CAN THE 2008 DETROIT TIGERS REBOUND IN 2009?
Without question, the Detroit Tigers’ 2008 season was an unmitigated disaster! With World Series expectations, the 2ndhighest payroll in baseball, the off-season acquisitions of Miguel Cabrera, Dontrel Willis, and Edgar Renteria, optimism and enthusiasm were at all-time highs for Tigers’ fans. However, through a series of questionable managerial moves, poor player performances, and injuries, the Tigers finished dead last in the AL Central with the 2nd worst record in the entire league.
So, what is the outlook for 2009? Well, let’s take a look at the upcoming projected team:
Jim Leyland. Leyland seemed as though he engaged in sleep-walking during the winter of 2007-2008, showed up at spring training without a plan, and did not catch on to the fact that his team was in trouble until mid-July!
How else can one explain that Leyland used the entire spring training period to move Carlos Guillen to first base to make room for Miguel Cabrera to take over at third base? Neither player performed admirably at their positions, but Leyland kept them in place. It wasn’t until late April that Leyland woke up and realized that neither player was having success at their positions, so he switched them, moving Guillen to 3rd and Cabrera to 1st. While fans noticed that both players were struggling in spring training, why did it take Leyland so long to make the switch? This change should have been made before the team headed north!
Further, it appeared as though the Tigers developed a few cliques on the team, a long-proven method by which to divide a team. Leyland allowed this to happen in 2008, but he needs to correct this before the 2009 season beings.
Also, if I had a dollar for each time that Leyland removed a hot pitcher to bring in a situational righthander or lefthander, only to have the move backfire, I would be a rich man! Leyland needs to stop engaging in situational changes (a 10-year-old could manage like this, as there is no thinking involved!) and go with the hot hand, which could easily change day-to-day or week-to week.
Yes, the Tigers have changed their pitching coach, but the onus stays with Leyland to make the right changes OR, perhaps even more important, to NOT make the changes!
Wow, prior to the 2008 season, the Tigers gave up potential starters Jair Jurjens and Andrew Miller in the Renteria/Cabrera deals - only to discover that they were short on starting pitching! Add the injuries to Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers, as well as the extended trip to the minors for Willis, and the result was a .457 winning percentage.
For 2009, it looks as though Bonderman will be back; Armando Galarraga looks solid; Nate Robertson needs to get it together; Verlander needs to quick the cocky attitude and just pitch; and Zach Miner always comes through with solid, although unspectacular, performances;
Kenny Rogers is as good as gone and, according to reports, it looks as though Willis will be traded (although it could be Robertson who goes), possibly to Boston for shortstop Julio Lugo. The Tigers’ minor league superstar, Rick Porcello, just might have to be called up a year early to see what he can do!
Wow, again, for the 2008 relief corps! Let’s see, we have Joel Zumaya (can he recover?), Fernando Rodney (leave him as the 7th or 8th inning set-up man – he’s not a closer!), Bobby Seay (the Tigers’ most effective relief pitcher in 2008), and an average supporting cast, including Freddy Dolsi, Eddie Bonine, Chris Lambert, Aquilino Lopez, and Clay Rapada. At least one or two of them will need to have terrific seasons, in order for the Tigers to be successful.
And, of course, there’s the question about the closer – uh, the Tigers do not have one, yet! Todd Jones retired and nobody else in the system has proven worthy of being able to consistently close games. Unless a closer is acquired, the Tigers will be forced to close by committee (Zumaya, Rodney, Seay), unless one of them steps forward and has a breakout year as the new closer.
With Pudge Rodriguez gone; with Brandon Inge being moved back to third base; and with Dana Sardinha filing for free agency, the Tigers are left with Dusty Ryan as their only catcher. Ryan batted .318 in only 44 At-Bats. However, his biggest plus is his terrific defense with his outstanding arm. His play has allowed the Tigers to move Brandon Inge back to 3rd base.
Miguel Cabrera – Without question, Cabrera will be “The Man” at first base through 2016. His stats from 2008 included a .292 batting average, 37 Home Runs, 180 hits, a .537 Slugging Percentage, 127 RBI, and 85 runs scored. The Tigers are all set at 1B!
Placido Polanco – With a .307 batting average and 178 hits, while playing terrific defense, the Tigers should be all set at 2B for 2009!
The range for Carlos Guillen is no longer there and Edgar Renteria has been released after a less-than-stellar 2008 season (although he hit .270, his range and overall defense were lacking in quality). In my view, this job needs to be given to Ramon Santiago, who batted .282 in limited action, while playing outstanding defense (only 3 errors in 2008). For some reason, however, the Tigers’ brass does not believe that Santiago can handle the full-time duties.
As such, the Tigers are currently looking for another shortstop. It has been reported that the Tigers have expressed interest in Boston shortstop, Julio Lugo. Either way, with Lugo or Santiago, the Tigers should have good defense and respectable offense from this position, assuming that Lugo has fully recovered from his injury and has a rebound season.
The Tigers have told Brandon Inge that he will be the everyday 3rd baseman for 2009. As such, NOTHING will get past him and his range is still outstanding. Inge is one of the best fielding 3rd basemen in all of major league baseball. However, his great defense comes with a negative – he batted only .205 in 2008.
The Tigers want to play Carlos Guillen as their everyday leftfielder. Guillen, a gifted natural athlete, will most likely excel in his new position. However, if Guillen stays in left, what happens with Marcus Thames? Thames hit .241 with 25 Home Runs in only 316 at-bats. That’s a big bat, coupled with terrific defense, to sit on the bench. With Guillen or Thames, the Tigers will be set for leftfield in 2009.
Curtis Granderson – As solid as they come, Granderson hit .280 with 22 Home Runs, 26 Doubles, 155 total hits, and 12 stoles bases in 2008. The Tigers just might have the best centerfielder in the American League!
Magglio Ordonez – Why are some pundits suggesting that the Tigers should trade Magglio Ordonez? Yes, he might bring a quality starter or closer in return, but you would be sacrificing the .317 batting average, 21 Home Runs, 32 Doubles, and 178 total hits that he accumulated in 2008. Yes, the Tigers could place Thames, Gary Sheffield, or one of their younger players (Brent Cleven, Matt Joyce, Ryan Raburn, or Clete Thomas) in right field, but it would be tough to replace a guy who might be in the process of putting together a Hall Of Fame career!
Gary Sheffield or Marcus Thames – Unless one or both is traded, released, or assigned to rightfield, either player would fill in nicely as the Designated Hitter. Sheffield, a sure future Hall of Famer, hit 19 Home Runs last year with a .225 Batting average, while Thames smacked 25 Home Runs with a .241 Batting Average. Sheffield prefers to play a position and not DH, but he might not have a choice.
So, can the Tigers correct their managerial ills and the starting and relief pitching problems from 2008 and win with the projected 2009 lineup? The short answer is yes, especially considering that the view is that Leyland learned his lesson that there is more to managing than filling out a lineup card and then sitting back and watching the game unfold, while playing the percentages and not actually “managing” the game. Also, based upon the general law of averages, it is not conceivable that the Tigers could suffer through two consecutive seasons with the same amount of injuries and poor performances that they had in 2008
The longer answer is that the starting and relief pitchers must step up and reclaim their rightful spots on the mound, as they must solidly pitch the Tigers to victory! Without improved pitching, the Tigers are doomed to settle in at the the middle of the pack.
With a reasonably strong batting lineup, a very strong defense at all 8 positions, and an improved and newly-awakened manager, the Tigers’ pitching holds the key to 2009. With solid pitching, the Tigers should be able to make their triumphant return to the 2009 playoffs!!
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