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Offseason Swap Series: Detroit Tigers

| On 01, Nov 2011

By Matt Van Wormer

The Detroit Tigers were the only team that stood between the Indians and the playoffs in 2011 and had a few things gone differently, it would have been the Tribe representing the Central Division in October.  After falling just short of the World Series, I was able to hook up with John Parent of, a blog dedicated to the Tigers.  John is not just the lead writer on the blog but he is also the Detroit Chapter President of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance so we’ve got high expectations for John’s answers!  Let’s get to them now!

Five Questions for the Detroit Tigers

DTTWLN? 1 – After a slow start, the Tigers flipped a switch and went into beast mode to really make the Central Division a one-team race down the stretch.  What sparked the team to the run that got them a 15-game gap between themselves and the second place Indians?

To me, there were a couple of key moments that kind of marked turning points for the season. The Tigers made the trade to get Doug Fister on July 30, with everyone in baseball knowing they had to acquire another starter. The next day was the Jered Weaver versus Justin Verlander matchup when Weaver threw his fit about Magglio Ordonez “pimping” a home run down the left field line (the ball easily could have gone foul, there was no “pimping” there). A few innings later, Carlos Guillen showed Weaver what pimping a home run looked like. The team was sending a message that they weren’t going to be bullied. The next game was versus Texas and Joaquin Benoit allowed two home runs to blow a 5-2 eighth inning lead. With the rain coming down so hard you could barely see, Brennan Boesch took Mike Adams deep to give the Tigers a 6-5 win. Fister started and beat the Rangers in the following game.

Those games by themselves wouldn’t have been enough, however. They had proven their mettle against the best of the West, but to pull away in the Central, they’d have to beat Cleveland. In early August, the Tigers went to Cleveland carrying a four-game lead, but they dropped the first two at Progressive Field. The Tigers had run their losing streak at that park to 13 games when Justin Verlander took the hill. A loss would have trimmed the lead to a single game and given the Indians confidence that they could stay in the race. Verlander allowed three runs in the first three innings before righting the ship and retiring 14 of the final 16 hitters he faced. They didn’t lose another game to Chicago or Cleveland the rest of the year, going 13-0 against their closest competition down the stretch.

DTTWLN? 2 – The Tigers seem to have two different cores.  One being the younger guys (Jackson, Raburn, Verlander, Avila) and the other being the veteran leaders (Martinez, Guillen, Ordonez).  As the veterans start to reach the twilight of their careers, how do the Tigers adjust?  Do they have players waiting in the wings so a rebuild can be avoided?

Ordonez and Guillen are free agents and no one expects either player to be brought back. Injuries have forced the team to replace those two before now, so a working model is already in place. The trade for Delmon Young gives the Tigers their answer for Magglio and Guillen wasn’t much more than a role player (when healthy) anyway. The minor league system is thin on hitting talent and what is there is a few years away at best. There will be holes to fill on the roster, but the heart of the order (Young, Boesch, Miguel Cabrera, Martinez, and Avila) all have several good years ahead of them.

DTTWLN? 3 – The strongest link in the Detroit bullpen, Jose Valverde, is set to be a free agent and could command top dollar from a team like the Yankees.  Will the Tigers open up the wallet to get their shutdown closer re-signed or are they willing to settle for someone else in the pool of closers that will be available?

Valverde is a Type-A free agent, but the club holds a $9 million option and most expect that they will pick that up. $9 million is a lot to spend on a relief pitcher and certainly the club could benefit from declining the option, offering arbitration (which Valverde would surely decline), and collecting a couple of draft picks. The only way this makes sense for Detroit, however, is if they have someone else lined up to pick up the slack. Benoit could close, but that leaves a chasm in the eighth inning, one they don’t currently have the ability to fill. I’m betting Valverde is back for one more year in Motown.

DTTWLN? 4 – Jim Leyland has pushed Detroit to the World Series once and the playoffs just twice in his six seasons with the team.  How much more time will the ownership of the Tigers give the manager who is on the verge of turning 67?  Is their an heir apparent?

Jim Leyland has built up a lot of goodwill this year. He’s says he’s willing to go year-to-year, but he’s signed only through 2012. Even if the Tigers miss the playoffs in 2012, I think he’ll get another year if he wants it. If not, in-house candidates Tom Brookens (first base coach), Lloyd McClendon (hitting coach), and Phil Nevin (Triple-A manager) would be on the short list to replace him.

DTTWLN? 5 – The Tigers seemed to be just a few small pieces away from getting to the World Series for the second time since 2006.  What holes will the need to fill going forward and where do you see the Tigers finishing in 2012?

Assuming Valverde is brought back, the pitching staff will be pretty much kept intact. They may go after a veteran starter to buy another year for Jacob Turner to progress in the minor leagues, but don’t rule him out from the 2012 rotation just yet. I expect the Tigers to go with Brandon Inge and Don Kelly in a platoon at third base next season. They’ll be on the lookout for a new second baseman as Ryan Raburn can’t handle the defensive duties there (and they don’t love his streaky bat, either) and Ramon Santiago is a free agent said to be seeking an everyday job, which he won’t get in Detroit. One thing is certain; Dave Dombrowski will identify his target early and strike quickly in the offseason. If he doesn’t see a free agent he likes, he will turn to the trade market and he has a history of pulling off some major moves. I don’t expect that this year, but I won’t put it past him, either.

I expect the majority of the club to stay in place and with the addition of a second baseman, the Tigers could see a return trip to the playoffs. Extremely early and subject to change prediction for 2012: 93-69, First in the Central.

Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images

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