Tigers Baseball Outsider

a thinking fan's perspective

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Look Ahead At The 2011 Tigers

Here we sit at the holiday season, halfway through the 2010 – 2011 offseason, and the Tigers have made some roster changes.

Myself, there is absolutely nothing I would rather talk about at Christmas time than Tigers baseball.

And this, I think, is the perfect time to take a look at what the Tigers have done in the off season so far, and what else does this organization need to do.

Here is a quick recap so far of what’s happened so far.

Jhonny Peralta has been re-signed to two years for $11.25M to play shortstop.

Brandon Inge has also been re-signed for $11M for two years to play third.

A big name in the offseason market, Victor Martinez of Boston was signed to four years for $50M mainly for his bat, with the possibility we are told to catch maybe once a week. The starting catching position so far falls to Alex Avila.

Joaquin Benoit has been signed from Tampa Bay for 3 years at $16.5M To strengthen our bullpen.

And Magglio Ordonez has been resigned for a year at $10M to play right field.

So far, that’s it.

Is more to come, I hope so.

If not, is this enough to lift the caliber of the Tigers roster to get past the dreaded Minnesota Twins and those despicable Chicago White Sox?

Well, before we go comparing the Tigers to their American League Central rivals, let’s see if this new version of the Tigers will be better than last year’s version.

I would project our starting players for 2011 to be:
  • Alex Avila catches
  • Victor Martinez will DH
  • Miguel Cabrera at first
  • Carlos Guillen at second
  • Jhonny Peralta at short
  • Brandon Inge at third
  • Maglio Ordonez in right
  • Austin Jackson in center
  • Ryan Raburn in left field

Avila in my book is not yet ready to be an everyday catcher. I don’t think he frames a pitch well enough for him to work every day with your starting rotation. And Avila hit .228 in 2010.

Avila is a weakness. And I am disappointed that the thought is to start Victor Martinez behind the plate one in five games – albeit the years reek havoc on a veteran catchers body, most notably his knees. But then Martinez is ranked as an average defensive catcher at best.

So catcher is still a defensive weakness with no improvement at the plate.

The DH however is now strengthened – if indeed Martinez is okay with not being on the field and only hitting. The designated hitters role is a hard one for some players to adapt to as they are sitting down most of the game.

Miguel Cabrera at first – if he continues his drive towards the kind of power numbers and his bid for American League most valuable player – the first base remains the same both offensively and defensively – which translates to very very stong.

Carlos Guillen is a very good second baseman. Some will argue this point, but Guillen (.273) is one of our old core rocks of Gibraltar – second only to former second baseman Placido Polanco – whom we will continue to miss wearing the old English D.

But Guillen is prone to injury. It seems you can only get a month or so out of Carlos. So to be realistic about second base, you currently have to look at either Scott Sizemore (.224) or Will Rhymes (.304).

I could fill ten pages talking about the options for the Tigers second base spot, but I will simply say that for the 54 games I saw of Rhymes last year, I really liked him. He is a smart player who gets on base and he has this knack of making things happen. But some will argue that Rhymes – a veteran minor leaguer would be exposed over a full season, and that Sizemore will have a better year with a fully healed ankle – but if Carlos goes down this year, I would prefer to see Rhymes have the chance at second over Sizemore. Spring training will have to bear this out. I don’t see any better available second basemen on the free agency this year to warrant getting somebody else.

So I see perhaps a slight improvement at second between Guillen and Rhymes over Sizemore – but that might be unfair. Health is the factor in 2011 to determine who is there. Likely the majority of the year will go to Scott Sizemore. No improvement there.

Jhonny Perraulta at shortstop means another year of adequate defense and .253 hitter in the bottom third of the lineup. No improvement.

Brandon Inge at third. Inge is a Detroit enigma. You love him or hate him. I love his defense. And while his average is sub-par at .247 – he did finish 2010 higher than his .237 career numbers. Sometimes Inge steps up to the task – but watching Inge watch strike three go by with a man on third is maddening. The Tigers make no great improvement here.

Magglio Ordonez in right field broke his ankle just before the All Star break in 2010. To that point the Tigers were in first place, and Mags was hitting .303. When Mags went to the DL, the Tigers offense went in the proverbial toilet. The team crashed to a horrendous losing streak following the All Star break. So in my opinion, Magglio means more to the Tigers than just his strong offense and adequate outfield play. Magglio – I believe – is the leader of this team in his own quiet unassuming way. Signing Mags for only one year seems like a start financial move by the front office – albeit an expensive one – but I think Magglio gives this team a confidence that they lack when he is not.

Maggs coming back – and staying healthy improves this Tigers offense significantly – and hopefully with Ordonez and Martinez before and after Cabrera – this front five in the lineup will prove to be a powerful offensive weapon able to create more big innings and increase run production significantly.

Austin Jackson will return in center field.

Detroit loved Curtis Granderson , but last year – rookie Austin Jackson moved in and stole Tiger fans hearts making the same dazzling plays we were used to seeing from Granderson – and hit an impressive .293 – fifty points higher than Grandy in the damned Yankee pinstripes hit.

Centerfield remains strong offensively and defensively for 2010.

And then there is left field. This position has more options than any other on the team. The Tigers seem to have a roster packed full of left fielders. Ryan Raburn and Brennan Boesch are the two primary contenders for left field.

Everyone remembers how Brennan Boesch tore the cover off the ball for the first half of 2010 – hitting and incredible .347 with an on base percentage of .397. Boesch was the talk of the league.

But Boesch fizzled in the second half – along with the rest of the Tigers – but in much more dramatic fashion – hitting only .163. It was as if during the all star break that Brennan starting believing what everyone was saying about him – and nose dived.

But Ryan Raburn played steady in 2010 – and while the rest of the team was in full slump mode – Raburn kept improving finishing the year with an abover average .280. His past demonstrations of weak outfield defense were replaced by some really nice catches and throwing improvements.

So if Raburn is the Tigers 2011 left fielder – there is improvement as Raburn continues to improve.

But left field is a fickle position for Tigers management – it seems to be the place to try out the new kid up from Toledo with a hot bat. As well, if a big name outfielder in free agency with a strong bat should come to Detroit – only left field is considered to be open.

So the Tigers have only gotten weaker in Centerfield, and have gotten stronger in the bullpen, at the DH role, and perhaps second base.

But clearly one more big deal is needed.

And clearly catcher is the biggest weakness for the 2011 Tigers roster.

There is nobody out there to go get. And you already paid a steep price for Martinez.

While I am certain the Tigers have one more trade to make – it won’t be a catcher.

With Adam Dunn going to the White Sox – a player every Tiger fan was begging the Tigers to go after and sign, and the Minnesota Twins being a team that would be strong contenders if they signed women softball players – the battle for the 2011 American League Central again seems to be tipped towards the White Sox and Twins – but again it will be close.

That’s why the play all 162 games every season.

But is there enough happening yet for Tiger fans to get excited about? Not yet.

But that being said, remember 2008, when the Tigers were picked in November of 2007 to win the World Series after signing Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

They finished at the bottom of the lowly AL Central.
So this speculation means nothing. And 2011 looks like it can shape up to be another exciting Tigers baseball season.

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