Tigers looking to roar in new decade
The last week of spring training is crucial for how the regular season will unfold for the Detroit Tigers. Big holes still need to be filled, and a few spots are still left on the roster for young players to make the big-league roster.
As the final cut-day inches closer, players sweat out over finding a red card (not making the team) as shown in the movie “Major League.” While the 25-man roster and some pitching problems are up in the air, other players are starting to know their roles.
Barring some major surprises, here’s what the lineup could look like when the Tigers finally play meaningful games next week:
|Projected batting order||Pos. |
The Tigers finished with the fourth-worst batting average in the American League in 2009. Dave Dombroski went out this off-season trying to get improve the stagnant offense.
Replacing Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco won’t be an easy transition but young gun Jackson seems up to the challenge. Jackson is hitting at eye-popping .375 with three triples and a bomb.
The acquisition of Damon will give the top of the lineup another player who will get on base like Jackson. Too many times last year, Ordonez, Cabrera and Guillen came up with the bases empty.
Damon and Jackson will both find their way on the bases, giving the big bats opportunities to rack up RBI’s.
On the mound, the Tigers are also a work in progress. By far the Tigers biggest question entering the season is how the starting rotation will pan out. With only a week left before Opening Day, even Jim Leyland doesn’t know who will step up and follow Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer.
Surprisingly, Dontrelle Willis is the one who has been most impressive during his outings in Lakeland. Although he should, with his mammoth contract. But who really expected him to have the second best ERA in camp by a starter? Nate Robertson also proved the lefty can still get outs with a 3.68 ERA.
Jeremy Bonderman and Armando Galarraga have ERA’s ballooning over nine in spring training. If that continues, manager Jim Leyland will start going through three packs of smokes a day instead of two.
Detroit will desperately need Scherzer to step in to fill Edwin Jackson’s shoes. Jackson was an All-Star last year in Detroit before he was traded this winter.
Here’s what Leland is hoping for a starting rotation as the season is set to begin:
When training camp opened, the bullpen had the biggest holes, but Joel Zumaya re-emerged with Bobby Seay and newcomer Phil Coke to give the appearance that the set-up crew could become the strength of the teams in the late innings before Jose Valverde comes in to close.
It’ll be a transition for Valverde who’s coming from the National League, but he hasn’t allowed a run yet this spring. He’ll try to carry the momentum to the regular season.
Obviously, Zumaya will need to focus on his health. But Seay is a proven left-handed specialist. Perry has shown his potential with his dominant fastball and slider. His only fault last year was control, and this spring he has only walked one batter.
The bullpen will need another arm or two that could incude southpaw Fu-Te Ni or one of the starters who couldn’t make the rotation.
For now, the only sure bets to make the bullpen are:
|Bobby Seay ||LHR|
Leyland and general manager Dave Dombroski both need to figure out what the last tweaks of the roster will be. Besides utility man Ryan Raburn, outfielder Clete Thomas, infielder Ramon Santiago and catcher Alex Avila, who’ll be the reserves? Who’ll get the last few bullpen spots? Most importantly who has earned the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation?
Many questions remain, with only one week left to reveal the answers.
Johnny Damon acquisition: Fair or Foul? – Counterpoint
Before the 2008 season, Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski acquired Jacque Jones to play left field. Jones was 33 years old and came off two-straight seasons hitting a .285 batting average.
Last month, former Yankee and Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers. He’ll be expected to play mostly left field. Damon is 36 years old and just came off a season when he hit a .282 batting average.
Wouldn’t you think Dave Dombrowski would learn? I mean, he has acquired old man after old man. Guess what Dombrowski, when a player is past the age of 33, and his level of play is declining; it’s past his prime.
The signing of Johnny Damon was an absolute mistake.
Jones didn’t last as a Tiger for two months. He hit .165 in 24 games and was cut outright at the beginning of May. The Tigers faithful hope Damon’s future will be better than Jones’ was.
The one positive out of the deal was that it’s only for one year. It was first announced that Detroit offered him a two-year deal. Wrapping up players to long-term deals has bitten Detroit in the rear too many times in Dombrowski’s tenure.
Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and Gary Sheffield all collected nice checks from Tigers owner Mike Ilitch last year. The problem was the two pitchers barely threw, and Sheffield played for the New York Mets.
Still, what’s the point?
Detroit’s replacing an old left fielder who plays weak defense, but still has some life in his bat with… an old left fielder who plays weak defense, but still has some life in his bat. Damon has a weak arm and now, at the age 36, less range than ever in his career.
Carlos Guillen (old shortstop playing outfield),was obviously a weakness in left, but if Dombroski was looking to improve fielding he could have done much better, even from within the system.
Ryan Raburn threw nine players out from left field in only 43 games last year; Damon threw six out in 128 games. Raburn can also hit, last year in 113 games he hit 16 bombs with a .291 average.
Raburn’s eight years younger, too. His numbers should be inflating while Damon’s deflate.
Yes of course at the surface it looks like a great move. Damon is a fun-loving guy who always has a smile on his face. What will happen when his wife leaves Lakeland, Fla., and finds herself in Detroit? She has already acknowledged she doesn’t want to live there.
But Damon has professed an odd love of Detroit. We’ll see how long Tiger fans return that love once the season starts.
Matt Thompson is the sports editor of The Washtenaw Voice—and he also has a better outfield arm than Johnny Damon.
Johnny Damon acquisition:Fair or Foul? – Point
Johnny Damon is not going to hit 27 home runs this year. He may not win his third World Series ring in 2010. And Tigers fans should be advised to look away when he makes a throw from the outfield.
But the Tigers signing Damon to a one-year $8 million contract makes all the sense in the world and may be the move that wins the division in a none-too-stellar American League Central.
How can Johnny Damon make the difference on this Tigers team? He can get on base at the top of the lineup. He can work the count and, by doing so, tutor younger hitters to do the same as well as give those who follow him a chance to see more pitches. I like the country pie song that plays when Clete Thomas steps to the plate just as well as anyone else, but there is no way such a free-swinging hitter should be leading off.
And as we see the spring training game schedule beginning, Jim Leyland is making plate discipline and particularly two-strike counts a priority. You can hit all the home runs in the world, but taking pitches also takes opposing pitchers out of games earlier, gets to bullpens earlier—even if outs are recorded, they are productive outs. It’s much easier to hit the third reliever coming out of the bullpen than it is to hit Zack Greinke or Jake Peavy.
The Minnesota Twins look to be Detroit’s biggest competition and will be moving into their new outdoor baseball field this year, giving up what had to be considered the biggest home field advantage in baseball—playing 82 games in the Metrodome. Much like Oakland, a team whose success perennially depends on buying into a philosophy of play, the Twins teams often get to a slow start no doubt in part due to carpet where natural grass should be.
The Chicago White Sox offered Damon less and lost out. Unless they can manage to swing a trade for Adrian Gonzalez or another big offensive contributor (can Alex Rios return to form?), it should be an interesting season of reality television and tweeting for Ozzie Guillen. The Kansas City Royals have Zack Greinke and the Cleveland Indians have Grady Sizemore and both have otherwise young teams that may frustrate the Tigers from time to time, but shouldn’t pose a threat.
I think one reason some Tigers fans dislike the Damon signing has more to do with not liking the Curtis Granderson trade and seeing Damon as a replacement. Granderson is a player with tons of potential who was given a contract that anticipated him developing those abilities further along by this time. It hasn’t happened, particularly against left-handed pitching.
Damon will have a better year than Granderson would have had in Detroit, and if Granderson goes on to hit for career highs it will have more to do with the wind tunnel in right field and the protection through the lineup. Damon has played on successful teams even in small markets (see Oakland), where he has been a key to post season berths.
Is Damon worth the $8 million Detroit will pay him this year? If Magglio Ordonez was worth $19 million last year, then, yes. Absolutely!
Ian Griffin is the director of Washtenaw Community College’s Student Development and Activities, and as a proud citizen of “Red Sox Nation” can speak to the virtues of Johnny Damon.