Underrating the Overcats

I can’t promise that it’s not just a pleasant dream and that you won’t soon wake up still in 2003 (or the right-side-up version of the above), but for at least the second year in a row the Detroit Tigers aren’t merely contenders, but favorites. In several categories. A very strong team on paper, even stronger than they were going into 2012. Yet they struggled for most of 2012. Even though poor defense was the most persistent leaky faucet, there was no easily identifiable single culprit for the struggles. The team just wasn’t firing on all cylinders for much of the season, and even in the heady days of September and October, it was mostly a case of starting pitching carrying the team on its shoulders, not everything suddenly coming together. All this after so much promise. Were the 2012 Tigers overrated? Maybe a little. Are the 2013 Tigers?

I’m very optimistic about 2013. Great offseason. The team is clearly better for it. Spring has been good. But I’m going to play the role of doubter, complainer, and whiner here. Gonna find some fault and invent more if I have to.

Let’s get negative:

Is the Tigers bullpen overrated? When I think of good bullpens, I think more of Tigers opponents, teams that have those three guys you just dread, and that’s with the Tigers lineups of the past few years. A good bullpen gives you the option of running out a certain 3 pitchers every other day and having a high level of confidence that not of them is going to blow up. (A great bullpen would give you another variation or two on that 3-pitcher lineup.) Who are those 3 Tigers relievers? Do they even have them? I’m not so sure. Yeah, those sub-2.00 ERAs and wonderful K/9s look good on paper. They don’t necessarily add up to a reliable shutdown crew. Key word: Reliable. Not “passable, brilliant, oops,” but “good. good, good.” And speaking of blowing up, it was on display in the recent 12-10 loss to the Nationals.

Is Brayan Pena going to be a defensive liability (I’m basing this unfairly on one early spring game where he had some rubber arm going on a couple successful stolen base attempts against him) and perhaps a liability overall, and was it such a good idea to let Gerald Laird go, and is Jim Leyland going to run Alex Avila into the ground at C again? (Having it both ways with my worrying.) The truth is that I haven’t seen enough of Pena this spring or really zeroed in on him enough to form much of an opinion. But he has looked kind of… sluggish. Not as in “slugging,” though I did see him hit a home run.

The Tigers lineup is seen as solid top to bottom, but is it really? Look at 7-9. Here “solid” seems to rest upon the assumption that both Avila and Jhonny Peralta are intrinsically better than they showed in 2012 and are due to bounce back. But maybe not, and what if Omar Infante’s moribund batting line for the Tigers in 64 games last year proves more rule than exception this season?

The only thing I can find to worry about in the outfield is Andy Dirks’s health and the possibility that Jim Leyland might subject us to long stretches of Jeff Kobernus or Don Kelly in his stead (as opposed to calling up Avisail Garcia or at the very least using the capable but presently sore-kneed Quintin Berry). This despite 3 injured OFs at the moment (Garcia, Dirks, Berry). The joy of having Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson, no doubt.

Despite the return of Prince “2013 AL MVP” Fielder and the addition of Hunter, there’s still a lot riding on the continued health of Victor Martinez. The bats are there for DH by committee, but the subtraction still comes in when you figure who replaces the replacements. There’s really nothing for it, because you can’t just keep a spare Victor Martinez on the bench. So it’s just a worry. Although Garcia and (according to some) maybe even Nick Castellanos could be aces in the hole here (my own opinion is that Castellanos isn’t quite that close to being ready for the majors, but maybe I’ve just seen all the wrong ST games).

Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello all have a history of being slow starters. Just sayin’.

OK, that’s all the negativity I can muster at the moment.

In recent news, the Tigers have lost 3 of their last 5 and are now 14-11 in Grapefruit League play. 3 games out and mired in 4th place! In the March 16 shutout of the Cardinals, Shawn Hill had a good start, Bruce Rondon and the rest of the bullpen had good outings, Garcia suffered a heel contusion, Matt Tuiasosopo went 2 for 4 with a HR, and the Tigers were caught stealing 3 times. March 17 against the Nationals, Miguel Cabrera and Infante were back from the WBC, Drew Smyly had his first rough outing of the spring and Danny Worth committed 2 errors, and the Tigers rallied from a 7-1 deficit to take a 9-8 lead, only to have an 8th-inning meltdown from Al Alburquerque cost them the game. Scherzer had a good 5-inning start in the 5-1 win over the Nationals March 18, while the bullpen put on the perfect good bullpen show (3 guys, 4 innings, no runs, 6 strikeouts) and Tigers hitters beat up on Rafael Soriano in the 7th to win it. Losing 11-5 against the Rays March 19, Doug Fister and Kyle Lobstein got hammered, but Fister didn’t actually look as bad as his line suggests, though he often pitched himself out of good counts. Though the damage was done, another good showing by the bullpen (aside from Lobstein) followed. Dirks hurt his knee in a collision with the LF wall. It was fun to see the lower-level minor leaguers late in the game, especially little guy Devon Travis belting a 2-run homer. Last night against the Astros, Justin Verlander went 5 2/3 but allowed an uncharacteristic 3 home runs, Alburquerque couldn’t keep it close, and Tigers bats couldn’t get much going in the 7-2 loss. Berry in LF made yet another great catch. How can anyone not want this guy as the 4th OF?

On Tuesday the Tigers sent 8 players to the minors, most notably LHP Duane Below, but also RHP Jorge Ortega, C Bryan Holaday, IF Hernan Perez, RHP Trevor Bell, IF Argenis Diaz, OF Nick Castellanos, and OF Tyler Collins.

Jason Beck’s guess at a Tigers bench of Ramon Santiago, Kobernus, and Kelly is truly one that I hope proves incorrect. Maybe the Nationals will take Santiago in exchange for Kobernus, who could then be sent to Toledo. Maybe he’s worth holding onto. I don’t see that he’s earned a spot on the opening day roster, myself. It’s clear enough that Lobstein isn’t making the pitching staff, but it’s actually more plausible to me that the Tigers would make a deal to hold onto him in the minors. I see some promise there, even in an outing such as the last one against the Rays. Plus, well, he’s a starting pitcher, and a lefty at that.

Octavio Dotel is back from the WBC.

And finally, gazing into one of my clouded and cracked crystal balls, none of them reliable, in one I see a future where Steven Moya and Tyler Collins are starting outfielders for the Tigers, while Garcia and Castellanos have been traded.


  1. The Strategy Expert

    March 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    What kind of timeframe were you thinking of when you imagined those 2 new OFs being in the mix? Also, can you tell us who we have at the Infield positions too at that time? Or go further in time if needed to tell us the who and when for new Infielders. I want to see the picture even if its cracked and fuzzy, just curious what you are seeing there.

    • Vince in MN

      March 22, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      And who will the new owner be and what will the new stadium look like?

      • Smoking Loon

        March 22, 2013 at 7:14 pm

        Ha. What are you trying to say, Vince? (Rhetorical.)

        That means “I know what Vince is trying to say,” for all you athletes out there.

    • Smoking Loon

      March 22, 2013 at 7:16 pm

      Well, it wasn’t much of a crystal ball if it couldn’t even give me the correct spelling of Moya’s name.

      The middle infield gets very interesting after 2013, TSE. You have to figure there will be a major signing or trade.

      • The Strategy Expert

        March 23, 2013 at 3:25 pm

        Well I would be open to a trade idea that includes Peralta and Infante, along with Castellanos and Garcia, to get a pair of new IFs. Throw in anything else you can and get some studly Infielders for the future, or an OF to allow you to displace one of those OFs if you prefer.

        • Smoking Loon

          March 23, 2013 at 8:05 pm

          I don’t see trades for middle infielders happening this season, but rather after it – that or free agent signings. I think they will let Peralta become a free agent, and possibly do the same with Infante, depending on his season and perhaps his contract expectations after it.

  2. Smoking Loon

    March 22, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Seriously, about Moya and Collins, I’m reminded of Kevin in Dallas’s comment about not falling in love with prospects. Garcia and Castellanos seem can’t miss now, but these things can change (not that I’m hoping for these guys to fail by any means), and sometimes the prospects behind the prospects are the prospects to watch. Just a “keep an open mind,” throw it out there type comment.

    • Vince in MN

      March 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm

      “Can’t miss prospect(s)” due tend to bring good value in trades. Jacob Turner is a recent example. Not surprisingly, can’t miss prospects also frequently miss, so there is something to be said for not falling in love. On the other hand, they do sometimes hit the bullseye, John Smoltz being the most remembered (excruciatingly painful for some) Tiger prospect, of course. A lot of prospect evaluation is based in guesswork/hopework I think (not to mention the strategic hype imposed by management). No matter how good operating condition one’s crystal ball is in, it is pretty close to impossible to predict how these fellows are going to turn out. Once in a while a Strasburg type shows up on somebody’s doorstep, and it is easy to conflate that with “we have one of those in our system too.” And of course we always remember the one that got away, which then reinforces this idea too.

      But half the fun of being a baseball fan is to create outlandish scenarios to obsess about, so anyway, GO LOON (and everybody else too).

    • The Strategy Expert

      March 23, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      I hear you on that. I am very excited about Garcia and Castellanos myself, but I don’t consider either of them as true A-list prospects, or can’t miss prospects. They just happen to be the best we have out of a relatively bleak group. But it’s only bleak if you believe that they should be building strong equity in these holdings over the long-term such that we should be richer today there than we currently are. And I happen to be a person that thinks that way for this particular team and present snapshot in time.

      • Smoking Loon

        March 23, 2013 at 10:00 pm

        During the Leyland years, the closest to a “one that got away” I can think of is Jair Jurjjens. There was much gnashing of teeth about that for a while. Not so much now.

  3. Smoking Loon

    March 22, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    If the Tigers request line is open, I’d like to have Tuiasosopo on the bench to start the season, please. The dude is on fire. Also Berry and Worth, if that’s not too much to ask. And if it is too much, then I must insist rather than request. See, these 3 guys are FUN to watch. Santiago and Kelly play as hard as anyone, but they’re so diffident about it. And Kobernus, he has this Ryan Raburn “Where am I? How did I get here?” look about him. That is a look to fear.

    • Vince in MN

      March 23, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      I see they had Tuiasosopo in LF the other day. I didn’t know he could play the outfield; for some reason I thought 1B/3B were the only options. So of course he should be on the bench going north; he bats RH even; a no brainer. The problem may turn out to be Great Human Interest Story Illegitimate Son Of Leyland Comeback Kelly. I’d definitely jettison Santiago for Worth – to hell with the salary loss, they just dumped 500K on two weeks of Boesch, so what’s the big deal here. Although I am not crazy in love with Kobernus, I still think he has the edge on Berry because of the Rule 5 thing, while he can play both IF and OF and give speed off the bench. And let’s face it, they have been working real hard this spring to make Kobernus a RH batting Don Kelly super-utility type. I like Berry as somebody you can bring up from Toledo from time to time, but not as the committed to 4th bench guy to start the season. I’m more concerned about whether they make Porcello the new closer (just kidding).

      • Vince in MN

        March 23, 2013 at 4:03 pm

        So much for Kobernus winning a spot, he’s going back to the Nationals. This does improve Tuiasosopo’s chances though.

    • The Strategy Expert

      March 23, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      Well if he keeps hitting 1 HR for every 10 ABs then you can bypass the need for a request line!

      • Smoking Loon

        March 24, 2013 at 2:32 am

        It’s down to a 5-man fight for 3 bench spots now (it will be good to have Russo available in Toledo, but I can’t see how he fits at the moment, as decent a spring as he’s having). Decision time on Kelly is nearly at hand.

        Santiago vs. Worth: Santiago might be the better defender at SS-2B… or he might not be. Worth can cover all IF positions. Worth is better at 3B, but Tuiasosopo is better than both of them here. Santiago has the advantage of being – essentially – a LHB who can do something against righties. Worth hasn’t hit RHP worth a lick. Could the Tigers afford to carry them both? It would give them a reasonable hitting platoon here and full IF coverage. But it would appear to cost them either Tuiasosopo or Kelly.

        Tuiasosopo vs. Kelly: Tuiasosopo has been swinging a mean stick in ST, but the sad fact is that in 3 major league looks he has essentially sucked at the plate. Kelly, despite having a really good eye (watch his ABs some time), has managed a career OBP of .283, which says something. And yet he has a knack for coming up with headline hits when you least expect it. Both guys are versatile, though Kelly has an edge in the OF; it’s a wash elsewhere, although Tuiasosopo has a gun at 3B. Kelly’s “play every position” versatility is a bit overstated. Really, he’s a 1B-3B who can cover all 3 OF spots (that’s impressive enough). Kelly, however, cannot hit LHP, period. If Tuiasosopo can start hitting MLB pitching at all, he won’t suffer from a debilitating platoon split. Also, Tuiasosopo has real pop in his bat. Bottom line: Kelly’s “amazing versatility” is a sideshow; the Tigers are well-covered without it. Say hello to Toledo or goodbye to Detroit, Don.

        Berry vs. Kelly: Berry is a better OF. Berry is a better hitter – weak against LHP, but nowhere near as pathetic as Kelly. Enough said. Unless Berry is absolutely hobbled by his patellar tendinitis, there is no way you choose Kelly over Berry, even if you’re drunk or stoned.

        Berry vs. Tuiasosopo: Only a Santiago/Worth combo platter could make this choice necessary. Such a thing would essentially force the choice of Berry. Your 4th OF has to be able to cover more than LF, no? This theoretical contest actually serves as an argument against carrying two IF specialists, something that would also cost at the plate.

        Unless the Tigers trade Santiago soon, he’s in. I cannot imagine Leyland going with Worth at this point with minor league options remaining. Unless some 2 of 3 combination of Dirks/Berry/Tuiasosopo get knocked out by injury before the season, I can’t imagine Kelly making the team. I don’t see the need for 2 middle infielders on the bench. Our mostly everyday but injury-prone LF Andy Dirks hardly needs a platoon partner, but there is some call for a RHB with some power off the bench. Thus:

        Santiago, Berry, Tuiasosopo.

        • Jim Eggers USMC Rifle Expert1971

          March 24, 2013 at 3:37 am

          I have seen Matt T. play since ’04 when he was with Everett, and we (my fellow baseball gurus and a couple of local sports reporters) all DID NOT see him as a SS, and then watched as the M’s tried to find him a home, but felt they never let him get comfortable, and cut him loose. So, I am rooting for him to go north with the big club. SL, as usual, you make a solid, lucid argument for all possible scenarios.

          • Smoking Loon

            March 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm

            Thanks, Jim. For my part, I appreciate your stories and recollections, like the one on Matt T. above.

  4. Smoking Loon

    March 22, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    From beck’s Blog:

    “Villarreal has quietly been having a very good spring, which could be a saving grace for Leyland after he was clearly frustrated about Al Alburquerque’s outing last night.”

    In the televised ST games I’ve seen the Tigers in (all but 3, I think), I haven’t been impressed with Villareal’s pitching. For me – at the moment – the bullpen is Smyly, Dotel, Rondon, Benoit, Coke, Downs, and… I’m on the fence about Alburquerque. Actually, I guess I’m on the fence about Villareal, too.

  5. Smoking Loon

    March 22, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Interesting item I noticed a week ago or so and intended to link to in the article:


    Good to know at this time of year.

  6. Coleman

    March 23, 2013 at 11:47 am

    In other news, Edgar Renteria announced his retirement. So scratch him of the list of potenial middle infield upgrades.

    • Vince in MN

      March 23, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      Neiffi Perez might be available. He was so good when Leyland managed the Marlins remember.

    • Smoking Loon

      March 23, 2013 at 8:08 pm

      Damn. Both unavailable.

      Don’t forget Neifi Perez’z time in Detroit. Quite memorable.

  7. Vince in MN

    March 23, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Another bad day for Rondon, while Downs looks like he is quietly pitching himself onto the team. At this point, I would not be at all disappointed if they started Rondon at Toledo so he can work on stuff. The pen is plenty deep and there is no need to rush.

    • Smoking Loon

      March 23, 2013 at 8:10 pm

      Yeah. That would solve my problem of having to choose between Alburquerque and Villareal.

      • Kevin in Dallas

        March 24, 2013 at 7:20 pm

        I’m very concerned about Al Al’s control problems. I like Villareal and Downs.

        But these are awesome problems to have. A few years ago, we didn’t know who our #2 pitcher or corner outfielders were.

        • Vince in MN

          March 24, 2013 at 7:52 pm

          We did know Todd Jones was our closer though.

        • Vince in MN

          March 24, 2013 at 8:02 pm

          By the way, although he probably won’t be starting the season with the Tigers, Marte seems to be having a good Spring. More good bullpen depth waiting in the wings.

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