“A little voice inside my head said ‘Don’t look back, you can never look back’”
-“Boys of Summer”, Don Henley
Earlier this week, the Tigers landed at Metro and made their way up I-75, back home to Comerica Park. They have cleaned out their lockers and boarded planes to places like New Jersey, California, and Venezuela. They look defeated, as they did after Shane Victorino hit a glorified pop-up over the Green Monster; a high shot that probably still hasn’t landed in New England. The fan base called for Moonwalk Leyland’s head (he obliged, much to my shock and dismay). They booed Prince Fielder and were shocked by our utter collapse in a year that looked so promising. But, did it really? Did the Tigers season REALLY look that promising? Let’s look back at 2013, the year that many thought should be OUR year.
2013 started really as soon as the 2012 World Series ended. Double D signed Moonwalk to another one-year deal, then went out and picked up free agent Torii Hunter. this gave us an everyday right fielder. In January, we started a month-long process of signing current players to extensions. We started with Don Kelly, followed by Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Phil Coke, Alex Avila, Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Luke Putkonen, Bruce Rondon, and Darin Downs. However, our number one starter, Justin Verlander, was without a deal, yet.
Spring Training & the First Half
Lakeland opened, and we were still without a sure-fire closer. Moonwalk said on Day One we were “set up to fail” due to the extraordinarily high expectations of this team. Anything short of a title would be failure in the eyes of many fans. On March 14th, we released Brennan Boesch. His services were no longer needed after picking up Hunter. We had a surplus of outfielders capable of handling left field, someone had to go. Then on March 30th, the brass announced the inking of a seven-year deal with JV. 29 other teams groaned, all hopeful he would become a free agent.
We started off the season slow, going 15-10 in April. The bullpen was by committee and it was a bad committee. Nothing was working. We even resigned 2012 scapegoat Jose Valverde to try and get something going. Then, May came and the pen got worse. We went 14-14 for the month and followed that up with a 14-13 record in June. While we were scoring more runs than any other team in the majors, we were giving up almost as many. Our bullpen was being juggled between Toledo and Detroit, looking for some resolution. Many players, such as Evan Reed, Al Alburquerque, Coke, Putkonen, Rondon, Jose Ortega, and Jose Alvarez, were sent back and forth at least twice. We were 43-37 and the only bright spots were Mad Max’s pitching (9-0 by this point) and Miguel Cabrera’s batting. Miguel was on pace for batting .373 with over 50 homers and 200 RBI. He was once again looking to make history. We were also fighting for first with Cleveland and doing a poor job.
The Second Half
July came and things improved. Victor Martinez’s bat finally got going. The Tigers went 18-8 over the month, but a few key things happened that would affect the Tigers future. We made two trades before the deadline that would prove to be fruitful. These trades were the acquisition of Jose Veras from Houston for two minor-leaguers and picking up shortstop Jose Iglesias from Boston in a three-team deal. Though, that deal cost us Avisail Garcia, who ended up in Chicago with the White Sox. On the down side for the month, Jhonny Peralta was suspended for his involvement with the Biogenesis Scandal. Then, on July 22nd, Miggy was injured. He had been battling a back injury for a while and was compensating with his abdominal muscles. But, finally, his abdominal-groin-hip flexor region couldn’t handle the strain anymore. From what we have been told to this time, his injury is just a strain and he was day-to-day. However, this injury would nag him through the rest of the season, continuing to bother him after the end of the ALCS.
August saw the Tigers keeping up their winning ways, going 19-11. This was a solid month for the Tigers, despite losing Miggy for a few games here and there and losing Alex Avila for two weeks with a concussion. September was the worst month, as we started off with a six game lead in the division and almost lost the lead. The Tigers finished the month 13-13. We were only one game up on the Indians after dropping the final three games of the season to the worst team in baseball, the Miami Marlins. We entered the postseason with high hopes, facing the Oakland A’s in a rematch of the 2012 ALDS.
The Oakland series went the full five games, once more. JV, once again, showed us why he is the man to have on the mound in a decisive game. Meanwhile, in the other ALDS series, the Red Sox stomped on the Rays, and we were off to Fenway Park. The Tigers won Game 1 behind a superior performance by the Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez and the pen. They combined to throw 8 and 1/3rd no-hit innings. we looked sure to win the series. Then, in Game 2, Joaquin Benoit hung a bases-loaded, two out pitch for David Ortiz. He put this put into the Boston bullpen and the end began for the Tigers. The team started to become unraveled. Games two and three were lost, even though our starters were solid. Nothing was working in sync. Either our pen couldn’t hold the lead, or our batters could not capitalize on opportunities. The Tigers left over 40 runners on base, including 12 in Game 1 alone.
We all know how it ended. A 2-1 lead. Iglesias made an uncommon error at short on a routine grounder that would have been an inning ending double play, but turned into a bases-loaded, one out situation. Shane Victorino, who had 2 hits during the series so far, hit a 0-2 pitch over the Monster. Koji Uehara came in and finished us off, ending our march to the promised land.
What’s Next for the Tigers?
As much as it killed me to hear this, the first order of business was to replace Jim Leyland as manager. Moonwalk Leyland stepped down on Monday, saying “the tank is getting low”. Unfortunately, the best replacement option was available last year in Terry Francona, who is now in Cleveland. Now, we have a list of managers with little or no experience to coach a team of the Tigers caliber. One such manager is Dusty Baker. While he has the experience, he is also known to destroy pitcher’s arms (see Kerry Wood and Mark Prior). Double-D said it best when he said at Monday’s press conference that “A year ago there was one obvious candidate who stood out over everyone else that was available, and that was Terry Francona. This year, there isn’t one person like that.”
Likely candidates include members of the Tigers current coaching staff. 3rd base coach Tom Brookens, bench coach Gene Lamont and coach Lloyd McClendon will be considered. Former Tiger catcher (once compared to Johnny Bench by Sparky) and current minor-league coach in the Red Sox organization, Torey Lovullo, is also being considered. Former Indians manager Manny Acta and Indians bench coach (and former interim manager), Sandy Alomar Jr., also could be in contention for the job. Many believe Brookens has the inside shot because of his extensive years dedicated to the Tigers organization. He also coached the West Michigan Whitecaps to a championship before coming to join Leyland’s staff in 2010. I personally think this is a great idea. He cannot be any worse than Alan Trammell, who was the last player under Sparky to manage the Tigers. He also knows the team, knows the game plan and knows who works best in what situation. An outside manager may not not know these nuances and could mess things up, ending our mini dynasty as one of the top team in the MLB.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Miguel Cabrera will most likely need surgery to repair a small tear in his groin during this offseason. According to Double-D, he was evaluated by a doctor before the postseason. But, he only agreed to do so if he was not benched. The damage would not have taken only a few weeks to mend, either. It is a nagging sports injury, which needs time to heal. Dombrowski stated this, meaning that even sitting him back in August may not have helped his postseason performance. Hopefully, Miggy has the surgery sooner, rather than later. We all hope he is ready to go when camp opens in six months.
Sources are also reporting that the Tigers may try to trade Max Scherzer during this off-season. He becomes a free-agent after next season and is represented by Scott Boras. So, he will demand a lot of money and I am sure he will get it; just not here in Detroit, most likely. This means we need to trade him at his peak and get some pitching in return. The Tigers can offer an outrageous deal to the Nationals, who have been interested in Scherzer for a long time. A straight up deal might work here: Mad Max for Bryce Harper. This would solve the speed issue and our left field issue. It would also add another bat. I doubt that this scenario will happen, however. So, acquiring pitching would be best.
Another rumor floating around is the possibility of dumping Prince Fielder to clear up salary room for the free agent market. I agree with a trade like this, even if it barely brings in anything. There are a lot of good free agents on the market this year including positions where we could use an improvement. Some of these positions include second base, catcher and left field.
All of this season’s miscues can change for 2014 when the World Series ends in two weeks. Our top priorities are making sure that Iglesias stays, as well as both free agents Ramon Santiago and Omar Infante. After those issues are resolved, we need to look at the available free agents. We have a need for a solid closer and Koji Uehara is a free agent after the World Series. Granted, he is 38 years old. But, he is still amazing. His splitter dominated not just the Tigers, but every team he faced this year. His strikeout to walk ratio was 101:9. Yes, that is 101 strikeouts and only 9 walks this season. If we cannot get him, Grant Balfour is available, as well.
We are also looking for speed, as well as an everyday left fielder. There are two options to consider there: Curtis Granderson is a free agent and so is Jacoby Ellsbury. Both are center fielders, but Granderson could easily move to left. If we chased Ellsbury, we could move AJ to left. Either one would be a great addition because Nick Castellanos is still not quite ready for the big time. We need to fill the position with a proven starter because the platooning left field tactic we have used for the last three years has hurt us in the postseason each year. Peralta says he would love to come back as a left fielder, but I think Double-D knows that we need a proven name there. Even though he prefers power over speed, losing Peralta’s bat for a bat almost as good with superior defensive skills in left field is the better option.
It is six months until Lakeland opens up. A long, cold winter ahead before the Voice of the Turtle awakens our baseball hearts again from the long slumber of an off-season. The Tigers have work to do while we wait. So, let’s just sit back and watch Lions football, Pistons basketball, and Red Wings hockey until our national pastime returns. Maybe there is still hope here for a championship in Detroit.
For a more complete and in depth look at the playoffs, please visit the notes section of my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MotorCitySportsSwami/notes