Detroit Tigers Fans: Go Away “Panic Mode”

I’m not panicking yet. And I’ll tell you why. The Tigers not only feature a plethora of All-Stars, but they also play in the pick-your-expletive -est division in the game. Have you noticed how bad the AL Central is? Yeah Chicago is “hot” right now, but come on; third base is a general black hole, and I’m sure as heck not buying their bullpen (and that’s without swearing). Their numbers may be high right now, and you can argue those numbers till the cows come home, but come on, Chicago? Just wait, you can bet there is a colossal ice-age-like cold streak coming. Tell me I’m wrong.

Cleveland is another matter entirely. While I acknowledge that the Sox have some actual talent and it isn’t too surprising that they are doing well, the Indians puzzle me. Asdrubal Cabrera is nice and Carlos Santana has tons of potential, but this team confuses me. Their outfield is decent if Johnny Damon can actually swing a bat. But here’s the thing, the pitching isn’t all that great. I wouldn’t trust the back end of the… let me rephrase that:  I wouldn’t trust any of their starters other than Derek Lowe.

I’m not even going to go into detail on KC and Minnesota because, well they’re rebuilding and that’s about as nice as you can be about those teams at this stage of the game (pun intended… yadda yadda yadda…).

If you’ve forgotten what the aim of this lovely piece is, well then you are in the same boat as I am. No, I’m only kidding, but the point of the whole ranting that you can conveniently view above is that it’s definitely not panic time for the Tigers. Call me an exceedingly loyal fan or someone who has his head screwed on straight, but it’s true.

I’m not going to blame injuries to the team’s recent shortcomings, but I am going to tab injuries as the reason for a second-half (or sooner) surge. By tabbing injuries, I mean guys getting healthy. Alex Avila has taken more hits than an armored truck in a crossfire and is the best catcher in the AL when fully healthy; Doug Fister is one of the better number two options in the rotation when he can actually get run support. But perhaps the two biggest injuries of all were to Andy Dirks and Austin Jackson. Jackson is having an All-Star season (yes, let out your groans of annoyance, I said it again) and is really starting to show his worth offensively. Jackson and Dirks are the table setters for Death Row. And let me tell you, they were doing a pretty damn good job of it before they got injured. Granted had they never been injured we would have never experienced the revelation that is Quintin Berry.

With Berry’s success there have been speculations by fans that he would take over in left for Dirks or in right for Brennan Boesch. I like Berry as a speed/energy guy, but I’d much rather have that weapon off the bench to pinch run. Where, if you haven’t noticed yet, our fastest option after Don Kelly is Ramon Santiago. Let me rephrase that, our only non-catching option besides Don Kelly is Ramon Santiago. Those two guys have good speed, but not necessarily game-changing speed. The kind of speed where everyone including the foul pole knows you’re going to run, and you steal second anyways. As it is, Jackson and Berry are the only guys with that speed on the roster. I’ve just realized that I probably said “speed” and “steal” more times than a healthy human being should. I’m sorry readers.

So after all that, healthy lineup and pitching staff, plus playing in a terrible division, the Tigers should be fine. Not to mention the possibility of a scrap-heap/deadline addition at second base, not because the Tigers’ current situation isn’t satisfactory, just because we could use another option to platoon with Worth and Santiago, for all it’s worth. (Again, sorry, had to do it. Too corny to pass up.)

The point is… (Reshuffles fake paper notes, adjusts glasses and starts speaking in a British professor’s voice) just kidding, scratch the British accent. No, but the point here, and one that I have strayed from, is that the Tigers aren’t out of it, and I am not panicking yet.

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.

What Victor Martinez’s Injury Means for the Tigers

Victor Martinez tore his ACL. He might end up missing the entire season if not most of it.

This means a lot of things. One is that the Tigers will lose their 5 hole hitter and prime protector of Miguel Cabrera in the lineup. Because of that it also weakens the Tigers’ batting order to a degree.

Believe me, the loss or potential loss of a hitter of his caliber for a couple weeks, let alone an entire season, is hard to fathom.

It feels a bit like the game towards the end of July in 2010 when Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen were both injured in one game against the Toronto Blue Jays that somewhat dashed the Tigers playoff potential and chances.

But on the flipside, it’s not particularly the same. At that point the only other middle of the order protection Detroit had was Johnny Damon, a struggling Brennan Boesch and Jeff Larish.

Now it’s a little different. Delmon Young was a monster in the playoffs. Boesch is back from injury. Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila have both come into their own as top run producers at their positions. Plus Brandon Inge had a resurgent playoffs.

The lineup is certainly much better, as is the pitching seeing as Justin Verlander won the Cy Young and the MVP. Doug Fister went bonkers down the stretch. Throw in Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and the possibility of super prospect Jacob Turner in the rotation, and thinks aren’t as bad as they appear.

Before the Martinez injury, Boesch was probably the number 2 hitter with Young third, Cabrera hitting cleanup and Martinez behind him. After V-Mart there was going to be some combination of Peralta and Avila in the 6 and 7 spots. Following them was probably the second baseman (TBD) with Inge hitting 9th.

The question that will likely come to mind is how can the Tigers can repeat in the AL Central  or contend in the AL without V-Mart? Supposedly their chances are “worse” or the future is “murkier” or whatever term does it for you. Frankly, the chances are a bit worse without their starting DH, but they will contend in the Central and contend for a World Series as well.

Think about the other teams in the Central:

Kansas City is probably another year and a piece or two from really competing. Cleveland might not have the goods to do contend for the first half of the season and could fall into the Buffalo Bills of the Majors in a competing-for-the-first-half-and-then-flopping sense. Chicago has a new manager and is fresh off of trading one of their best hitters (Carlos Quentin) as well as two key pieces of their bullpen (Sergio Santos and Jason Frasor). They also lost long-time ace Mark Buehrle and manager Ozzie Guillen to the newly named Miami Marlins. Minnesota is the last team in the conference. That probably comes from a talent perspective as well (take that back, they’re tied with the Indians for least talent in the division — go on and start celebrating Royals fans). But come on, Minnesota? Ron Gardenhire’s teams never go down without a fight, but this might be another year in which we see a “fight”. Joe Mauer is presumably without a position. Justin Morneau is one of the few other constants. He and new additions Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham are the only sure things. The Minnesota starting pitchers are going to get you a lot of double digit wins per pitcher, but also double digit losses per pitcher, with the latter out weighing the former. I wouldn’t be surprised if they all go 10 and 15 on the year.

So what I’m trying to say is that Detroit will contend in the AL Central and for a World Series title.

Another small positive to come out of this is the available free agent DH options. There are quite a few. Former Tigers Magglio Ordonez, Johnny Damon and Carlos Pena could all be fits. One potential fit could be Prince Fielder. I know this is a bit farfetched and a long shot at best, but what if Prince takes a one year deal in Detroit? I’ll leave the monetary value to the agents and GMs, but what about Fielder and Miguel Cabrera hitting three and four? And this isn’t any biased opinion whatsoever, but wouldn’t those two, the rest of the supporting cast and a Verlander-led pitching staff elevate the Tigers to the top of the AL? Or baseball in general?

I’m probably getting ahead of myself and Prince Fielder will probably sign with the Nationals, Toronto or Texas, but wouldn’t that be fun to watch?

One other parallel to think about, last year’s St. Louis Cardinals. I know this has come up numerous times on different sites, blogs and things of the like. But the Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright to season-ending surgery in spring training and went on to win the World Series.

Think what you will about the injury to Victor Martinez, the Tigers are going to be relevant in Major League Baseball. Get used to it.