Who Stays and Who Goes After Detroit Tigers' Embarrassing World Series Sweep?
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In times like these, perhaps the only thing for Tigers fans to do is climb to the top of the nearest hill and shout "Begin the purge!" for all the world to hear.
It's either that, or cooler heads can prevail and Tigers fans can realize that their team will probably be heard from again. The Tigers blew an opportunity, to be sure, but it's not like they blew an opportunity that won't be coming around again.
The Tigers are set up pretty well to find themselves back in the World Series in the near future. There's bound to be some turnover this offseason, but there's no need for GM Dave Dombrowski and the club's ownership to blow up what they have. The majority of players and coaches from this year's AL champion club will be returning.
For what they're worth, here are my best guesses for who stays and who goes this winter in Detroit.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
The Big 3
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In Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers have three of the American League's very best players. Fielder and Cabrera both placed in the top 10 in the AL in WAR, according to FanGraphs, and Verlander finished the season with the highest WAR of any starting pitcher in the majors.
Yet all three of them fell flat in the World Series. Verlander surrendered five earned runs in four innings in his only start in Game 1. Fielder managed just one hit and repeatedly came up short in clutch situations. Cabrera did hit a big home run in Game 4 and was actually one of the Tigers' better hitters in the series, but he was held largely in check.
The Tigers were hoping for more from their Big Three. If they manage to make it back to the Fall Classic at any point in the next few years, the three will have a little redeeming to do.
This is assuming, of course, that one or more of them isn't traded in the immediate future.
If one of them is going to be traded, it will probably be...
That's pretty much all there is to say. Breaking up Verlander, Fielder and Cabrera right now would be like barging in and breaking up The Beatles circa 1963.
And who would want to do that?
The Supporting Cast
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Verlander, Fielder and Cabrera got the bulk of the credit for the Tigers' 2012 season, but they didn't lead the team to an AL Central title and the World Series all on their own. Their supporting cast did its part.
Perhaps the most overlooked storyline of Detroit's 2012 season was Austin Jackson's development into a true star. He cut down on his strikeouts and upped his walks in his third full major league season, resulting in career highs in average, OBP and slugging. He added to his overall value by playing excellent defense in center field.
Beyond Jackson, the Tigers also got to enjoy something of a breakout season from Max Scherzer. He wore down toward the end of the year, but he managed to win a career-high 16 games with a 3.74 ERA and an MLB-high 11.1 K/9. If he ups his game even more in 2013, he'll be a legit Cy Young contender.
Doug Fister, meanwhile, shook off an injury-riddled first half to post a 2.67 ERA in 15 starts after the break. He's one of baseball's most effective starting pitchers when he's healthy.
Jackson, Scherzer and Fister aren't quite on the same level as Cabrera, Fielder and Verlander in terms of pure star power, but they're players that every team in the majors would love to have.
The best part, though, is that all three of them are still arbitration-eligible. They'll be sticking around for at least a few more years.
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This is where things start to get interesting.
After a rough start to his Tigers career, Anibal Sanchez went on to compile a 2.15 ERA in his final eight starts of the regular season. In the postseason, he posted a 1.77 ERA in three starts.
Sanchez proved two things with Detroit. One, he can pitch in the American League. And two, he can be counted on in the postseason.
In doing so, Sanchez sent his free-agent value through the roof. He's going to be one of the most sought-after pitchers on the market, and he's likely to walk away with a deal worth over $10 million per year when the dust settles.
Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com has reported that the Tigers are very much interested in re-signing Sanchez this winter. But since they already have $90 million in salaries committed for next year, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, and plenty of holes elsewhere on their roster that will need filling this offseason, it's certainly not hard to imagine Sanchez pricing his way out of Detroit. Sanchez added a few million bucks and maybe even an extra year to his price tag with the three starts he made.
The Tigers will no doubt do their best to retain him, but Sanchez is likely to have too many bidders on the line for the Tigers to make a competitive offer.
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Somebody is going to pay Delmon Young more than he's worth this offseason. He was the epitome of mediocrity during the regular season, but such things are easy to overlook when a player hits .313 with a .907 OPS, three homers and nine RBI in the postseason.
Whoever pays Young this winter, I can pretty much guarantee you it won't be the Tigers.
If Young proved anything in 2012, it's that he's cut out to be an everyday DH at this stage of his career. That, however, is a position the Tigers need to leave open for Victor Martinez, who will be returning from a torn ACL in 2013. As such, the only place for Young in Detroit would be either the bench or the outfield.
Young isn't going to want to ride the pine, and the Tigers shouldn't want to have him roaming the outfield on a regular basis. Young is an awful outfielder to begin with, and he got out of practice in the outfield throughout the course of the 2012 campaign.
The Tigers will need to pick up an outfielder off the free-agent market this winter, but it will be someone a little more versatile than Young. His days in Detroit are likely finished.
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Jose Valverde's postseason was the baseball equivalent to the Prince of Persia movie. It was an utter disaster that fans don't ever want to see again.
When it was over, the man himself couldn't say where he'll be playing next.
“I don’t know yet,” said Valverde when he was asked after Game 4 where he'll be in 2013, via the Detroit Free Press. “I know I’m a free agent, you know what I mean. Wherever I’m going, try to do my job all the time and that’s it.”
Spoiler alert: Wherever Valverde ends up in 2013, it won't be Detroit.
Whatever chance Valverde had of remaining probably sailed when he blew a four-run ninth-inning lead against the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS. In that moment, he proved that he's no longer fit to close games.
When Valverde recorded only one out and coughed up two earned runs in a non-pressure situation in Game 1 of the World Series, he made it all too easy to question whether or not he's fit to pitch in the major leagues at all.
Somebody will give him a shot. For all his failures in 2012, Valverde still has a strong track record working for him. He'll find a one-year "prove it" deal waiting for him somewhere out there.
It just won't come from the Tigers.
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When the regular season ended, it seemed to be a no-brainer that the Tigers would not be picking up Jhonny Peralta's $6 million option for 2013. Shortstops who hit .239 with a .689 OPS aren't worth that kind of money.
But after the postseason Peralta just had...
Peralta was one of Detroit's best players in the playoffs. He hit a solid .260 with a decent .748 OPS, and he also played better-than-advertised defense at short. Had the conditions not been so brutal, he could have ended up with two huge homers versus San Francisco in Game 4.
A few days ago, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that the Tigers were already leaning toward picking up Peralta's option. They have apparently come to the conclusion that $6 million is a "reasonable'' price to pay for a player of Peralta's skill set.
It helps that they won't have many options awaiting them on the free-agent market if they do decide to go another direction, as the shortstop crop is going to be pretty barren this winter. The best of the bunch is likely to be Stephen Drew, and he's not any better than Peralta at this point in his career. He may not be cheaper, either.
Given the circumstances, picking up Peralta's option has become the safest move the Tigers can make.
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Jhonny Peralta isn't the only Tigers player with an option that may or may not be picked up. The Tigers also have a decision to make on Octavio Dotel.
Dotel was part of a Detroit bullpen that was a consistent source of frustration this season, and things didn't get that much better when the postseason began. Nobody could ever breathe easier when Jim Leyland finally had to give in and go to his bullpen.
But for his part, Dotel was all right. He made 57 appearances in 2012, posting a solid 3.57 ERA and a studly 5.17 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He pitched very well in the playoffs, allowing no earned runs in five innings pitched.
I'm fully expecting Detroit's bullpen to get a facelift this winter. So are you, I'm guessing. But retaining Dotel strikes me as a wise decision after the season he just had, and $3.5 million isn't such a heavy price to pay for his services.
My best guess is that he stays.
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Phil Coke was Detroit's best reliever in the postseason, racking up 13 strikeouts and allowing only one run in 10.2 innings. It all ended badly for him in Game 4 Sunday night, but that shouldn't spoil what was otherwise a very impressive body of work.
The Tigers don't need to worry about losing Coke to free agency—he's still arbitration-eligible, and he will be through the 2014 season.
So why are we discussing him?
It's simple, really: Coke looked really, really good in the postseason, but the signs point toward it being too good to be true. He posted a mediocre ERA of 4.00 during the regular season, and his .314 opponents' batting average was the highest of any qualified major league reliever.
Had the Tigers missed out on the postseason, they would have been stuck with Coke. His trade value was practically nonexistent.
There's the rub—Coke now has a ton of trade value. The Tigers might just look to trade him, seeing as how there are always a few clubs out there who are willing to take a gamble on a "proven closer."
I'd be all for the Tigers trading Coke if they had a deep collection of relievers lined up for 2013, but they don't. They can't afford to spare any solid relievers, and Coke proved just how solid he can be with his showing in the postseason.
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Might Lloyd McClendon do the same? For that matter, will he be able to avoid getting the axe this winter?
It's fair to wonder about McClendon's job security. Tigers batters hit just .159/.243/.246, and they failed to score runs in large part because they simply had no clue how to approach the Giants pitchers. The club's approach was a mess from start to finish, and much of the blame for that lies with McClendon.
The Tigers had their troubles at the plate during the regular season too. We were all expecting them to be one of the league's elite offensive teams, yet they finished 11th in the league in runs scored and No. 7 in OPS. The final numbers certainly would have been far worse without Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Punch McClendon's name into Twitter's search engine, and you'll find plenty of people calling for his head. I prefer to avoid pushing the "Fire everyone!" button when I can, but even I think the Tigers have enough grounds to let McClendon go and try their luck with someone else.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that a power play from the front office is in order.
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Will Jim Leyland return to the Tigers dugout in 2013?
Right now, the answer varies depending on who you ask.
Justin Verlander made it sound like Leyland's return is a done deal when he spoke to the media after Game 4. According to MLive.com, Verlander said of Leyland that he's "extremely glad he’s coming back."
Leyland himself isn't ready to carve anything in stone.
"I don't really know that," Leyland said when he was asked on Sunday if he'll be coming back, via MLB.com. "We're going to talk about some things in a day or so, and I'm sure they'll have some type of an announcement. But tonight's not the night for that."
What Leyland did say is that Detroit's the only place he wants to manage if he does indeed end up managing again in 2013. All it will take for that to happen is for Leyland and the Tigers to come to a mutual decision.
If you ask me, it's a pretty tough call.
Leyland made his share of mistakes along the way this season, and he definitely made a few more in the postseason. He scored when he made Phil Coke the club's de facto closer, but he made quite a few questionable bullpen moves and a few questionable lineup decisions on the side. A lot of the time, he seemed to be listening to his gut rather than his head.
However, many of Leyland's faults in the regular season and the postseason can be partly attributed to the reality that the Tigers didn't have an excess of talent beyond their core stars. If the Giants exploited one weakness in the World Series, it was Detroit's crippling lack of depth.
If the Tigers can make it as far as the World Series with no depth and Leyland at the helm, logic suggests that they'd do just fine with solid depth and Leyland back at the helm in 2013.
The Tigers will take care of their depth this winter, and I think they'll take care of Leyland too.
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