Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lynn Henning asks the "Burning questions," TWFE has the answers

As Detroit News columnist Lynn Henning is wont to do, he asks, and then answers, his own "Burning questions" in regard to the Detroit Tigers. Since it went so well in answering Ian's questions last week, I thought I'd try the same exercise with Henning's Q and A. This may even turn into a running feature, as I'm always game for post ideas. It helps that I don't often agree with Henning, as you will soon find out...

Q: Will the Tigers make any major moves ahead of the trade deadline?

Henning: They propped up their bullpen -- at minimal cost -- with the shrewd trades for Macay McBride and Jose Capellan, which is what they needed to do ahead of Joel Zumaya's and Fernando Rodney's presumed returns to form.

It eliminates the need to invest heavily in an upper-tier reliever or position player.

Big Al: I'm not nearly as sold as Henning that adding Macay McBride and Jose Capellan is the be all, end all, to the Tigers' bullpen issues. I have to wonder if the Tigers are feeling the same way as I. For example, McBride entered last night's game in the bottom of the 8th, and walked the first hitter he faced, Lew Ford, on 4 consecutive pitches. Not exactly what you want to see from a late inning set up man.

It's not the first time he's committed such a big blunder, doing the same with Travis Hafner in the Indians series, when he was brought in expressly to get that 1 out. Capellan has shown the same inconsistencies as well. I like their potential, but I don't have total confidence in either of them.

Q: Aren't the Tigers gambling on Zumaya (finger surgery) and Rodney (shoulder tendinitis), who played catch last week but remain on the disabled list?

Henning: Sure. But you would be gambling as well on a trade for 31-year-old Eric Gagne (who has a trade clause protecting his closer's role) or 35-year-old Akinori Otsuka. And in either case, the asking price would rob the Tigers of some important youth and talent.

Big Al: People conveniently forget that Zumala (W just cracks me up) and Rodney weren't exactly lights out before going on the DL. It's a HUGE gamble hoping that the pair will come back in the 2006 form. They are just as likely to come back in their less effective 2007 form.

And who says the Tigers have to target Gagne or Otsuka? They aren't the only fish in the big league sea. There will be other arms available at the end of the month. We can be sure that Dave Dombrowski has his eye on more than just the Texas relievers.

If the opportunity presents itself, the Tigers have to make a move on a bullpen arm. We are talking about the Tigers getting to, and winning, the World Series. If that means saying goodbye to a good prospect or 2, so be it. There are no guarantees that the prospects will pan out, or that the Tigers will be contenders next season.

Q: What about a power-hitting first baseman such as Mark Teixeira?

Henning: He, too, will be expensive and he becomes a free agent at the end of next season. For what it would cost the Tigers (big-time prospects), the trade makes little sense.

Big Al: I agree that the cost for Teixeria may be prohibitive, and the odds are long that he's targeted by the Tigers...For this season, anyway. But once again, we are talking about prospects who may pan out, as compared to what would be a sure thing in a proven MLB producer, Teixeira. Give me "Proven" any day of the week.

I'm not all that concerned about Teixeira hurting the Tigers in 2007, as in moving to another team in the division. Cleveland doesn't need him, and the Twins can't afford him. But you have to admit that Teixeria would look just dandy playing 1st base in the Olde English D. For the most part, 1st base has been a black hole, production wise, since Cecil Fielder left.

Q: Doesn't that ignore Sean Casey's lack of power? And what about first base in the future?

Henning: Yours truly thought a couple of months ago -- and more recently -- that the Tigers should get serious about Casey's paltry run production. And then Casey got serious at the plate. In his last 62 games (after going 0-for-3 in Tuesday's 1-0 win over the Twins), he has batted .338 with 34 RBIs. His defense, likewise, has been superb.

I stand corrected. The Tigers can live happily with Casey.

Big Al: Casey has been as productive as you can get from a slap hitting 1st baseman, without question. I've said in the past that the Tigers can live with Casey for this season. But his type of player (On the sweet side of 30, snail slow, no power, his value is almost totally in his BA) is the sort who could drop off the ledge in terms of production at any time.

As much as I like The Mayor, I don't see him aging well at all. He's a short-term stopgap, and finding a long-term 1st base solution is a priority in the coming off season. (And no, Chris Shelton isn't the long-term solution, either)

Q: Back to the bullpen. How do the Tigers make room for Zumaya and Rodney if they're good to go?

Henning: The waiver wire will be a busy place after the non-waiver trade deadline (after July 31, no deals can be made unless a player has cleared waivers). I would suspect the two guys on the bubble -- today -- are Jason Grilli and Tim Byrdak, at least when Byrdak (elbow tendinitis) returns from the disabled list. That could change by the time Zumaya and Rodney are ready.

Big Al: Wonder of wonders, we sort of agree on this. Grilli is the Tiger who should be worried about his roster spot. He's a marginal major league pitcher, who to be honest, has had an awful 2007 season.

As for the other roster spot, I'd bunch together McBride, Byrdak, and Bobby Seay, as how many LOOGY's do you need? Considering Jim Leyland's penchant for rewarding veterans who have come through for him, and McCay having minor league options left, I'll venture that McCay is on the hot seat.

Q: Doesn't McBride, the left-hander acquired from Atlanta last month, have a minor league option remaining?

Henning: Sure. And right now, the option is to keep him. You can see why he once was a first-round draft pick. And you can see why the Tigers are happy to use him in the back end of a game. He has excellent stuff.

Big Al: McBride admittedly has good stuff, but he's wild enough to be just as likely to pour gas on a rally, than put it out. Having that option is a big roster chip for the Tigers, allowing them much needed flexibility. The next 6 weeks will be a Gong Show an audition period for several relievers, to see who's going to be on the 25 man roster on August 31st.

If McBride, Capellan for that matter, is good enough, he can be sent down, then brought back up before the August 31st cut off deadline for playoff eligibility arrives.

Q: Will the Tigers trade for a catching prospect, or for a first-base successor, ahead of the trade deadline?

Henning: Not likely. Those are acquisitions best pursued during the offseason, when the market is more comprehensive. Know this about catching prospects: They are baseball's most rare commodity. Nearly everyone is looking for a young catcher.

Big Al: Totally agree here, catcher is another spot the Dombrowski will target after the season. I'm no expert on the Tigers' minor league system, but I do know that it's totally barren when it comes to young catcher with even major league backup ability.

Q: What will the Tigers do post-Pudge Rodriguez?

Henning: No one knows. The Tigers certainly will pick up Pudge's 2008 option and, in the interim, hope they come up with an answer for life after Rodriguez. It might not be an ideal adjustment.

Big Al: Pudge is still a very good catcher, he's just no longer all-world. I have a feeling that the post-Pudge era won't begin for 2 or 3 seasons, at the very least. There is the option that will most definitely be picked up this off season, as there is no viable replacement in either their system, or in free agency. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he gets an extension as well. The Tigers will have to ride the Pudge train till it derails.

Despite his decline, Pudge Rodriguez is still in the top 10, possibly top 5, at his position. That's how barren catching is all over MLB.

Q: What happens at first base?

Henning: I never was one to believe the Tigers would move Carlos Guillen to first base. But it depends on his health. If he can hold up and make all the plays at shortstop, he sticks for the greater part of his four additional seasons in Detroit. If not, the Tigers will need to consider another alternative at short, with Guillen possibly moving to first.

Big Al: Talk about riding the fence. Personally, I never understood the clamoring to move Carlos Guillen to 1st base. As a shortstop, his bat is the best in all of baseball. At 1st, his production becomes average, and at best, above average. Guillen is not the best in the field, his occasional lapses can be frustrating, but he's still a top tier shortstop. Odds are he'll continue to be for the life of his contract extension.

Also, even though the Tigers have been spinning their wheels at 1st for over a decade, you cannot deny that it would be easier to find a capable 1st baseman, than a shortstop capable of replacing Guillen. Move Guillen to 1st, and the Tigers become average at 2 positions, rather than elite at short, and average at 1st.

Another possibility is to live with Casey for 1 more season, then move HARD on Teixeria when he becomes a free agent in another year. No matter who ends up at 1st, I'd keep Guillen at short for as long as possible, as that's where he has the most value.

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