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Closing the Books on 2006

In the past two days, at least a dozen people have asked me how bummed I am about the Tigers World Series loss.  In a lot of ways, I’m disappointed that the Tigers couldn’t seal the deal although it’s hard to be so down when this team did so many things for this year.

For the ten seasons from 1996 through 2005, Tiger fans haven’t had too much to cheer about.  You have ten losing seasons, eight 90 loss seasons and three 100 loss seasons.  Over those ten years, the team lost 966 games, or 97 games a season on average.  Everyone looks to 2003 as rock bottom for this franchise but in a lot of ways, 1996 was just as bad.  The team didn’t lose as many games (109), the team’s ERA (6.38) was the second worst of all time.  It was actually worse then the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, which is recognized as the worst team ever.  The worst team ERA was the 1930 Phillies at 6.71.  It’s also somewhat ironic that this is the first ten year stretch that we had where Sparky Anderson wasn’t at the helm.

Anyway, the Tigers have been bad.  And some seasons, they’ve been very bad.  And in other seasons, they’ve had some of the worst teams ever.  Maybe my expectations have been blunted from these bad seasons, but just making it to World Series and losing it pretty good in my book.

Of course, the second guessing has begun.  The biggest thing has been Jim Leyland starting Justin Verlander over Kenny Rogers in game five.  I actually thought it was the move to make.  You can’t expect to have Jeff Weaver do a Chris Carpenter imitation so saving Kenny Rogers to throw against Carpenter seemed like a sound move since that was a game we’d also have to win.

The other noise I’ve been hearing is how the Tigers need a big bat.  This is a natural reaction to the team’s offensive woes in the World Series but over the course of the season, the team was decent but not great with the bat.  The Tigers had an above average slugging percentage (.449) and ISO (.174).  If they make a move, I think it should be for a patient hitter who will take a walk instead of someone like Alfonso Soriano, who could just as easily flame out. 

The other question is, if we focus on picking up a big bat, what position do we shoot for.  First base is the obvious choice but this years crop of the free agents is pretty thin.  After Nomar Garciaparra, the next best free agent first baseman very well could be Sean Casey.  Replacing Brandon Inge at third base would also be an option but the third base crop is very thin.  Aramis Ramirez can become a free agent at his option but that seems unlikely because he’s set to make $11 million if he sticks with the Cubs.  After that, I can’t find anyone better then Inge.  I’m fine with Craig Monroe in leftfield and Marcus Thames at DH/fourth OF and all of the other spots have established players

So if anything happens, it will happen through a trade.  The Tigers have a surplus of pitching.  The rotation I’d like to see next year would be Rogers, Verlander, Bonderman, Robertson and Zumaya with Humberto Sanchez filling as the seventh or eighth inning guy in place of Zumaya.  Jamie Walker is a free agent and while I’d like to see the Tigers get him back, it’s not imperative because I could see Andrew Miller or Wil Ledezma filling that role for the Tigers.

The odd man out looks to be Mike Maroth.  I like Maroth and he’s a solid innings eater but if Sanchez is the real deal and Miller is as good as people expect him to be, Maroth could potentially be the ninth best starter on the team.  I could see putting him in the rotation at the beginning of the year to try to boost his trade value but that’s really about it.  Zach Miner could also be a guy we use to as trade bait

The other question that will be hanging out there is whether to sign Sean Casey or not.  My initial thought is we shouldn’t and try to make it work with Chris Shelton and use the money elsewhere.  Maybe to lock up Jeremy Bonderman.

The other bright spot on this team is Cameron Maybin, who lit the Midwest on first this season.  Maybin finished .304/.387/.457 with the Midwest League champion West Michigan Whitecaps.  He’ll see some time in Double A this year and if succeeds at that level at his age (he’ll turn 20 on April 4, 2007), you might see Curtis Granderon beginning to get some time at one of the corner outfield spots late in 2008 to make room for this kid.  And that’s if Brent Clevlan doesn’t do it sooner.

So even if this team stands pat, I can see this team contending in the next couple of years.  My biggest fear is that the Tigers could just as easily finish in fourth place next year in a tough AL Central as they could finish in first place.  And if they do, we can’t get too discouraged because I’d be willing to bet this team is back in the playoffs in the next few years. 

The “problem” with this team, is there are isues with it, but it’s hard to know exactly which one to attempt to fix. If you replace say Craig Monroe, if you do get better production from the position, will it cost you so much as to prohibit you from making a more worthwhile investment elsewhere? Same with Inge, or first base for that matter. I hope they find as big a left handed bat that they can get, who can play either right, first or DH.
As for the pitching, I’m kind of hoping that they’ll just stockpile it. Maroth could be moved, but his value is minimal after the injury. I think the team should just hold onto Bonderman, Verlander, Robertson, Miller, Sanchez, Ledezma, and Zumaya. The attrition of pitchers is so great, long-term holding on to as many as possible is probably in there best interests. Plus, many of them aren’t free agents for a number of years, it’s a good opportunity to save money. Another year of Todd Jones scares the hell out of me, but if Zumaya’s innings are leveraged well it shouldn’t be that big an issue.

Posted by KS on November 4th, 2006 at 7:44 am

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