Countdown to the 2013 Season

by Coleman on February 1, 2013 · 44 comments

in 2013 Season,Spring Training

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It is getting to be that time of year: TigerFest has reminded the fans that the season is on its way, the pitchers and catchers are starting to pack their bags (they report in only 11 days), the turtle is clearing its throat, and Opening Day is exactly 2 months away.

Here is a scrapbook of highlights from the Tigers’ Winter Caravan and TigerFest.

Well this time last season, the big problem to solve was the loss of Victor Martinez, and the big solution was the unexpected blockbuster deal to sign Prince Fielder.  This season, the offseason issues were less obvious, and as Spring Training approaches the front office has been very quiet.

What does everyone think the Top 5 things to watch are now that Spring Training is around the corner? I’ll throw this list out there:

  1. Who will be the Tiger closer? It looks likely that Bruce Rondon will be given every chance to claim the job. If he does not seem up to the task, the Tigers have other options already on the staff (Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit), or could look at a late signing.
  2. Who will be the #5 starter? Rick Porcello looks like the odd man out in a very solid starting rotation. The Tigers have shown patience in not biting on any trades for him under his value. With Drew Smyly showing promise and the Tigers without another lefty in the rotation, Porcello is the odd man out.
  3. How well will Victor Martinez come back? Victor was a force in 2011, as he has been routinely throughout his career. But he is 34 and just missed an entire season. What happens if he struggles in his comeback?
  4. Who is in Left? It would seem that the job would be Andy Dirks’ to win or lose. But he is one of those guys who has been stuck with the “not a full-time player?” question mark, deservedly or not. A RHB Left Fielder to platoon with Dirks would seem to make sense, but the Tigers didn’t pick one of them up. Do we see Garcia or Castellanos there, and if so, how soon?
  5. How will Torii fit in?  Newest Tiger Torii Hunter seems to solve a huge problem from 2012, when Tiger Right-Fielders finished dead last in the AL with a .641 OPS. He also gives them a 2-hitter, a spot the Tigers have struggled to fill for a while. Torii does have a habit of making waves with his mouth though, once referring to Latin American players as imposters.
 
 

{ 44 comments }

Vince in MN February 1, 2013 at 7:00 pm

I can’t remember a spring training where the Tigers had so many nail-biting questions to answer.

Smoking Loon February 2, 2013 at 12:04 am

I detect a trace of facetious here.

Smoking Loon February 2, 2013 at 12:35 am

1. I like Phil Coke or Octavio Dotel as the closer – or both as closers. If Coke doesn’t close for the Tigers, he’ll be someone else’s closer eventually. Definite closer mentality. Don’t ask me to define that. It’s a gut thing. I don’t think Bruce Rondon is nearly ready, and I’d rather they brought him along a little slower. Don’t need to see a rerun of the Joel Zumaya experience.

2. Rick Porcello is as in as the odd man out can get. It’s possible that he and Drew Smyly could split the 5th starter role until the inevitable soreness or injury to another has them both in the rotation. Wouldn’t it be funny if the Tigers’ closer turned out to be… Porcello?

3. If Victor Martinez struggles, I expect Jim Leyland to be patient with him to the extreme. Over and above Gary Sheffield patience. The bigger question is whether Martinez can stay healthy.

4. I think LF should be Andy Dirks’ to win or lose, with a high bar on the losing part. But Brennan Boesch could surprise and beat him out for the sorta-kinda-everyday-LF role.

5. Torii Hunter will be a sensation and continue to say “interesting” things.

Vince in MN February 2, 2013 at 12:05 pm

1. The “Closer” role is a myth. What any competitive team needs is to have 2 or 3 guys who can pitch an inning or so late in the game on a regular basis without continuously embarrassing themselves (e.g. Valverde all ’12 season and as a reminder, Coke for the first half of last season); which innings those happen to be doesn’t matter. Be that as it may, management “believes” in this silly myth, so we will have a closer. What is dangerous here, is that whoever gets annointed, Leyland will stick with them to the extreme. Rondon might be an exception to this rule because he is only a rookie, and force Leyland to be more flexible initially.

2. Porcello will not be the closer. He will either be the 5th starter on the Tigers or for some other team. If Smily wins the job, paying Porcello 5.1M to take on the mop up role would really be funny. If Porcello wins the No. 5 job (pretty much assured without a trade, I think), Smily should be in Toledo. Having both on the staff for any length of time makes no sense since they are both most valuable as starters and need the regular work. There are other less valuable pitchers in the system who can be used to fill the mop up role. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen of course. As we all know, the Tigers aren’t immune to making bonehead roster decisions.

3. Agree on Martinez – he will be there every day no matter what. My bet is, that outside of injury, he will still be a huge improvement over Young even if he produces somewhat below his career numbers. Fortunately, if he does go down with injury again, the DH role is easier to fill than a position one (Garcia, Castellanos and Kelly will be waiting in the wings.)

4. What Boesch does in ST may be one of the interesting things to watch. On the other hand, ST results are not always indicative of things to come (think Raburn last year.) I still think he is at the top of the trade-bait list, but we’ll see soon enough. Definitely Dirks deserves a shot to win the full-time LF job. Even so, they still need to pick up RH bat outfield reserve, which again does not bode well for Boesch.

5. Hunter can still play ball, and he doesn’t need to be a .300 hitter to be a big RF improvement. As long as he doesn’t throw gasoline on somebody and set them on fire, I think Hunter should be OK.

Smoking Loon February 3, 2013 at 10:52 pm

I must insist that the Tigers can and should hold on to both Smyly and Porcello. They can afford to. Toledo isn’t where Smyly ought to be, even for the sake of keeping him busy.

It’s too bad teams can’t loan out players or make temporary trades. I’d loan Porcello to the Orioles in exchange for the loan of J.J Hardy. I’d loan Boesch to the Mariners in exchange for the loan of Casper Wells. Try before you buy. I like this idea.

Smoking Loon February 3, 2013 at 11:23 pm

Yes, it will be interesting to see what Boesch does in ST. I have watched only games form the first couple months of 2012 so far, but at that time it looked to me like Boesch was trying to pull anything and everything and taking a lot of hittable pitches. From the overall result, I’m guessing that didn’t change. I have yet to see any evidence that he’s a terrible outfielder, but if what I’m watching in his approach at the plate vs. Dirks’s was happening in 2013 ST, Boesch wouldn’t stand a chance. He’d be gone. Although not in trade for Raburn. Young, maybe. Can’t go wrong for 750K.

Boesch’s swing bears some resemblance to Prince Fielder’s. Just not nearly as quick.

Smoking Loon February 4, 2013 at 12:58 am

I’ll be OK with Hunter even if he does throw gasoline on someone and set them on fire. (Hopefully it will be Hawk Harrelson if he does.) The machetes are where I draw the line.

Coleman February 2, 2013 at 3:10 pm

If you define the “closer” as the best shut-down 1-inning pitcher on the team, the current closer myth is a very inefficient use of this guy. Often many games will go by with no closer situation, then the closer is used in non-close situations to “get him work,” and it is all very haphazard because it is based on circumstances. No, the closer should pitch in the first inning: his schedule can be regulated, all games he appears in will still be winnable, and the team will rarely start a game behind.

The Strategy Expert February 2, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Well the issue with that is the “closer” is supposed to be the best pitcher. If you pitch him in the 1st inning in a tied game, there is some percentage of those games that you won’t get much value if it’s a day that your starter has say “a bust”. By waiting to see if you’re starter does not have a bad outing (because essentially to win this dynamic game you need to avoid a bust from both the SP and CP) then you can potentially increase the proportion of the games that the best pitcher, the closer, can enter without having to enter in a game where your SP or the opponent’s SP busted which invalidates the need to use that top pitcher in that game.

To me I don’t look at it as a myth or not a myth, I just try to understand it for what it is and how choices regarding pitcher usage affect the probabilities to win games. And like any role or position on a baseball team, that’s one role that can be chosen to invested in and it’s not mandatory, if you aren’t investing into this “myth”, then that means you probably have an even better starting pitcher group and/or offense. It just comes down to how much do you need to invest, and what’s the weighted value of the potential probability increases you get from the closer, and is that the best bang for your buck? If it is, then you should have a closer.

Smoking Loon February 3, 2013 at 10:41 pm

I can’t say I disagree with the sentiment of Vince’s comment on the need for one and only one designated closer, but that notion is better described as a convention than as a myth. Two reasons for its popularity might be: a) “Closer” is to relief pitchers as “ace” is to starters. A prestige (and also $) thing. Relievers aspire to be THAT GUY; and b) It simplifies things for a manager. Save situation? The choice is automatic.

Coleman’s idea is at once funny and quite rational. You would call this pitcher your “opener.” (Jeremy Bonderman could have used one.) Nothing wrong with getting the game off to a good start.

A complete list of baseball concepts that fall apart under scrutiny (or at least get shaky) would be a long one. Many of them have to do with pitching roles and batting order.

You would think that a smart thing to do when you’re carrying 12-13 pitchers on your roster would be to get a fresh arm out there every 3 innings at the least. Batters would rarely see the same guy twice in a game. Advantage: Pitchers. That would seem to be the “team” thing to do, a winning strategy. Alas, pitchers like to pitch, and they’d all be starters if they could be, because starters get the wins (and the long-term contracts for big bucks) and pile up all the other numbers that look immediately impressive in aggregate. Also, fans get “aces” to idolize. I don’t want to advocate too hard for a world without Verlanders and Halladays. Still, the notion of “starter” as opposed to “reliever” is really just as flimsy as “closer” as opposed to “setup guy” as opposed to “middle reliever.”

Smoking Loon February 4, 2013 at 10:35 pm

http://www.blessyouboys.com/2013/2/4/3945232/tigers-greatest-weakness-from-2012-remains-their-biggest-question-in/in/3342211

I disagree vehemently with the assertion made in the headline. I disagree with much of the article. How can the closer position be Rondon’s to lose when he doesn’t even have it yet?

Jim Eggers USMC Rifle Expert 1971 February 2, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Hi guys, looking forward to another amazing season. Just wanted to chime in and agree with Vince and Coleman on the “closer role”. There have been a ton of good to great relievers who tried to fill the role, and when they fail, they are cast aside. You see some who can put it together again with a change of scenery or their role in the bullpen. IF I was a big league skipper, I would play the closer card very close to the vest, and try to find a 4,5, or 6 out guy who had the right mentality.

Coleman February 3, 2013 at 12:44 am

Leyland seems to indicate that he would prefer to leave Avisail Garcia in the minors this season (he didn’t exactly impress in winter ball)…although we know how much Leyland’s pronouncements of the sort mean.
http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130131/SPORTS0104/301310364

The highlight of the article: Leyland says the perfect solution to needing a RHB Left-Fielder available for platoon would have been…Ryan Raburn.

Vince in MN February 3, 2013 at 11:19 am

I smell a Boesch for Raburn trade in the offing towards the end of ST.

Smoking Loon February 3, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I’m not sure why Leyland is taking the blame for “screwing up” Raburn. In all the 2012 games I’ve seen, Raburn looks like a deer in the headlights EVERYWHERE, especially at the plate. Is playing 2B so terrifying that it forces you to have some of the most ugly and godawful at-bats since Brandon Inge?

Raburn didn’t look very good in LF, either.

Coleman February 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I think it’s fair to say that Raburn has played some unforgettable LF. I, for one, will never forget the Miguel Olivo Assisted Home Run, a play that earned the rare ECE rating (Extraordinary Clown Event).

Smoking Loon February 3, 2013 at 9:55 pm

I’ve been watching some 2012 Tigers games. Win or lose, this is one fun team to watch. Has there ever been a better time to be a Tigers fan? I think not.

In the May 16, 2012 game against the Twins, all four infielders had an error within 2 2/3 innings. Cabrera, Santiago, Raburn, and Fielder. (I’m not saying this was so fun. Just notable.) A couple days later, Justin Verlander has his almost no-hitter against the Pirates, with Don Kelly making a great running catch in CF, Delmon Young golfing a low inside pitch 418 feet, and Prince Fielder beating the shift with the best unintentional “bunt” for an infield single ever.

Even knowing what the outcome will be, and even when I know the Tigers are going to lose, I’m finding these games fun to watch. Am I crazy, or just a baseball fan?

Vince in MN February 3, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Get out the smelling salts! Smoking Loon is getting nostalgic.

Smoking Loon February 3, 2013 at 10:42 pm

It’s true. No sport like baseball for the sentimental.

Kevin in Dallas February 4, 2013 at 12:38 am

I love it. I’ve been firing up some of the ALCS games. I usually listen to the radio during the regular season (even over the MLB.tv feed), so I do enjoy a little Mario and Rod during re-watches. I may have to fire up that JV almost no-no.

We all know that the “closer” role is silly, and the best reliever should be pitched in high leverage situations once the starter is done. But as convicted as we are in that point, JL and all of MLB (save Tony Larussa if he ever comes back) are even more certain that you have to have a closer. So let’s not waste our precious time with the validity of a closer role in Detroit.

If we want to go back and forth on its value for when Gene Lamont is managing here in 2015 and taking fan input via his big numbers flip phone, then I’m in.

Smoking Loon February 4, 2013 at 12:51 am

As little as I want to relive the WS (I listened in on radio at the time), I’ve got to work in watching the Tigers’ 2012 postseason games before ST begins and my nostalgia time is up.

Big numbers flip phone! Ironically, I believe it was during the very Tigers-Pirates game mentioned that Mario and Rod were commenting on an old photo of a bespectacled Gene Lamont as the Pittsburgh manager.

The Strategy Expert February 4, 2013 at 2:28 am

Smoking Loon must be on PEDs….Post Enhancing Drugs!

Smoking Loon February 4, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Good one. I think my PEDs (coffee and cigarettes) have less to do with it than sudden heavy doses of Tigers baseball (albeit the canned variety – finally got around to getting MLB.TV!)) and no one to share my thoughts on it with, aside from you unfortunate people. My apologies, but it’s liable to happen again from time to time, particularly on Sunday evenings.

StorminNorman February 4, 2013 at 8:23 pm

http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/8915148/max-scherzer-detroit-tigers-agree-1-year-6725m-deal

the non-arbitration streak remains intact – DET avoids arbitration by signing Scherzer to a 1-yr $6.725M deal

Coleman February 5, 2013 at 12:35 pm
The Strategy Expert February 5, 2013 at 4:26 pm

So our season could be in trouble if we have key injuries, some high profile expensive players underperform, or if our pitching sucks. This Top 5 could work for every team!

Coleman February 5, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Well, they had to come up with SOME Top 5 to match ours.

Vince in MN February 6, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Complete rubbish. And newspapers actually pay people to write such tripe.

Smoking Loon February 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Brilliant article. It never occurred to me that injuries might have an effect on the fortunes of the Tigers. I’m going to have to rethink my whole outlook now. And it is absolutely correct that the lack of depth in key positions, such as the failure to have Miguel Cabrera on the bench in case Miguel Cabrera goes down, could hurt the Tigers.

Smoking Loon February 7, 2013 at 1:05 am

Not counting the non-roster invitees, it appears that no less than 6 relievers are competing for 2 spots heading into ST. I thought it was 7 and 3, but Alburquerque must be considered more or less “in,” no? Along with Dotel, Coke, and Benoit. I think one of those 2 guys is gonna be a lefty, so it’s between Below and Downs there, I’d guess. 1 spot left for Villareal, Rondon, Marte, and Putkonen. Part of my equation here is assuming both Porcello and Smyly will be on the staff. It’s hard for me to see them trading Porcello or putting Smyly back at Toledo. Maybe I’m way off there. Anyway, I’ve been such a Rondon naysayer that I’ll assume I’m wrong about it. Rondon it is, closer or not.

Another interesting question is the bench. Brayan Pena is a given, no? So is the rest 2 IF or 2 OF? I say the latter. One infielder. Maybe Kobernus makes it, but I doubt it. I’d prefer Worth over Santiago, I like Ramon, but I’ve grown weary of him. For the outfield, I think there’s good reason to keep Berry on the team. Considering the starting lineup, power off the bench is no concern at all. Thus Boesch is completely superfluous. Well, almost. There’s the Dirks injury factor. I think Boesch sticks for lack of any better alternative.

So, heading into ST where all sorts of things are liable to change, this is what I think the Opening Day Tigers will be:

Verlander
Sanchez
Scherzer
Fister
Smyly
Porcello
Rondon
Dotel
Coke
Benoit
Alburquerque
Downs

Avila
Fielder
Infante
Peralta
Cabrera
Hunter
Jackson
Dirks
Martinez

Pena
Worth
Berry
Boesch

How wrong will I be?

Coleman February 7, 2013 at 11:58 am

Don’t count out The Donkey! Don Kelly can be a backup infielder AND a backup outfielder AND a 3rd catcher (although with V-Mart back that bit is superfluous). In fact, if he were a switch-hitter, he would be a lock.

Vince in MN February 7, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Also a backup relief pitcher! Leyland really likes his flexibility.

The Strategy Expert February 7, 2013 at 2:11 pm

We’re definitely going to win the title again this year for the most useless but flexible players. Also the title for spending the most amount of money to come as close to our final goals as possible without going over.

Kevin in Dallas February 8, 2013 at 1:23 am

I’m going to go ahead and award you the 2013 title for most useless and inflexible opinions.

The Strategy Expert February 8, 2013 at 1:43 am

Someone’s looking for a Twitter War!…, but I learned from my athlete idols about avoiding that type of drama, so I’ll just leave all of that to the pros and say thanks and maybe I’ll win a more meaningful trophy at some point!

William February 9, 2013 at 9:34 am

post of the year thus far.

on a serious note, looking forward to season and checking DTW each day. I was cleaning out my DVR this week, and watched ALCS Game 4 again. good times.

Smoking Loon February 8, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Regarding The Donkey, I’ve had the thought that I’d almost rather have him than Boesch on the bench. Almost. And I can still see Boesch being traded, but I think the trade would be for another OF along the lines of Casper Wells, which wouldn’t open the door for Kelly.

The Strategy Expert February 7, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I think Kobernus makes it, but I also think that Boesch will be a goner via trade. The Tigers seem to think so lowly of him and don’t seem to have a good relationship there so I am pegging him as most likely to be traded. I think Berry is still a horrible baseball player and that even though the Tigers love him for some reason I still don’t feel confident that they will give him a roster spot. I’m expecting Kobernus to take his spot and somebody else will replace Boesch.

Smoking Loon February 8, 2013 at 10:34 pm

The main reason I find Kobernus to be a long shot is that unless he becomes Mr. Versatility in the course of one spring training, he doesn’t add a whole lot. His selection might have had something to do with hedging bets on Infante, he of the broken… hand? Finger? Can’t remember.

Smoking Loon February 8, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Quintin Berry is far from horrible. He did a bang-up job filling in for AJax in 2012, lest we forget. Good backup for CF, pretty much indispensable as a pinch runner, and hardly terrible at the plate. I like the way Berry plays, too. I think he’d have to be catastrophically terrible in ST to not make the team.

Smoking Loon February 9, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Having second thoughts already about my list of pitchers. I overlooked the fact that attempting to keep both Smyly and Porcello on the staff – without 2 openings in the starting rotation – in effect forces out a more suitable bullpen guy. If I knew that Villareal or Rondon were mutually exclusive (ST scenarios: either Villareal’s soreness continues and puts him out of the running and Rondon is the obvious replacement, or Villareal looks great and Rondon pitches himself out of a spot), that would be fine, but I think everyone would agree that having both in the bullpen would be preferable to one of them plus a starter doing busywork. It seems most likely to me at this point that Porcello starts off in the rotation and Smyly is kept busy in Toledo.

If anyone has any strong opinions on any of the “maybe” bullpen candidates that were around last season (Below, Downs, Putkonen, Marte, Villareal), mention a 2012 game that particularly supports your contention of thumbs up or down on this pitcher. I’ll watch it.

That 4th spot on the bench (as I think of it, anyway) – Boesch’s – will really just have to remain up in the air. Unless Dirks injures himself already in ST, I think Brennan would have to clean blow away Andy in ST just to split time in LF. Potential or no, he seems to be the guy who doesn’t fit. Take him off my roster. I give Matt Tuiasosopo, Kevin Russo, or Don Kelly a better shot at that 4th spot.

Still wondering “why?” on Kobernus. Not sure how it happened, but I got it in my head early on that he played a number of positions. But he’s just a 2B, though one with some promise. Good idea, except that they can’t send him to the minors, now can they. Is he there to light a fire under Infante in ST? Maybe even potentially unseat him? Infante did shore things up and settle things at 2B last season, big improvement, but he wasn’t exactly great. Is it possible the Tigers have some doubts? Maybe Kobernus wins the job and Omar becomes Mr. IF Utility Guy. Just a thought.

Another random thought. The Unforeseen Tigers, circa 2015: Boesch at 1B. Fielder at DH. Avila at 3B. Cabrera in LF. Not saying it’s likely. It’s hardly even possible. But stranger things have happened. Delmon Young in LF, for instance.

Coleman February 7, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Jhonny Peralta involved with performance-enancing drugs? Define “enhancing.”

http://www.freep.com/article/20130206/SPORTS02/130206093/?odyssey=tab%7Cmostpopular%7Ctext%7CFRONTPAGE

Jim Eggers USMC Rifle Expert 1971 February 7, 2013 at 1:57 pm

The same thought I had, I guess you have to have a baseline of OK performances, although if that 2012 season was “enhanced”, hhe should ask for a rhefund.

Smoking Loon February 8, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Ha. Or I should say “hha.”

The more I watch Peralta in the 2012 games, the more I see why the Tigers aren’t so anxious to let him go. I’ve softened my stance, to say the least. In the Leyland style of gut-feeling intangibles, I think I like the way he plays, much as I don’t like the way Brennan Boesch plays.

June 5, 2012, Indians-Tigers, bottom of the 9th. Asdrubal Cabrera makes an amazing play to force Delmon Young at 2B. (I was thinking that Young could have been safe if he would have slid into the bag, but later realized he was trying to break up the DP like he should have been.) My thought was that no (current) Tigers SS makes that play, ever. Next batter, Peralta. He doubles, a hit which could have scored anyone from 1B but Laird . You see where I’m going. Yes, it would be nice to have an acrobat, but Peralta is solid if not spectacular, and still capable of better at the plate than 2012, I think. I’m removing the other shortstops from the secret “I told you so” list and getting on the Peralta bandwagon.

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