsewhere, the Tigers still have three top arms in Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister. Rick Porcello will be only 24 years old next season. Drew Smyly showed promise this year. Casey Crosby could also make a contribution.
The Tigers already have plenty of pieces in place to be a playoff contender. They need to make some additions to become a championship contender. Actually, Detroit already is a championship contender, considering it just played in the World Series.
But this wasn't a great team, especially with its lineup. The Tigers can get better. And they can do so without making the earth-shattering move that Ilitch seems to favor. There is plenty to build on, too much in place to risk blowing the whole thing up.
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