The Tigers were busy this morning announcing that manager Jim Leyland is coming back for another year and picking up the options of reliever Octavio Dotel and shortstop Jhonny Peralta. All of these moves were expected to some degree.
There was some question as to whether the sixty-seven-year old Leyland would be back for another year. I believe that he was always welcome back, but it took so long to happen I was thinking that he might decide to retire. Next year will be his eighth with the team after three playoff appearances and a game 163 in his first seven years.
Leyland's staunchest supporters say that no Tigers manager has ever brought the team into post-season more times. While that is true, keep in mind that the vast majority of Tigers teams (especially the talented ones) played in eras where only one or two teams from each league made the playoffs. If expanded playoffs existed in the 1930's, 1940's, 1960's and 1980's, the Tigers surely would have had more playoff appearances in those eras than they did.
Leyland's harshest critics say that he is out of touch with the modern game and constantly complain about his line-ups, bullpen usage and his loyalty to sub-par performers. I certainly criticize some of his moves and I think the Tigers management is sometimes too old school for my tastes. However, I would say the same things about a lot of managers and teams.
Most agree that Leyland's strength is his clubhouse management. It's rare for a team to have as few personnel issues as the Tigers under Leyland. If there are any problems, they are kept internal as they should be. He also seems to be almost universally liked by his players. In modern day baseball, with all the big money and big egos and media scrutiny, I think the off-field management dwarfs the on-field decisions for which he is widely criticized. This is why he has been around so long and why he's coming back for another year.
The Tigers exercised Dotel's option for $3.5 million. Dotel will be thirty-nine-years old next month, but he is showing no signs of slowing down. The right-handed middle reliever/set-up man posted a 3.57 ERA and an impressive 62/12 strikeout/walk ratio in 58 innings this year. It's noteworthy that his control has been improving with age with a career walk rate of 3.9 per nine innings but 2.8 and 1.9 in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Given their lack of bullpen depth and the reasonable salary figure, this move was a no brainer.
The Tigers picked up Peralta's option for $6 million. The thirty-year old shortstop had an off year with the bat hitting just .239/.305/.384. While that's not bad for a shortstop, his .689 OPS was his worst since his rookie season. I think next year, he'll bounce back a bit but is unlikely to repear his surpising 2011 season.
The biggest question surrounding Peralta is not his offense but rather his defense. He is a very steady fielder making just seven errors all year, but he lacks range and seemed to lose a lot of arm strength this year. He was soft tossing throws to first so much, one has to wonder whether he might have been protecting an injury.
Statistically, it's hard to get a handle on Peralta's defense as his numbers were all over the place: +10 runs saved on UZR, -1 on DRS and -6 on FRAA. The +10 seems quite high to me, but it's hard to know exactly where he stands. Tigers fans ranked him in the bottom half of shortstops on Tom Tango's Fan Scouting Report.
Between his sure handedness and lack of athleticism, he is probably an average defender, but could be on the decline if he loses more range as he hits the thirties. The concern is that with two immobile offensive oriented players on the corners, they need middle infielders who can cover more ground that Peralta does.
It is possible they could now try to trade him in a deal which brings them a more skilled defender at short, but that is much easier said than done. He is not the best fit for the Tigers and I wish they could find a more athletic player for the position. However, he is worth $6 million in today's game, so I can't blame the Tigers for immediately picking up the option.