I know I shouldn’t venture this far forward into a season. Baseball is a funny game, and often times the unexpected grabs hold of a team and leads them down a path in which they did not expect to tread. All we have to do is look back at the 2008 Detroit Tigers to see how these things turn out sometimes. Regardless of how the coming season is going to play out, I can’t imagine a scenario in which the 2012 Detroit Tigers aren’t at least in a Central division race come July 31st, the non-waiver trading deadline.
If they aren’t, it will be a shock to us all.
It’s debatable that the Tigers will be improved in 2012 from 2011. The loss of Victor Martinez was offset by the addition of Prince Fielder. We can reasonably expect a drop-off in performance from guys like Justin Verlander, Alex Avila, and Jhonny Peralta. Their defense could be an issue that leads to a few more games ending up on the wrong side of the column as well. On the other hand, the Tigers will have Doug Fister for a whole season, Max Scherzer is capable of better, and there is room for improvement from Austin Jackson as well. Given that the Tigers out-performed their Pythagorean record last season by 6 games, it would not surprise me in the least if they topped out at around 90 wins.
That should be plenty in the Central division. The Central division isn’t the Tigers ultimate goal however. If owner Mike Ilitch was putting all his chips down on a roulette table, his number would be 2012, and the bottom line is, despite the Fielder addition, this 2012 version of the Tigers still has some holes.
The good thing is, the Tigers are set up nicely to fix them.
We’ve talked quite a bit on this site this off-season about a couple positions of need in particular. The most glaring perhaps are 2B and LF, and depending on the performance of some of the Tigers youngsters, a 5th starter and some relief pitching might be of need as well.
While this off-season had been incredibly boring up until the Fielder signing, it has been smart of Dombrowski to take his time in identifying players for his teams needs. There just hasn’t been the type of players on the market that could help this teams needs at this point. Come July, these things tend to change when we find out who is in a playoff race and who isn’t. Players with decent sized contracts become available for prospects. Players with impending free agency become available as well.
If the collection of options the Tigers have at their positions of needs can’t do the job, I have no doubt David Dombrowski will find some players to help. He did it last year with Doug Fister, Wilson Betemit, and Delmon Young. None of those guys cost the Tigers an arm and a leg, and if you look closely, the situation could easily develop again for the Tigers to be major players in the trade market.
While the Tigers farm system isn’t stocked with upper tier talent, it does have one commodity that is noteworthy. I speak of pitching of course. One of the reasons the Tigers have been able to be choosy in looking for a fifth starter this spring is, they have have a lot of options in the upper minors to battle it out. Duane Below, Adam Wilk, Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby, Drew Smyly, and Jacob Turner are six options for one spot. Even if one of those becomes a bullpen arm, that leaves four making their return to the minor leagues. This is where they can build their value for the deadline, a la Charlie Furbush and Chance Ruffin in 2011.
I completely expect that even if the Tigers are running away with the Central come July, they are still going to make some moves. After all, it’s not about just winning their division. It’s about winning a World Series, and every team is going to have flaws at that point in the season. The Tigers and David Dombrowski are obviously aware of what those are, and not a lot of people have shown a better aptitude for finding solutions than the Tigers GM.
We fans are already set up for what should be a good season in 2012, and come July, it could get even better.