2009: The Detroit Tigers Who Weren't
Well, this isn't 2001, nor is this a space odyssey. Instead it is a tour around the nation to see some of the guys who, in my opinion, should be wearing the old English "D" this year.
These choices are made based on who could have very feasibly been obtained by the front office.This is the 2009 ball club that wasn't.
I'm all for criticizing the front office of any team. As a knowledgeable fan who tunes in on the tele on a nightly basis, I of course have the right to think I know more than the general manager, right?
That's why most of us are here, so let's take a look at the would-be Tigers who wear different uniforms.
The all-time saves leader preferred to stay in San Diego, where he would have accepted a $4 million contract. When that contract offer was withdrawn, he instead settled in Milwaukee for $6 million, still nearly peanuts.
Instead of aggressively pursuing the guy who has proven time and again he can close out ballgames, David Dombrowski instead signed Brandon Lyon for $4.25 million. You might remember him as the guy who was horrible down the stretch in Arizona last year and lost his job as closer.
Lyon has been decent, even more so lately with a stretch of only one run allowed over his 11 appearances in June, spanning 16 innings, but it is hard to argue with the consistency of Hoffman.
Hoffman didn't make his first appearance until the end of April due to an injury sustained in spring training, but he came out of the gates firing...Slow circle change-ups like always. He didn't allow a run in his first 18 appearances, collecting 15 saves in that time. Despite the late start he is still eighth in the NL in saves.
Do I really have to say that his smooth delivery, demeanor and game ending ability would have been more appreciated than that of Fernando Rodney?
This guy is still on the 2009 Detroit payroll, for the tune of almost $14 million. Yet look at the uniform, that's a strange looking "D" isn't it?
In limited at bats he has nine home runs, 27 RBI and 35 runs scored. He has walked as many times as he has struck out, back on pace toward his career ratio in that department.
Despite whatever doubts the front office might have had about Sheffield, he was still under contract and owed the money, a walloping sum, regardless. That right there should have been enough to warrant the Tigers keeping him.
He was cut in favor of Jeff Larish, whose inability to make contact on the ball dropped him back to the minor leagues.
Ultimately, wasting money is something that the front office and the ownership can't afford to do, and this was a poor move.
Three dominating years in the desert of Arizona saw Juan Cruz rise as one of the top set-up men in the game. 2007 and 2008 combined he struck out 158 in just under 113 innings pitched.
He languished on the free agent market most of the winter for one primary reason, his status as a type A free agent, meaning whoever signed him would lose top draft selections in this year's draft.
Unwilling to part with draft choices, the Tigers passed on signing him, before the Royals finally stepped in and acquired his services. Another dominating arm in the Tiger bullpen would have been a major plus for a team with a bad bullpen to correct from the year before.
I guess someone forgot to tell Dombrowski that drafted prospects are just that: prospects. Cruz is an established and proven veteran of major league baseball, despite the fact that his first half numbers this year are somewhat off kilter.
Born in Warren, and the pride of Waverly High School of Lansing, Smoltz was once a Tigers prospect. While still in the minors he was dealt to the Atlanta Braves, going on to a brilliant major league career with the Braves until not re-signing with them this offseason.
Why Smoltz for the Tigers? Can you really argue with pitching depth? That was why the Red Sox jumped at the chance to get him, as a possible replacement for Brad Penny, and now fill-in starter for Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Jeremy Bonderman was penciled in for the rotation, but has been unable to return from surgery recovery. "Wild" Willis has been ineffective, and Armando Galarraga hasn't been much better.
Just think, for just a shade over $5 million we could have had Smoltz instead of Alfredo Figaro.
As much as anyone might have wanted Pudge Rodriguez to be brought back, he soured last year over the idea of sharing time behind the plate in a reduced role.
Ausmus is a great backup catcher these years, his full time playing days behind him now. He was my first choice to backup Gerald Laird, instead of Matt Treanor.
He's a former Tiger, too. Stints in 1996, and again in 1999 and 2000.
He still calls a great game, guns down runners, and can still hit a little bit. The Los Angeles Dodgers were all too happy to grab a catcher of his pedigree, and their gain was our loss.
Catalanotto is another former Tiger. He played in Tiger Stadium from 1997 through 1999.
He was left without a job at the end of spring training when the Texas Rangers decided to cut him in favor of Andruw Jones. He eventually landed with the Milwaukee Brewers, but could have been brought back to Detroit for the league minimum.
"Cat" is a versatile guy who, while not flashy, can still play decent 1B, 2B, 3B and the corners of the outfield. Think Ryan Raburn, only better. This is a guy with over 1000 career hits at a .292 average. He is a good pinch hitter, and hits left handed, something the Tigers are short on.
Once again, our loss is Milwaukee's gain.
I will keep harping about pitching depth, and maybe one day the front office will hear me.
Howry has been a great set-up man since he busted into the league in 1998 with the Chicago White Sox. He had a down year last year with the Cubs, in his walk year.
All that meant was that he could be had for cheaper. While some thought his bad fortune last year was signs of a decline, the San Francisco Giants had no qualms about taking a flier on him. The result so far: a return to his old form and an effective late inning bridge to their closer.
One of my personal favorites, I still wear the t-shirt with his name on it from his days in Boston.
He is another left-handed hitter, mainly an outfielder who has also learned to play first base. He still has a decent arm and range in the outfield and could be a serviceable outfielder for many teams.
He was let go by the Brewers at the end of spring training. I drug him into this because of the Tigers need for a versatile bench.
Vizquel was actually my first choice for a glove first infielder to man position number six.
When it comes to defense, you can't argue with a guy who has won 11 Gold Gloves at the shortstop position. Despite the fact that he has been light for hitting the past few years, that wasn't what the Tigers were looking for in a shortstop this past winter.
However, I also can't argue with Adam Everett. As much as I wanted Vizquel in Detroit to gobble up grounders, I was overjoyed when Everett was signed, knowing how good of a defender he was.
Vizquel is making his living in Texas these days, mentoring their rookie Elvis Andrus.
Maroth will be my final gasp for pitching depth. He is another one of my personal favorites from his days in Detroit. I still wear the t-shirt with his name on it as well. I am right now, actually.
He signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, and went to big league camp with them. He had the chance to make the team, but was released at the end of spring training and is still jobless.
After enduring 21 losses on the horrible 2003 squad, he was worth at least tendering a minor league contract to. He probably would have taken one and could be pitching in Toledo for the Mud Hens right now.