Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tigers in '07!

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)

Pitching staff:

1) Kenny Rogers
2) Jeremy Bonderman
3) Justin Verlander
4) Nate Robertson
5) Mike Maroth


Bullpen:

Todd Jones
Joel Zumaya
Fernando Rodney
Jamie Walker
Wil Ledezma
Andrew Miller
Humberto Sanchez
Zach Miner
Jason Grilli


Lineup:

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

Bench:

Neifi Perez
Alexis Gomez
Brent Clevlen
Ramon Santiago
Omar Infante


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.

Humberto Sanchez
Jordan Tata
Mike Maroth
Brent Clevlen

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.



DH Upgrade

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).


Alfonso Soriano

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.


Pitching

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.

6 comments:

mike said...

On Bondo. I agree that Bondo has a lot upside. But he just completed year 4 of his contract. The Tigers have to sign him long-term this winter if they plan on keeping him. If the Tigers go to Bondo with a big time deal and he does not sign then you are forced to trade him this winter. You can't wait until after year 5 of the contract because nobody signs after year 5.

I would not trade Bondo unless he turns a long term deal down this winter, that tells me he's not planning on staying once his deal expires so you might as well deal him and get something that will help you.

Jake said...

Agreed. That certainly is a possibility. And in that instance you are right, they would have to trade him. Hopefully they can get something done.

mike said...

I really hope they can. Because I think you're right. Bondo is going to blow up this year and dominate hitters the way we've always thought he would one day.

I still think the Tigers are going to have to swing a big trade. This team reminds me a lot of the 1995 Red Wings. A good core young group that needs a few pieces to get them over the top. We might have to trade some popular players here to make it happen just like the Wings did before 97 to get Shanny.

Hopefully this team doesn't pull an early 1990s Detroit Lions. Everybody thought after the 91 playoffs the Lions were going to be the team of the 90s and look whath happened.

Jake said...

There's no question that they have to swing a trade. The free agent pool just isn't talented enough this year to guarantee a top-notch free agent signing unless you count Aubrey Huff whom Lynn Henning said in the Detroit News this morning had considerable numbers this season hitting .260 driving in 65 runs. Let me just say that if Huff is the Tigers big acquisition, then we might be looking at the '91 Lions. Luckily, Henning isn't the GM.

I would definitely see what Robertson and Maroth's value is right now. The Tigers have enough minor league prospects to not have to think about trading Verlander, Zumaya, Bondo (assuming he signs long term), Miller, and Maybin. Anybody else is fair game IMHO.

The big difference between the '91 Lions and this Tigers team is the management. Dombrowski has been a brilliant GM in Florida and Detroit. The only thing that I'm curious to see is how Dombrowski uses big-time money. He didn't have that chance in Florida. We know he can draft like nobody's business. I'd like to see how he puts on the finishing touches. This off-season is going to be extremely important. It might actually be just as exciting as the season was.

Lombaowski said...

I like your scenarios top to bottom. I think Helton would be the best fit because he is an excellent fielder and a gap hitter who doesn't need HRs to be effective.

I also think Miller or Sanchez will win the #5 starting job. I like your trade package but I'd add Robertson to the mix as well. Giving up Robertson an established MLB starter with above average stuff and a minor league pitcher with above average stuff is tempting to any team. Trading Bonderman IMO would be a trainwreck waiting to happen. Quality starting pitching is hard enough to find and when you have the mix of youth and pure talent that Bonderman has, he's a special player already with a ton of upside.

I agree they absolutely have to add a threat at 1B or DH or both. Maybe they can bring in a Berkman, Teixera, or Helton and then use Casey and Thames in a rotation at DH. I think if they can get a a big-time free agent or a trade early enough in the process we can get Casey to return.

Another option is moving Monroe to RF and Ordonez to a mostly full time DH. This gives the Tigers some flexibility to bring in a LF, RF, or 1B to fill their needs. I also think adding another bat to possibly DH would help.

The pitching staff is set and that rotation is going to be good if healthy. I won't have outrageous expectations but with Liriano gone in 2007 I think the White Sox are probably the team to beat. But don't forget the Indians. If they add some pitching they could be good and good pretty quickly. The AL Central is by far the toughest division and the team won't be sneaking up on anyone next year.

As far as the fan base goes if Tiger fans are disappointed the team lost in the World Series well that is understandable. They really were the better team. But beating the Yankees was a longshot and then trouncing the A's was not foreseen. Any fan with half a brain will remember this team was probably only supposed to win 81 games and they went to the World Series. With Dombrowski and Leyland and the deep pitching talent I'm hoping this team turns into the new Braves with more championships.

Jake said...

Lynn Henning wrote again this week about how good of an idea it would be for the Tigers to trade Jeremy Bonderman. He's not even talking about if they can't get a deal done. He's saying they should do it regardless. He even said that he thinks the chances are that the Tigers WILL trade him this offseason. Henning must be on something.

 

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