True Detroit Tiger fans cannot cry in their beers after getting swept in the World Series by a team (San Francisco) that simply pitched better, defended better and hit when required to produce. Getting to the World Series is the first step in what should be a successful run of pennants for Detroit, with the core of the team under 30 years of age, and at the peak of their career.
So this off-season should be a matter of finding selected pieces to complete the puzzle.
Positions of non-need are first base (Prince Fielder), second base (Omar Infante), third base (Miguel Cabrera), starting catcher (Alex Avila), starting pitching (Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Drew Smyly), and most of the outfield (Austin Jackson, Andy Dirks, Avisail Garcia).
So let’s remove those positions from the free agent list for the Tigers. What is left are those spots on the roster to strengthen.
First, outfielder-DH Delmon Young will be allowed to walk away from Comerica Park for the greener pastures of another American League team. He simply cannot play the outfielder skillfully enough to be a regular lineup presence.
With the return of Victor Martinez, the DH slot is filled for all 162 games. In a pinch, Martinez can also play first base and catch, and his 100 rbi bat will make the lineup even harder for opposing pitchers to handle.
The trade in late July that brought Infante back to the Tiger organization solidified the most glaring weakness at second base but the defense still needs a shortstop with more range, quickness and steadier bat.
Jhonny Peralta, who played decently in the playoffs, is a restricted free agent, but has limited defensive assets, and he only hit .239 this past season. However, compared to the others on the open market (other than Marco Scutaro of the Giants, whose value skyrocketed in the post-season), no one is Peralta’s equal.
Detroit might be wise to package a deal (offering Brennan Boesch, whose time in Detroit seems to be over) with Houston for the Astros’ shortstop Jed Lowrie (younger, better range, same power numbers) and a reliever like Wilton Lopez to bolster the bullpen. Houston is a team desperate to trade away salary to get more warm bodies.
For catcher, Detroit needs a backup to Avila and Gerald Laird did a good job for the price he was paid. Compared to the other names of the FA list, resigning Laird would be a wise move. Otherwise, you’re looking at the likes of Kelly Shoppach or David Ross – neither supply the knowledge and defensive ability as does Laird.
The Tigers have a surplus of quality outfielders on the 40-man roster and in the minor leagues. Garcia is the starting right-fielder of the future and should be a permanent fixture before the end of June, 2013.
But Detroit needs a right-handed hitting outfielder (for left field) with some power, some speed and good defensive skills.
Among the unrestricted free agent candidates fitting that description are: Reed Johnson, Cody Ross and B.J. Upton.
The Tigers have said publicly that signing free agent Anibel Sanchez is a priority, given his final month and post-season results. If Detroit looks, instead, for another left-handed starter, the field is tissue-paper thin (Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis, Francisco Liriano, Joe Saunders, Jonathan Sanchez, Randy Wolf). Frankly, I’d rather keep Anibel Sanchez and go with Smyly, who had a promising rookie season.
The bullpen needs almost complete reconstruction – from front to back. Jose Valverde can no longer be trusted to close games and won’t return. Joaquin Benoit looked very tired in the final month and was prone to giving up big hits at the wrong time. Phil Coke is best in matchup situations or as a bridge to the closer, but NOT as the closer himself.
So among free agent closers, Detroit can choose from the following: Jonathan Broxton of Cincinnati, former Tiger Fernando Rodney now with Tampa Bay, Ryan Madson of the Reds (who sat out all last season due to injury but was inked to BE the Reds’ closer), or restricted free agent Joakim Soria of Kansas City, who was also sidelined for the 2012 season.
I’d investigate spending good money for set-up personnel, including Mike Adams of Texas, San Francisco left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, Atlanta’s Peter Moylan, submariner right-hander Pat Neshek of Oakland, Jason Frasor of Toronto, Joel Peralta from Tampa Bay, another Ray, lefty J.P. Howell, potential closer Casey Janssen of Toronto or a restricted free agent like Sean Burnett of Washington.
If Detroit wishes to resign Octavio Dotel to a one-year contract, it would be acceptable as well.
The Tigers are just an adjustment or two away from repeating as American League champions and possible 2013 World Series victors. This is not an off-season of panic, as it will be for some clubs (can you say Boston, Texas, Angels?).
It will be a time to clean the gun barrel and sharpen the attack. In 2013, it will be serious and business should be picking up.