Back, shins, elbow, shoulder, hamstring. Welcome to 2014, Season Of The Body Parts. Wait, that’s the lead-in for a pessimistic article I’m not going to write.
I’ve reflected upon the boss man’s instructions to tackle the spring issues one at a time, and it seems to me we’ve covered most of them already. Position by position, there wasn’t a whole lot of debate coming into camp. I was going to do some kind of bench/depth write-up just before the even more still worser news about Jose Iglesias broke. The one issue (to date; please no more injuries) that hasn’t been covered is the overarching one, the one that’s been around since…
Last year. Did it begin with the acquisition of Iglesias? No, that was an emergency response, albeit a well-reasoned one. But in a fairly rapid flurry of after-season moves, chief among them Jim Leyland’s retirement, the Fielder/Kinsler trade, and the hiring of Brad Ausmus, it was clear that a Big Shift was going on. The offensive strategy was going to go from slugging it (or not) to a team that could make it happen even when hits were hard to come by. It was and maybe still is daunting to have lost a lot of proven run production in Fielder, Peralta, Infante, and also some bench with bigger bats, but the writing was clearly on the wall. A starting rotation like Detroit had in 2013 deserves better than 93-69. Those starters could have taken the Tigers to the World Series, but they were let down by the bullpen and a feast or famine offense that couldn’t often make up for said bullpen. The Tigers were no-hit by the Marlins in the final game of the regular season. Whoever was or wasn’t in the lineup, that remains a disgrace.
The best starting rotation in baseball remains virtually intact (fingers crossed on Sanchez and his shoulder). Fister out and Smyly in should be little if any loss, though I’ll miss Doug’s yellowhammer, best curveball on the staff in 2013. Anyway, still very strong (in the art of pitching?) here.
Joe Nathan and the law of averages all by themselves decree that the bullpen should be better. The sudden loss of Bruce Rondon isn’t good news, but it’s hardly the “crushing blow” I saw asserted in one headline. Better than 2013 here, I think.
Position players consist of 5 stars (you know who they are), 2 guys we’re not really sure of yet (Avila and Castellanos), and 6 more guys we’re really really not sure of. Is that a championship team? See “Starting Pitchers,” look up and down some MLB rosters and at a bit of history. Yes, it is a championship team, or can be. There are no all All-Star teams. (OK, for a day in July there are.) Maybe fantasy baseball has contributed to the fiction of that being a necessity. Justin Verlander says that the Detroit Tigers are a great team, and I believe him. Great teams are great teams. Detroit has enough elements in place, in spite of losses at SS and LF that cloud things a bit.
So the issue is: Can the Make It Happen offense really make it happen? At least I hope that’s the thing to watch. If it turns out not to be, we might be in bigger trouble than offense alone could possibly solve. For now… great optimism here. The evidence of spring has been that this offense certainly can make it happen, and can even explode like it used to. Then again, we’ve also seen some famine along with the feast, but for that we invoke the “it’s only spring training” clause.
OK, sorry, but I’ve got one more mini-topic. Would’ve put it up before or at the beginning of ST, but it hadn’t occurred to me then. What were the 5 best and 5 worst moves of 2013? Consider 2013 to have ended with the ALCS. My answers to the question tomorrow, as I wait for the resounding echoes of silence to subside.
1. Rick Porcello in the rotation, Drew Smyly in the bullpen
2. Signing Torii Hunter
3. Trading for Jose Iglesias
4. Sticking with Victor Martinez through a very cold start
5. Bringing Jhonny Peralta back after the suspension
1. Bringing back Jose Valverde
2. Leaving Quintin Berry and Danny Worth off the Opening Day roster
3. Not putting Miguel Cabrera on the DL
4. Underutilizing Brayan Pena and Matt Tuiasosopo
5. Making Tom Brookens the 3B coach
9 days until it all counts. Stay healthy, get healthy, be healthy, o Detroit Tigers. Oh, and play very well, too.