1. Do not resign Jose Valverde or Delmon Young. Please. I was against it a year ago, I’m far more strongly against it now. There are better options out there for the money.
2. Offer arbitration to every single arb-eligible on the 40-man roster. Most of those are no-brainers – even Rick Porcello – so what I’m really saying is this: offer arbitration to Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn. These two guys were total failures in 2012 and big reasons why what we expected to be an enviably deep 95-win team turned out to be a top-heavy 88-win team. Raburn was 1.5 wins below replacement level in 2012, Boesch 1.3 wins below. They would both expect something in the neighborhood of $2 million through arbitration – and I’d want to pay that? Yep. I would. They’re both solid bounce-back candidates and could be valuable reserves next year. If the Tigers don’t offer either a contract, I can live with that, but if it was up to me…
3. Don’t plan on handing Avisail Garcia a starting job. I’ll admit that Avisail Garcia outperformed my expectations in September and October. I’d also say that my expectations for him were very, very low. Avisail Garcia worked a walk to lead off the 8th against Jeremy Affeldt, a guy that then made mincemeat of the Tigers 3, 4 and 5 hitters. I couldn’t believe it. Mr. No-Plate-Discipline was the only guy who held his cool in the pressure cooker of a tied elimination game? That bodes well. I now think of Garcia as a probable contributor in the near future rather than a long shot. Nonetheless, after his call-up Garcia almost never faced right-handed pitchers and finished with a .692 OPS in the regular season and a .624 OPS in the postseason. He had 1 extra base hit (a double in the ALCS) despite having a lot of raw power potential. He had one stead (and got caught twice) despite having a lot of raw speed. He played statistically bad defense despite having good tools. The realistic choice is between continuing to use Garcia as the weak side of a platoon and sending him to AAA to develop. Either option is good – but if he’s an everyday starter I expect the results to be something pretty awful.
4. Re-sign Anibal Sanchez. I’m guessing that his price tag is pushing 4-years and $50 million, but I think that he’s worth it. If Sanchez walks, that Infante + Sanchez trade is going to start to look pretty short-sighted pretty soon (though it obviously helped the Tigers to make that playoff run in 2012 regardless).
5. Move Rick Porcello to the bullpen. I wrote a whole piece on this a few weeks ago, so my rationale is out there already. It boils down to this: A) Rick Porcello is good the first time through the order and bad thereafter. B) pitchers typically gain in terms of “stuff” when they move to the ‘pen. So… don’t tell me he has a starter makeup. He doesn’t, or he could get guys out twice. Don’t tell me he doesn’t have the stuff to be a shut-down reliever: he has solid stuff now and it will look better if he doesn’t have to pace himself. What I expect from Porcello is either a 5th starter or a filthy, filthy relief ace (even if he is one in the mold of Jim Johnson and not Mariano Rivera).
6. Put Drew Smyly back in the rotation. This extends directly from #4 and #5.
7. Pick up Octavio Dotel‘s option. He’s worth the $3 million.
8. Hold a closer competition in April. That means (obviously) no Valverde and also no chasing free agent closers or established closers in trades. Sports wags are already speculating that the Tigers will go after Fernando Rodney (who should win the AL Cy Young) or Rafael Soriano- who is expected to opt out of his deal with the Yankees. Don’t do it.
Don’t pay for past luck and don’t put big bucks into guys with enormous risks. Dotel or Joaquin Benoit could be called upon to close – if no-one else steps up – but I’d like to see Phil Coke (who obviously wants that role badly), Al Alburquerque, Brayan Villarreal, Bruce Rondon and – yes – Rick Porcello duke it out in Spring Training (and probably beyond). I’d say that any of them could be better than Valverde was this year. IF the Tigers insist on going after a veteran from outside the organization to fill the closer void – please go for an under-the-radar rebound candidate rather than a guy who had an amazing 2012. Rondon is expected to be “the guy” in 2014 or 2015, so it’s not going to be a great idea to sign somebody to a 3-year deal for $30 million plus. Give a one-year deal to somebody with something to prove. How about the-pitcher-formerly-known-as-Leo Nunez? [Now Juan Carlos Oviedo]
9. Sign Shane Victorino. To start with – let me just say that it is clear to me that the Tigers should not (unless they are trying to throw a team together on the cheap) go into next season without signing a new left-fielder (Andy Dirks is find in right). Internal options exist (like that Garcia/Berry platoon or betting on Boesch) but they forecast somewhere around replacement-level. There are plenty of options out there – not just one – and any of them would add to the Tigers expected win total in 2013. Michael Bourn. B.J. Upton. Josh Hamilton. And the list goes on. Hamilton, Bourn and Upton are likely to get qualifying offers and therefore involve the loss of a draft pick. The other guys on the list (that wouldn’t be likely to get qualifying offers) that could benefit Detroit like Angel Pagan* or Melky Cabrera aren’t as good of players as Victorino and/or aren’t good fits for the Tigers’ needs. What the Tigers need is (ideally) a switch-hitter with gap power, speed and plus defensive range. That sums up Victorino perfectly. He’s a doubles and triples hitter that steals a lot of bases (39 in 2012), doesn’t strike out too much (11.6% of the time over his career) and gives a team (over his career) average defense in center or exceptional defense in the corners. He is a perfectfit for Detroit. He is also 31 and coming off a down year, but that’s why you could get him for – say 3 years and $39 million instead of 5 and $80.
10. Re-sign Jim Leyland. And give him a contract with a formal “manager-option” for 2014 instead of an informal one. The speculation over this guy’s future over the past few months has gotten ridiculous and gotten distracting, given that absolutely nobody thought he would be out (though some thought and think that the Tigers would be better off without him). Leyland makes some odd tactical decisions, but he still does all of intangible things that you need a competent manager to be able to do. And all you Leyland haters please, please don’t forget: since Leyland took over we have had ZERO fights on planes. ZERO.
11. Re-sign Gerald Laird. Laird is nothing exceptional, nor will he come at a premium price, but the Tigers do need a right-handed hitting backup for Alex Avila and you could do a whole heck of a lot worse than Laird.
12. Pick up Jhonny Peralta‘s option. He isn’t the ideal shortstop, but there just aren’t any ideal shortstops out there on the free agent market and trade candidates would come dear. This one is pretty much a slam dunk – unless the Tigers plan on cutting payroll to the bone.
All told, my “armchair offseason” adds quite a bit to the Tigers’ payroll (though some is saved by not chasing an expensive closer). It isn’t my money and it isn’t by any stretch of the imagination fair for me to complain if Mike Ilitch doesn’t want to open his pocketbook quite that wide. Nonetheless – if he does, I think this would be the way to maximize those 2013 expected wins. If this is unmanageable – I’d rather the money went to Shane Victorino than Anibal Sanchez. That would leave Porcello as the 4th starter and make an opening in the bullpen for somebody like Bruce Rondon or Casey Crosby.
We’d be looking at a lineup like this:
1. Austin Jackson (CF)
2. Shane Victorino (LF)
3. Miguel Cabrera (3B)
4. Prince Fielder (1B)
5. Victor Martinez (DH)
6. Andy Dirks (RF)
7. Jhonny Peralta (SS)
8. Alex Avila (C)
9. Omar Infante (2B)
Bench: (not set in stone) Gerald Laird, Ramon Santiago, Brennan Boesch, Ryan Raburn
Bullpen: (not set in stone) Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque, Rick Porcello, Brayan Villarreal and Duane Below.
[* I'm confused as to whether Pagan has an arbitration year left or not. Anyone out there who knows better?]