Detroit Tigers: A Power Shift in the AL?

John McCloryAnalyst IDecember 18, 2007

IconThe Detroit Tigers were already legitimate contenders—but the rich get richer.

The recent acquisitions of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Florida Marlins put the Tigers in "powerhouse" territory.

On paper, they boast lumber that rivals the Sox, Yanks, and Tribe—and a rotation that features maybe the best young flame-thrower in the game.

But before we sign off on a title in Motown, though, let's break down the team piece by piece...


Catcher - Ivan Rodriguez

Can't ask for a better team leader, especially at such a thin position. Let's face it—there aren't a plethora of top-tier catchers in baseball, and only a couple are as talented offensively and defensively.

However, Pudge's power numbers have dipped, his strikeouts are up, and age is becoming a factor.

He hasn't eclipsed 15 HR and 80 RBI since 2004. Even more shockingly, he only took nine BBs in 2007—an extremely low number, even for a catcher.

Granted, I-Rod is irreplaceable for the time being, but he's seen better days.

Grade: B+


First base - Carlos Guillen

No typo here—this is the same Carlos Guillen who played shortstop the last four seasons.

If he hasn't won the award for "Most Improved Tiger," a crime has been committed. Here's a look at Guillen's RBI totals the last three seasons:

2005: 23

2006: 85

2007: 102

The only concern might be the transition from SS to 1B. The adjustments would be more difficult if it were the reverse, but you never know.

I'm not convinced on Guillen as a first baseman, but his offensive production is a selling point.

Grade: A-


Second base - Placido Polanco

Finished third in MLB in batting average. No, Polanco probably wasn't highly coveted in your fantasy league—but the Tigers kinda like him.

He hits, and when he's done hitting, he hits some more (200 hits in '07). Okay, the OBP and power numbers are almost nonexistent, but so are his K's (30 in '07).

Even better, he boasts a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.

Does Polanco put the fear of God into the opposition?

Probably not.

Could he be the X-factor of this lineup?


Grade: C+

Shortstop - Edgar Renteria

Remember Edgar's last voyage to the AL? It was nothing short of a disaster.

With the Red Sox, Renteria experienced a serious dip in offensive production. He nearly matched a career-worst in K's with 100 (he had 108 in his sophomore year)—and if that weren't enough, he recorded a career-high 30 errors.

I'm guessing manager Jim Leyland started smoking four packs a day when he spotted Renteria at the top of his depth chart.

Grade: C-


Third base - Miguel Cabrera

The Tigers officially broke the bank here, and why not?

Miggy is the second-best third baseman in the league—think A-Rod with more upside. At the ripe age of 24, he's reached at least 25 HRs and over 100 RBI in each of his MLB seasons (excluding his rookie year).

As of late, however, he's become a liability defensively due to his rumored eating habits. Leyland probably won't be organizing a team buffet any time soon.

Nonetheless, Cabrera' power numbers should continue to rise, especially now that he escaped one of the worst stadiums in baseball.

Grade: A-


Right field - Magglio Ordonez

Ordonez followed up an impressive 2005 with an even more impressive 2006.

He posted career numbers in RBI and BBs. Statistically, though, it was all about OBP.

Mags hasn't posted anywhere near .400 since his days in Chicago. Impressively, he had an OBP of .434 in '07.

Call me crazy, but somehow I don't see him having a repeat year in '08.

There's no questioning his value to the team, but Ordonez tends to have up and down years—and injury is always a concern. His first half was astronomical, but it won't happen again.

Then again, maybe I'm bitter cause I casually glossed over him in last season's fantasy draft.

Grade: B+


Center field - Curtis Granderson

Granderson was a pleasant surprise for Tigers fans last season.

The youngster put up some eye-popping numbers, most notably leading MLB in triples with an astounding 23. He isn't the fastest CF in the league, but he thrives on pure hustle.

The only real weakness thus far is Granderson's strikeout rate. He nearly cracked the top 10 in strikeouts with 141—although he did have 174 in '06. Improvement is the key.

Grade: B+


Left field - Jacque Jones

This is one of those mind-boggling signings that leaves fans perplexed.

Why Jones? Better yet, why not Marcus Thames (currently listed second on the LF depth chart), who has shown power and promise in Detroit?

Maybe I'm being hard on Jones, but why bother with a guy who has low power numbers, low OBP, and consistently strikes out?

It's nothing personal—it's just that Jones has declined a bit and doesn't seem to fit into the lineup. Is he likely to be a hero in October?

I think not.

Grade: D+

Designated Hitter - Gary Sheffield

Mitchell Report Alert!

It'll be interesting to see how Sheff reacts to the nasty chants on the road. I'm guessing it's nothing new.

He isn't getting younger, but he can still crank the occasional line-drive HR. Obviously, defense won't be a concern, and Sheff will hit in the middle of a stacked lineup. Batting average could use a boost, though.



Justin Verlander

The "flame-thrower" I referred to at the beginning of the piece.

His 2007 numbers: 201.2 IP; 67 BB; 183 K; 3.66 ERA. Threw a no-hitter in his second year, but Leyland needs to keep the workload to a minimum.

Grade: A


Kenny Rogers

A drop-off from Verlander and a letdown in '07.

Age is the biggest factor for Rogers, who just turned 43. Somehow I don't foresee a solid '08 unless baseball legalizes designer steroids.

Grade: C-


Jeremy Bonderman

Pre All-Star Break: 3.48 ERA. Post All-Star Break: 7.38 ERA.

What the hell happened? Injuries? Tough Schedule? Bonderman was lit up by half the league.

Could be a concern for such a young arm.

Grade: B-


Dontrelle Willis

The other piece in the Florida-Detroit swap. Willis' walks have steadily increased the past two seasons. He's appeared erratic and rattled at times—and that was in the NL.

Uh oh.

Grade: C+


Nate Robertson

The Jacque Jones of the rotation. He just doesn't excite.

K's decreased last season; ERA increased and is approaching 5.00. Not terrible for a fifth starter, but not great.

Grade: C


The Bullpen

Todd Jones

The only bullpen arm worth mentioning, since Leyland hands him the ball with the game on the line. Joel Zumaya is a question mark and Fernando Rodney reeks of mediocrity.

Somehow I can't picture Jones pitching his way out of a ninth inning, bases-loaded situation in October. Granted, he gets the job done—a shade under 40 saves in '07—but he lacks the "it" factor.

Jones has never had dominant stuff, and seems to run on hot dogs and beer. The scariest thing about him is his handlebar mustache.

Grade: B-

Final Analysis

Detroit now has maybe the most potent offense in the baseball. Keeping up with the Indians in the AL Central shouldn't be a problem.

Their Achilles heel might turn out to be their rotation and bullpen. When push comes to shove who besides Verlander is likely to step up?

It's been noted that a lack of experienced pitching in the postseason just doesn't cut it. As you might recall, the Indians made the ALCS with the eventual Cy Young winner (could be Verlander in '08) and an excellent second option (could be Bonderman in '08).

The lumber can only carry a team so far until the arms are forced to take over.

I'm not, by any means, counting out the Tigers before the start of the season—but issues do exist. To their credit, they have one of the best skippers in the league, which is always an advantage.

The Miguel Cabrera trade added intrigue and loads of talent—but does that mean the power has shifted to Detroit?

As always, time will tell.


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