The 2012 Detroit Tigers were a near unanimous pick to win their division, and it was no surprise when they finally pulled away in the final ten days of the season. After it was all over, after sweeping the New York Yankees to win the American League pennant, and after being swept aside in the World Series, there was a reason to be optimistic about the 2013 season.
The 2013 Tigers figure to have about ten players on the opening day roster that were not there a year previous, half of those added since the end of last season. A 40% turnover from a World Series team seems like a lot, but the main pieces remain very consistent. While there was no real urgency to overhaul what had been a very successful team, albeit one that tinkered with severe disappointment late into the season, there were some glaring areas of need before a new campaign could begin.
The Tigers had muddled through the 2012 season with the lowest production in the American league from the fifth and sixth spots in the batting order. They were also among the worst in the league at second base and at right field.
The Tigers were a team with a solid pitching rotation, an average offense, and an adequate bullpen that almost completely fell apart during the post season. In fact, the World Series ended with dominant performances from their rotation, the inconsistent lineup being unable to score runs, and a LOOGY on the mound surrendering a run to right handed hitters in the tenth inning of the final game.
OUT: Brandon Inge: After being demoted to the minors in 2011, given a chance to compete for the second base job in spring training, seemingly just for old time’s sake, the long time Tiger and some time crowd favorite was released on April 26. He latched on with the Oakland A’s, but finished the season on the disabled list. He is currently a free agent.
IN: Omar Infante: The Tigers reacquired Infante, the one time Tiger utility infielder, from Miami in the deal that brought Anibal Sanchez to Detroit. Infante has a year left on his contract and will be the every day second baseman once again in 2013.
OUT: Ryan Raburn was inserted at second base by Leyland like shoving a square peg into a round hole, and the experiment was a miserable failure. Raburn was statistically the worst player in the league offensively and defensively, never heating up after the break as he had done in previous years. Raburn spent the end of the season on the disabled list and was released after the season. He is still a free agent.
IFFY: Ramon Santiago was the starting second baseman on opening day, 2012, and played 93 games at the position, but shared time with Inge, Raburn, and Danny Worth, before Infante was acquired to fill the position on a full time basis. The Tigers would like to move Santiago and his $ 2.1 million contract, but he is coming off a very unproductive season. He is not a lock to make the team in 2013.
Danny Worth is also on thin ice, although he has an option left and can be sent to the minors, or can be given Santiago’s utility role. However, the Tigers acquired Jeff Kobernus, a speedy career minor leaguer in the Rule five draft, and he will be in the mix as well.
OUT: Brennan Boesch was a candidate to be non tendered in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Boesch’s .286 on base percentage and his .659 OPS were the lowest of any outfielder in the American League who qualified for the batting title. Boesch also spent the end of the season on the disabled list, and he has options left, but he stands to make $ 2 million in arbitration and the club won’t be interested in paying that salary to fill a spot in Toledo’s outfield. A trade is possible, if they can find a partner.
IN: Torii Hunter was signed to a two year, $ 26 million contract and will be the every day outfielder and No. 2 hitter in the Tiger lineup. This looks to be a huge upgrade and fills the largest hole in the lineup at the end of the season. If Hunter can be even 80% as productive as he was last year, and over his career, he will be a welcome addition and will improve the team both offensively and defensively.
OUT: Delmon Young filled the DH slot for the vast majority of the season in 2012, The Tigers ranked 12 of 14 teams in on base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS from the DH slot. Delmon was not brought back by the Tigers and is still a free agent.
IN: Welcome back, Victor Martinez. When Victor was the Tiger DH in 2011, the Tigers ranked in the top five in the league in average, on base percentage, and OPS. With two of the best hitters in the league in the third and fourth slots in the lineup, many runs that were left on the bases in 2012 should be crossing the plate as the Tigers replace Boesch and Young in the lineup.
OUT: Don Kelly once again filled a utility role for the Tigers in 2012. Although he was outrighted off the roster in August, he returned in September and was on the playoff roster before being let go after the season. Kelly logged 113 at bats, hitting just .186 and below replacement level production. He is replaced, perhaps, by Jeff Kobernus or Quintin Berry. It won’t be hard to replace his production, versatility aside.
IN: Avisail Garcia was called up from double-A Erie to Detroit at the end of August, hit over .300 with an OBP of .373 in just over 50 plate appearances, and was put on the post season roster. It would appear that the club sees him as an every day player in the future, but perhaps not yet. Andy Dirks has to be considered in the lead for the remaining starting outfield job and Dombrowski has indicated a reluctance to have Garcia on the roster but sitting on the bench in a reserve role. Garcia’s day is coming, but perhaps not just yet.
THIN ICE: Quintin Berry drew some attention in spring training before the 2012 season, and was one of the last cuts before the team headed north to start the season. It wasn’t long before he was called up to replace an injured Austin Jackson, then an injured Andy Dirks. In all, Berry made 330 plate appearances, batting .258 with a .330 on base percentage and leading the team with 21 stolen bases, without being caught. The addition of Kobernus is an ominous sign for Berry, and the addition of Hunter further squeezes the outfield, He may fill the last spot on the roster, but it’s hard to imagine both Berry and Kobernus on the roster.
OUT: Jose Valverde has been one of the best closers in the game over the past three seasons. He posted 110 saves in 118 chances (93%), appearing in over 200 games with a 3.00 ERA and allowing opponents to hit just .208. He started to falter in 2012, however, and completely fell apart in the post season. He is without a contract, and nary a whisper of any interest in him at the present time.
IN: Bruce Rondon was considered a candidate to be added to the major league roster in September, and is currently penciled in as the closer for the club in 2013. He’s been scouted, evaluated and reviewed on this site and others over the past several months. He may be the closer and he may not be able to handle the transition. Nothing is carved in stone, and he has to win the job in spring training, and a last minute acquisition is always possible.
IN THE MIX: As always, there are more candidates to fill the last few spots in the bullpen than there are spots to fill. Brayan Villarreal made 50 appearances in 2012, posting a 2.87 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and a solid 10.87 K/9 rate. Yet, the return of a healthy Al Alburquerque, the selection of Kyle Lobstein in the rule five draft and the presence of Duane Below, Darin Downs, Luis Marte, Luke Putkonen, and others in a crowded field leave the last few bullpen spots up for grabs.
Regardless of the fact that Valverde struggled in the post season, to the point where he could not be counted on as a closer, replacing his overall effectiveness in the role is easier said than done. The Tigers blew 16 games in 2012, which was about league average.
The lineup should be much improved as long as all the projected starters remain healthy. The gaping holes in the lineup at second base and right field have been plugged. The fifth and sixth spots should take better advantage of the opportunities hitting behind Cabrera and Fielder, and should do a better job setting the table for the bottom of the order.
The starting pitching rotation, which was one of the best in the game in 2012, looks even better heading into 2013. Doug Fister missed a large portion of the season on the disabled list, and Anibal Sanchez will be with the team for a full season. As of now, they have a rotation that is six deep, which is good news considering their sixth starters filled in with an ERA above 8.00 in ten starts last season.
Most of the questions heading into spring training involve reserve rather than starting roles, and there are qualified candidates for each vacancy. In fact, there is an extra starting pitcher as of this time. On paper, the team should again be a near unanimous pick to win their division and advance to the post season. As we know from experience, that guarantees you nothing. 2012 was a good year. 2013 promises to be even better.