As we continue our alphabetical trip through the AL Central, we come next to the Detroit Tigers. World Series participants only three years ago, the Tigers, much like last year’s Indians, entered the 2008 season with some serious expectations. With the big money the team spent on Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and Dontrelle Willis in the 2007 offseason, it seemed like a no-brainer that the Tigers would repeat their success. But injuries derailed them from the get-go, and they were never able to recover, skidding to a 74-88 finish. The Tigers and their fans hope they can turn it around quickly this season.
As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team’s 2009 season. I’ve included quotes and other information from each of the them – Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy’s. I’ve also included some statistics about each magazines’ success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.
My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there’s room for some personal commentary. I think it’ll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don’t want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I’ll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I’ve never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the “combined” team preview for the…
Last Year: 74 – 88, 5th Place, AL Central
|This Year||Last Year||Avg Pred.||Avg Finish|
* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2001, 2003 – 2004, 2006 – 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2003, 2006 – 2008
In the winter of 2008, GM Dave Dombrowski was given free reign to build a World Series contender. With some big trades and signings/contract extensions, the Tigers increased their payroll to $138 million and skyrocketed to the top of many pundits’ charts. It didn’t last very long though, as injuries and a slow start stalled the Tigers from the get-go. It did not get any better from there.
“After the 2007 Winter Meetings, baseball buzzed with talk about the Tigers. They had acquired Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Florida Marlins in exchange for six prospects, the signature move in an off-season that also brought five-time All-Star shortstop Edgar Renteria to Detroit. Right then, in early December, many experts picked the Tigers to get back to the World Series. Instead, they became the most expensive last-place team in baseball history.
Detroit lost its first seven games and was out of the race by early August. The lineup, which garnered spring headlines for its top-to-bottom strength, sputtered early. Offense, though, was not the primary culprit. The Tigers scored 821 runs, only one fewer than in their 2006 pennant-winning season. Their biggest weaknesses were in the field and on the mound, as they allowed more runs (857) than all but two American League teams. (Lindy’s)”
The Tigers’ biggest weakness is obviously their pitching. Their top-of-the-rotation guys woefully underperformed last year, either due to injuries or a drop in talent, and it’s hard to predict if a rebound is likely. If they can’t pick up the slack, though, the Tigers won’t be going very far.
“Pitching was the Tigers’ biggest problem in 2008.
After combining for a 35-15 record during his first two years in the rotation, Verlander dropped a league-high 17 games last season and his ERA jumped to 4.84.
Add Bonderman’s injury and poor seasons by left-handers Kenny Rogers (9-13, 5.70 ERA) and Nate Robertson (7-11, 6.35), and Detroit’s miserable season makes sense. (TSN)”
Outside of the rotation, though, the Tigers have a lot of reasons to hope. Miguel Cabrera did his best to earn his new contract. After moving over to first base early in the season, he mashed an AL-leading 37 home runs. It’s the Tigers’ outfield, though, that may be their biggest strength and may be most responsible for carrying the team at times.
“Left field, the one unsettled spot in the outfield the last three seasons, is changing again. Carlos Guillen moves out there after migrating from shortstop to first base and third base in 2007 and ’08. He’s a productive hitter, but his contribution won’t mean as much at an offensive position. The rest of the outfield is state of the art, with Curtis Granderson in center and Magglio Ordoñez in right. Granderson is a weapon as a leadoff hitter, and he runs down balls in the big gaps at Comerica. He slowed down some on the bases last season but still led the AL in triples for the second year in a row. He’s made adjustments at the plate, cutting down on his strikeouts while raising his walk total. Ordoñez is an extremely consistent run producer but no longer covers a lot of ground in right. (Athlon)”
Athlon expresses a strong opinion on Gary Sheffield and his worth to the club:
“Gary Sheffield wants to get away from Leyland but didn’t build much of a market for a trade by hitting .225 in the 114 games he played last season. He turned 40 in the offseason and won’t get another contract unless he drinks from the fountain of youth. That seems unlikely as his last 100-RBI season was in 2005. He’s likely to be a distraction off the field, either lobbying for a trade or complaining about some phantom injustice.”
But, despite all the bad news, TSN‘s “View from the Other Dugout” shows some optimism for the team:
“It’s probably easy to write this team off after they added so many big-name players to a good team last year and had such a bad season. I think it would be a mistake to overlook them this year. They have too much talent. (Miguel) Cabrera, (Curtis) Granderson, (Magglio) Ordoñez, (Carlos) Guillen, (Placido) Polanco, it is still a very good offense. They never got it going last year and it was uphill from there…It’s not a bad club.”
I feel bad because, like the Indians yesterday, I just don’t have a lot to say about the Tigers. The contracts they signed in the winter of 2007 were supposed to make them a much better team, but I’m not sure that’s the case. Cabrera is obviously an immense talent and he put up another strong season last year (though his 21 Win Shares point to a much more pedestrian season than we’re used to from him), but the Willis signing didn’t do much for the team. The club is also paying some big money to Gary Sheffield (who is one homer shy of 500 career home runs), Magglio Ordoñez, and Carlos Guillen, none of whom gave the Tigers a full year last season.
Normally, when a club underperforms like the Tigers did last year, they are given the benefit of the doubt the next year, and their expectations are again relatively high. That doesn’t seem to be the case for the Tigers this year. I think the injuries the Tigers experienced last year, and the level of talent some of their players showed (like Willis and Verlander), has deflated the Tigers’ expectations this year more than usual. I know I don’t think as highly of them this year as I did last year. In my mind, there are at least three teams in the Central better than them – the Twins, Indians, and White Sox. If everything goes right for the Tigers and all of their big money players put up the seasons that they’re capable of, then they have a good shot at the division crown. I don’t think that’s very likely, though, and they’ll probably be battling with one of those three teams for third place. For their fans’ sake, I hope I’m wrong.