MLB Team Report - Detroit Tigers - INSIDE PITCH
Station-to-station baseball was phased out in Detroit like gas-guzzling muscle cars as the Tigers revamped their team to emphasize speed and defense as a complement to their traditionally strong starting pitching.
A corollary to that is a reduction in the number of three-run home runs, the roadmap to winning retired manager Jim Leyland so fondly depended upon.
"We're going to miss the RBIs out of that left-hand bat sometimes," general manager Dave Dombrowski said at the Winter Meetings. "You're always weighing these things. And so, you become a different ball club."
Detroit will have a completely different infield look, one that should be stronger defensively. Miguel Cabrera goes back to first, where he is a defensive upgrade on the traded Prince Fielder. Fielder, who was dealt to the Texas Rangers, won't be easily replaced in the lineup. His power and protection of Cabrera in the lineup will be sorely missed.
Rookie Nick Castellanos gets first crack at third, a position he played during his early minor league time, with Ian Kinsler taking over from free agent Omar Infante at second and defensive whiz Jose Iglesias back for a full season at shortstop.
The run production from Fielder and Jhonny Peralta, gone to St. Louis as a free agent, won't be duplicated but the Tigers are a faster, more athletic team that is better defensively.
Whether Kinsler supplants the streaky Austin Jackson in the leadoff spot will be determined in spring training. It come down to how rookie manager Brad Ausmus wants to string hitters behind new cleanup man Victor Martinez.
Rajai Davis, a right-handed hitter, was brought in to platoon with left-handed Andy Dirks in left field and will also add to the speed on the bases. Switch-hitting Steve Lombardozzi, acquired from Washington as part of the deal that sent Doug Fister to the Nationals, won't hurt in the speed department and will give Ausmus some lineup flexibility as a multi-position player.
The departure of Fister opens up a rotation spot for Drew Smyly, whose spot in the bullpen will tentatively be filled by Ian Krol, another part of the Fister package. Smyly started for the Tigers two years ago but was moved to the bullpen for 2013.
"He has started in the past, we built him up pretty good," Dombrowski said. "He's not a young kid anymore, he's 24. He's not a baby, baby. Usually at 25, you're fully developed. How do you want to work those things? I don't really have a set answer on that at this point."
Signing Joe Nathan to close fills one area of need but banking on Bruce Rondon, who ended the season injured, to be a late-inning force is a risk. The Tigers have two late-inning relievers in the minors (Melvin Mercedes, Corey Knebel) who could force themselves onto the Detroit roster by mid-season.
"I think our club has a chance to win the championship. Sure," Dombrowski said. "We have a dominant closer. We have three of the best starting pitchers in baseball with a couple of other solid guys behind them. We like some other arms in our bullpen. We've got a good offensive ballclub.
"We're a little bit different, because we're a little bit more athletic than we used to be. We're going to play a little bit better defense. We may not score quite as many runs."
There is a notable lack of major-league-ready pitching in the organization but Detroit hopes one or two candidates emerge to be called upon if necessary by midseason. Among those is lefty Robbie Ray, the third player from the Fister deal who likely would begin the season pitching for Triple-A Toledo.
MLB Team Report - Detroit Tigers - NOTES, QUOTES
--RHP Joba Chamberlain reportedly agreed Dec. 12 to join Detroit on a one-year contract worth $2.5 million plus incentives, giving the Tigers potential added depth they were looking for at the back end of the bullpen. The Tigers apparently would confirm the deal if Chamberlain passes a physical. The former Yankee was 2-1 with a 4.93 ERA in 42 innings this year. Chamberlain has not had an ERA below 4.35 in the past five seasons but is still averaging close to a strikeout an inning. He struggled with his control last season, walking 26 and allowing 47 hits, including eight home runs. He was a rookie sensation in 2007 with a 2-0 record and 0.38 ERA.
--LHP Drew Smyly returns to the rotation next season after a year of relieving that found him progress from long man to a late-inning role at the end of 2013. Smyly pitched 175 1/3 innings in the majors over the past two seasons, so Detroit probably will limit his innings in 2014. GM Dave Dombrowski said the organization hasn't talked about that. "He has started in the past, we built him up pretty good," Dombrowski said. "He's not a young kid anymore, he's 24. He's not a baby, baby. Usually at 25, you're fully developed. How do you want to work those things? I don't really have a set answer on that at this point."
--LF Rajai Davis, 33, signed a two-year deal worth a reported $10 million to add speed and a platoon presence to Detroit's outfield. Davis stole 45 bases last season. He hit .319 against lefties last year but .228 against right-handers.
"Detroit has a history of winning," Davis said. "I'm a winner. I want to win. This is a winning organization with a winning mentality."
GM Dave Dombrowski said at the official signing announcement Dec. 11, "The speed aspect is an important part. We have an extremely athletic outfield. I think we're cognizant of being more defensive. Our ballpark is more conducive to that kind of play."
--1B Miguel Cabrera was consulted before the Tigers made the decision to move him from third base. Cabrera said his surgically repaired core muscle "feels great," and he expects to be ready for full participation in spring training.
--UT Steve Lombardozzi will be Detroit's primary backup to SS Jose Iglesias in addition to covering the rest of the infield and some of the outfield. In 257 games for Washington, which traded him to Detroit, he played just two games at short, but the Tigers want 2B/SS Hernan Perez to get steady at-bats with Triple-A Toledo rather than sporadic play as a reserve with Detroit.
"I think he can go over there and play (shortstop)," GM Dave Dombrowski said at the winter meetings. "I don't think he's a guy you'd pencil in for a month if something happens. That's why you have a guy like Hernan Perez, who probably could do that. We've already talked about it."
Lombardozzi posted a .264 average over his three seasons with the Nationals.
--RHP Luis Marte was designated for assignment by Detroit on Dec. 11 to clear a roster spot for LF Rajai Davis. Marte underwent right shoulder surgery in June but recently was cleared to begin throwing again. He pitched in three games for Triple-A Toledo before being disabled in April, with the surgery following. The Tigers hope he clears waivers so they can outright him to Toledo as he pitches his way back onto the mound. Marte made the Opening Day roster in 2012, but a hamstring problem in his final tuneup put him on the disabled list, and he was only able to pitch briefly for Detroit.
--LHP Ian Krol tentatively replaces LHP Drew Smyly in Detroit's bullpen after coming over from Washington in the deal that sent RHP Doug Fister to the Nationals. Smyly will become a starter. Krol throws in the mid-90s and had a 2-1 record and 3.95 ERA for Washington in 32 games his rookie season. However, he allowed a run in seven of his last 11 outings, posting an 8.59 ERA over that time. He is not a lock to make the team.
--LF Andy Dirks appears set to get the bulk of the playing time in left field this season, but he is likely to platoon with recently signed LF Rajai Davis. Dirks played all season with a bad knee but didn't tell the club, and the soreness may have been a big part of his disappointing 2013. He hit .256 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs in 131 games last season after batting .322 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs in 88 games in 2012.
--3B Nick Castellanos played the position in the minors before the Tigers signed Prince Fielder two winters ago. Castellanos said he began taking ground balls at third the day Fielder was shipped to the Texas Rangers and Detroit has assigned new first base/infield coach Omar Vizquel to tutor him beginning in January.
--2B Ian Kinsler may lead off or he may hit down in the Tigers' batting order. Kinsler has been a proficient power producer as the top man in the Texas batting order but his power and the presence of CF Austin Jackson as a leadoff hitter may prompt Detroit to hit Kinsler beneath the power spots. Jackson's streakiness as a leadoff hitter may induce the Tigers to hit him lower in the batting order.
--RHP Luis Marte (right shoulder surgery in June 2013) was designated for assignment Dec. 11 to clear a roster spot for LF Rajai Davis. Marte was recently cleared to resume throwing and Detroit hopes to keep him in its organization.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Those perfect players that are great offensively, great defensively, run fast and sign cheaply, I don't know where they all are. (Maybe) people can give me an indication of where they all exist. So you do the best job you can of putting together a club." -- GM Dave Dombrowski.
MLB Team Report - Detroit Tigers - ROSTER REPORT
The Tigers began their offseason work with two major deals, sending 1B Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for 2B Ian Kinsler and then swapping RHP Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for two lefties and a utility man, Steve Lombardozzi.
They filled their need for a closer by signing veteran RHP Joe Nathan, 39, to a two-year deal, and they brought in free agent OF Rajai Davis to provide a platoon partner in left for Andy Dirks.
GM Dave Dombrowski said Miguel Cabrera would go back to first base with rookie Nick Castellanos getting a solid shot to win the third base job.
BIGGEST NEEDS: Detroit could use more power, plus a veteran journeyman starter who could join the rotation in case of an injury.
ARRIVALS: 2B Ian Kinsler (trade with Rangers), INF Steve Lombardozzi (trade with Nationals), LHP Ian Krol (trade with Nationals), RHP Joe Nathan (free agent from Rangers). LF Rajai Davis (free agent from Blue Jays), RHP Joba Chamberlain (free agent from Yankees)
DEPARTURES: 1B Prince Fielder (traded to Rangers), C Brayan Pena (free agent, signed with Reds), SS Jhonny Peralta (free agent, signed with Cardinals), RHP Doug Fister (traded to Nationals).
FREE AGENTS: RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Jeremy Bonderman, RHP Octavio Dotel, 2B Omar Infante, INF Ramon Santiago, RHP Jose Veras
Detroit would bring back Benoit to set up, but he is likely to get a closer job somewhere else. Infante is gone after the trade that brought in 2B Ian Kinsler. Dotel won't return and is expected to retire. Santiago likely will be allowed to leave.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Al Alburquerque, C Alex Avila, OF Andy Dirks, CF Austin Jackson, RHP Rick Porcello, RHP Max Scherzer, INF Danny Worth
The Tigers probably will continue their record of not having had a player go to arbitration under GM Dave Dombrowski.
IN LIMBO: OF Andy Dirks, RHP Luke Putkonen, RHP Evan Reed, INF Danny Worth.
--3B Miguel Cabrera (groin surgery in October 2013) should be fully recovered in time for spring training.