Often times losing in a championship game or series is a crushing and long-lasting blow to the fan base. While seeing the Tigers generously hand over the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals wasn’t my idea of a good time, it took me all of three hours to get excited about next season. The Tigers defeat in the playoffs is not anything like the losses suffered by the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Red Wings in ‘06. Those teams were ripe for championship runs. It could be argued that each probably had the best team that they’re going to have for the next five years. Those losses marked the end of championship contention for the foreseeable future. The Pistons are trying to find a new identity without Ben Wallace. The Red Wings are slow and offensively challenged. Their losses were bad, not only because of the losses, but because of what the losses foreshadowed.
There is no question that the Tigers missed out on an excellent opportunity. It is so difficult to get to the World Series that a return is never a guarantee (ask the White Sox). That’s why it was so devastating to see the Tigers hand over the championship to the Cardinals. Fortunately, there is nothing gloomy about the Tigers future even with the World Series loss. With a few changes to the lineup, the Tigers could very well be the odds on favorite to win the World Series heading into next season.
As much as I liked the effort from role players like Brandon Inge and Craig Monroe, the Tigers need to make big changes to the lineup. The Tigers often won in spite of their offensive shortcomings. Dave Dombrowski needs to bring in a couple high impact hitters that have excellent plate discipline. The White Sox brought in Jim Thome after winning the World Series last year and he ended up being the perfect acquisition. The Tigers need someone like Thome. As it stands now the Tigers will have about $68 million accounted for next season. Their 2006 opening day roster was $82 million. If Mike Ilitch doesn’t add a cent to the payroll from last season, we’re looking at $14 million dollars to spend in free agency or through trade acquisitions. If Ilitch wants to increase payroll ten million dollars plus, we could be looking at $24 million to burn or more. That amount of money could bring in significant impact players.
I want to go over the projected lineup for next season without any significant off-season changes. Then, I’ll go over what I would do in the off-season if I were Dave Dombrowski (which I am not).
2007 Detroit Tigers (with no major off-season acquisitions)
1) Kenny Rogers
2) Jeremy Bonderman
3) Justin Verlander
4) Nate Robertson
5) Mike Maroth
1) Curtis Granderson
2) Placido Polanco
3) Carlos Guillen
4) Magglio Ordonez
5) Craig Monroe
6) Pudge Rodriguez
7) Brandon Inge
8) Chris Shelton
9) Marcus Thames
That projected opening day roster would be essentially the same as the 2006 opening day roster with the exception of a couple young guys like Miller and Sanchez. With Robertson and Maroth likely being the #4 and #5 pitchers, the Tigers rotation should be even better next season. I expect Bonderman and Verlander to make big jumps next season with improved location and better secondary pitches. The Tigers jumped out to 40 games over .500 in 2006 with this roster. With improvements made by Bonderman and Verlander along with Granderson, the 2007 version would probably be more consistent. The bullpen would be lethal with a bevy of fireballers to go along with the Rodney-Zumaya-Jones combination. Dombrowski may have plans to start Miller and Sanchez in the minors next season but if Jim Leyland decides to take the best eleven pitchers like he did this season, then those guys might be on the opening day roster.
2007 Detroit Tigers (with potential acquisitions)
First Base Upgrade
If I were the GM of the Detroit Tigers, I would be extremely aggressive this winter. With close to $25 million to burn, the Tigers can throw a bunch of money at big-time players and hope some of it sticks. Although his contributions in the World Series can’t be argued, I still don’t think the Tigers are interested in re-signing Sean Casey. If that’s true, then the Tigers will need to sign or trade for a first basemen.
Bringing in a productive first baseman isn’t going to be easy. The free agent options are basically Frank Thomas and re-signing Casey. The trade options are infinitely more attractive with Derrick Lee, Mark Teixeira, Todd Helton, and Lance Berkman as players that may be on the market. I don’t know the availability of those players but the Tigers have pitching which usually makes teams listen to offers. I would offer the following package to each team.
Whether this package is enough to complete a trade is up for debate. What isn’t up for debate is that this package would have to be in the ballpark. If it takes throwing in another prospect (not Cameron Maybin or Andrew Miller) then the deal could get done.
My order of preference for those four players would be:
1). Lance Berkman ($14.5 million in ’07)
2). Mark Teixeira ($9 million in ’07)
3). Derrick Lee ($13 million in ’07)
4). Todd Helton ($16.6 million in ’07)
To be honest, any of the four would be a godsend for the Tigers. With a bevy of young prospects, the Tigers should be able to put together a solid offer. What I would not consider is trading Jeremy Bonderman to bring in a power hitter. I can’t believe how much that has been talked about by fans and the local media. Why would the Tigers want to trade Bonderman? He is only 23 years old. He’s possibly on the verge of a Cy Young type season in 2007. Dave Dombrowski stocked the minor leagues full of pitching so he wouldn’t have to trade cornerstone pieces like Bonderman. The Tigers are dealing from a position of strength. You don’t ship off a 23 year-old on the verge of blowing up next year when you are dealing from a position of strength. That doesn’t make any sense. I would be shocked if Dombrowski traded Bonderman. That idea has been speculation fueled entirely by local media. Dombrowski knows better than to listen to that.
The options at DH are obviously more fruitful because it’s not position-specific. The free agent options here include Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas. If the Tigers could bring in one of the above four players via trade and then sign Thomas, they would have the same luxury that the Chicago White Sox had this year with Jim Thome and Paul Konerko splitting time at First Base and DH. The White Sox didn’t make the playoffs this year but that had nothing to do with their offense which was the best in MLB. As much controversy that would come to Detroit with Barry Bonds, I still think the Tigers have to entertain the idea at the very least. He would immediately change the potency of the lineup.
Bonds and Thomas would likely command similar salaries for 2007. Thomas was much more productive in ’06 while Bonds will put more fans in the seats due to his chase to pass Hank Aaron on the all-time home run list. Both would undoubtedly be seeking multi-year deals. My guess is that they would probably cost $8 million at a minimum. It’s possible that teams will offer much more than that (something like $10-$12). Trading for a DH is probably less likely so Bonds and Thomas are probably the top options if there is doing to be a new DH next season.
Third Base Upgrade
The Tigers also have the option of bringing in more production at third base. I like Brandon Inge’s power in the ninth spot and I like how much he has improved defensively at third. Nobody makes more spectacular plays at third than Inge. The problem is that you don’t necessarily want your third baseman to be hitting ninth and Inge makes way too many errors. For his salary and position in the order, Inge was a fantastic value in 2006. The Tigers have the money to upgrade and they should at least explore the option. Aramis Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra are options. They would likely cost at least $10 (base plus incentives).
The Tigers also have the option of going after Alfonso Soriano in free agency. He won’t play DH and his desire to play second base presents a problem since Placido Polanco isn’t going anywhere. However, he may take to playing left field again if it’s for a World Series contending team. Another possibility would be playing Polanco at shortstop and Guillen at third freeing up second base for Soriano. I don’t see the Tigers moving around the infield that much to accommodate one player but if it improves the team enough offensively, it would be a mistake to not consider the option.
The Tigers don’t “need” to upgrade their pitching but no team ever has too much pitching. There are two dominating, front of the rotation starters available in free agency in Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito. Both will probably sign for between $12 and $15 million per year. The teams that need pitching the most are always the teams that are willing to drive up the price. If for some reason teams aren’t willing to pay as much as usual, the Tigers should try to bring one of those two players to Detroit. Kenny Rogers probably doesn’t have much longer passed 2007. That would create a void in the rotation.
The 2007 Lineup “Could” Look Something like This
If everything goes right this winter the Tigers could bring in one of Barry Bonds/Frank Thomas/Alfonso Soriano and one of Lance Berkman/Mark Teixeira/Derrick Lee/Todd Helton. If the Tigers added Bonds and Berkman, that would add close to $25 million to the $68 million that the Tigers currently have allocated to 2007. That would bring the Tigers 2007 payroll to $93 million. That would still only be the 8th highest payroll in MLB. Mike Ilitch’s willingness to nourish a winning team (i.e. Detroit Red Wings) should make adding $10-$15 million to the payroll no problem.
The 2007 lineup would look like this:
1). Curtis Granderson CF
2). Placido Polanco 2B
3). Barry Bonds/Frank Thomas/Alfonso Soriano DH
4). Lance Berkman/Mark Teixeira, Derrick Lee/Todd Helton 1B
5). Magglio Ordonez RF
6). Carlos Guillen SS
7). Craig Monroe LF
8). Pudge Rodriguez C
9). Brandon Inge 3B
That lineup, combined with the rotation and bullpen, is a team that I would choose straight up over the Yankees. Bonds-Berkman-Ordonez-Guillen would be a devastating stretch for any pitcher to face. The rest of the lineup would be more than adequate considering the production in 2006.
There are hundreds of possibilities that Dave Dombrowski will have to explore this winter. The odds that he’ll do any of the things that I mentioned are probably remote at best. He undoubtedly has his own agenda for the off-season but his goal is the same as the goal of all Tigers fans. He wants to put together the best baseball team possible. He has money to spend and prospects to trade. If he makes the right moves in the off-season, the Tigers will no longer be overachievers. They will be the frontrunners. The only thing that could disappoint me heading into next season is if management drops the ball in the off-season. Judging from Dombrowski’s track record, I don’t think that’s going to happen.