The Detroit Tigers are back in 2009 after an extremely frustrating year. As luck would have it, I was rooming with a Detroit Tigers fan that I met in New York a few years ago when we beat them out on the final day of the season to win the Central (although they obviously had better success in the postseason that year...), so I know that their expectations for that team only grew with their additions of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.
Despite the underperforming of the Motown Kitties, they look to have rebounded quite nicely in '09. But how do they look for the future? As the Twins prepare to move into Target Field next year, we would love nothing more than to christen our new park with a trip to the postseason, and the first place we should start in order to figure out their chances is by sizing up the competition:
The Tigers have a plethora of starters returning. Their late season pick-up of Washburn has really strengthened what is already a pretty good staff, and although Washburn becomes a free agent after the season, a number of starters will be returning.
Justin Verlander, RHP
*Verlander is having a dominant year in '09. After joining the rest of his team in '08 by being an utter disappointment and posting an 11-17 record with a 4.84 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP, Verlander is starting to post career numbers. In mid-August he has a 13-6 record with a career best 3.28 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Consider last year's numbers an aberration, Verlander has found his groove again, and ignoring last year's numbers he's been getting better year after year. He'll be frontlining their staff for years to come.
Edwin Jackson, RHP
*If Justin Verlander is the staff ace, Edwin Jackson isn't that far behind. A great pick-up from the Tampa Bay Rays, Jackson has carried his success to the AL Central. Currently he sports a 9-5 record with a 2.85 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. This is the kind of production the Twins need from the top of their rotation. Jackson rounds out a sick 1-2 punch up there with the best in the American League.
Armando Galarraga, RHP 5.16ERA, 1.53 WHIP
Rick Porcello, RHP 4.34 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
Jeremy Bonderman, RHP 13.5oERA, 2.75 WHIP
Nate Robertson, LHP 7.71ERA, 1.86 WHIP
Dontrelle Willis, LHP 7.49ERA, 1.93 WHIP
*You can see why they picked up Washburn. The bottom three spots in the rotation could be filled with any of the above pitchers, who will all be either under contract or arbitration eligible, or the Tigers could look at the free agent market as there should be some good names (like Rich Harden?) available for teams looking to bring some more punch to their starting 5. Assuming no new acquisitions are made, I see Galarraga, Porcello, and Bonderman as the favorites, although that would leave them with a rotation of 5 righties. Robertson and Willis have been utter disappointments and one might be a longman out of the bullpen, but barring them suddenly finding some fire their futures in the majors look somewhat tenuous.
C, Gerald Laird, .227/.304/.341 4HR, 24 RBI
1B, Miguel Cabrera, .329/.397/.552 24HR, 75 RBI
3B, Brandon Inge, .247/.340/.457 23HR, 65 RBI
RF, Magglio Ordonez, .271/.335/.383 6HR, 36 RBI
CF, Curtis Granderson, .260/.344/.470 23HR, 54 RBI
LF, Clete Thomas, .246/.332/.414 7HR, 33RBI
*The biggest questions for the Tigers are in the middle infield (sound familiar Twins fans???). The numbers from this year on Granderson and Cabrera are pretty consistent in terms of what we can expect from their careers. They're both perennial All-Stars and will figure into the core of the Tiger line-up for the forseeable future. Conversely, Magglio Ordonez is having quite the down-year. He's getting older, certainly, but it's hard to imagine him being this bad next year. Already, his performance is starting to pick back up.
*Brandon Inge is an interesting player who is having a huge spike in power (thus why he made a laughable appearance in the HR derby), and a pretty decent spike in OBP as well. We'll see if this carries over to next year, but either way he's a solid role player. As Inge as shown an increase in power, Gerald Laird has shown just the opposite. I'm not going to speculate on why his power numbers have dropped so significantly this year, but at the very least he should be a little better next year. Clete Thomas is more or less a replacement level player. They have other options in Jeff Larish and Ryan Raburn, and released another similar player in Josh Anderson earlier this year, but I expect Thomas to be back and post very similar numbers as he's never really been a can't miss prospect in their system.
*Their current middle infield of Placido Polanco and Adam Everett are both hitting free agency and I wonder if either will be retained. There don't seem any immediate answers in the Tigers minor leagues, so they could be competition for us on the free agent market for middle infielders. One of the top prospects in the Tigers system is a shortstop named Cale Iorg out of Alabama currently playing for the AA team. The Tigers haven't really been hesitant to aggressively promote some of their better prospects as they've done with Porcello, French, and now their catcher Alex Avila, so they might make a surprising move and let him audition for the SS role in 2010. But currently he's posting an uninspiring .220/.269/.348 slash although he does have 11HR and 38RBI in 110 games at AA. It's a longshot, but keep him on the peripherals.
*Polanco seems irreplaceable on their roster as a sparkplug out of the 2-hole and a solid glove at second. In fact, I've felt he'd look fine a Twins uniform after this year but that's just wishful thinking. If the Tigers don't bring him back I'd see them go after a Mark De Rosa type perhaps, as the market for 2Bs is predictably thin. They also have Ramon Santiago and Carlos Guillen under contract for next year, but Santiago seems more of a utility player and Carlos Guillen is a severe injury risk and probably doesn't have the range anymore to fill in at the middle infield.
Bobby Seay, LHP 3.35 ERA, 1.06WHIP, 27/10 K-BB ratio, 37.2IP in 50 games.
Joel Zumaya, RHP 4.94 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 30/22 K-BB ratio, 31IP in 29 games.
Zach Miner, RHP 4.95 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 48/34 K-BB ratio, 67.1IP in 34 games.
Ryan Perry, RHP 3.69 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 36/24 K-BB ratio, 39IP in 35 games.
Fu-Te Ni, LHP 2.37 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 16/5 K-BB ratio, 19IP in 18 games.
*Bobby Seay and Fu-Te Ni are solid relievers who should find a place in the bullpen next year. Unfortunately that's about where it ends for the Tigers -- and you thought our outlook was bleak. The Tigers could, and probably should, look to bring back either Brandon Lyon or Fernando Rodney, both of whom have been the back-end of the Tiger bullpen and are both set to hit free agency. Although the Tigers are typically big spenders, I don't see them bringing both back. Rodney's always been a question mark of untapped potential but has held his own as a closer for their team this year, and after a horrid start, Lyon has put up nice numbers as of late. But neither are guaranteed to be suiting up for Detroit in 2010.
*Do they hand the closer role over to Joel Zumaya? He's coming off ANOTHER injury, this one requiring shoulder surgery and shutting him down for the season. He didn't look that great before either, although he's always touching 100MPH, it's doubtful if he could handle the closer's role. Plus, who knows what will happen if he keeps playing Guitar Hero?
*The rest of their bullpen has some talent in the hard throwing Ryan Perry, but he's still a work in progress. Zach Miner is a replacement level long reliever who will probably find his way into the bullpen unless Nate Robertson or Dontrelle Willis is able to edge him for that spot. There's also Chris Lambert and Eddie Bonine who have both been up and down for the team with inconsistent-to-bad results. Personally I see them retaining Rodney as a closer and lining out the rest of their bullpen with Seay, Zumaya, Ni, Miner and Perry. That could be a decent corps in the pen.
INF/OF, Carlos Guillen .244/.321/.357, 4HR, 20RBI
INF, Jeff Larish .216/.344/.446, 4HR, 7RBI
INF, Ramon Santiago .251/.302/.423, 7HR, 30RBI
INF, Mike Hollimon .261/.280/.565, 1HR, 2RBI
OF, Marcus Thames .258/.323/.510, 13HR, 29RBI
OF, Ryan Raburn .258/.323/.444, 7HR, 31RBI
C, Alex Avila .471/.526/1.059, 2HR, 6RBI
*Don't be scared by Avila's ridiculous slash line as he's only played in 5 games. But he really does look like a great young player and should be a solid contributor for the Tigers next year if he can even keep a modicum of what he's shown this year in the few games he's started over Laird. The rest of their bench options look somewhat ho-hum. Thames should be a solid contributor out of the DH role and a pinch hitter/spot starter. Raburn is maybe a 5th outfielder, and Santiago should be a good utility infielder. Hollimon and Larish are nothing to get worked up over and will probably just be AAA depth for next year although Hollimon could see some time with the club if the Tigers can't find any middle infield help and don't reach for Cale Iorg in AA.
If the Tigers can either keep their middle infield together or find some suitable replacements, they'll be a team to be reckoned with. I'd look for them to make a major acquisition, either at the middle infield position, or perhaps sign a big name starter like Rich Harden.
Ludicrously early prediction:
88-74, 2nd place AL Central