Torii Hunter’s Impact with the Detroit Tigers

I’ll admit I didn’t see the signing coming; I’m a bit of a homer when it comes to placing trust in Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch and Quintin Berry, so I didn’t want the signing initially. But the more I look at it, the more there is to like.  Yes, Hunter is getting up there in years, but after further digging, he’s still a very good player in this league despite being 37.

Last season, the Tigers were knocked for not having a good defensive team. That criticism was mainly placed on the infield. But in terms of “elite” defenders, the only one the Tigers had who could change a game in the field was Austin Jackson. Infield aside, the corner outfielders were a tad suspect with the glove. Dirks, Boesch, Berry and Avisail Garcia’s collective number of runs saved above average per 1,200 innings (from the folks over at baseball-reference) was -26. Dirks was the only one of the group whose number was a positive one with three runs scored above average. The point here is that the overall defense in the outfield corners could have been better. Enter Hunter, who despite being nearly a decade older than every one of the previous four, saved 16 runs above average per 1,200 innings.

The beauty of the signing is this: yes, Hunter is valued defensively, and maybe he was needed defensively, but he also brings a whole lot to the table offensively. So often teams bring in an outfielder or use an internal option that is a far superior defender, but lacks completely with the bat.  Teams feel they need to upgrade defensively and save runs there and completely mail it in offensively. But this is the beauty of the signing. Hunter upgrades the defense and offense drastically.

The other bonus of having Hunter as well as Jackson in the outfield means Jim Leyland has his pick of outfielders to use strategically on a game-to-game basis, whether that be Berry, Garcia, Boesch or Dirks.

The Tigers won the American League pennant last year. They also won it, when at times the death-row duo of Miguel Cabrera and Fielder looked like the walking dead. But now Victor Martinez will be 100% healthy, and Torii Hunter joins the mix. Death row just got a whole lot deadlier.

Andy Dirks Slowly Pushing Delmon Young Out of the Tigers Future

Jim Leyland seems to have settled into the routine of writing Andy Dirks’ name not only in the second spot in the batting order, but also in left field. This, is good.

Dirks is a much better defender than Delmon Young is and covers (your choice of funky synonym for “more” here) ground than Young.

Offensively as well Dirks has excelled in the 2 hole. He has had a multi-hit game in each of his last four games and drove in three last night. Overall he is hitting at a .339 clip with 10 runs batted in and another 10 scored in 17 games. It’s probably safe to say it now, but the dude can hit.

He can hit. That is the main thing here.

For this season Delmon Young is likely staying put in Detroit due to his importance in the batting order. (You know that spot behind Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera where he has to protect them?)

But moving forward that role will probably belong to a guy who kind of gets lost in the shuffle here- Victor Martinez, the perfect complement to Cabrera and Fielder.

Also, something to point out is that the Tigers would love to get out of Young’s salary. If I’m not mistaken he is a free agent after the season, meaning that the Tigers would have almost seven million dollars to play with just thanks to Young leaving. Think about that. We could use it to find an addition at second base or where ever else they might have a position of need. (hold on…Quickly digests depth chart) Nope, don’t see any other glaring needs.

Yes, a lineup that contains Cabrera, Fielder, Martinez and Young in the 3-6 spots is a bit daunting, but I’d rather have the first three with Dirks getting on in front of them in the 2 hole with names like Avila, Peralta and Boesch behind the big boys.

Dirks, nonetheless, is one of Detroit’s outfielders of the future. Young situation or no, he isn’t going to Toledo any time soon.

Assessing the Tigers’ Needs

It’s starting to feel like the time of year when all the teams rush to the trade market and go after a new bat or arm. Just as with shoppers on Black Friday, baseball teams too rush out at some un-godly hour to get brand-new toasters. Only theirs aren’t toasters, but are rather players to help their post-season cause.

Injuries and other matters have struck, and while it might be a bit premature to start digging into trade possibilities, I’m going to anyway.

Rotation Help

When I say help, I don’t necessarily mean by trade at this point. Justin Verlander will be the best pitcher in the league, and Doug Fister will be a true frontline-starter. After that there are a few questions. Not big questions mind you, but more like questions off the back of a pamphlet-questionnaire than say off the SAT.

Max Scherzer is one such question. The 27 year old righty has shown flashes of dominance and something quite the opposite. The Tigers certainly aren’t going to give up on him, but he needs to pitch better.

Rick Porcello, on the other hand,  needs to stay away from the Rangers. After looking borderline spectacular against Tampa and the White Sox, Porcello ran into maybe the hottest team of the young season in the Texas Rangers. He got knocked around to a point that he gave up 10 hits, as well as 8 runs in one inning. He had a manila-folder start against the Mariners before recovering with a strong outing against the Royals. The Tigers likely don’t need to worry about Porcello if he keeps putting up numbers like his first two starts.

The Tigers last arm in the current rotation is one Drew Smyly. Smyly, or whoever was in the fifth spot in the rotation, was looked at as a huge question mark entering the season. It’s probably safe to say that Detroit will also be fine if he keeps pitching at the rate he’s going.

We have to remember that the Tigers aren’t going to be without Doug Fister forever. The former Tacoma Rainier will be off the DL at some point, meaning that Duane Below will likely move back to the bullpen and restore depth to what’s turning into a deep group for the Tigers.

Verdict: Overall from a rotation standpoint I’d say the Tigers don’t need to go out and get anyone. Yet.

Infield Needs

The Tigers infield isn’t a huge concern. Nothing is going to happen to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Jhonny Peralta will be fine, don’t worry. The one concern though happens to be the position that neither of the three play: second base. The Tigers production has been paltry there to say the least this season. Ryan Raburn has struggled offensively while playing second and the corner outfield spots. Brandon Inge was cut as a result of the lack of production and Ramon Santiago is better utilized as a utility player. (Yes I just used utilized and utility in the same sentence.) All that being said, the Tigers could be in the market for a new addition at second base. Not necessarily a new starter, but help at the position.

Brian Roberts is a big name, if healthy, who would make sense in the Motor City. Though I’m not sure if the Orioles would give up their star-player.

Clint Barmes might make more sense, but again how much the Pirates would want in return, if they are willing to deal him, remains to be seen.

Chris Getz and Jamey Carroll could be more attainable targets seeing as the Royals would like to make room for guys like Johnny Giavotella in the future.  The Twins can also use as many prospects as they can get.

Verdict: If none of that comes to fruition, the Tigers could always put Don Kelly at second, or go after somebody else.

(Weird Side Note: Raburn is the only player in Safeco Field to ever hit a ball off the roof. I was there.)

THE OUTFIELD (Loud, coming-from-the-heavens like voice)

Delmon Young’s absence from the lineup has given the Tigers a look at the production that Andy Dirks might put up at on a consistent basis. It has also opened the door for more playing time for Don Kelly and more outfield starts for Raburn.

If Young can’t come back and establish himself as the Tigers protection for Cabrera and Fielder, then the Tigers might look to find a replacement.

Detroit doesn’t have any pressing prospects at the AAA level so it isn’t as if a new acquisition would block them. A deal similar to the one which brought Young to the Tigers could come about with Detroit picking up a bat to basically do what Young is doing. Jeff Francoeur would be a fit for the Tigers, and one who wouldn’t cost too much.

Verdict: The Tigers don’t necessarily need help if Delmon Young comes back the same. If not, then Detroit could look elsewhere.

The ‘Pen

Detroit’s bullpen wasn’t going to be as good as last year’s. Not many bullpens are, or were as good as last year’s group. That being said, the current bullpen is a good one, and as previously stated, has a lot of depth. Yes, surprising as that may sound, the Tigers bullpen has depth. Dotel-Benoit-Papa Grande might just be one of, if not the most, efficient/dominant 7-8-9 inning triumvirate in the league. Outside of that the Tigers boast ace reliever Phil Coke as well as the more versatile Collin Balester and the currently-injured “King of Alliterations” (sorry had to do it.) Al Alburquerque. I haven’t gotten to names like Daniel Schlereth who was very effective out of the ‘pen last year. As well as Duane Below and Adam Wilk, who could both provide even more depth in the relief corps.

The Verdict: Detroit should be fine here unless injury strikes.

DH

One of last season’s sure things has turned into one of this season’s bigger question marks. With V-Mart out for most of the season (thinking best case scenario) the Tigers will use it as a revolving door to give guys breaks in the field. Brad Eldred will also get a good deal of ABs there as well.

The Verdict: The DH conundrum will likely work itself out when Young returns. That’ll make DH a platoon of sorts with Eldred and Dirks. The recently stated DH grouping isn’t bad, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers went out and added a bench bat/platoon partner to add to the mix.

Overall Verdict: Going into the season, if the Tigers second base situation didn’t play out well then the Tigers probably were, and are going to need help there. Getz or Roberts makes sense. The rotation isn’t as big of a concern as it could be. When Max Scherzer turns it around then all the rotation questions will go poof. Same with the outfield situation. If Delmon Young comes back as his old self then the Tigers will roll on. If not they might go shopping for a new outfielder. Other than that the bullpen is solid. You’ll notice that I didn’t list catcher because Alex Avila is a rock and isn’t going to get injured. In the off chance that he does, Gerald Laird can play stop gap for a week.

Can Justin Verlander Repeat?

A Cy Young and an MVP award in the same season is no small feat. You won’t find it on many resumes anywhere. But can it be done again? Surely you would think no, but it’s not as obscene as you might think.

There are a of couple contributing factors to this. One is named Prince Fielder. Of Verlander’s five losses, two were by two runs or less. I’m not saying Prince Fielder will change that, but he will surely help in the run department category.

The big thing though is that the division might have gotten worse. Yes, Kansas City will get better, but everyone from Jacoby Ellsbury and Adam Jones to So Taguchi and Joey Gathright struggle against the reigning MVP.

Minnesota might still be in the same rut they were in last season. Cleveland will contend, but doesn’t seem to figure into the big picture. Same with Chicago, who might have gotten worse by trading off Carlos Quentin among others.

Which brings us to our next point, Carlos Quentin is gone. I’m not going to say that this will drastically impact Verlander’s season, but in one of his many losses (read five with a heavy dose of sarcasm) he lost 8-2 to the White Sox. In that game one certain Quentin went 3 for 5 and drove in three runs while scoring another. Also is the fact that only Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Victor Martinez have hit more homeruns off of the reigning MVP than Quentin. It should be noted that Quentin is now playing on the complete opposite end of the spectrum as Verlander, on a west coast NL team (read San Diego).

(As a quick aside, Dye isn’t in the league, Thome is in a reduced role in Philly and Martinez is with Detroit and out for the year with a torn ACL).

(Another quick aside is that the 8-2 loss was Verlander’s last of the year. And it was in mid-to-early July. Yowza!).

As far as repeats go, back-to-back Cy Young’s certainly isn’t obnoxious. Most of his stiffest competition in the past (see Zack Grienke, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay) have all gone over to the NL. The real challengers that are left are mainly Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester and Jered Weaver. This list can probably be lowered down to three with Hernandez’s exclusion. He is certainly worthy, but is backed by a shaky offense. But you never know. Funnier things have happened. As for the other three, they will be in it. But look for Verlander to come back strong in this year’s Cy Young voting.

The MVP repeat is a little more tricky. Of past AL MVP winners, only Hal Newhouser and Frank Thomas have repeated. Incidentally, Newhouser was a pitcher who pitched for, you guessed it, Detroit. It’s not that small of a club, Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Mike Schmidt, Ernie Banks and Joe Morgan have all done it in the Senior Circuit. OK maybe it is a small club, but the point is that it’s tricky. Especially for a pitcher such as Verlander. The only other pitcher to repeat was Newhouser, who was a Tiger. So maybe it could happen again.

The fact of the matter is Justin Verlander and the Tigers are going to be extremely dangerous come playoff time. Heck, they’ll be extremely dangerous in the middle of a cross country road trip in Seattle.

How do You Replace Victor Martinez?

I’ve covered the fact that Victor Martinez is out for the year. Now the question is how the Tigers replace him, and who with.

The name Prince Fielder tends to come to mind for a team who needs a middle of the order bat. The Tigers might have some interest, but Fielder is quite a large financial commitment, even a one-year deal.

The Tigers first and cheapest option, at this point is to move Delmon Young to DH and then put  Andy Dirks and/or Clete Thomas in his outfield slot.

Young would give them a solid bat at the DH spot, and give Detroit the opportunity to put maybe a more versatile defender in Young’s place (i.e. Dirks and Thomas).

As stated that’s the Tigers’ cheapest option, and it probably doesn’t require a roster move. This way you don’t risk losing a player to waivers.

Detroit could also go digging in the free agent bin or the bargain bin. Former Tigers could be a big draw for Dave Dombrowski:  Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez and Marcus Thames are out there. So are established hitters like Derek Lee, Hideki Matsui and JD Drew.

Raul Ibanez is a player who could be a great fit in Detroit. Dude can hit. He’s driven in at least 84 runs every year except one since 2002, and each of those seasons put up at least 16 bombs a year. You’re talking about double digit homers and at least 80 RBIs per year for a guy who could come pretty cheaply. I’ll take it! He also is a .280 career hitter despite a season last year in which he hit an uncharacteristic .245. That will go up when you hit around a guy named Miguel Cabrera.

A piggy-back option to the earlier move-Delmon-Young-to-DH thought would be to make it a rotating door of sorts. Put Don Kelly at first and give Miguel Cabrera the day off in the field. The next day, put Dirks in the outfield and give Young or Brennan Boesch the day off. There is a smorgasbord of options to pick from.

The trade market is another one of many routes to go for the Tigers; the Angels have a log jam at DH with Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales and Bobby Abreu. Morales would be a very intriguing fit if he can return to pre-injury form. Trumbo is another fit, but once V-Mart comes back next year, he will be out of places to play regularly.

Yoenis Cepedes is probably the most serious target for Detroit. Not only can he provide an impact bat behind Cabrera, but once V-Mart comes back he can slide into the outfield. Not to mention the fact that he’s a potential star.