Leyland gives us something to talk about

by billfer on December 6, 2006 · 26 comments

in 2007 Season,Managing & Strategy,Roster Management

Jason Beck has been all over the Winter Meetings. Today he’s got some Jim Leyland nuggets that warrant some discussion.

The leadoff spot

So the Tigers don’t have a prototypical leadoff hitter, or at least prototypicaly in the sense that most people think of leadoff hitters: fast guys who steal bases, bunt, and don’t strike out a lot and don’t hit for power. Many view Juan Pierre and his 330 OBP last year as perfect. But I digress. The point of this is that Jim Leyland is talking about Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, and Ivan Rodriguez to be the leadoff man.

Granderson is a logical choice because he held the post last year, and he’s the closest to that qualification for fast. Polanco is fine as that pesky guy who will always put the ball in play. The name that will raise eyebrows is Pudge Rodriguez. The same Pudge that more than doubled his walk total from 2005 by picking up 26 free passes.

But I don’t think this is a bad thing to try. Pudge led off in 3 games in 2006, and drew 3 walks. Three games is of course and insufficient sample, but when placed into that role he seemed to make a concerted effort to see more pitches. I don’t know how likely it is that he would be successful in the role, but if it helps him improve his plate discipline the Tigers will benefit.

Marcus Thames at first

Leyland wants to give Thames a shot at first base. I think this is a wonderful idea. After all, first base is often a last option for defensively challenged players. The upside is that Thames is passable defensively, and you have quite the platoon partner for Casey. You also keep Thames on the team. You also keep Santiago/Perez from being Casey’s injury replacement (by extension of course when Guillen moves from short to first). It certainly wouldn’t help Chris Shelton’s cause, but Shelton has an option year left. Thames doesn’t.

Omar in the outfield

Leyland also said that Omar Infante will most likely be the backup centerfielder barring a trade. Infante is athletic enough to pull it off, and any indication that Leyland sees a role for Infante is a positive.

 
 

{ 26 comments }

Rob December 6, 2006 at 10:46 pm

Giving Marcus Thames a shot at first base is the best idea I’ve heard from Leyland in a long time. He’s definitely got a bat that the offensively challenged Tigers cannot afford to give up and it would allow him to compete for PT with the light hitting Sean Casey.

Greg December 6, 2006 at 10:53 pm

Sorry to be “that guy,” but Leyland stole this idea from me. I suggested this in a post back in the summer when the big debate was what to do about Monroe/Thames.

As for Infante, I like it, but why wasn’t Leyland willing to use him as a back-up shortstop (much more akin to playing 2B than CF is) when Guillen goes to first.

Nate A. December 6, 2006 at 11:39 pm

Finally, some baseball that isnt way overpriced free agents and not-gonna-happen trades!

I don’t have a problem with Pudge batting leadoff. I like Granderson there too, except later in games when we end up with prime strikeout candidates hitters(Inge and Granderson) paired up in key situations. I’d settle for merely splitting them up somehow.

I have very little faith in Thames defensively. I’m not sure he can handle even 1B. He has terrible hands. Still, I’m up for trying it. It never hurts to have that power in the lineup, and platooning with Casey could be just the ticket. If he supprises me and ends up at least close to as good as Shelton while producing like he did the first half of ’06, I may even start liking the guy.

Ah Infante. It’s obvious the guy has tallent with both the glove and the bat, but after roughly 3 full seasons he has yet to show consistancy. As a utility man, I’ll gladly take him. I’m not sure we need yet another outfield option and he’s probably not my first replacement choice for CF in Comerica, but never hurts to learn new things. The greatest benifit would be if he could learn to steal bases and be agressive with his decent speed.

Jeff M December 7, 2006 at 12:12 am

Sorry to be “that guy,” but Leyland stole this idea from me. I suggested this in a post back in the summer when the big debate was what to do about Monroe/Thames.

All I can say is: Thank you, Billfer, for giving Greg a way to reach Leyland!

Mike Rogers December 7, 2006 at 12:34 am

I like Infante backing up CF as he’s talented, for sure. And we do need another OF option of some sort since we really don’t have one — especially if Thames is trying out 1B.

I also just read that Roman Colon’s neck surgery means he won’t be ready until March and he’ll likely open the season the DL.

Matt in Toledo December 7, 2006 at 11:25 am

You know what I like that comes from this? There are only four bench spots (assuming a 12 man pitching staff). Vance Wilson and Ramon Santiago are locks as two of them. That leaves two for Neifi, Thames and Omar. Leyland is thinking about what to do with Thames and Omar in 2007, but there was no mention of Neifi in these articles. Could it be that he’s not part of the future plans? That would be even better news than the plan to get Thames more at bats.

Cameron in Singapore December 7, 2006 at 12:19 pm

I like all three suggestions, especially Thames at first. Let’s give it a try.

Bob S. December 7, 2006 at 12:58 pm

Three full seasons for Infante might be overstating the case a bit-more like three full seasons worth of games out of five in the bigs.I like the idea of a left/right combination of him and Granderson in center.
I also like the idea of giving Thames a try at first base.Whatever it takes to get his power in the line-up.On the other hand,it makes the game more exciting wondering if fly balls to left touch grass before leather,or vice versa.
The addition of Sheffield in the middle of the line up gives the Tigers the flexibility to bat Guillen lead off.I can understand how some might frown at the idea of a switch hitting lead-off hitter with decent power and speed as well as a good OBP and the ability to look at the occasional pitch.Why would you want to move him up in the batting order where he would see more 5 at-bat games when you can keep Granderson there and give him a decent shot at 200 strike outs?

Deryl G December 7, 2006 at 1:29 pm

Bob – Brilliant! I’ve been wondering for a while now why Guillen doesn’t bat lead off.

Matt – Is Santiago really a lock to be on the 25-man roster? I would rather have Infante be our utility infielder. Does he have options left?

Joey C. December 7, 2006 at 1:32 pm

I was actually wondering about Thames at first as well, but more from the standpoint of not being able to get Mark Texeira out of my head. I keep coming up with “ain’t gonna happen” trade possibilities and ever since we dealth Humberto, I’ve had to get creative.

At any rate, the Rangers desperately need pitching and OF. I’m sorry but their signing of Padilla doesn’t take care of the first, and they’ve yet to address the 2nd.

Monroe, Thames, and Tata. For you know who.

Hix is dumb enough to drop close to 100 million on Zito and so I’m thinking he might be dumb enough to make this trade.

Matt in Toledo December 7, 2006 at 2:03 pm

I have a knack for mis-remembering these things, but I could swear I remember Santiago having to clear waivers last season when the Tigers were moving him from Detroit-Toledo or vice versa. I think that means he is out of options, and I don’t see why the Tigers would have signed him to a $500K deal if he wasn’t going to be on the Detroit roster.

Mat December 7, 2006 at 2:08 pm

Given that the two most pressing deficiencies in the lineup seem to be a left-handed bat and a reliable lead-off hitter, why aren’t the Tigers making a run at Kenny Lofton? A reliable vet, who probably doesn’t need to play every day but would be a huge asset in the playoffs and seems to be available (according to ESPN) for around $6M for a 1-year deal. Sounds like a pretty low-risk commitment for someone who is appears to be an ideal fit.

Am I missing something here? Maybe he doesn’t like Detroit or has a conflict with someone in the organization…

This would obviously mean trading Monroe or Thames to open up some playing time, but personally I’d rather have a Lofton/Thames “platoon” in left rather than Monroe. Moreover, Monroe would generate more return in a trade and as Billfer pointed out, is more expensive than Thames…

Deryl G December 7, 2006 at 2:18 pm

Matt – Sorry I wasn’t clear, but I was actually wondering if Infante had options left. And I suppose you are right about Santiago…

Mat – I really like the Lofton idea. It does seem like a perfect fit.

Matt in Toledo December 7, 2006 at 3:15 pm

Kenny Lofton wouldn’t come to Detroit because he would look at Curtis Granderson – a left-handed leadoff hitting center fielder – and say, “Where are my at bats going to come from?”

I’d also like to think the Tigers would look at Lofton, then look at Granderon, and say, “Don’t we already have a younger, cheaper, better defensive version of Kenny Lofton with more power?”

Deryl G December 7, 2006 at 3:24 pm

I think Mat was looking at lofton in left field. Obiviously the Tigers would have to get rid of one of their other LF’s.

Lofton would give them someone with good OBP and a legitamate backup in CF since Thames and Monroe are best suited for a corner spot. I know Monroe has played CF but I’m not a fan of him there.

Matt in Toledo December 7, 2006 at 3:35 pm

That plan would seem to put quite a bit of faith in either Clevlen or Maybin being ready for the bigs in ’08. Otherwise, the Tigers have to pony up for another free agent again next offseason.

Mat December 7, 2006 at 4:22 pm

On Lofton – Yes, he could play LF or CF. Ditto for Granderson. I haven’t checked who is better defensively. Either way, one could backup the other. Granderson was orginally meant to be a corner guy, I believe.

Offensively they are very different players. Although they have a similar build, Lofton is a speed OBP guy (i.e. prototypical leadoff hitter), while Granderson has a lot more power, but strikes out much more and doesn’t steal bases. (A 330 vs 370 OBP.) Granted, Granderson still has much more room to grow, but I think we can agree that ideally he is hitting 7th or 8th in the lineup not leadoff.

I see Lofton as a replacement for Monroe, not Granderson.

…Even if we’re signing Lofton for 2 years that can provide a transit to the Maybin era.

Chris Y. December 7, 2006 at 4:31 pm

$6M for Lofton? Better spent elsewhere, that dude is one step from the washer. Besides his sub-.100 BA for the Dodgers this postseason is a little underwhelming with regards to the PS argument (career .244/.314/.344 line in the PS).

If we end up with this club in the spring, I like all the ideas floated by Jim. That said, I hope we make another move. Really, there are alot of desperate (and dumb) GMs (see Basavi, Hix, etc), out there who have few options with the current free-agent market (re both price and quality). We are coming off a stellar year and have loads of duplication on a roster that is one true corner infielder away from being serious.

Mat December 7, 2006 at 4:39 pm

In terms of ’08, I don’t think we’d be forced to rush Clevlen or Maybin. Assuming we trade Monroe, we still have Thames to man the OF spot. If that doesn’t make sense then you still have Sheffield/Ordonez available…corner OF is probably the easiest position to fill. I just don’t think Monroe is that much better than average for his position, and by 2008 he won’t be very cheap either.

More importantly, with guys like Rogers, Pudge, Guillen, Ordonez, Sheffield getting older, shouldn’t we be gunning for a title NOW. Isn’t that what the Sheffield trade was all about?

Kurt December 7, 2006 at 4:47 pm

I think I collected Lofton’s baseball card as a kid, and I haven’t been one of those for a long time! I think we’re an old enough club right now. I fear the “talented, aged club slides to mediocrity” that we seem to observe at least once per season in MLB already.

Dave T. December 7, 2006 at 5:13 pm

Is Maggs planing on splitting time in RF with Sheff? Or are all 5 OF/DH’s assuming Thames is on the team and not Shelton going to rotate through? With the exception of Granderson not being a DH?

Mat December 7, 2006 at 5:14 pm

I think age and playoff performance are legit concerns about Lofton. However, barring any major upheavals or staggering contacts to free agents, I see LF as the position most easily upgraded. The Casey signing indicates the club is content with their 1B situation. I don’t think Inge is going anywhere. Most of the other positions are pretty set. Where would that $6M be better spent? A bullpen lefty or a better 5th starter perhaps?

This team’s biggest weakness is its susceptibility to right hand pitching and lack of plate discipline. Dave Roberts would have been another good fit but he’s not available anymore. Lofton addresses these needs perfectly and wouldn’t rock the boat on a pretty successful team.

I’d rather add a young player like Carl Crawford too, but in the spirit of winning now, without totally sacrificing the future, I think Lofton is pretty ideal.

Unfortunatly, doesn’t seem like DD agrees with me…

Mat December 7, 2006 at 5:22 pm

I suspect RF/DH will rotate between Ordonez and Sheffield (whenever they aren’t hurt). Granderson will play almost every day. That leaves one OF spot for Thames and Monroe.

Since 4 of those 5 are right handed (and the infield is righty dominated as well) the Tigers would like to exchange Thames for a lefty. (Houston’s Lance Scott for Thames via a 3-way deal was rumored.)

I brought up Lofton because, in my mind, it has the potential to kill 3 birds with one stone:
-a left hand hitter to platoon in
-a leadoff hitter to set the table
-acquire a left-hand reliever in exchange for Monroe

Thanks for your time,
Kenny Lofton’s Agent

Doug Purdie December 7, 2006 at 6:30 pm

How can you not have your two best hitters, Guillen and Sheffield, in two of the 1st three slots? Maximize the number of PA’s from your best! Make sure they always get up in the 1st inning. And how can you not have your three best OBP guys, Sheffield, Guillen and Granderson in the 1st three spots?

Why try to re-make Polanco or IRod into OBP guys when you already have some that don’t need re-making? Besides, both Polanco and IRod are low-K contact hitters – the kind of hitter you like batting behind OBP guys.

It’s really hard to criticize Leyland, but his lineup logic escapes me.

Roto9 December 7, 2006 at 6:53 pm

Ordonez has a better OBP than Granderson. Are you going to hit Ordonez leadoff? Sheffield? Lineup construction is not so formulaic that you just look at an individual statistical category and rank based on it.

The 2006 OBP differences between Granderson, Pudge and Polanco are pretty minor(335,332,329) and Granderson strikes out more than any of them. BTW, Chris Shelton surpasses all of these 3 players in OBP.

Deryl G December 7, 2006 at 9:49 pm

Ordonez and Sheffield should bat in front of Granderson with Gullien leading off. Get as many AB’s for your best players.

I think Shelton should be starting.

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