Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Off-season Thoughts

I haven't been writing here as much here lately as I'm trying finish up my sabermetrics book. I plan to publish it some time this winter. I'll have more details when it gets closer to completion.
I do want to give my thoughts on what I expect to happen this off-season though.

Contrary to popular belief, I think Dombrowski is usually pretty honest and open about his basic winter plan. Most years, he seems to do what he says he's going to do. For example, last year he reported that the Tigers needed to acquire a catcher, shortstop, starting pitcher and reliever and that they didn't have a lot of money to accomplish it. He also expressed a desire to improve team defense. So, he went out and acquired a catcher (Gerald Laird), a shortstop (Adam Everett), a starting pitcher (Edwin Jackson) and a reliever (Brandon Lyon).

Other years, the Tigers will pull a surprise move like signing Pudge Rodriguez or trading for Miguel Cabrera. I think a lot of that comes from Mike Illitch though. If he decides to spend then Dombrowski will change his plan. That's the impression I get anyway.

This year, their needs are still up in the air due to a number of their own players becoming free agents. That includes Jarrod Washburn, Aubrey Huff, Fernando Rodney, Brandon Lyon, Placido Polanco and Adam Everett. Washburn and Huff contributed little down the stretch and are almost surely not coming back. There is less certainty about the other four. All Dombrowski has said is that they won't be able to sign all their free agents.

I'm sure the Tigers would like to retain both Rodney and Lyon but that might not be possible depending on their budget. After saving 37 games in 38 opportunities, Rodney is going to get his chance at a big contract and his demands may be too much for the Tigers. Lyon is probably a better bet to remain a Tiger. If Rodney goes and Lyon stays then Brandon would likely inherit the closer role. If they both go, then the Tigers will likely obtain a veteran reliever to close. Dombrowski says that Joel Zumaya will be healthy for spring training and will play an important role but I'm certainly not counting on that happening. Ryan Perry may be the stopper of the future but probably not next year.

Dombrowski says that Scott Sizemore is ready to take over at second base base if they do not sign Polanco. Some see this as a signal that they are ready to let Polanco go and I tend to agree. Sizemore had an excellent season for Erie and Toledo and is continuing to hit in early Arizona Fall League action.

I suspect that the Tigers will look to upgrade at shortstop but would probably not be opposed to going with the Everett/Ramon Santiago combination again if nothing materializes. If the Mariners let Jack Wilson free, I'm sure Wilson to the Tigers rumors will pop up again but he's not really an upgrade. J.J. Hardy is a more intriguing possibility. He had a rough year for Milwaukee but he still has a lot of potential and could be a good buy low candidate.

Elsewhere, the Tigers are set at first base (Miguel Cabrera), center field (Curtis Granderson), right field (Magglio Ordonez) and most likely third base (Brandon Inge). Based on how little trust Jim Leyland had in Alex Avila down the stretch, it's likely that Laird will be the catcher at least at the beginning of the season.

Then there's Carlos Guillen who wants to play every day but doesn't want to be the designated hitter. Jim Leyland said he'll be the starting left fielder but he wasn't comfortable with him out there last year and he won't be this year either unless Carlos shows that he is healthy and can improve his defense. Ideally, they would just make him the full-time DH in order to maximize the chance that he stays healthy. I suspect he'll bounce back and forth between left field, DH and the DL though. Ryan Raburn will get his chances to play wherever Guillen is not playing - either DH or left field.

Since they need 486 games out of their LF, RF and DH spots and Guillen, Ordonez and Raburn will probably not come close to that, there will be plenty of opportunities for another outfielder. Clete Thomas and Casper Wells will both get looks, although Thomas is looking more like a role player at this point. Wilkin Ramirez is a possibility but they would probably prefer that he get more seasoning in AAA. Mike Cameron would be an interesting acquisition if he would be willing to play different positions. He could spell Granderson against certain left-handers and play some left field when Guillen can't. I suspect they will look to move Marcus Thames as they try to get more athletic.

I'm not expecting any really big moves though as I think the Tigers will be looking towards 2011. They have a lot of big contracts coming off the books after next season. That includes Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman, Brandon Inge and possibly Magglio Oronez. At that time, I think they will make a big push. That doesn't mean I don't think they will try to improve the team this off-season. I just think they'll be creative spenders rather than big spenders.

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