Playing Pepper 2014: Detroit Tigers

Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series.  I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.  This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication.  Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today!  But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.

Detroit Tigers
93-69, first in the AL Central, lost in the ALCS

While the city of Detroit might be the butt of any number of jokes these days, there’s one thing that’s for sure: nobody’s laughing at the baseball team.

For the third straight year, the Tigers made it not only to October, but deep into the extra month.  Two losses in the ALCS, including one last year to the eventual champs after being just outs away from taking a 2-0 lead, and a loss in the World Series have made this team unsatisfied with just any postseason appearance.

It’s not the same roster that the club has seen over the past couple of years either, as one of the biggest trades of the offseason had the Tigers involved.  So can they get back to the Series and, if so, how?

Those are questions that we turn to bloggers for and this time, we’ve got:

Let’s get right to it!

C70: How would you grade the offseason?

OED: A rather strange off-season for the Tigers, but overall a positive one. I think most of the fan base is still scratching their heads over the trade of Doug Fister, but what’s done is done, and I just want to stop thinking about it at this point, because I just get angry trying to make any sense of it. Prince Fielder was also traded away in rather surprising fashion, but the team is improved defensively, and on the base paths. The bullpen has been shored up, and closer Joe Nathan has been added. I was thrilled with the addition of Nathan, because I’d always respected him, and he routinely dominated the Tigers, so it’s really good not to be facing him any more.

PB: D – On one hand you got rid of one of the worst contracts in baseball as well as player who fell out of favor with the fans during the postseason (Prince Fielder) giving the team financial flexibility and furthermore traded one of the better pitchers in the American League (Doug Fister) to free up more cash for long term contract extensions for Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer. Along with these trades, the team has gotten better defensively with Cabrera moving across the field back to first opening up a spot for top prospect Nick Castellanos, not to mention getting a lefty in the rotation with a lot of potential in Drew Smyly. On the other hand, you did nothing really to address the big bat needed to protect Cabrera in the order and sliding a singles hitting, 15 homer Victor Martinez behind Cabrera will only skyrocket Cabrera’s walk total over 100 once again after it dipped down in the to the 80’s the previous 2 seasons with Fielder hitting fourth. Furthermore, the trade of Doug Fister surprised fans who would have liked to see Rick Porcello go instead and the return for Fister was so little it left fans saying just wait, there’s something big coming. Well, we’re still waiting…

C70: Will the club sign Max Scherzer to an extension before the season? What’s the highest they should go?

OED: I think not. We all know Scott Boras’ attitude toward free agency. Being a Boras client, and in light of the stellar performance Max had last season, I think Max will wait to see what the market brings him (and who can really blame him?) After getting out of a bases-loaded, no out jam (of his own making) in game 4 of the ALDS, Max can pretty much ask for the moon, and it will be lassoed and pulled out of its orbit for him.

PB: As much as I think Scherzer wants to stay in Detroit, I don’t think the deal gets done with Scott Boras as his agent. I would hope the Tigers don’t go much above 7-years and $140m

C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

OED: Is none an acceptable answer here? There isn’t much going on in terms of roster battles for the Tigers this Spring. Utility man? Eleventh pitcher? Nick Castellanos has already been anointed third baseman, after the surprise trade of Prince Fielder leading to Miguel Cabrera’s move back across the diamond. It may be more compelling to find out whether Joba Chamberlain or Bruce Rondon wins the setup man role. Last season, the bullpen had its weaknesses, so strong performances from both would be most welcome.

PB: Left field is wide open with a platoon expected of Andy Dirks against righties and Rajai Davis against lefties, however with Davis’s speed it will be interesting to see if he pushes for time against righties as well.

C70: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

OED: Nick Castellanos has the opportunity to make a real impact during 2014. He is going to improve the defense at third base, and has hit well in the minors at all levels, so it is time for him to see what he can do in the majors. Expectations are fairly high, so hopefully, that weight doesn’t wear on him. Unlike in the days of Sparky Anderson hyperbole, however, no one has jinxed him by calling him the next Brooks Robinson.

PB: Without a doubt Nick Castellanos who is penciled in at third base right now, but with only a handful of at bats I have to wonder if we expecting too much out of him which would be similar to the Bruce Rondon situation last year.

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

OED: I really hate making predictions. Really. But, I suppose an answer is required here. The Tigers, more than ever before, are in must win NOW mode. If the club doesn’t win a World Series title, it will have under-achieved, despite making the playoffs consistently the past several years. I’ll predict a first place division finish with 96 wins.

PB: I think the Tigers finish with a 90-72 record winning an improving division.

C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

OED: I hate to be patently obvious, but I can’t not say Miguel Cabrera. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the caliber of starting pitching on this team. I do. But to have the honor of watching one of the best right-handed hitters of all time on a daily basis? I don’t take it for granted. I revel in the opportunity to go down to the ballpark and see him make the most difficult thing in sports look easy. Last season’s home run off the great Mariano Rivera is one of baseball’s indelible moments. Cabrera redefines superlatives. During the 2012 and 2013 playoffs, the MVP chants were so thunderous during his at-bats that they echoed back and forth until no one knew where one ended and another began. It was glorious. So yes, the obvious choice is the right choice—Miguel Cabrera.

PB: Without a doubt, it’s Miguel Cabrera. I think we take him for granted to much and people need to realize that they could be watching one of the ten greatest right handed hitters of all-time before as said and done.

My thanks to Jennifer and Shane for their thoughts on the Tigers.  Could we see another St. Louis-Detroit battle for the crown?  We’ll have to wait and see!

  • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

    Ok, so both of these guys address the fister trade as being poor but neither point out how horrible it truly was. I mean, that was a nauseatingly one sided trade to improve the Nationals. I don’t think anyone in the Central quite passes them up as they were so far ahead to begin with and the Fielder trade was pretty even so it was only the Fister trade that was bad. Still, with peak seasons from Cabrera and Sherzer as well as Peralta they have performed way under they Pythagorean records and third order win% in ways no team does, let alone two years in a row (this is likely to due with the horrible defense and the low reliability of defensive stats vs offensive as well as the particularly bad bp) and now they are at least a few wins worse and one injury or down year without another breakout year to compensate for it from Sherzer or Cabrera and they bust. I would be mostly but not completely optimistic if I was a Detroit fan

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