Playing Pepper with J. Ellet Lambie

When I began this blog about a month ago, I had no idea where things might go, or if anyone would even read it. What I have found so far, is that I truly enjoy sharing my thoughts about Tigers baseball with other fans and bloggers, and that at least of few of you are reading.

Recently, J. Ellet Lambie of Hazaa, asked me to participate in a segment he runs regularly called “Five for Fighting”, where he and another blogger trade five questions and post each other’s answers. I have been a big fan of his work since I first stumbled upon it, and was humbled to be asked to join him for this piece. John is perhaps the most talented writer I have encountered in the blogosphere and I encourage all of you to be sure to visit his site and read through his archives.

The questions I asked him will appear here with his answers, while the questions he posed to me will appear at Hazaa, along with my answers. Think of this like one of those old episodes of Law and Order that would overlap with an episode of Homicide. Always a good time, as I’m sure this will be. Let’s get started…

Q: In light of the offensive struggles so far this year, what are the changes you would like to see? (Are there players in the minors you feel should get a look? or Name some players that the Tigers should target via trade.)

I’ll probably be in the minority here, but I don’t think a whole lot of external change is required to right the ship. Magglio Ordonez started slowly, but has raised his batting average significantly and is beginning to drive in runs when it matters. Placido Polanco is better than a .250 hitter, I expect he’ll rebound soon as well. Marcus Thames will soon be available to provide a little more punch, although consistency has always been his Achilles heel. Slumps come at odd times and tend to bring about a knee-jerk reaction among fans. I’m willing to be patient, for at least the next month.

There are however a few players rumored to be available in the trade market that I think would provide some injury security and eliminate the need to carry youngsters such as Jeff Larish and Ryan Raburn.

Nick Johnson of the Washington Nationals is one of those guys. He’s hitting .332 as of this morning with a .434 on-base percentage and 30 RBIs. He’s also walked 33 times against 37 strike outs, which would give the Tigers a truly patient hitter in the lineup. He’d provide depth at first base, a considerable upgrade over Larish. I’m not sure what his price tag would be, but it’s probably higher than we think. Left handed hitters of his quality don’t grow on trees.

Aubrey Huff is another potential free agent that could help the Tigers, and he’s publicly admitted his man-crush on Edwin Jackson so that might help clear the way for his mid July transfer, but don’t count on it yet. The Orioles will seek more than he’s worth, as they always do.

In terms of another proven outfielder with some pop, which this team could certainly use, names like Jermaine Dye and Matt Holliday will be mentioned but neither will end up here. The Tigers are more likely to pursue a Marlon Byrd (whom I would love to have) or a Rick Ankiel (whom I wouldn’t).

Q: Lynn Henning of the Detroit News, recently spoke with Mike McClary on the podcast and suggested it was time to cut bait with some big contracts (Ordonez, Willis, Roberston), how realistic do you feel his suggestions were and do you agree with him?

The release of Gary Sheffield this spring opened the door for this kind of thinking, and while it has happened before with guys like Damion Easley I don’t know that the same circumstances apply here. Let’s start with Maggs. The bulk of the rationale from writers who support cutting him loose comes from the impending contract option kicking in for next season. If Ordonez plays 135 games or reaches 540 plate appearances that ginormous option is guaranteed. While he isn’t the player he once was he can still hit, and there is no one in line to replace him except Wilkin Ramirez, and let’s face it, he’s not ready yet. I don’t expect the team to cut Ordonez, although it will be very interesting to see how they handle his playing time late in the season. I believe the organization would like to see Magglio quietly slip away after the ’09 season and find his replacement on the deeply discounted free agent market.

As for Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson, Dave Dombrowski made his bed and he’s gonna have to lie in it. Both players were given expensive extensions based on questionable results. Both players have struggled more since signing those contracts, making them near impossible to trade. At least with Dontrelle you can make the argument that there was once great talent in him, talent that possibly, maybe, could be re-kindled. Nate Robertson, and pardon me for being so blunt, is not a good pitcher and not going to get better. Be it in the rotation or the bullpen he has proven unable to do what he needs to do in order to be successful, get left-handers out. Lefties have hit .267 against him over his career. He’ll be 32-years-old come September. Maybe Dombrowski can con some young GM into giving up a hot-dog cart and a few rolls of tape for him if the Tigers pay 90% of his contract, but that’s the best deal out there.

I think Nate will be cut at some point, Willis probably not.

Q: Does Jeff Larish have a future in Detroit, this year or beyond?

No. He’s a poor defender with a big swing that has too many holes in it. He’s not going to see time at the corner infield positions and isn’t the outfield answer the team needs. He’ll be headed back to AAA the moment Marcus Thames returns, probably never to return.

Q: How do you see the rotation shaking out after the next week or so of games?

Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello are safe, we know that. The other two spots will be filled by some combination of Galarraga, Bonderman, Willis, Miner and perhaps a Toledo Mudhen. I know it’s a vague answer, go ahead and poke fun at me, but I’m a writer not a clairvoyant. Armando has shown he can dominate, and has looked better in his last two outings after a brief rough patch, so I’d say he was the favorite for the 4th spot. Bondo hasn’t pitched in a Major League game in a year, Willis has had more ups and downs in the last month than a recovering alcoholic and Zach Miner is, well, Zach Miner.

If I had to handicap it I would say the 4th spot is Galarraga’s to lose and the 5th spot would ideally go to Willis simply to have a leftie in the mix, but he may pitch himself out of that decision. Jeremy Bonderman is going to be a part of this club, and I believe it will be as a starter, although it may take a few weeks to find his place. Bondo will get the audition in the Monday double-header and Willis will get another start next week as well – may the best man win.

Meanwhile Zach Miner can continue to serve as the long-dstance mop-up man and emergency long-relief option.

Q: How do you feel about the Leyland contract situation? Has he earned his extention yet?

I’ve been critical of Leyland this year, and last year, although I generally like and respect him very much. My biggest question is how motivated is he? He’s been around, he’s won championships, he’s not getting any younger. As much as people ask does he deserve it I ask does he really want it? He looks conflicted to me, but I’m hardly an FBI profiler. Jimmy Leyland has had a tremendo
us career and I’m not saying it’s over yet, but I believe certain parts of the game are beginning to wear on him and dare I say, even pass him by.

To be fair, Dave Dombrowski certainly hasn’t made his job very easy these last two years. The gargantuan contracts given to players who have drastically under-performed have been an ulcer waiting to bleed in Leyland since last spring. If upper management is paying those kind of salaries on a multi-year basis it’s tough to move those guys out of the lineup, even when players like Edgar Renteria, Gary Sheffield, Pudge Rodriguez (last season) and the aforementioned pitchers Willis and Robertson along with Brandon Lyon have struggled.

A manager must work with the roster he’s given and Jim Leyland may have some stars, but he has more than his share of liabilities as well.

Bottom line, It’s too early in the season to know if Jim really wants it, and if he deserves it. Ask me again in late August or September. If I had to guess, and let’s say I did, I expect he’ll return for one more year, if only out of the loyalty Mike Illitch is known for.

–end–

Once again, I would like to thank J. Ellet Lambie for including me in this work. I think we tackled a good number of issues here, and I had a lot of fun doing this. If nothing else, I got a chance to talk Tigers with another knowledgeable fan, which is always enjoyable for me, and was really the whole purpose of my blog to begin with. As a reminder, check out Hazaa to see the other side of this story, and see my answers to the questions he asked.

Tags: J. Ellet Lambie Jeff Larish Jim Leyland Magglio Ordonez

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