Detroit Tigers: Grading Team's Offseason Moves So Far
2012 was anything but a normal year for the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers were runaway favorites to win the American League Central, and spent most of the season chasing the Chicago White Sox, only overtaking them with seven games remaining to win the division title.
The Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract.
Miguel Cabrera won the AL Triple Crown and was awarded AL MVP.
The Tigers' formerly-perfect closer Jose Valverde posted a 30.38 ERA in the postseason.
After Detroit dominated the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series, the Tigers got a taste of their own medicine and were unceremoniously swept out of the World Series by the San Francisco Giants.
There were so many storylines the Tigers faced in 2012, and with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Spring Training in less than three weeks, there are many more to come in 2013.
The Tigers weren't the busiest team in the Major Leagues this offseason, but Mike Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski, Detroit's owner and general manager, have been busy in the last few months assembling the pieces to what they hope can be the first World Series Championship puzzle for the Tigers since 1984.
Here are my grades for the Tigers' offseason moves so far:
Re-Signing Anibal Sanchez: C+
The Tigers wanted to solidify their rotation this offseason, because starting pitching was the biggest reason they got to the World Series last year.
After a dominating postseason, Anibal Sanchez became one of the highest touted free agents on the market.
The Tigers wanted to make sure that no other team got their hands on the 28-year-old right-hander so they offered him more money than anyone else.
On Dec. 14, Sanchez agreed to a five-year, $80 million deal.
Even if the Tigers had to overpay him, they were going to keep Sanchez in Detroit.
Which is exactly what they did.
Sanchez was brilliant in the playoffs, boasting a 1.77 ERA with 18 strikeouts and six walks in 20 1/3 innings over three starts, but the postseason was just a small sample of Sanchez's resume.
He went 9-13 with a 3.86 ERA, including 4-6 and 3.74 in 12 starts with Detroit after being traded by the Miami Marlins with Omar Infante for pitching prospect Jacob Turner.
Other than his rookie year in 2006, Sanchez has never had an ERA lower than 3.5, and since that season, he's posted a record of 38-48.
You take the good with the bad concerning the Sanchez deal.
Did they overpay for him?
But they got their man and kept the same nucleus of pitchers that gave them their second consecutive division title, and guided them to the World Series for the second time in seven years.
Signing Torii Hunter: A-
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Last November, the Tigers signed 37-year-old free agent Torii Hunter to a two-year, $26 million deal.
After the revolving door with right fielders in Detroit last season, the Tigers needed a veteran who could come in and produce immediately, while also flashing some glove.
Hunter has proven year-in and year-out that he's one of the best in the business at both of those things.
The 14-year MLB veteran had a career-high batting average last season, hitting .313, with a .365 on-base percentage, 16 home runs and 92 RBIs.
With the Angels, Hunter averaged 21 home runs and over 86 RBIs per year, while being named to two All-Star teams and winning two additional Gold Gloves in five years with the Angels.
Hunter has been able to stay healthy as he's gotten older, missing only 28 games in the last three seasons.
He'll play every day in right field for the Tigers and will receive more offensive protection than ever in his career, batting second, in front of Cabrera, Fielder and Victor Martinez.
Letting Go of Jose Valverde: A
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This was the easiest decision for the Tigers this offseason.
After a dream season in 2011 for Detroit, 2012 was more like a nightmare for Valverde.
Valverde blew a save on Opening Day against the Boston Red Sox, foreshadowing a season that would get him driven out of town.
The 34-year-old right-hander blew five saves in 2012 and finished the regular season with a 4-3 record and a 3.78 ERA.
The nightmare was only beginning for Valverde as he would go on to get destroyed in the postseason.
In 2.2 innings during four playoff appearances, Valverde went 0-1 with a blown save and an unbelievable 30.38 ERA.
The last straw for the Tigers was Game 1 of the World Series when Valverde gave up two earned runs on four hits in one-third inning, prompting Detroit to grant Valverde free agency just five days later.
Giving Bruce Rondon Opportunity to Be Closer: C-
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The Tigers are putting all of their closing eggs in the basket of 22-year-old rookie Bruce Rondon.
The obvious choice was to let go of Valverde, but the Tigers might regret not putting more effort into finding a suitable replacement.
With several qualified closers available in free agency and reportedly in the trade market, the Tigers' front office was steadfast in their happiness with allowing Rondon to earn the closing job out of Spring Training.
Rondon has only made nine appearances at the Triple-A level, and 87 combined appearances in Single-A and Double-A, posting a Minor League career 2.59 ERA with 213 strikeouts and 111 walks.
Detroit has marveled at Rondon's apparently unhittable fastball that Dombrowski claims has been clocked at 103 MPH, but it takes a lot more than a dominant fastball to be a successful closer in the Major Leagues today.
The Tigers insist they know what they're doing with Rondon, and Tigers fans better hope they're right.
Otherwise, the closer cupboard is fairly bare in Detroit.
Letting Go of Delmon Young: B+
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Parting ways with Delmon Young was a little more of a difficult decision than it was with Valverde, considering Young's postseason success.
The former No. 1 overall pick had a mediocre year hitting .267 with 18 home runs and 74 RBIs in his first full season with Detroit, but Young raised his game to another level in last year's playoffs.
In the 2012 postseason, Young batted .313 with a .365 OBP, three home runs and nine RBIs in 13 games.
In the Tigers' sweep of the Yankees in the ALCS, Young averaged .353 with a .421 OBP, two homers, six RBIs and was named series MVP.
But Young's postseason numbers alone weren't enough to force the Tigers to keep him.
Young was inconsistent all season, and his off-the-field issues and complete lack of athleticism in the outfield made him expendable.
Because he absolutely has no clue how to play defense and the Tigers have Martinez coming back at designated hitter, there's just no room for Young.
Keeping Rick Porcello: C
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The Tigers spent most of the offseason shopping Rick Porcello to anyone who was interested in a possible trade, but Detroit didn't feel like any of the deals they discussed were better than keeping him.
Last week, the Tigers signed the 24-year-old to a $5.1 million contract, ensuring he'll stay in Detroit, at least for now.
The right-hander went 10-12 last season with a 4.59 ERA, 107 strikeouts and 44 walks in 31 starts, but was demoted to the bullpen for the postseason and didn't get a lot of playoff action.
Porcello was the hottest topic on the Tigers' trading block this offseason, but Detroit has faith in its first round draft pick—No. 27 overall—from 2007, and believes Porcello can pull himself out of the slump that he's been in since his rookie season in 2009.
Signing Six Players Eligible for Arbitration: B
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On Jan. 18, the Tigers agreed on contracts for six of the seven players eligible for arbitration in 2013.
Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com reported that Doug Fister will make $4 million, Austin Jackson will make $3.5 million and Alex Avila will make $2.95 million in 2013.
All three players, who were eligible for arbitration for the first time in their careers, are receiving significant raises from the approximate $500,000 they each made in 2012.
Porcello was the fourth player to avoid arbitration and receive a contract, getting $5.1 million for this season, and according to Jason Beck of MLB.com, Brennan Boesch and Phil Coke agreed to $2.3 and $1.85 million contracts, respectively.
All six players had significant roles in Detroit's run to the World Series last season and the Tigers, who are paying them $19.7 million combined next season, are getting the handful of players relatively cheap.
Jackson was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball last season, and is the most valuable member of the group who received contracts last week.
He raised his batting average from .249 to .300 in 2012, and the 25-year-old also drastically cut down on his strikeouts going from 181 in 2011 to 134 last season.
Overall Offseason Grade: B
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The Tigers have the same core of the team that won the AL Central and made a run to the World Series last season.
Detroit had a few significant holes to fill, and while I feel like Dombrowski could have done more, the Tigers did a pretty good job assembling the puzzle during the offseason.
I think Hunter will be an underrated acquisition for the Tigers.
He will help guide them to their third consecutive division championship, and possibly their second straight appearance in the Fall Classic.
The Tigers might have some problems in the middle of the infield and perhaps at closer, but those are things that can still be addressed through trades and cultivation from the Tigers' farm system.
Detroit will definitely be the team to beat in the AL Central in 2013, and will be among the favorites to win their first World Championship since 1984.