Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Detroit Tigers, contenders or pretenders? Part 3 - DH and outfield

What follows are my thoughts on Detroit's 2 HUGE money players, along with a young stud, a man with no position, and another who's a sabre's nightmare, but a fan favorite. In other words, it's part 3 of TWFE Detroit Tigers season preview.

Designated Hitter

Gary Sheffield: Sheffield was THE off season acquisition for the Tigers. They have had a need for an intimidating, middle of the order bat for years. If that bat happened to be a patient, high OBP one as well, all the better. If that bat was also known to be loud, controversial, spotlight seeking, and a possible clubhouse distraction, the Tigers were willing to take that chance. If the cost of that bat was not going to affect the current MLB roster, that made it a done deal. Tigers fans, meet Gary Sheffield. Gary Sheffield, meet a fanbase that could not care less about your past, doesn't care if you play defense, they just want you to hit the crap out of the ball. Up to this point, Sheffield has been Sheffield, with his pontificating about anything and everything. Topics covered have included his Yankees experience (Good and bad), how Boston was his first choice as a trade destination (Huh?), his man crush on Jim Leyland (Obvious), steroids (Who? Me? I'm an innocent man), his upcoming tell all book (Look out Yankees), and talking to pretty much anyone with a microphone. All Tigers fans ask is that his bat back up his mouth. If his absolutely crushed HR against the Dodgers today is any indication, that won't be a problem. Sheffield looks totally recovered from his wrist injury, and is swinging the bat, as Rod Allen said with considerable awe, "Angry!" Will hitting in Comerica Park hurt his power stats some? How could it not? But if Sheffield is still the Sheffield of the past several years, the Tigers have added a huge, game changing weapon to the middle of the order. If he isn't as advertised? Well, I don't want to go there, because we'll have 2 more years of it.


Curtis Granderson: Granderson is the one position player that looks as if he could have a true breakout season, his spring performance has been that good. His first full season in the bigs was bi-polar. Defense was never an issue, he's the best CF we've seen in ye olde English D since Gary Pettis. But at the plate? Impressive first half, bad second half, then finished fast with a great post season. Granderson's ups and downs made one thing painfully clear. He plays well, the Tigers win, and win a lot. Granderson doesn't...We all saw how the team struggled in August and September. The big sweeping hole in Granderson game was his propensity for K's. LOTS of K's. Whenever I felt a stiff breeze, I didn't blame the weather, it was just Granderson swinging...And missing. If what we've seen this spring is an indication of what we'll see in the regular season, we can safely say that Granderson won't lead the league in strike outs again. Granderson is only going to get better, and thinking about a Tigers outfield anchored by Granderson and top prospect Cameron Maybin has me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside...

Craig Monroe: I've made no bones about it. I loves me some Craig Monroe, the clutchiest clutch that ever clutched. I know, I know, the sabres say that there is no such thing as being clutch. You either produce, or you don't, no matter the situation. But the 2 biggest hits of the Tigers 2006 season came off the bat of Mr. Clutch, Craig Monroe. The first was the July grand slam that beat the ChiSox, which allowed the Tigers to win what was at that time considered the biggest series the Tigers had played in 2 decades. The other being the late August, 2 out, 9th inning dinger that beat the Yankees, avoiding a doubleheader sweep, giving a staggering Tigers team a huge boost, to the immense relief of an already skittish fanbase that was 1 out away from full blown panic. And we can't forget the 5 HR post season from Monroe, the man whose picture is under the word "Clutch" in the dictionary. OK, I'm aware that I'm taking the clutch thing a bit far. Monroe has obvious weak points. In the field, he's an average outfielder at best, one that's not particularly well suited to covering the vast wasteland that is Comerca's power alleys. Monroe has boom or bust tendencies at the plate, along with a low OBP. Best case scenario, Craig Monroe is an average ball player. To be honest, he's just holding down the position till Maybin is ready. Still, I have an irrational love for Craig Monroe, otherwise known as His Clutchiness. David Ortiz wishes he was as clutch as Craig Monroe. OK, I'll stop now.

Magglio Ordonez: The man whose ALCS winning HR made grown men cry, and whose hair makes me cry. But thinking about Ordonez's monstrous contract gets Tigers fans emotional as well. You can rightly say that the moment he hit that October blast, sending the Tigers to the World Series, he earned every bit of that deal. Unfortunately, we've seen the first signs that his contract has hamstrung the Tigers. Sheffield will DH the next 3 seasons, taking what would have been the natural landing place for Maggs. With that albatross of a contract, for better or worse, on the decline or not, creaky knee and all, Ordonez will be the Tigers RF for the foreseeable future. What if Maybin is ready in 2008? Granderson will move over, and say goodbye to Craig Monroe, even if he's a better defensive OF than Maggs. I'm not saying that Ordonez is an anchor, just his contract. He can still play well for the Tigers, but we won't see the pre knee injury version of Ordonez. He's no longer a 35/120/.320 hitter, but a 25/100/.290 type. In other words, a little better, but much higher paid, Craig Monroe.

Marcus Thames: Every season, Thames is the man without a position. Let's say we find him one... He can be the full time DH, right? No, noted author and bon vivant Gary Sheffield was given 40 million plus dollars to DH. OK then, play him in the outfield. As bad as Ordonez and as average as Monroe are in the field, Thames is far worse. He has nowhere near the range needed to play a corner outfield position full time at Comerica. No problem, just hide him at 1st base. Thames will see some time there, but the Tigers are overloaded with RH bats, so the Tigers signed LH Sean Casey to play 1st. How do you not find a position for a player who in 2006 had a near Ruthian HR to AB ratio, and led the team in slugging percentage? The Tigers somehow found a way. Thing is, you'd think Thames would be excellent trade bait, especially as part of a package with a prospect, as he'd hit 35-40 HR's if given 500 AB's. But you can't get max value for him, as Thames can't get those 500 AB's to prove he can hit those 35-40 HR's. Talk about a Catch-22. He's worth more to the Tigers as a 4th outfielder/DH/1B than what they would get in return in trade. So Thames will continue to be caught up in a numbers game, get 300 AB's in sporadic duty, and hit with amazing power. Thames can't win for losing...

When you look at the Tigers outfield, it's solid at the plate, average in the field. You see a future gold glover and all star in Curtis Granderson, a place holder in His Clutchiness, and an albatross who should be a DH, but is blocked by an author who's also a borderline HOF'er. It was an outfield that was good enough to win a pennant in 2006. In 2008, it's an outfield that may have the next MLB superstar, Cameron Maybin. In 2007, it's a question mark. A highly paid question mark.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent work on the Tigers stuff over the past few days, Big Al. I'm not even sure I should bother even attempting to write one myself.

    I totally agree with you on Craig Monroe, and would add this as a qualifier: The dude is going to hit EIGHTH in the Tigers' lineup.

    Now maybe he won't hit there all season, but it's difficult to imagine him moving up past sixth in the order. How many teams are going to get that kind of production (along with Inge) at the lower end of their lineup?

    I'm a little bit surprised Leyland said Monroe's centerfield days are over, but that's obviously a vote for defense and shouldn't be a surprise. But it's not like the Tigers are throwing Craig Paquette out there anymore.