(NOTE FROM GREY: Last week I sent out feelers to the top baseball team blogs to see if they would be generous enough to write a quick preview for their favorite team. So over the course of the next two weeks, mixed in with your daily fantasy info, you will get some of the most astute, in-depth coverage of teams around the major leagues for the upcoming 2008 season from the people that know these teams best. Each post will include a link to their site, please take time to visit these bloggers’ sites, because these posts are truly the tip of the iceberg for their team knowledge. Now enjoy the 2008 Detroit Tigers preview.)
Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski wasted no time in working to get his club back into the playoffs in 2008. After Detroit’s surprise run to the World Series in 2006 and disappointment in missing the postseason in 2007, Dombrowski did not even wait for the Boston Red Sox to lose the rosy glow of their championship before he completed his first acquisition of the offseason. Trading two major-league-ready prospects and a young center fielder to Atlanta, Dombrowski brought Edgar Renteria to Detroit so he could move shortstop Carlos Guillen from shortstop — where he was a liability — to first base — where he should be able to hold his own. But that was just the start. While his next move brought Jacque Jones from Chicago to platoon in left field with Marcus Thames, giving the Tigers quite a bit of production at that corner, Dombrowski’s acquisitions at the Winter Meetings in December fired a shot across the bow of the elite teams of the league. A little prodding by one of Dombrowski’s assistants revealed Florida would entertain a trade of superstar third baseman Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers, so long as A-list prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin were shipped to southern Florida. A little bit of negotiating by the sides resulted in former Cy Young candidate Dontrelle Willis‘ name being mentioned as well. And in just a day, young stars Cabrera and Willis were headed to The D, while fans of the Tigers’ minor league organization were left scratching their heads
wondering who remained. It was clear: the Tigers are being built to win now. With Willis’ contract already extended and Cabrera’s agent currently discussing a deal with the Tigers, winning for years in the future may not be out of the question either. In a short two months and some-odd days, the Tigers announced to the league they were an elite team.
The offense is compared to the great Yankees’ Murders Row — but that might be getting a bit too excited. Some analysts believe the Tigers could join the rare air of scoring 1,000 runs in a season. That, too, may be getting a bit too far ahead. But no matter, Detroit should have the best offense in the American League Central Division and quite likely the major leagues. If Gary Sheffield is able to come back from minor shoulder surgery and pick up near where he left off last season, the Tigers could expect to score 900-plus runs for the year. Sheffield will hit third in the lineup, just behind 20 double, 20 triple, 20 home run and 20 steals center fielder Curtis Granderson and the patient, high-average hitting Placido Polanco. Behind Sheffield will be 2007 A.L. batting champion Magglio Ordonez, with possible future Hall of Famer Cabrera falling all the way to fith in the batting order. He will be followed by Carlos Guillen, Renteria and at eighth, a Pudge Rodriguez who claims to be looking for more pitches this year and benefitting from a tough offseason workout. Jones or Thames may help set the table at ninth. For left-handed pitchers, this lineup is a nightmare. But with high OPS posted against righties from top-to-bottom as well, Detroit will score its fair share of runs this season.
The defense may not be the best in the league, but it should be good enough to give the Tigers a shot to win on most days. Justin Verlander leads the rotation, followed by Kenny Rogers, who hopes to come back from an injury-plagued year, Jeremy Bonderman, who also hopes to come back from an injured pitching elbow that caused his ERA to skyrocket in the second half, and some combination of Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson. Willis will boucne back from a disastrous 2007 in Florida, as he no longer needs to be the ace and does not have to rely on pinpoint placement of the baseball — which he did not provide in 2007 anyway. Robertson, too, hopes to bounce back from a season that saw him placed on the disabled list for fatigue. Obviously, the Tigers must have a healthy season from four of the five starters if they hope to compete at the highest level, as the minor leagues provide little depth and little trade bait.
Relief pitching has been the spring training story to watch — aside from the Brandon Inge saga, which will be detailed later in this story. Todd Jones feels he does not have the strength in his arm he needs. As a closer, he frightened Tigers fans already. If he cannot serve up anything but gopher balls, Detroit will need to make a move fast. Setupman Fernando Rodney will start his season on the disabled list as he struggles with tendinitis. The other setup man, Joel Zumaya, required surgery on his throwing shoulder after a box fell on it while he helped his father move valuables away from their house as the San Diego fires approached. He hopes to be back by midseason and appears to be progressing well toward that goal. This leaves Detroit manager Jim Leyland scratching his lighter to find late-inning pitching. Denny Bautista, acquired from Colorado in the offseason, may help. He is known for his control issues, but has so far appeared to have put that past him in spring training. The final bullpen spot may go to Aquilino Lopez, or it may go to Yorman Bazardo, who is also sore this spring. The lefty relievers will be Tim Byrdak and Bobby Seay, who both had fine showing in 2007. Meanwhile, Jason Grilli and Zach Miner appear to be the long relievers, though Leyland at one point thought Miner could be a closer.
In the field, Detroit looks be have broken even with last season, or improved slightly. Cabrera is a step back from Inge’s terrific third-base defense. But Renteria should be a step above Guillen, who consistently suffered from sore knees and could not make the plays he could in his earlier years. Guillen has played first before — including during the 2006 postseason run — and should provide as good or better defense than Sean Casey did in 2007. Gold glove second baseman Polanco did not make an error in 2007. The outfield is led by Granderson in center field. He should receive gold glove looks. Just tune in to SportsCenter to see why. Left field and right field are nothing special, but Thames/Jones and Ordonez are at least capable.
The Inge soap opera will be one to follow this season. He neither wants to provide the role of super sub, which he can do quite well as a guy who can play 8 positions, nor does he want to backup Rodriguez as catcher. He asked for a trade, then backed off that, though the Tigers are currently looking for a deal that would benefit both Inge and themselves. That may come closer to the trade deadline as a contending team might find itself in need of third base help. Until then, fans hope he remains quiet and does what is asked of him.
In summation, this is a team capable of winning the World Series in 2008, but due to its age and lack of depth could be a disappointment as well. As long as it only absorbs one or two key injuries during the course of the season, it should return to the postseason in any case, where anything can happen.
Some Tigers to think about in your fantasy draft:
Miguel Cabrera — third base — He should actually not see dropoff, as Comerica Park has become a much more hitter-friendly ballpark. He’ll score runs and have plenty of RBI opportunities, as well as hit his 30 homers.
Carlos Guillen — shortstop/first base — he will play first base this season, but he should remain eligible for shortstop in most leagues and provides a decent start if you miss out on the top tier performers at the position.
Magglio Ordonez — Probably — OK, honestly won’t — can’t repeat his 2007 season, but he should hit for average, drive in a good number of home runs and get gobs of RBIs in a lineup you can’t pitch around him.
Curtis Granderson — I wouldn’t take him too early, but if you are a manager who likes to platoon, put him in your lineup any day the Tigers play a right-handed pitcher and you’ll get great performance. Probably not 20 triples this season, but plenty of steals and runs to go with a decent number of home runs and RBIs.
Pudge Rodriguez — In all reality, you don’t want to grab him as your starting catcher at this point in his career. But if you’re looking for a backup with some potential to surprise, I think he will improve over his 2007 season. He believes he can continue catching for a few years, and he will be a free agent after this season. He has something to prove, and I for one think you don’t bet against him.
Justin Verlander — Not a top tier starting pitcher — he doesn’t get enough strikeouts for that — but he’ll get his 17 or so wins and post a low WHIP and ERA.
Jeremy Bonderman — In the leagues I’ve participated in, he has gone way too late. If Bonderman has come back from his injury healthy, and that does appear to be the case, he’ll have near 200 strikeouts again while posting an ERA around 4 and at least 15 wins.
Dontrelle Willis — Take a late-inning stab. I think he’ll surprise you.
Denny Bautista — Could get some holds, should be available in the last round if you need that stat, and if he has found his control, could end up closing if Jones falters due to his age.
Kurt runs Mack Avenue Tigers and, inspired by writing this piece, wrote a piece that looked at the fantasy prospects for every player expected to make the Tigers’ 25-man roster.