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2008 Detroit Tigers
Ready for Take-Off? 2008 Spring Preview
by Asher B. Chancey,
March 2, 2008

It seems almost impossible to believe that it had been five seasons since the Detroit Tigers were one of the worst teams in the history of baseball, posting 43-119 record and celebrating as though they'd won the World Series at the end of their comeback victory on the final game of the 2003 season when they avoided losing 120 games. Six short years later, the 2008 Detroit Tigers would appear to be primed to have one of the best teams in recent baseball history.

2007 Standings - AL Central W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA Pyth W Pyth L
Cleveland Indians 96 66 0.593 - 52-29 44-37 811 704 91 71
Detroit Tigers 88 74 0.543 8 45-36 43-38 887 797 89 73
Minnesota Twins 79 83 0.488 17 41-40 38-43 718 725 80 82
Chicago White Sox 72 90 0.444 24 38-43 34-47 693 839 67 95
Kansas City Royals 69 93 0.426 27 35-46 34-47 706 778 74 88

The most amazing thing about the resurgence of the Detroit Tigers has been the way in which everything the team has done seems to turn to gold. The Tigers acquired Carlos Guillen after the 2003 season, and he blossomed into one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball. Likewise, Ivan Rodriguez was acquired that same season, and was very good. The acquisition of Magglio Ordonez initially did not pan out, but in 2007, he was one of the best players in all of baseball. Placido Polanco was an un-noteworthy player with the Phillies until the Tigers picked him up in 2005, and last season, Polanco had 200 hits, 105 runs, and posted a .341 average while committing zero errors. And in 2007, the Tigers acquired Gary Sheffield, who, after missing nearly all of the 2006 season in New York, made a strong comeback in 133 games.

(We'll casually fail to mention the acquisition of Jason Johnson in 2004).

In 2008, the Tigers hope that the magic continues with the acquisition of one of the games brightest young talents, Miguel Cabrera, along with Edgar Renteria, who is coming off a brilliant year with the Braves, and Dontrelle Willis, a pitcher with a very good past looking to right his career.

On paper, this has the potential to be on the all-time great lineups, but the question for the Tigers is, did this team actually address its needs? The Tigers faded from the divisional race last season as its pitching faltered and, despite the fact that their offense scored plenty of runs, the pitching and defense suffered. The 2008 Tigers most marked improvement over the 2007 is not pitching or defense, but offense. This may not have been the best approach to righting the ship.

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Miguel Cabrera 3B
Edgar Renteria SS
Dontrelle Willis SP
Freddy Guzman CF
Jacque Jones OF
Departed Pos.
Andrew Miller SP
Cameron Maybin CF

2007 Starter    Ivan Rodriguez
Projected 2008 Starter   Ivan Rodriguez

A future Hall of Famer and veteran leader, I-Rod has won everywhere he's been. His best days are behind him, however, and while I-Rod may one day become the first catcher to 3,000 hits and will likely break Carlton Fisk's record for total bases this season, he is likely also set to break the record for double plays and outs by a catcher.

First Base
2007 Starter   Sean Casey
Projected 2008 Starter   Carlos Guillen

Comeback Candidate
Jeremy Bonderman
This guy has too much talent to repeat his collapse of a year ago.
Disappointment Candidate
Edgar Renteria
The only season he's played in the AL was his worst, and on defense he isn't much better - if at all - than Carlos Guillen.
This is a major upgrade over what the Tigers have been putting at first base the last few years, and Carlos Guillen, while a lousy defensive shortstop, should make a fine defensive first baseman. Guillen has been one of the most underrated hitters in baseball since joining the Tigers.

Second Base
2007 Starter Placido Polanco
Projected 2008 Starter Placido Polanco

A classic paradox - Polanco is an empty average hitter who is not an out-machine! Perhaps he isn't so empty average after all, as his 200 hits, 105 runs, and 36 doubles can attest. Plus, this dude didn't make a single error last season. New Nickname: Placido "Make No Mistake" Polanco.

Third Base
2007 Starter   Brandon Inge
Projected 2008 Starter   Miguel Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera
Let's see if I can discuss Miguel Cabrera without sensationalism or hyperbole:

The Tigers have acquired one of the best young players in the history of baseball (shoot!) who is destined to become the greatest Tiger since Ty Cobb himself (doggone it!). Nevertheless, now that Ryan Braun is a leftfielder, Cabrera might be the worst defensive third baseman in all of baseball (rats!), and the Tigers are morons (did it again) for putting Cabrera and his defense at third rather than sacrificing a little offense by putting Cabrera in the outfield, Brandon Inge at third, and benching Jacque Jones. Cabrera's defense will trump his offense, and keep the Tigers from winning the division (okay, now I'm just making stuff up!).

2007 Starter   Carlos Guillen
Projected 2008 Starter   Edgar Renteria

Most Valuable Player Candidate
Miguel Cabrera
Look for M-Cab to get the Vlad Guerrero treatment if the Tigers win the AL Central.
Kingman Candidate
Jacque Marcus Jones Thames
Talk about separated at birth!
Here's the way to look at the Renteria deal: At 32, Renteria ain't gettin' any younger, and despite a brilliant season last year, his defense was not all that. However, if you're the Tigers, who would you rather have - Carlos Guillen at short killing you in the field with Sean Casey at first killing you everywhere, or Renteria at short killing you in the field and Guillen playing first, where his bat will be an asset and his glove will probably be quite nice?

2007 Starters   Craig Monroe, Marcus Thames, Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson
Projected 2008 Starters   Ordonez, Granderson, Jacque Jones, Marcus Thames

Has there ever been a greater discrepancy between two outfielders on the same team in one season than between Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe in 2007? Ordonez was the unofficial winner of the Albert Pujols Award for having the second best offensive season in the majors with what could have easily been the best season of the decade in a different era, while Monroe played so bad he got outright waived after 99 games. I could go on and on about this, but I'll instead just say one thing - Ordonez won the OPS+ battle with Monroe last season by a margin of 167 to 65. Ordonez was an entire league average player better than Monroe.

The Tigers would have one of the most talented outfields of all time if (uh-oh - hyperbole, we know whose name is coming, right?) they would only put Miguel Cabrera in left field. Instead, they'll have to settle for two magical outfielders and Jacque Jones (random thought - how many players in baseball history have had both first and last names which began with J and ended with S?).

I suppose there are two schools of thought for what Magglio did last season - a) he has always been very talented, and he was finally healthy for a whole season, surrounded by class talent, and smart enough to figure how to be successful in the Tigers enormous ballpark; and b) it was a fluke. I tend to think that the type of hitting Magglio did last season (nearly 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio, high average and high on-base percentage, plenty of doubles without plenty of homeruns) reflects honest-to-god maturity as a hitter, and if he can stay healthy, there is no reason to think he can't at least come close to the same type of performance again. On the flip side, it is awfully hard to trust a 33-year old 11-year veteran when he does something that is unlike anything he's ever done before, you know?

Curtis Granderson starts the season on the DL with a broken finger which, hopefully, won't sideline one of the most exciting players in baseball for long, because the Tigers have opted to start - get this - Brandon Inge in centerfield. Inge, a former catcher turned third baseman, is certainly spry, but this seems like a stretch, especially for a team that had Freddy Guzman in camp but optioned him to Triple-A.
Tigers Fun Fact
The 2008 Tigers will feature five players - Miguel Cabrera, Gary Sheffield, Dontrelle Willis, Edgar Renteria, and Ivan Rodriguez - who have won World Series titles with the Florida Marlins.

Designated Hitter
2007 Starter Gary Sheffield
Projected 2008 Starter Gary Sheffield

Here is an interesting alternate scenario for the Detroit Tigers in 2008: Instead of batting Sheffield at DH, why not put him at first base? He is athletic, and has shown a willingness in the past to try the position. Then, you take Carlos Guillen, and rather than Ernie Banksing him to first base, you Cal Ripken, Jr. him over to third base. Then, you take Miguel Cabrera, and put him in left field.

Oh, never mind.

2007 Crew Marcus Thames, Neifi Perez, Mike Rabelo, Omar Infante, Ryan Rayburn
Projected 2008 Bench Marcus Thames, Ramon Santiago, Mike Hessman, Ryan Rayburn, Brandon Inge

I've said this before, but anytime you have a guy who started for you the year before coming off the bench, you know you have bettered your team. To the extent that having Brandon Inge bat at all is ever a good idea.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Andrew Miller, Mike Maroth, Nate Robertson, Jair Jurrjens, Chad Durbin
Projected 2008 Starters Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Dontrelle Willis, Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson

Jeremy Bonderman

Why are we excited about the 2008 Detroit Tigers? Because that amazing offense has the potential to be one for the ages.

So why are we worried about the 2008 Detroit Tigers? Because, if Captain Jack Sparrow were here right now, he would take one look at the Detroit Tigers, listen impatiently to our discussion about how great the offense is, and then demand:

"Yes, but why is all of the pitching gone?!?!

Last year's edition of the Tigers finished second in the American League in runs scored per game, but finished in the middle of the pack in runs allowed per game after the pitching staff all but quit in the second half of the season, giving up more than half a run more per nine innings after the break than before it.

So what did the Tigers do to address this pressing need? They traded away two stud pitching prospects - Jair Jurrjens and Andrew Miller - in order to acquire even more offense and a pitcher in Dontrelle Willis who, despite being a work-horse, seems to be circling the drain in terms of effectiveness. The latter move is definitely a case of subtraction by subtraction, while the former moves amount to little more than subtraction by subtraction.

For what it is worth, just about all of the Tigers pitchers seemed to have underachieved in 2007, and if things go as expected, Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman could both be in the Cy Young chase. But it is an awfully big gamble to face major issues with your pitching staff and to do nothing about it.
Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers Todd Jones, Bobby Seay, Jason Grilli, Tim Byrdak, Fernando Rodney, Zach Miner
Projected 2008 Relievers Todd Jones, Bobby Seay, Jason Grilli, Denny Bautista, Fernando Rodney, Zach Miner, Joel Zumaya

If you add too much water to a packet of Kool-Aid, it becomes too diluted, and your forget what you are drinking. Baseball player analysis can be the same way - read stats long enough, and you forget what you are looking at. So, let's focus on one, and only one, stat, shall we?

Todd Jones, 33/23 K/BB ratio in 61.1 innings.

There is no planet upon which you would have a closer put up roughly half a strikeout per inning, and about 1.5 strikeouts per walk, and not make replacing him priority number one. This is bad. It is very very bad.

Outlook for the Season

This is a team that has the potential to be magical. The offense could be record-setting, the AL Central race could be over by the All-Star Break, and 20 years from now we could look back at this team and see five or even six Hall of Famers. However, for all the excitement about this team's offseason moves, and for the seeming inevitability of this team's appearance in the post-season, the fact remains that this team had serious pitching issues which it did not address in the off-season, and that may come back to bite this team in the rear when it least expects it.

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