Sunday, October 20, 2013
How Tigers can take the next step
By Jim Bowden
Max Scherzer is going to be expensive, but Detroit must give him an extension.
The Detroit Tigers were swept in the 2012 World Series by the San Francisco Giants four games to none and this year weren't able to get back after losing in the American League Championship Series to the Boston Red Sox. This despite the fact that the Tigers had a better team this year than last year with a healthy Victor Martinez at DH, improved defense in right field thanks to Torii Hunter, an impact closer in Joaquin Benoit, and a fully developed Max Scherzer, who should win the AL Cy Young Award next month.
But as the Red Sox showed, the Tigers still have some weaknesses. Here is how GM Dave Dombrowski can shore them up for 2014.
1. Tough decisions on free agents
Benoit developed into one of the American League's best closers this year, and the Tigers would like to bring him back. The good news for them is that there are a number of other closers set to be available as free agents, such as Fernando Rodney and Grant Balfour, so they have options if Benoit signs elsewhere. The Tigers could hand the job to Bruce Rondon, but I'm guessing they will sign someone with more of a track record.
Jhonny Peralta will hit the market and based on his regular-season and postseason success he should do extremely well, despite his 50-game suspension this year for his connection to Biogenesis. The Tigers plan on Iglesias being their shortstop next year, so Peralta may not be a great fit, unless of course he can play left field or second base, and that might be a bit of square peg situation. There are several teams, such as the Cardinals and Mets, who need a shortstop, and Peralta could end up signing with one of them.
ALCS: Tigers-Red Sox
Complete coverage of the Tigers-Red Sox series. More »
Omar Infante is also a free agent, and his versatility combined with the fact that he hit .318/.345/.450 this year will make him a valuable commodity. What the Tigers do at second base will dictate Infante's future.
2. Cano? No.
If money wasn't a factor and owner Mike Illitch wanted to win at all costs, a run at free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano would give the Tigers the best lineup in baseball. The Tigers already have a lot of long-term financial exposure -- and would like to re-sign Scherzer -- so I can't see Cano as a fit. If they lose Infante, they need to find a second baseman.
Possible trade targets include the likes of Jose Altuve and Jedd Gyorko, and they could take a chance Danny Espinosa as a reclamation project. He wouldn't cost much, but he has a chance to be a big downgrade.
3. Bullpen depth
The biggest difference in the ALCS was in the bullpen, and that's the area the Tigers mostly need to improve to help their chances of getting back to the World Series. Jim Leyland chose two of the Blue Jays set-up relievers for the American League All-Star Team this year (Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar) so you can tell he envies those kinds of arms.
He would really like to get a couple of good setup men for Detroit, and he could do that through a combination of trade (maybe Porcello for one of the Blue Jays relievers) and free agency (possibly Scott Downs or Francisco Rodriguez).
4. Find a true left fielder
Leyland platooned in left field with the likes of Andy Dirks, Matt Tuiasosopo and Don Kelly most of the year, and then put Peralta out their in the postseason. But to be a World Series winner they should do better. They're hoping their answer is in their farm system in Nick Castellanos, who profiles as legitimate 2014 AL Rookie of the Year candidate if all goes well.
His conversion from third base to left field has gone smoothly, but he still has work to do. The 21-year-old posted a .276/.343/.450 line for Triple-A Toledo this year, which is impressive given his age.
With a team so close to a World Championship they might be looking to trade for a better fourth outfielder, such as Gerardo Parra of the Diamondbacks, who would give them a Gold Glove-caliber defender to back up all three spots. The problem for the Tigers in any hypothetical deal is that their farm system is relatively thin after Castellanos, and they don't want to trade him, which means they'd have to get creative.
5. Extend Scherzer
The Tigers have Verlander and Sanchez signed long term, and now it's Scherzer's turn. Of all the players on the Tigers roster he is clearly their top priority for a contract extension. He is eligible for free agency following the 2014 season, so if they don't sign him soon he may just decide to play out the 2014 year and make himself available to the highest bidder.
The complicated factor for Dombrowski is that the Dodgers are likely to give Clayton Kershaw an extension soon after the season. Like Scherzer, he is eligible for free agency following the 2014 season, which means Scherzer can use Kershaw's deal -- likely to be seven years for more than $200 million -- as a direct comp. It won't be an easy negotiation for Dombrowski.
That said, the Tigers can go into the offseason sure of one thing: Regardless of their offseason moves and decisions, they will be the favorites to repeat once again in the American League Central.