Luke Waltons Forehead presented by the Sports Dude.

Monday, March 07, 2005 at 10:38 AM

Ahhh... a little grapefruit and the Olde English D.

Finally, the sports dude decides to talk about something besides Pistons basketball or the NBA in general. Hey, what the hell do you want me to say? Basketball is the sport I grew up playing, so excuse me if I lean more towards that then some of the other major sports here in Detroit – the Lions and the Tigers. So finally, with opening day fast approaching, I have decided to turn my attention to something beside my beloved Pistons – the Tabbies.

There are so many questions, so many damn little things that could still go wrong with this team. But in that same breathe, and because I love to contradict myself, there are just as many reasons for certain things to FINALLY go right. There are a number of things I would like to hit on in this post, mainly those that I feel are the keys to making a run at the Central Division and some meaningful baseball in the “D” come September. I know it may be hard to believe, but there may be some reasons to believe that this ship is finally heading in the right direction and not fighting the current. There are pieces in place, there are young players that seem like they belong and there is something that has been lacking for quite awhile in this baseball town… HOPE!

The bullpen:
The Tigers blew 28 saves last year and were a MLB worst 12-27 in one run games. To the Tigers defense, all though I hate making excuses, some of those can also be attributed to the loss of Urbina when he left the team last year to deal with his mother’s kidnapping. That issue, however, was quickly taken care of this off season by signing Troy Percival to take over the closer duties. In that one signing it took one of the worst bullpens in baseball and turned it into one of the better. Percival is an experienced closer and his self-proclaimed “bulldog” attitude out of the pen should instantly make the whole group better. They finally have a veteran in the bullpen for the younger guys to answer to and I can not see anyone of the younger kids in the pen giving Percival too much flak – can you? It allows for Urbina (whom I hope they keep until at least the trade deadline if not all year) to fill another role that was inadequate at best last year, set up man. The newly acquired Farnsworth seems like he has a cannon of an arm and could be key to some long relief, once Cluck gets a hold of him. The bullpen is all but set, with Trammell already saying he would prefer to keep only 11 pitchers on the 25 man roster. When was the last time you heard a Tigers manager not say the words “12 pitchers just to have an extra arm.”? They finally have enough legitimate arms to keep only 11 and have that extra position player on the bench, something they have not been able to do in the past. Figuring out the 11 is fairly simple, with nine spots already taken (starters Johnson, Maroth, Bonderman, Robertson, Ledezma, and Percival, Urbina, Walker, and Farnsworth); it is the last two that may be the toughest decision. There are three guys competing for the last two spots, all of which are out of options and must clear waivers before being able to report to the minors – Gary Knotts, Steve Colyer and Franklyn German. Quite frankly I am not going to pick, I would hate to see any of the three go, but if it was me I would cut ties with Colyer. The jury is still out on German and Knotts is a fairly dependable long reliever and spot starter. I would cut ties with Colyer, even though it shorts your bullpen a lefty, but he seems to be the only one of the three that has shown me nothing since he has been a Tiger. The bullpen is much improved and I could easily see them making a difference for about ten more victories this season.

The starters:
As listed above, the rotation all but seems set with Jason Johnson, Mike Maroth, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Wilfredo Lidezma. They sought a big name pitcher in the off season (see Carl Pavano) but failed to lock one up. For what it is worth, if the four young guys continue to grow and Jason Johnson at least pitches .500 then the rotation will take care of itself and get the Tigers into later innings, helping save the bullpen. I think Bonderman is the ace of the future, but I agree with Trammell in the fact that he has to earn it. Trammell doesn’t want to rush the kid and weigh him down with expectations that are premature and unfair. Let the kid work at it, let the kid mature, but more importantly let him “grow” into an ace instead of throwing him to the wolves. His time will come and the Tigers seem to have finally grown their first legitimate pitcher since Jack Morris 400 or so years ago! I still am a Mike Maroth slappy, he reminds me so much of Frank Tanana and the fact that Nate Robertson lives in a city about 15 minutes from me is just really damn cool. Living large with the rest of us middle class people – thanks for keeping it real Nate! (That is, until you sign your first big contract someday and move, but hey, for now it is cool at least!) Lidezma, to me, seems to be the wild card, but he had success in the minors and some relative success in the bigs, but that is why I say keep Knotts in the bullpen for that insurance. My prediction for the starters is that both Bonderman and Maroth will finish with +.500 records, Johnson will flirt with .500, Robertson will be at .500 and Ledezma will be in the bullpen by all-star break. But, that all being said, the starters will be much improved over last year and get the Tigers more wins themselves.

Bobby Higginson:
What the hell are we suppose to do with this guy? No matter what happens, the Tigers are still going to have to pay him. If they trade him it will be to someone for a minimal prospect, at best, but I am sure the team that takes him will force the Tigers to pay the majority of his salary. If they release him, ala Damion Easley, then they have to pay all his salary while he gets to play for another team. The best case scenario is that someone takes him off the Tigers hands, they get a decent player in return and they don’t have to pay a dime for it. Can anyone really see that happening? Not me, that’s for sure. This is why I say you keep him, even if it means sending a younger, more impressive guy like Marcus Thames down to the minors. If you are forced to pay him no matter what then keep him on the bench for three reasons – a left handed bat off the bench, he still has the best arm out of any of your outfielders (late inning defensive replacement) and he is a decent enough insurance policy in case any injuries come up during the season. Look, we all hope that Maggs knee is fine, but no one knows for sure. We all know Rondell White has aging knees and needs rest, plus I still think that White would be a better guy to trade in the long run anyway. For what it is worth, seeing how we are going to have to pay him if we trade him or release him, I say hold onto him for the above reasons and just deal with it the best you can. He will be off the books next year, as will White, and Thames, Granderson, and Monroe can become more “everyday” then. The bottom line is, whether I like it or not, I just can not see eating his salary if it can be avoided, and I think it can.

Alex Sanchez:
Another “what the hell do you do with this guy?” situation. Look, I am not too sure how to even answer this one. To me it seems quite apparent that no one in the Tigers organization thinks this guy is the answer in centerfield. By offering him the one year arbitration contract, it seems that the Tigers are just using this season as a “rental year” with him, one last opportunity to see if maybe he might pan out. He did have a nice average last year, but the majority of that was because the dude can flat out bunt his way on to base. His defense in centerfield is suspect at best and he draws very few walks. He is a genuine speedster, but gets picked off and thrown out to often and too easy. It seems the Tigers are ready to turn the reigns over full time to this Granderson kid next year, unless he has a stellar spring this year and they feel he is ready now. So, for the time being, it seems that Sanchez will get one last look in center to make sure that the Tigers are not over looking something here. If Sanchez falters this year and doesn’t show anything, the Tigers do have some other options, but they may be short term as well. The Tigers were at least impressed enough with Nook Logan to continue mentioning his name, all though his bat is still a work in progress. Craig Monroe did play some in centerfield last year and was not all that bad, but his speed and range is a better fit in one of the corner outfield positions. Yes the outfield is a “cluster F” for the Tigers this year, but next year the picture should be a lot cleaner once Rondell White and Bobby Higginson come of the books (both are in the final years of their contracts). If everyone stays healthy next years outfield, as it stands right now, appears to be Maggs in right, Monroe in left, Granderson in center and Marcus Thames as the spare outfielder on the bench, with possibly Nook Logan as well. All things considered, Sanchez or not, things look bright and a lot less clustered for the future.

Carlos Pena:
Look, the guy showed some serious flashes in the final months of last season of what he could be if he just stops thinking and just plays. His defense was horrible in the first half of last year, but in the final months the errors were almost none existent. He finally started hitting for power, finishing the year with 27 HR’s. 82 RBI and a .241 batting average. The Tigers again did the one year rental thing with Pena, signing his for just this season and nothing more. If Pena can just get his average up, say even to a modest .275, there is no doubt in my mind that the kid can be the answer at first base the Tigers have been looking for. The question is can he do it for an entire season and not just the second half? That is why he only got a one year contract and why the Tigers are just taking it a season at a time. The potential seems to be there, now he just has to discover some consistency.

Infante and Inge:
Of all the Tigers, from Percival to Pudge, Maggs to Bonderman, these two to me are the wild cards of the entire season. People have been asking the question, talk radio has been discussing it, “Who are the most important Tigers this season for the team to have a chance?” Well, as strange as it may sound, those two guys are the answer for me. Yes, the starting pitching may still be young, but we all know that and we all know the Tigers are going to have to score to win. Yes, Percival was a HUGE addition, but at least we (as of right now anyway!) have Urbina as a back up closer. Yes, center field and first base are some what suspect, but there are other options in center (as mentioned above) and although they may not be perfect at least they are options. If Pena struggles at first we all know that at least Dmitri Young can play there and there even is that Chris Shelton kid floating around the organization. But what if Inge slides off this year? What if Infante was just a one year fluke? Who do they have, anywhere in the organization, that can actually play third or second? The names Jason Smith and Martinez are the only ones that come to mind. You can’t count Dean Palmer because the jury is still out and Fernando Vina is all but retired. So where do you turn? The answer is no where. With all the outfield depth there is at least someone. With the revamped bullpen there are at least enough arms, so it seems, by committee to get it done this year. The starters we all know are still learning and growing, but there is no one I see anywhere in the organization that can replace those infield guys if they falter. Do they have to have all-star seasons? No, that is not the point and I think it would be a pipe dream at best anyway. All the Tigers can hope for is that they, bare minimum, duplicate their numbers from last year, play sound defense and continue to grow game in and game out. I think they will and I can honestly say I feel comfortable with both of them as the everyday players in those positions. The wild card for each of my wild cards, if you will, is that Inge was a shortstop in college so he is at least familiar with the infield and Infante will only get better with the help of his fellow South American double play partner, Carlos Guillen. I think the Tigers finally have a respectable, but more importantly young, infield to grow and watch and enjoy.

Well, that is all I got for now. Leave some comments, let’s talk a little Tigers baseball for a change. I don’t know about you guys, but opening day can not get here soon enough for me. Later – the sports dude.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very True post..  


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