Last season the Detroit Tigers won the American League pennant only to be swept out of the World Series by the Giants. Expectations are high in Detroit this season and anything less than a World Series title will be a disappointment. Are the Tigers up to the task?
G.M. Dave Dombrowski took a conservative approach this offseason, figuring if it aint broke, don’t fix it. The Tigers lost a few role players to free agency, including reliever Daniel Schlereth, outfielder Delmon Young, and backup catcher Gerald Laird. Dombrowski added one key free agent by signing outfielder Torii Hunter to a two-year deal. But the biggest addition to the Tigers, lineup this year could be Victor Martinez. The veteran DH missed all of last season with a knee injury.
For the inside story on the 2013 Tigers I talked with Motor City Bengals Editor Matt Snyder. I asked a few questions and here’s what Matt had to say.
CTH: MLB Network ran the FS Detroit feed of the Astros – Tigers game a few days ago. The broadcast included an interview with Torii Hunter, whom the Tigers recently signed to a 2-year deal. Hunter seems like a great addition to the lineup as well as the clubhouse. Do you think his signing buys Avisail Garcia two more years in the minors or might we see both of them in the lineup together at some point?
Matt: think the Torii Hunter signing means Garcia can spend 2013 (or most of it) in the minors which is really what he needs. He performed well enough in his debut last season, but it was fairly clear that he was using a modified approach at the plate — simply trying to make contact — and it didn’t look like he was ready to play every day against big league pitching. Garcia could push for playing time a year from now even with Hunter still around. Andy Dirks is currently slated as the most-days left fielder, but he’s probably not a guy that would block Garcia if he’s ready. If not, well then they have the luxury of waiting on him another year.
CTH: In that same ballgame Rick Porcello looked outstanding. Do you expect him to be in the Tigers rotation or will he be traded?
Matt: I think the Tigers’ best option is to keep Rick Porcello in the rotation. Teams are constantly needing starts from pitchers outside their top five because of injury (or other factors), so having Drew Smyly, a capable MLB-caliber starter, in the minor leagues (or long relief perhaps) would offer them good insurance.
CTH: Austin Jackson had a breakout season in 2012 and was a big part of the Tigers’ success. Do you expect him to continue to get better?
Matt: I think Austin Jackson has some room to add a bit of home run power in the future (maybe to be a 20 HR a year player) but offensively he was probably as good as he’ll ever be in 2012. I wouldn’t project him to quite repeat his .300/.377/.479 slash line this upcoming year, but he has the ability to continue to be an .800 OPS hitter. He could do a bit more work in improving his stolen base totals, but most Tigers fans will be happy if he keeps up last year’s trend of cutting the strikeouts and upping the walks.
CTH: Victor Martinez and his health concerns have been making news this spring. How is he doing?
Matt: Victor Martinez says the surgically repaired knee is doing fine, but he’s older now and will likely be batting bumps and bruises all season long. He recently sat out of a few spring games due to a sore back, but it sounds like he’s just playing it safe. He’ll be a big part of the Tigers’ lineup in the five hole behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, so staying healthy will be paramount.
CTH: The Tigers have a fairly deep bullpen with Al Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit, and Phil Coke. Is Bruce Rondon seriously going to be given the closer’s job? If so, aren’t you worried about his career 5.1 BB/9 IP in the minors?
Matt: Rondon has struggled so far in spring games, but manager Jim Leyland says he’s still in the mix. Reports are flying that the Tigers are calling around looking for closers, but the team is telling the local media that they’re happy with Benoit, Alburquerque, Coke, and Dotel should they need to mix and match in the late innings. I think the club is really hoping that Rondon can be one of those breakout bullpen guys, but they’re not going to force it if it’s clear he’s not ready at the end of spring.
CTH: The Tigers selected Jeff Kobernus in the Rule 5 Draft this winter. Does the speedster have a legitimate shot at making the roster?
Matt: I think Kobernus has a shot at the team, but he’s going to have to show he can hit even a little bit. It looks like the 25th man on the roster is going to come down to him, infielder Danny Worth, IF/OF Don Kelly, and the now-injured Quintin Berry. Kobernus and Worth are the two right-handed hitting options on a decidedly left-handed heavy bench, so they probably have a built in advantage.
Triple Crown winner and MVP Miguel Cabrera and the rest of the Tigers come to Houston for a four game series in early May. The Astros will visit Detroit later that same month and the two teams won’t meet again in 2013. My thanks to Matt Snyder for climbing the hill with us and sharing his insight. These two clubs look to be headed in opposite directions in the short term, so we’ll have to keep an eye on the Tigers down the stretch.