Mike McClary posed 17 questions about the Detroit Tigers at the Daily Fungo. Big Al has answered them. Mack Avenue Kurt is in the process of answering them. Now, I'm going to answer them.
1. Who’s the closer in 2009?
This is a tough one but they drafted a bunch of college relievers (although some could be starters) in the early rounds of the amateur draft this summer. I don't know if any of them will be ready to close in 2009 but I get the feeling that they won't be signing Frankie Rodriguez or Brian Fuentes to an expensive multi-year deal. They may not go into spring training with a set closer. Instead there may be a competition between Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya, minor league reliever Casey Fein and maybe a free agent such as Damaso Marte or Dan Wheeler.
2. Does Chuck Hernandez return as pitching coach?
I think it's very hard for fans to evaluate pitching coaches because their work is done behind the scenes for the most part. I'm not going to place the blame on him without proof but it's clear that very few of their pitchers have shown much development over the last couple of years. Instead they are getting worse for the most part. Someone will have to take the hit for this disappointing season and I suspect he'll be one of the people to go.
3. Is Nate Robertson a Tiger next season?
I think it's possible they can trade a left-handed pitcher with a decent track record before this year but they won't get much for him. Thus, I think he'll be back. Since he has good control and tends to pitch fairly well his first time through the line-up, he might make a good reliever.
4. Can Dontrelle Willis bounce back?
I think he can bounce back to being a major league pitcher again. He has been working on his control in the minors with decent results so we may see him back in Detroit some time in September. Getting back to his Cy Young runner-up form of 2005 is not likely. Getting back to league average innings eater form is a possibility.
There's a lot of work to be done though.
5. Can the Tigers deal Carlos Guillen?
There would certainly be a market for his talents (even if they are declining) but there will not be too much interest in his contract which has three years and $36 million remaining. He'll likely be the Tigers third baseman next year.
6. If the Tigers can get a catcher, do they — and do they move Brandon Inge back to third?
I don't think they'll be able to get a good starting catcher so I think Inge will remain there next season. I like the idea of Inge playing third but then you'd have the likely problem of two really bad hitters in the line-up - Inge and the new catcher. And they'd also have to figure out what to do with Guillen.
7. Does Vance Wilson return at long last?
Wilson underwent a second Tommy John surgery in June so his career may be over. They'll need a back up and Dusty Ryan coming off a solid minor league season is a likely candidate. Ryan is a good defensive catcher and should be far superior to Dane Sardinha offensively.
8. Who’s the shortstop?
I think Edgar Renteria will be back. I talked about this in an earlier post.
9. Would they deal Magglio Ordonez as some suggest?
I think they still have a window of opportunity to win next year and I don't see them trading him for prospects (which is what a team usually gets when they trade a player with a large contract) during the off-season. If they have another bad first half next year, they might try to deal him during the season.
10. How does Jeremy Bonderman recover?
I've always been a Jeremy Bonderman supporter and I'm going to say that he'll bounce back next year. I believe his poor pitching since last June was primarily related to health problems and all indications are that he should be healthy next spring. I don't think he'll ever be the ace many had hoped but if he can return to his 2006 form, he will be valuable.
11. Is Clete Thomas on the big club to stay?
I don't think Thomas hits well enough yet to be a regular but I think he is ready to be a useful backup outfielder. He bats left-handed, can play all three outfield positions and has a lot of speed. Those are things that the Tigers can certainly use off the bench so I think they'll find a spot for him next year.
12. Who is 2009’s Matt Joyce?
Dusty Ryan is a possibility.
13. Are the Tigers counting on Freddy Garcia?
I would hope they are not counting on a pitcher coming off shoulder surgery but I think he'll re-sign with them (because of the Venezuelan connection) and be given an opportunity to win a job in the spring.
14. Will Brent Clevlen finally break through?
I don't think Brent Clevlen is that good of a prospect. It took him three years to learn how to hit upper level minor league pitching and he still strikes out at an alarming rate. He's a good defender with some power but I think he'll be a reserve outfielder at best and I think Thomas has more to offer.
15. What can the Tigers expect out of Joel Zumaya?
Another bizarre injury perhaps? Zumaya is still very young and can still throw 100 MPH so I wouldn't count him out but he needs to stay healthy. He also needs to learn to be more of a pitcher rather than a thrower. I'd love to see them try him as a starter.
16. Do they sign Placido Polanco to an extension before the season?
I would not sign him to an extension. He'll be 33 years old next year and 33 year old infielders who rely on batting average for most of their production tend to decline very fast. He should be fine next year but I'd wary about extending him.
17. What’s Gary Sheffield’s role — if any?
I doubt they'll be able to move his salary so I think he'll be back next year. He is healthy again and a healthy Gary Sheffield is still a productive player but he concerns me a lot. I question whether a 40 year old with a violent swing and multiple shoulder surgeries in his past will be able to stay healthy. That's a problem because he tries to play through injuries and Jim Leyland doesn't sit him so it hurts the team.