It's day 2 of my Detroit Tigers preview, "Contenders or the team to beat?"
Actually, I hate to call it a preview, as I don't consider myself an expert. I'm no sabermatician, far from it. I'm not qualified to judge talent. I'm prone to give knee-jerk, often inflammatory, sometimes asinine, opinions.
I'm just a long time fan with a blog, who watches all the games and knows baseball pretty damn well. So take my opinions with a large grain of salt. Several, in fact. Hell, just empty your salt shakers...
With that out of the way, let's move on with part 2.
C - Pudge Rodriguez: To put it bluntly, Pudge was not very good in 2007. He put up an abysmal OBP, his power stats were down, and was average, at best, defensively. Pudge undeservedly made the AL All-Star team on name and momentum alone. Overall, his 2007 season was, results-wise, very close to his 2005, when Rodriguez spent more time undermining the authority of then manager Alan Trammell, than producing on the field.
There were no locker room shenanigans in '07 from Pudge, as that bullshit doesn't fly with Jim Leyland. But he had tailed off so badly in all facets of the game, if there had been any sort of fall-back plan, I don't think many fans would have been overly upset if Pudge had walked in free agency. But he was brought back for another season as the Tigers decided to pick up his option.
Why? There was no other catcher in the Detroit Tigers' farm system even being remotely close to major league ready. Quality catching is in shorter supply than delegates for Ron Paul. So the Tigers brought back Pudge, and his swing at every pitch ways.
So far, picking up the contract looks like a good decision, as Pudge appears revived, and leads all hitters with 8 spring training home runs. Obviously, no one should expect him to keep up that pace, but I do think we'll see a nice step up in performance from Pudge in 2008 for one reason, and one reason only. He's playing for his next contract, be it in Detroit, or with another team.
Pudge Rodriguez is no longer one of the elite catchers in baseball. But at age 36, he still has the ability to be more than capable at, and behind, the plate for 120 games. I honestly can't think of very many catchers I'd rather see behind the plate other than Pudge. Of course, that's more due to the sorry state of big league catching overall, than anything Rodriguez can do.
1B - Carlos Guillen: I was quite vocal in wanting Guillen to remain at short for at least one more season. It was mostly due to my assuming it would be easier to find a 1st baseman better than Sean Casey, than a shortstop better than Guillen. But the Tigers surprised us all, trading for a damn good shortstop in Edgar Renteria as soon as the season ended.
With acquisition of Rentreria, and with Guillen's approval, the Tigers had their new 1st baseman, upgrading from the banjo hitter that was Casey.
Will Guillen put up stats typical of a lumbering, powerful 1st baseman? No, but he should produce more than well enough to more than hold his own offensively. Guillen will be far better than Casey at the plate, and as he grows more comfortable with the position, in the field.
Many have speculated moving Guillen away from short will actually make him more productive at the plate, as playing 1st will be easier on his injury prone body. I'm not sure if that will turn out to be true, but if Guillen puts up stats similar to 2007, around .300/.350/.500, with his typical 20 HR's and 100 RBI (elite numbers for a shortstop, but merely good at 1st), the Tigers will be more than happy.
2B - Placido Polanco: The unsung Polanco had a marvelous all around season in 2007, deservedly making the AL All-Star team. Polanco had a career year offensively, and was error free for the entire season. There may not be a better 2 spot hitter in all of baseball. Polanco handles the bat better than anyone on the team, while rarely striking out. He's the one man you want at the plate when you have to have the bat put on the ball.
But he's also 32, doesn't draw many walk, and isn't especially fast, which means it's unlikely he'll hit .341 again. That's not to say he'll have a bad 2008, but I think we've seen the high water mark for the Placidome. Polanco is still one of the best 2nd basemen in baseball. Even though his stats may drop some, he'll hit .300 with a little pop, play a flawless 2nd base, and have a very productive season.
SS - Edgar Reteria: The man who moved the Tigers' All-Star shortstop to 1st base, Renteria is a quality player. He won't hit with the authority of Carlos Guillen, but few shortstops do. But Renteria will more than hold his own at the plate. More importantly, he will be unquestionably better than Guillen in the field.
Renteria's one previous season in the AL, with the Red Sox in 2005, was considered a bust. Looking at the stiffs the Sox have played at short since his departure (Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo) it was a mistake to have let Renteria go, no matter how much the Nation bitched.
His overall stats with the Red Sox show he wasn't all that bad, considering the extenuating circumstances. Renteria replaced long time Red Sox Nation favorite, Nomar Garciaparria, and doing so in the insane media cauldron that is Boston. There will be no such pressure in Detroit, which is a much mellower place to play.
As long as Renteria plays his typically solid defense (which would be a vast improvement over Guillen), while putting up respectable offensive numbers, the Tigers are set at short for the next couple of seasons.
One more thing... It's interesting to note that the 2 players who continually turn up as "Most similar by age" at Renteria's Baseball Reference page are Alan Trammell and Roberto Alomar. Not bad company at all...
3B - Miguel Cabrera: What more is there to say about Cabrera? We've heard all the superlatives. Caberra is the best player under 25 years old in baseball. A once in a generation player with hall of fame talent.
Most tellingly, the players listed at Baseball Reference as "Similar Batters through Age 24" has hall of famers throughout. Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, and Orlando Cepeda. I thought Renteria was keeping good company, it turns out Cabrera is keeping elite company!
So it's safe to say everyone, from Tigers fans to the local and national MSM, is expecting BIG things from Cabrera. There's already talk of his contending for the Triple Crown and the AL MVP, leading the Tigers to the playoffs, doing damn near everything but winning the Cy Young. Well, that, and a Gold Glove. I'm reserving judgment on his defense till I get to see it, but from what I've seen so far, Cabrera's no Brandon Inge. Then again, how many 3rd base gloves are?
Expectations are sky high for Cabrera. Maybe too high for a kid who turns all of 25 this season.
If there is a situation for Cabrera to mature into an all time great, it's in Detroit. He's surrounded by true professionals like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, countrymen who can shoulder the burden of leadership Cabrera wasn't ready for in Florida. As good as he is, Cabrera is just part of the show, one of many talented players in Detroit, rather than the centerpiece.
Much as my eyes were opened by watching Gary Sheffield on a daily basis, I'm expecting the same from finally getting to see Cabrera play every day. With everything he has going for him here in the D, from being surrounded with quality players, to the security of having a big money, long-term contract, there's no reason to expect anything but elite numbers from the Tigers new star.
I can't wait to watch Cabrera grow into super stardom while wearing the Olde English D.
Overall: There's not many, in any, better infields in all of baseball. The Tigers have legitimate All-Star talent at every position. They should hit the snot out of the ball, while playing respectable defense. There's plenty of offensive pop at the corners, as there should be, and excellent defense up the middle, as there needs to be. When your infield weak link is Pudge Rodriguez, that's really saying something.
Tomorrow: Starting pitching.