Friday, November 2, 2012

World Series Thoughts and Look To the Tigers Off-Season

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By Doctor

It’s time for the highly anticipated Tigers season review and off-season preview. Why so anticipated, you ask? Because the other options are reading Mitch Albom and Drew Sharp in the Free Press and listening to “Huge” moron Bill Simonson spout ignoramus on Michigan sports talk radio.

First, a sad yet necessary look back at the World Series sweep to the San Francisco Giants. The least said the better, but it was obvious that the almost week-long layoff hurt the Tigers. Major League Baseball is a game played every day. From April through October, the players are locked in and focused. It’s difficult to finish off a sweep of the New York Yankees to advance to the World Series, spend the next week shagging fly balls and taking batting practice, and be mentally and physically ready to take on a team that was as locked in as the Giants were following winning three straight possible elimination games against the Cardinals.

Don’t let the World Series sweep diminish what this Tigers team accomplished. This was the Tigers third trip to the World Series in my lifetime, and I don’t remember anything about the first. They swept the New York Yankees in the ALCS, at home no less, to win the pennant after holding off the team of destiny Oakland A’s in five games in the ALDS.

They left the lights on at 5/3 Ballpark for the Series
It was a remarkable run. In Grand Rapids, the Celebration! North movie theatre showed each of the ALCS and World Series games on the big screen. Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the Tigers Class-A affiliate West Michigan White Caps, opened up the ballpark for fans to watch the Tigers postseason games on their huge outfield screen or in the comfy confines of their outfield Pepsi Stadium Club. I watched Game 1 at the ballpark, and I admit that it definitely had a Field of Dreams type feeling sitting just beyond the outfield wall with the lights glistening on the outfield watching the game on the video board with the game audio coming through the ballpark PA system.

The World Series also provided a great atmosphere for the opening of Grand Rapids newest brewery, The Mitten Brewery. I attended there opening night during Game 2 with a standing room only crowd, just about all in Tigers gear, in an old firehouse GR’s North West side retrofitted as a brewery with a Tigers theme including bleacher seats from Old Tigers Stadium. They even had a Peanut & Cracker Jack Porter on tap – a light porter with a great peanut butter flavored finish.

Of course, the Tigers kept fans captivated all season long. Following last season’s Central Division title and ALCS run, the Tigers went out and signed Prince Fielder to join the headlining act of Miguel Cabrera and the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander.

The Mitten Brewing Co.
From opening day, fans filled the stands, not just at Comerica Park which drew over 3 million fans this year, but on the road as well. I saw the Tigers play the Cubs at Wrigley Field on my birthday in June. On the train into Chicago, the Windy City streets, and the L to Wrigleyville, we were surrounded by Tigers fans. The scene was similar in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and numerous cities this season.

It wasn’t as easy as most people expected it would be. That week in June just before that trip to Chicago was the low point. The Tigers were 26-32 and trailing the White Sox in the Central Division that they won by 15 games the year before and everyone handed to them before a game was played in 2012.

Eventually the Tigers had to fight and earn that Division title and playoff spot. They did it behind the incredible Triple Crown performance of Miguel Cabrera and another Cy Young caliber season from Verlander. Austin Jackson had a breakout season at the plate and a stellar defensive year in center field. Fielder made the transition from the National League to the American League look easy batting over .300 with 30 home runs, 100+ RBI, and an OBS over .400. Max Scherzer overcame the sudden death of his brother and performed as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball for most of the year and finished only second to Verlander in the majors in strikeouts.

They had to overcome being a below average defense and limited offensive productivity from the bottom of their lineup. The lineup, Jim Leyland’s lineup, always a fun discussion among Tigers fans and even more so by second guessing radio talk show hosts. The Tigers didn’t get much offensive production from second base or the corner outfield spots regardless of who the Skipper penciled in there. GM Dave Dombrowski addressed second base and shored up the starting rotation with the acquisition of Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez from the Miami Marlins in July.

Looking Ahead – Off-Season Priorities (after the jump)

As I mentioned, 2012 was a fun at-times-frustrating season for the Tigers who again fell just short of a World Series title (I’m going to call making the World Series “just short” despite of the sweep).

Not returning Free Agents: Delmon Young, Jose Valverde, Ryan Raburn
Free Agents that Detroit may re-sign: Anibal Sanchez, Gerald Laird

Starting Pitchers: Verlander, Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly
Relief Pitchers: Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Al Alberqurque, Joaquin Benoit
Catcher: Alex Avila
First Base: Prince Fielder
Second Base: Omar Infante (will be recovered from broken hand)
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta
Third Base: Miguel Cabrera
Left Field:
Center Field: Austin Jackson
Right Field:
DH: Victor Martinez
(the above list leaves out guys that would need to be re-signed or earn starting spots)

The Tigers biggest concerns headed into 2013 are at the corner outfield spots. Brennan Boesch is not the answer. Quentin Berry is not the answer. Neither Delmon Young or Ryan Raburn are coming back. It’s more likely that Avisail Garcia starts the season in Triple-A than manning right field at Comerica. Andy Dirks likely begins the season as one of the starters; he keeps it or it becomes a platoon.

All this means that Dombrowski will be in the market for a corner outfielder or two this off-season. My favorite FA target is Torii Hunter. Hunter could play either corner outfield spot, improve the Tigers team defense and speed, provide veteran leadership, and he conveniently slides into that #2 spot in the line-up in front of Cabrera where his .800+ OPS would be a big improvement.

Another intriguing target is fresh off a 50-game PED suspension, 2012 All-Star MVP, 2012 NL Batting Champ, and not activated for the post-season, Melky Cabrera. Following the drug suspension, Cabrera could be available for a reasonable short term deal.

A lot of people will be calling for Dombrowski to swing a trade for Justin Upton who may have fallen out of favor in Arizona. Yes, it sounds awesome until people realize that Detroit is on Upton’s no-trade short list, and, two, the Tigers would have to trade top prospect Nick Castellanos to get Upton. For the record, no, a trade package featuring Rick Porcello is not enough to pry Upton from the young pitching rich Diamondbacks.

Just say no to Nick Swisher. He was a Yankee, he hits worse than A-Rod in the post-season, and he might get annoying. 

For a longer list of available free agents, see here.

I may be more surprised if Dombrowski and the Tigers don't do something surprising this off-season as they try to make the final move that will get them and owner Mike Illitch a World Series title (e.g. trading for Miguel Cabrera, trading Curtis Granderson, signing Prince Fielder). I just don't think it will involve Justin Upton. 

There’s work to be done. The players need to recover, rest, and get ready for another long grind that is the MLB season. Some need to get healthy (V-Mart, Infante, Avila, Scherzer). Dombrowski and the front office has to fill out a roster. Meanwhile, we the fans have the most difficult job of coming up with free agent wish lists, second guessing, and sharing our superior wisdom on sports talk radio and MLive message boards. 

Spring training is just over three months away. 

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