Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Answering the Detroit Tigers burning questions: Cabrera is no bust edition

If it's Tuesday, it must be...No, not Belgium, Prince spaghetti day or time to make the donuts. It means it's time for another round of burning questions!  

As the All-Star break rapidly approaches, the Tigers continue to hover just above the .500 mark, 7 games back of the White Sox. Should the Tigers be considered contenders?

When you factor in their slower than slow start, crawling back to the break even line is an impressive accomplishment. After that awful beginning to the season, falling 12 games under .500, I think all any of us wanted was the Tigers not being out of the playoff hunt when the season was half over. Best case being they'd have a shot for redemption from July on. Well, mission accomplished.

So using all the above as your measurment, the Tigers are indeed, "contenders." Though the Tigers are not occupying a playoff spot, they are far from out of it. Considering all of the first half adversity, you'd hope the Tigers might catch a few breaks in the season's second half.

We've seen the Tigers catch a few breaks already, with the emergence of Armando Galarraga, a squadron of Mud Hens keeping the Tigers afloat after the injury bug struck, the Tribe essentially ending their season by trading C.C. Sabathia, and the fact that no one in the Central has taken a stranglehold on the division. The Tigers are going to need a few more breaks, as making up 7 games and leapfrogging 2 teams in the standings will not be an easy task.

Are the Tigers going to make up those 7 games and jump the 2 teams ahead of them? I wouldn't put big money on it, but it's not out of the realm of possibility, not at all. They have too much talent to not, at the very least, make things interesting in August and September.  

Miguel Cabrera has been hitting the cover off the ball the past couple of weeks, last night's 4-4, 2 home run, 3 RBI game being his best of the season. Miggy is now hitting .291 with an .851 OPS, and rising. Thoughts?

So much for the knee-jerk mouth breathers (Just check the comment thread at the Freep or Mlive after any Tigers loss, and you'll understand why I used the term "mouth breathers." It's those morons who soured me on continuing with a COTD) who called Cabrera trade a bust all of 2 months into the season. It's moronic to think Cabrera would be a massive bust, especially when taking into account his changing leagues, adjusting to a new team and position, dealing with a nagging hip injury and the expectations a $150+ million contract brings.

He's hitting his stride, and finally looking like the player we expected back in December. Despite his slow start, I'll bet you dollars to donuts Cabrera ends up with stats comparable to the numbers he put up the last 4 seasons in Florida.  

So the trade isn't a bust, even with Dontrelle Willis doing nothing but playing catch down in Lakeland?

Not even close to being a bust.

 I'll make that trade 10 times out of 10, even if it meant taking on Dontrelle Willis and his aversion to the strike zone. The mistake wasn't in taking on Willis, as Detroit had no choice in the matter if the trade for Cabrera was going to be consummated. The mistake was giving him such a big contract before even throwing one pitch in anger. (Hey, 20/20 hindsight is great, huh?)

The reason the trade was made is the Tigers were receiving a young superstar in Cabrera. Young superstars rarely hit the open market. So when a talent the age of Cabrera is available, you do what it takes. In this case, doing what it takes meant Willis being included in the deal.

I'll admit I thought the Willis signing was a good one at the time, as I believed the Tigers wouldn't have shelled out so much dinero if they weren't confident he would be, at worst, competent. I don't think they saw the Steve Blass-esquse issues coming. No one did.

Willis' knee injury just exacerbates things, though we now know there's no serious structural damage. The only silver lining to the knee problem being the Tigers can keep Willis on the DL, and give him all the time he needs to figure out his issues, whatever the Hell they may be.  

So what do you with the D-Train?

If I were in charge, Willis wouldn't pitch for the Tigers again this season.

Willis is a sunk cost for the next 2 1/2 seasons, so he won't be released. His expensive contract, when combined with the control issues, make him untradeable. So Willis is a Tiger at least through next season, good, bad or ugly. The Tigers are doing the right, and only, thing they can do. Keep Willis in the minors and let him work through his issues. Be they mechanical, mental, or a combination thereof.

He's in the right place to be doing so, that being far, far away from Detroit.  

Marcus Thames is still playing well as the everyday left fielder, hitting his 17th home run last night. (A stunner, in that it was to the opposite field!) Is he the long-term solution in left field?

I'm still not entirely sure the Tigers think so, even though Thames is the only pure power hitter on the team. Personal;ly, I think he's earned the full-time job for the foreseeable future. At least until one of the young outfielders prove they are ready offensively. Either way, I don't think we'll see the Tigers going outside the organization anytime soon for a left fielder. We'll see no more experiments with the likes of Jacque Jones.

I'll just say this about Marcus Thames. If a home run is needed, Thames is the Tiger I want at the plate. Sure, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco and Cabrera are better overall hitters, but no one on the Tigers is more of a threat to go yard than Thames. His ratio of 9.9 at bats per home run is by far the best on the Tigers, and one of the best in all of baseball. He's earned the full-time gig.

Actually, I really like how Jim Leyland is currently handling left field. Thames normally starts, getting the majority of at bats, but is pulled late in most games for the much much better fielding Matt Joyce or Clete Thomas. (Not that Thames is awful in the field, but Joyce/Thomas have much greater range and better arms) It gives the Tigers the best of both worlds, Thames' massive power, with solid late inning defense. I'd be just fine if that remained the status quo for the rest of the season.  

Where will the Tigers stand when they reach the defacto halfway mark, the All-Star break?

Not where I thought they'd be going into the season, but still in decent shape for a second half run. I'll say they'll be in 3rd place, 5 games back of the Sox. I have nothing to back it up, just a gut feeling. //knock on wood//

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