Detroit Tigers 2012: Predicting the Opening Day Lineup
I wonder what the Detroit Tigers roster will look like in 2012.
It's a phrase I'll bet not many people are pondering right now due to the fact that Detroit is deep in a playoff race and there is as much hope for a World Series in the Motor City as there has been since 2006.
Tigers fans are locked in on 2011, and rightfully so.
But there is no harm in taking a step back from this year and looking a little more long-term. The Tigers have a very good core of players who are mostly under the age of 30. These look to be the faces Tigers fans can get used to seeing for the next few seasons.
However, there are still some question marks at certain positions and decisions to be made in the offseason.
So let's forget 2011 for a few moments and have a sneak peek at 2012.
Manager: Jim Leyland
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It looks like no matter how hard he tries, Jim Leyland just can't get fired. He has really fallen out of favor with most Detroit fans thanks to his stubbornness about giving players days off and just general mismanagement of the lineup.
He does seem to have his players' respect though, and a track record of mostly successes. And those things have resulted in owner Mike Ilitch extending Leyland's contract through the 2012 season.
I've personally lost a lot of faith in Leyland's decision-making over the last year and a half but as long as Detroit keeps winning in spite of him, Ilitch will keep extending him.
Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander
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This one is about as much of a lock as you can find.
Justin Verlander is under contract with the Tigers through the 2014 season. He is only 28 years old and has not only delivered a season in 2011 that should win him the Cy Young, he has pitched his way into the MVP conversation as well.
Verlander will be the Tigers' ace and opening day starter for years to come and there's not another pitcher on the planet I'd rather have as my No. 1 guy.
First Base: Miguel Cabrera
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Here is another virtual certainty.
Unless he has another offseason episode and management just decides to trade him, Miguel Cabrera will be manning first base on opening day 2012. I don't think there is much of a chance of Cabrera being traded even if he does have another issue, but it's worth mentioning.
Cabrera is having another monster year and is actually flying a bit under the radar compared to years past. His power numbers are a bit down but he is still hitting .329 with 39 doubles, 26 home runs and 95 RBI in 144 games.
Like Verlander, Cabrera is only 28 years old and in his prime. He is under contract through the 2015 season and will hopefully end his Hall of Fame career in Detroit.
Playing Second Base: Ramon Santiago
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Second base is where the questions about 2012 begin. Will Carlos Guillen finally be put to pasture? Is Will Rhymes a big league player? Can Ryan Raburn cut out the Jekyll-and-Hyde act to produce for a full season?
It seems to me that the only name that makes sense at second base is Ramon Santiago.
Santiago is a free agent at the end of the 2011 season, but he has spent the majority of his career in Detroit and would be relatively cheap to bring back, assuming he would like to be back.
I really don't think that Will Rhymes is the answer long-term and there is not a single second baseman in the Tigers' top 15 prospects. I would be shocked if Carlos Guillen was re-signed and he may very well just retire.
That leaves Santiago and Raburn, barring a trade or free agent signing.
The free agent crop at second base looks like it will be very weak this offseason, assuming Robinson Cano and Brandon Philips have their options picked up, so I don't think that is the way to go. And I'd hate to see the Tigers deal one of their pieces that is working in a attempt to acquire someone.
The ideal situation in my mind is to re-sign Santiago and give him a shot at the everyday job. His defense is the best of the group and his bat isn't horrible for a second baseman—plus he's a switch hitter. He's never been given the full-time starting gig so maybe he takes it and runs with it.
This scenario also allows Ryan Raburn to spot start for Santiago and some of the outfielders as well as show whether he can have a productive first half at the plate without compromising the rest of the team if he shows he can't.
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta
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Jhonny Peralta has really emerged as a star and a key part of the offense in Detroit this season. What most people didn't expect, however, is his defense.
He re-signed with Detroit last season under the agreement he could play shortstop and not third base because he still believed in his range at short, even though many others didn't. He has certainly proven those critics wrong.
His .987 fielding percentage this season is a career high at shortstop.
His performance at the plate has been outstanding as well and earned him his first All-Star appearance.
Tigers fans should feel good about having Jhonny Peralta as their starting shortstop in 2012.
Third Base: Wilson Betemit
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The only position on the Tigers roster more in question than second base is the hot corner at third.
Wilson Betemit was brought in from the Royals at the trade deadline this year and has since had trouble getting on the field despite putting up great numbers in the appearances he has made. There has been speculation that Jim Leyland simply doesn't view him as an everyday player and refuses to give him regular starts.
With Betemit being a free agent next season, you have to wonder if he'd even want to return to a place where he doesn't seem to be wanted by his manager. Betemit is my preferred option, but I have a funny feeling he'll think twice about coming back.
Don Kelly has made quite a few starts at third this year and hasn't looked horrible. The problem is that he hasn't looked great either and hasn't done much to convince anyone he is more than a good bench player.
The free agent depth at third base is horrendous. Outside of Aramis Ramirez, who figures to be too pricey for the Tigers to consider, there are really next to no options.
And we haven't even talked about the elephant in the room, Brandon Inge. Inge is scheduled to make $5.5 million in 2012 and is currently hitting .192 with 20 RBI after nearly 300 plate appearances and a stint in the minors.
Inge has been beaten up enough this season so I will just say that he is not the answer, regardless of his salary.
Nick Castellanos is the Tigers' No.2 ranked prospect and has looked stellar at Single A West Michigan. The problem is he is still at least a full year away from the big leagues. When he gets to the Motor City, he will do big things, but that won't be in 2012.
I'm going to go out on a limb and trust that Jim Leyland and Wilson Betemit can iron out their differences during the rest of 2011 enough to convince him to return on a one-or-two-year deal.
Catcher: Alex Avila
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Alex Avila has become one of my favorite players on the Tigers roster. He came into 2011 with few expectations and has blown up into an integral part of the lineup. He brings a fiery attitude to the team and has really benefited from a season of teaching from Victor Martinez.
Avila is hitting .303 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI on the year. The Tigers haven't had numbers like that from a catcher since Ivan Rodriguez and he's not a bad measuring stick.
His rapport with the pitching staff, Verlander in particular, has been great to see as well. Whenever a pitcher has a dominant season, you can usually look at his catcher and see the impact he has had on that season in his own right.
Avila doesn't have a contract for next season but with his father Al Avila in the Tigers front office and an All-Star season under his belt, Alex will be back in the D in 2012.
Left Field: Delmon Young
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Delmon Young is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the 2011 season. He was brought over at the trade deadline this year to bolster a Detroit outfield that was struggling with Magglio Ordonez and Ryan Raburn getting regular playing time.
He has delivered in a big way and is the logical pick to start in left field and bat third in 2012.
He can be rested from time to time in favor of Raburn or maybe Andy Dirks, but Young should get the lion's share of starts.
Young has been an excellent boost to the lineup since arriving in Detroit and while the free agent crop of outfielders this offseason is actually very deep, I think Young is the best option. He is not only younger than most of the free agents (he is only 25), but he now has ties to the organization. He has a feel for what it's like to play in Detroit and his older brother Dmitri had his best seasons as a Tiger.
Young is making a little over $5 million this season and I would expect him to want a small raise in 2012 after delivering since the trade this year and due to the fact that he is one year removed from a 112-RBI season.
He may be a bit expensive, but I hope that Dave Dombrowski makes a point of re-signing Young this offseason and that Jim Leyland is smart enough to start him in left field on opening day.
Center Field: Austin Jackson
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When Austin Jackson came to Detroit via a trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, he had some very large shoes to fill. Granderson was beloved on and off the field in Detroit and his departure came as a surprise to most in the Motor City.
Now that Granderson is having an MVP-caliber season, Jackson's play is under that much more scrutiny.
And he's finally showing what the Tigers must have seen in him to justify trading one of their franchise players. Jackson won last week's AL Player of the Week honors after batting .529 with three doubles, three triples and two home runs last week.
Jackson has been criticized for his tendency to strike out as a lead-off batter, but I feel that most of that criticism should fall on Jim Leyland for persisting to bat Jackson in the lead-off spot.
I'd like to see Jackson batting ninth in 2012 and of course starting in center field where his defense will continue to be his biggest asset.
Right Field: Brennan Boesch
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Brennan Boesch was recently placed on IR with a torn thumb ligament, ending his 2011 season.
This could not have come at a worse time, for both Boesch and the Tigers, as Detroit has started to run away with the AL Central and Boesch has become a very solid left-handed bat in his sophomore season.
Just when Boesch looked like he was going to be able to put together a complete season of quality baseball after last season's second-half collapse, Justin Masterson came along and burst his bubble.
That being said, Boesch was much more consistent than in his rookie year and improved his average by nearly 30 points.
Magglio Ordonez should not be back in 2012, which means Boesch will have a chance to start nearly every game if he can remain healthy.
He has become a fan favorite, and deserves the start in right field in 2012.
Designated Hitter: Victor Martinez
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Victor Martinez could turn out to be the biggest signing of the offseason by any team. Many Tigers fans were clamoring for Adam Dunn to be signed last spring, but Dave Dombrowski brought in Martinez instead and it has paid off big time.
Adam Dunn has been the biggest bust of the millennium while V-Mart has done nothing but hit all season long.
He may not be able to catch very often any longer, but his value to the team is immeasurable.
The main reason he was targeted by Dombrowski was to provide protection in the batting order for Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera has been intentionally walked half as much as last season now that he has Martinez batting behind him.
He brings a veteran presence to the clubhouse and is very well liked by all his teammates. He has proven to be a perfect tutor for Alex Avila, and with the large Venezuelan influence on the Tigers, he fits right in.
Oh, and he is a switch-hitting, career .300 batter who is under contract through the 2014 season, meaning he will be the DH on opening day 2012.
So there you have it. These are the men I would like to see when the Detroit Tigers open their 2012 season.
You'll notice that these are all players who are currently on the Tigers roster.
If they can manage to bring back all of these players and Leyland bats them in this order, I expect huge things from the Detroit Tigers in 2012.