DETROIT, Mich.— In 2008, the one-dimensional Tigers stumbled to a last-place finish, largely due to their lack of diversity. An inconsistent attack on offense, combined with unimpressive pitching and defense, led to disappointment of epic proportions.
Fans screamed for change.
On March 30, a week before Opening Day, the Tiger faithful received encouraging news. In an under-the-radar move, Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski acquired speedy outfielder Josh Anderson from the Atlanta Braves for minor league reliever Rudy Darrow.
It seemed management finally took notice.
Anderson, a fourth-round selection in 2003, led the nation in steals at Eastern Kentucky that year with 57. Gary Sheffield's release created room for the more diverse Anderson to step in—he was picked up to split left-field and designated-hitter duties with Marcus Thames and Carlos Guillen.
Prior to the move, slow, right-handed, impatient power hitters weighed down manager Jim Leyland's squad. Stacked with position-less, declining sluggers, a lack of athleticism sparked a dooming chain reaction, banishing the Tigers to the basement.
Anderson provided relief.
His presence immediately altered the face of the lineup. Dombrowski added to Leyland's arsenal a left-handed contact hitter who can manufacture runs via skill instead of power, an attribute the Tigers lacked a year ago.
Slotted in the seventh, eighth, or ninth hole, Anderson can bunt for base hits or to sacrifice runners over, as the Tigers saw yesterday. His blazing speed earns extra bases and puts another body in scoring position when the lineup turns over.
A jolt of energy to Detroit's often-stagnant lineup, he adds a much-needed Minnesota Twins-type slash-and-dash element to the roster. If Anderson can supplant Thames in left, two sub-.250 batters from last year will be subtracted from the batting order (Sheffield and Thames).
In six minor league seasons, Anderson racked up 269 stolen bases and batted .294. Since 2007, he swiped an extraordinary 93 bases between Triple-A Richmond and the parent club.
Prior to Anderson's arrival, Curtis Granderson led this legless Tigers team with 12 stolen bases.
Anderson's raw ability may account for 12 thefts a month.
Addressing his bunt single and stolen base in yesterday's 9-0 victory over the division foe White Sox, Leyland said this regarding Anderson:
“I think that shows the importance of speed. That’s something we were missing before, but with Josh Anderson at the bottom of the lineup, I thought it created some problems for [the White Sox]. It makes the pitcher worry more about holding him on.”
With the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez, Anderson's contributions may go unnoticed. But, given ample playing time, he has the potential to steal more bases than Cabrera and Ordonez will hit home runs.
His speed and left-handed bat will make it impossible for opposing pitchers to focus on shutting down one style of play.
A multi-faceted attack is key to keeping the offensive engine running—just ask the Tampa Bay Rays or Minnesota Twins, who possess a wonderful blend of gallop and strength.
In a stadium as large as Comerica Park, pitching, speed, and defense are of even greater importance.
Anderson's addition, along with an improved bullpen, allow for optimism surrounding the Tigers' formerly bleak outlook. He figures to receive significant playing time as long as he contributes.
So far, in the battle with career reserve Marcus Thames for the final starting slot, Anderson has shown exactly why he deserves the majority of time.