2010 A. L. Central Preview: Wheels are Spinning in Motown

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2010 A. L. Central Preview: Wheels are Spinning in Motown

The Detroit Tigers finished last year with a record of 86-76, tied for first place in the AL Central… but they failed to make the post-season when they lost Game No. 163 to the Minnesota Twins and sat home while the post-season got underway.

At the conclusion of the season, Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski began the process of rebuilding his team from top to bottom. In a seven-player, three-team trade with the Diamondbacks and Yankees, Trader Dave sent CF Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and SP Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks.

In return, they received new leadoff hitter in CF Austin Jackson (NYY), fireballing RH Max Scherzer (AZ), and two left relievers-Phile Coke (NYY), and Daniel Schlereth (AZ). It is a widely-held opinion that Detroit may have gotten the best of this deal-both in the short run and over the long-term.

As a result of the trade, the Tigers got cheaper and younger, while still maintaining a core that should be able to compete in the AL Central. He also showed remarkable patience in waiting for the closer market to come to him, signing Jose Valverde to a VERY team-friendly deal.

When all is said and done, I think they’ll fall a few games short, as I think the long season will take its toll on the youngsters, but in consideration of the daunting task that confronted Dombrowski, he did a heckuva job in re-tooling his team while not having to take a HUGE step backwards.

He gets an “A+” in my book.

Key Additions: P Phil Coke, OF Austin Jackson, P Max Scherzer, P Daniel Schlereth, P Jose Valverde

Key Subtractions: OF Curtis Granderson, UT Aubrey Huff, P Brandon Lyon, 2B Placido Polanco, P Fernando Rodney, OF Marcus Thames, P Jarrod Washburn

Key Performer, 2010: Max Scherzer

Starting Pitching

The Tigers have a solid foundation atop the rotation with ace RHP Justin Verlander (19-9, 3.45) and sophomore Rick Porcello (14-9, 3.96), who improved significantly as his rookie season progressed. It may be one of the best 1-2 punches in the league if Porcello can avoid a sophomore slump.

The loss of Edwin Jackson (13-9, 3.62) will not be easy to overcome, but in Scherzer they acquired a potentially-dominant right-hander at the start of his career—so they save salary and gain years of control over a potentially-valuable asset.

After the Big Three, there are substantial questions. The club let Jarrod Washburn walk over the lefty’s exorbitant (and laughable) contract demands. I hope the stiff enjoys retirement. He tried to parlay a half season of excellence into a multi-year payoff, but no one was fooled. Instead, the Tigers are left to hope that RHP Jeremy Bonderman is healthy and LHP Dontrelle Willis has resolved the problems with his mechanics that robbed him of effectiveness and (consequently) his confidence.

If they are left to depend on Armando Galarraga and Eddie Bonine, they are in trouble. They certainly don’t want to rush blue-chip prospect Jacob Turner.

Bullpen

The bullpen will be much improved in 2009. Closer Fernando Rodney (2-5, 4.40, 37 S) was erratic and gave the coaching staff a heart attack every time he took the field. In his place, the Tigers added an effective Jose Valverde (4-2, 2.33, 25 S), who should become one of the two most reliable closers in the division with Twins' RHP Joe Nathan sidelined (Joakim Soria is the other). Future closer Ryan Perry (0-1, 3.79) returns for some additional seasoning, along with oft-injured RHP Joel Zumaya (3-3, 4.94 in just 31 IP).

Coke and Schlereth join Bobby Seay (6-3, 4.25), Zach Miner (7-5, 4.29), and Fu-te Ni (0-0, 2.61) to give the Tigers a deep and effective bullpen.

Lineup

This should be a potent lineup. Jackson will be more of a prototypical leadoff hitter than Granderson-he will not hit for anywhere near the same power, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him double Granderson’s 20 SBs. Damon won’t hit for the power he displayed in NY, as 17 of his 24 homers came in the new Yankee Stadium softball field… and Comerica isn't as cozy for left-handed hitters as the softball diamond. He may concentrate more on stealing bases in order to justify his salary.

The heart of the batting order will consist of slugger Miguel Cabrera (.324, 34 HR, 103 RBI), LF Magglio Ordonez (.310/9/50) and DH Carlos Guillen (.242/11/41). I do not expect Ordonez or Guillen to display the power they once did, but I expect both players to have rebound seasons in terms of productivity, primarily because of the presence of Jackson and Damon at the top of the batting order.

The bottom half of the batting order (from 6 to 9) will prevent the club from making the post-season. 3B Brandon Inge (.230/27/84) needs to trade some of his power for a little more batting average. C Gerald Laird (.225/4/33) has not developed as hoped and will eventually lose his regular job to Alex Avila (.279/5/14 in 61 AB). SS Adam Everett (.238/3/44) is a modern-day version of Mark Belanger... in other words, all glove and a toothpick. Rookie Scott Sizemore has potential, but it remains to be seen how he performs in the big leagues.

Outlook

The pitching staff will be the strength of this ballclub, but it won’t be enough to get the club into the post-season…though it will be enough to keep the club in contention and fannies in the seats in the economically-devastated city of Detroit.

The offense scored an MLB-average 743 runs last year, but I expect they may struggle to score 700 runs in 2010… how well rookies Jackson and Sizemore handle the transition to the major leagues will determine how many runs they will manage to puch across home plate. Regardless, with a black hole at the back of the lineup, this club will not make the post-season.

SOX1Forecast: 81-81, 3rd place.

———————————–

Detroit Tigers—Top Five Prospects:

1. P Jacob Turner
2. OF Austin Jackson
3. P Casey Crosby
4. 2B Scott Sizemore
5. P Daniel Schlereth

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