The Five Questions The Detroit Tigers Will Have To Face In 2009

Austin DrakeSenior Analyst IJune 17, 2009

The Tigers are 64 games into their 2009 season and are in control of the AL Central, with a slim two game lead over the Minnesota Twins. While Detroit has played good baseball this season, they seem to let the other teams in the division sit in striking distance.

Through the first 2 1/2 months of the season, many questions have arose. From difficulties at the back end of the rotation, injuries, solid catchers and many, many more.

I took the chance to catch up with some of the biggest Tigers' fans on Bleacher Report recently, to see how they saw the 2009 season playing out, along with my answers as well.

Our Detroit fans consist of; Dave Hampton, Johnny Lawrence, Kurt Mensching and John Parent, all who do nearly exclusive work with the Tigers.

1.What will Detroit do to sure up the backup catching situation?.... Dusty Ryan? Stick with Sardinha? Somebody else? Trade?

DH:No one can deny the presence Gerald Laird has provided behind the plate, but going into today he was hitting a pathetic .219 and has been a major hole in the lineup. As badly as the 4th and 5th starters have been, of their own accord, how badly do we really need Laird behind the plate right now? Perhaps not on an everyday basis right now. The Tigers could demote Dane Sardinha in favor of Dusty Ryan and give him the bulk of the playing time, allowing Laird to be the backup. The problem with this is his defensive inefficiencies.

What I do know is this: Dane Sardinha is not the answer and is a career minor leaguer at best. One of my biggest criticisms of him, beyond his bat, is how he tips pitches when he sets up. I can always tell when a breaking ball is on the way versus a fastball or changeup, and I am sure opposing offenses have caught on to this as well.

If the Tigers decide to go outside of the organization to get a backstop, there could be plenty of good backup catcher talent on the market. This of course assumes we are still contending in another five weeks. If we are, then I say we will go out and get someone. With the call up of Matt Wieters in Baltimore, Gregg Zaun could be had and would be a good fit. Henry Blanco could probably be plucked from San Diego, or if the Braves fall out of it, David Ross.

JL: I don't see the Tigers making any catching moves within the organization anytime soon. Simply put, Sardinha is more than adequate defensively, which appears to be the new focus of the Tigers.  And to be honest, I can't really argue with a philosophy that has left the Tigers sitting in first-place for so long.

He handles the pitching staff very well.  Although his stick is invisible, he will keep Detroit in more games than Dusty Ryan and at this point, and I see Ryan as the only other viable option at the moment.  Ryan showed some nice things at the plate last year, but over a larger sample size, I don't think he's ready to bring much more to the table.  Like I've said before, he has a serious passed balls/wild pitches issue.  I doubt we'll see Ryan until August or September.

Cancel this perspective, however, if the Tigers were go after a free agent, like Corky Miller, or make a trade for a perennial backup backstop.  I haven't heard any rumors about Detroit making a move, so I just assume Dombrowski is planting Sardinha into the roster until September call-ups.

KM:Backup catcher nothing, you have to admit that the starting catcher is not really doing a great job either right about now. Gerald Laird batted .178 in May and he's batting .179 in June, and this isn't a case of batting average saying one thing while the OPS looks good. In the .550-.575 range, the OPS for both months looks bad, too! So if that's the starting catcher, you can only imagine how bad backup Dane Sardinha is.

I'm all for bringing Dusty Ryan up from Toledo and cutting down on the number of days a week Laird catches. Laird is wearing down already and has the batting stats to show for it. You don't expect much from your catchers, but this is pitiful.

JP: I would love to see Dusty Ryan called up to replace Sardinha, I'm just not sure that's going to happen soon.  The Tigers' staff seems to really like the way Sardinha handles the pitchers and calls a game.  His offense is amazingly bad however, so you would think a move needs to be made.  I would guess that if something were to happen to Laird, that Ryan would be recalled and take over the starting role, but it seems that the Tigers are comfortable with Sardinha as the backup.  I wouldn't expect a trade since they have Ryan seemingly ready to come up.

AD: As of right now, I think Dane Sardinha is doing a solid job with controlling the pitchers and playing a defensive game. But as the season goes along, the Tigers are looking for offense, so it might come to calling up Dusty Ryan once again.

If they do not turn to their minor league teams for a catcher, a trade may be in order. As I've said all season, either of Philadelphia's catchers; Carlos Ruiz or Chris Coste, other fits could be David Ross from Atlanta who can hit left-handed pitching decently.


2. What will happen with Dontrelle Willis by the end of the 2009 season?

DH: I think he will be earning Tiger paychecks to go pitch for someone else for the major league minimum.

JL: With eight free passes against Pittsburgh, Willis sealed his fate. It's apparent his impressive debut was a mirage, an abnormality. I'd be surprised if he's on the roster by Aug. 1, let alone season's end. It's clear cut with Willis; he doesn't throw enough strikes to give Detroit a chance to win. That sent Sheffield away and provided instant results. Willis has much less of a track record and will be released with far less afterthought.

KM:By the end of the week, I expect he's released or asked to accept a minor league assignment. I hope he takes it. He just needs so much work, he cannot continue to start for the Tigers or they may as well just give up on any postseason plans right now. He's terrible, and consistently terrible at that.

JP: Boy, Dontrelle just looks like he might never find it again. I can't imagine they keep handing him the ball every fifth day. At this point, I'd be shocked to hear he was getting even one more start. I actually expect Robertson or Miner to make the next turn through the rotation. Willis' future appears to be in the bullpen, maybe they can hide him there.

AD: This kid is simply terrible, and I don't even think he knows it! After walking eight batters an being yanked early in the Pittsburgh start; he gave the ball to Leyland, slapped him on the butt, jogged into the dugout... while hopping over the foul line.

I just don't think he understands how much he has fallen off. I would love to see him released so Detroit dosen't have to deal with him anymore, but the fact that the Tigers would eat that salary dosen't sound good either. So, I say he is demoted into the minor leagues for the rest of the season to try and fix all this.

3. Who, if any, players will be traded at the 2009 Trade Deadline? If any, who/what position will they be traded for?

DH: Marcus Thames could be on his way out of town to another contender in return for a marginal relief pitcher, but I think David Dombrowski will keep him. If the Tigers fall out of contention the Red Sox might want Adam Everett in return for one of their bevy of RPs. Someone might call about Zach Miner to be a swing man. The main thing is that the AL Central is weak and the powers that be probably will feel like they can win it, so Dombrowski might be buying at the deadline, in return for the young talent that is thin in the farm system.

Oh, and I'd love to see Magglio go, so that the Tigers don't have to pay him $15-$18 million next year to hit singles and strand runners. He has gotten old in a hurry, so if they do sell him, probably wouldn't be able to get much, maybe a decent RP.

JL:I believe Raburn will be traded, but I believe I'm going to include this point in my next Detroit Tigers Dissector.  There's slight possibility of a Maggs trade, but we may have to eat another contract in return.  I can't speculate any further in this area, I haven't heard enough about it.  I would think they'd be in the market for a veteran reliever.

KM:If the Tigers make a trade, you have to figure some combination of Clete Thomas, Ryan Raburn or Jeff Larish has a pretty decent chance of being involved. I wouldn't have thought Matt Joyce had a lot of trade value last year, but someone was a taker for him and Edwin Jackson came back in return. Probably some minor league pitchers will be involved, too. Maybe Zach Simons or Alfredo Figaro, or even Casey Fien, despite his slow start to the season.

I feel like the Tigers need a starting pitcher or a slugger, like a corner outfielder. They really have problems scoring runs and the fourth/fifth starter thing is abysmal.

JP: I would expect that one or two moves would be made. I can see a spare starter being dealt, maybe Miner or Galarraga. I almost expect that Jeff Larish would be moved in any trade, maybe Ryan Raburn or Josh Anderson could have value as well. They must bring in a LH hitter.  Someone like Nick Johnson would be ideal, though I doubt it would be him. Until the Rockies just stopped losing, I would have said Brad Hawpe. The name that seems like the best fit right now is Eric Hinske in Pittsburgh.  He can play first, third and the corner outfield, and has good power.  He would be a cheaper version of an Aubrey Huff type player. I think they could get him fairly cheap.

AD: With the excess of starting pitching with the Tigers here in 2009, I wouldn't be surprised to see them deal a Galarraga, Robertson, Miner or Bonderman away. Trading one or two of those players could bring in a good backup catcher, like we mentioned before, a big stick to the lineup or even a good relief arm.

I'd love to see the Tigers go after a player like Juan Cruz from Kansas City to add the bullpen or a bat like Eric Hinske, since he would add such versatility as he plays four positions decently.

4. Will Detroit win the AL Central? Wild Card? AL Pennant? World Series?

DH:The Central is our only chance, the East is loaded again to send two to the playoffs. The Central has looked startlingly mediocre this year, so I say the Tigers probably win the division and exit out of the playoffs in the Division round.

JL:Detroit has a 33 percent chance at grabbing the AL Central crown, but they must begin receiving more production from their big guns on offense. Magglio's power reduction (two homers) doesn't warrant an $18 million contract.  Polanco is hanging around .250 and wasting opportunity after opportunity in the two-hole.  And Graderson is not getting on base as often as he did last year; it appears his focus has shifted to hitting home runs.  Few reach base enough to get knocked in.

The Tigers must see their rotation success continue if they even want to sniff the playoffs. I've never seen Jackson or Porcello experience success for the duration of a full-season, and Verlander has a career 4.90 ERA in the second half.  Paper says Detroit needs a much bigger lead before the All-Star break, but with so many new faces, the Tigers' luck may change. 

Remember this, however.  Porcello will either be shut down at some point this year, or fall off his impressive early numbers.  He's never thrown this many innings before.  Combine the Twins and White Sox recent successes with all of Detroit's uncertainties, and you have quite an interesting division race lined up.

KM: The Tigers can win the AL Central if they settle the fourth and fifth starter question and pick up a little more consistent scoring. Certainly I think it's possible, and no team is really trying to take over the division. The Twins are the chief competition.

If they get that far, I think the team is built for postseason success. It might have the best top three starters in the American League (or beyond) and certainly has one of the top defenses. Those pay off in the postseason. But there's some luck factor and it's unpredictable what would happen then.

JP:There is a lot of season left obviously, and I like being in first place.  That being said, with the team as currently constructed, I can't see them holding off Minnesota.  The wild card really isn't a possibility with all those good teams in the East.  IF Detroit can make a couple of good roster moves, pick up a LH outfielder, find a backup catcher, find someone, anyone to pitch after Verlander, Jackson, and Porcello, and get just a little more offensive production, they can be right there at the end.  It is asking a lot, but the Twins would have to make some improvements as well.  Minnesota and Detroit are the only real contenders to the divisional crown at this point.  The Tigers have a couple of glaring flaws, but if they can be fixed, they can make it to October, if not, they'll be watching from home.  Now, if they get to the post season, watch out.  If you are running Verlander and Jackson out there four times in a seven game series, you have a real good chance to win.  The top two in the rotation can win you a series or two in the playoffs, and I'll take the Tigers two aces versus any in baseball. 

AD: I definitely see Detroit winning the AL Central. It all depends on pitching when it gets into late September and October. If Verlander, Jackson and Porcello can carry this team another 100 or so games, the Tigers may have a chance against the Red Sox and Yankees in late postseason play.

5. What, if any, players win awards (Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, etc)?

DH: Verlander will challenge for the Cy Young, but fall short. Porcello will also challenge for the ROY but will have his innings limited and probably get beaten out by a position player. I think Placido Polanco wins a Gold Glove, as well as Curtis Granderson. I think Curtis Granderson might also win a Silver Slugger.

JL: I've been saying this since Verlander shut down the Indians May 3rd: Verlander will win the AL Cy Young.

I've never seen a Detroit pitcher so dominant, so locked in.  His determination and focus reappeared suddenly; no one can touch his stuff.  Halladay is an excellent pitcher, but often times gets overlooked because his strikeout totals aren't as high as some others.  Though Halladay, Greinke, Weaver, and Verlander appear to be the only serious candidates (I'll mention why I didn't suggest Edwin Jackson later) I believe Verlander has the best chance at maintaining his success through season's end.

Weaver will back off his hot pace, Greinke won't be able to pick up many wins pitching for one of the few teams with a worse offense than Detroit, and Halladay has injury concerns that may cause him to miss starts here and there.  I believe Verlander will be left standing in the end.

Edwin Jackson more than deserves to be included in this conversation, but I feel he falls under the same category as Greinke.  His team simply refuses to score for him.  In five of his starts, Jackson has allowed three earned runs or less and still hasn't earned a victory.  Detroit batters get pumped up for Verlander on the mound, but they can't seem to put much together when the best off-season acquisition is on the mound.

KM:I think Rick Porcello will win the AL Rookie of the Year. Elvis Andrus will give him a run but I think he'll take it. Justin Verlander has a great shot at Cy Young, especially if he keeps pitching like the last couple of weeks

JP: With roughly 100 games left in the season, there are still three Tigers probably in the running for major awards.  If things continue the way they have you could make a case for Porcello to win the Rookie of the Year, so far the only real competition is Elvis Andrus in Texas, though Matt Wieters is probably still expected to win the award.  Certainly I think if the voting were today that Porcello would have the edge.  Verlander could win the Cy Young if he continues his dominance it would be hard to argue unless your name is Halladay or Greinke.  I'd expect a top three finish for him anyway.  Miguel Cabrera could also be in line for an MVP.  His numbers aren't as gaudy as some other players, but he is still sporting a great batting average, and by the time the year ends he'll have 30-35 HR and 125 RBI.  If the team plays well around him, he should at least be in the conversation. 

AD: I think Rick Porcello will win AL Rookie of the Year, as long as he can fend off Elvis Andrus from the Rangers. Other possible awards are Edwin Jackson for comeback player of the year, as he has finally lived up to the hype he brought with him to the big leagues.

I don't see Verlander winning the Cy Young, however. Roy Halladay is just too much to handle, and I don't think Justin can keep up with the 'Doc" all season long.

There you have it. Five big questions the Tigers need to answer, answered by five Tiger fans. Any answers from the readers?