February 26, 2008


Tigers’ Off-Season Moves Forge a Lineup Without a Weak Link (JOE LAPOINTE, 2/26/08, NY Times)

Like the Mets, the Tigers finished second in their division in 2007 after leading it much of the season, and then were dramatically active in the off-season. The Mets acquired Johan Santana, perhaps the best left-hander in baseball. The Tigers added a star left-handed pitcher, Dontrelle Willis, who came in the trade that brought Cabrera from Florida. Rentería arrived in a trade with Atlanta and Jones in a deal with the Chicago Cubs.

Leyland will have other difficult decisions about who bats where, but Rodríguez made this one easier. He asked Leyland, “Am I hitting eighth or ninth?” and told him he did not care where he batted.

“I already had my talk with Pudge,” Leyland said. “He said, ‘Whatever’s best for the team.’ That’s why I have the utmost respect for him.” Rodríguez batted .281 last season with 11 home runs and 63 runs batted in.

For his 17-year career, Rodríguez has a .303 average, 288 home runs and 1,182 R.B.I. In his four seasons with the Tigers, Rodríguez has been a major factor in transforming a team that improved from baseball’s worst record in 2003 to a World Series appearance in 2006.

The Tigers briefly had the best record in the majors after last year’s All-Star break, but finished 88-74 for second place behind Cleveland in the American League Central division.

Injuries hurt pitchers like starters Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman and relievers Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney. Bonderman has recovered from his sore elbow and Rogers from shoulder and elbow problems.

But Zumaya is out until midseason after shoulder surgery and Rodney’s shoulder is hurting again. If Rodney does not recover by the start of the season, “We’ll pitch someone else,” Leyland said.

Zumaya, who hurt his pitching hand playing a video game in 2006, said he hurt his shoulder moving boxes during the wildfires in Southern California last fall. The lack of a setup man for closer Todd Jones could be a big void for an otherwise formidable team.

The left-handers Bobby Seay and Tim Byrdak have a chance to fill that gap. But there are also questions about Willis, who slipped to 10-15 last season as his earned run average grew to 5.17. He is 68-54 in a five-year career, with an E.R.A. of 3.78.

Fernando Rodney would be the primary setup guy on the Sox, Yankees, Angels and Ms. Only Rafael Betancourt is better on the contenders and he should be closing, in which case Rodney would be the Tribe's primary setup guy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 26, 2008 5:41 PM

Cabrera is a great pickup, but he's a who'll kill them in the field. The rest of the Tigers' lineup will likely decline pretty steeply from last year. E.g. Maglio should be very good, but no way he gets even close to his ridiculous 07. Sheff will get hurt again, Polanco won't be as good, and Pudge is in steep, steep decline. If he was in the NL, you'd think about hitting him behind the pitcher.

Luckily for them, with the pounding the Sawx will take from the Yankees and Rays, the Tigers should be able to sneak into the wildcard.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 26, 2008 7:03 PM

Cabrera is terrifically fat.

You have to give him that.

Posted by: Benny at February 26, 2008 8:00 PM

"The rest of the Tigers' lineup will likely decline pretty steeply from last year" based on the fact that those same hitters are now surrounded by even better hitters? It'd be terrible if the "awful" Polanco hit .320 instead of last year's .341. He may even make an error this year. Lots of assumptions Jim. Time will tell. See ya in October. Damn, I feel warmer already just talking about baseball.

Posted by: JimBobElrod at February 26, 2008 8:10 PM

They'll just keep Inge at 3b and dh Cabrera.

Posted by: oj at February 26, 2008 8:57 PM