Tigers CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski had plenty to say about plenty of things on Tuesday. Delmon Young and Jose Valverde won't be Tigers in 2013. Octavio Dotel and Jhonny Peralta had their 2013 options picked up. Anibal Sanchez has a place in Detroit if he and the Tigers can come to an agreement. Jim Leyland is back as manager. The coaching staff will be back, too, though there might be a little re configuring of roles. All in all, it was a busy day. I react to some of the key points.
Jose Valverde and Delmon Young won't be back. Both of these news items seemed quite likely. Interestingly, they took different paths to get there. Valverde had been pretty good during his three seasons in Detroit; notably, he saved 49 of 49 games in 2011. However, he flamed out famously and awfully in the playoffs this year. Young, meanwhile, was the Tigers' most consistent batter in the playoffs after struggling in the DH role much of the regular season. Ultimately, both would cost too much to keep, and both would block players who can make a bigger difference in 2013.
Young will never be forgotten for his post-season show: he now leads the franchise in postseason home runs and is high on the list of RBI. Despite a .267 avg / .296 on-base percentage / .411 slugging average line, some team will pay him a few million a year to frustrate. It's good that the Tigers chose not to. Beside that, Victor Martinez will be back in 2013 and is unlikely to spend much if any time in the field.
Valverde enjoys the fact that he is a closer of some renown. That means he can earn millions without being the best reliever on his staff. Even given the postseason meltdown, the lower velocity and the worse numbers across the board, it's hard to imagine Valverde not being given a chance to close. It's just not likely to happen with a contending team like Detroit. The
Baked Big Potato brought more good times than bad, but there was no place for him in Detroit's future. It's good to see the Tigers go elsewhere.
Gerald Laird probably won't be back either. The Tigers feel like maybe Bryan Holaday can do the job. I liked Laird, I've always liked Laird. But talking about the backup catcher isn't exactly the biggest deal in the world, either. The Tigers left the door open, but we'll see what happens.
Octavio Dotel and Jhonny Peralta had their options picked up. These moves both felt like no-brainers to me. Peralta, obviously, was coming off a bit of a disappointing year. Dotel did everything the Tigers asked him to. He did have a few failed attempts at clubhouse leadership, but I like that he tried.
Peralta finished the season with his lowest average (.239) and on-base percentage (.305) since his rookie year; his isolated power was down from 2011 but not outrageously. In short, he had a pretty bad year, which was a surprise. Many thought he'd see his offensive numbers make a downward correction, but few could have foreseen such a poor season. However, Peralta is certainly a better batter than his most recent numbers shown, and he come in at a comfortable $6 million. Sure, people would love to see a defensive ace at shortstop. But Peralta's bat generally makes up for his glove. Besides that, nothing says the Tigers can't keep shopping around. They needed to have someone to play at short though, and Peralta is a fine option.
Dotel can pitch anywhere in the late innings and you feel comfortable with him. It's great to see him back. (Sorry, no lengthy treatise.)
Bruce Rondon might get a chance to close. Bruce Rondon has not thrown a pitch in the major leagues. So, that's interesting. Not that you can't have rookie pitchers who are closers; happens all the time. It's just strange to see the Tigers having this discussion, as they generally prefer to pay a veteran. Rondon is an exciting possibility, anyway. He's a fireballer who has succeeded at every stop he's made. He bypassed the Arizona Fall League to play in a Winter League, too. So following his offseason exploits might help us to get a clearer picture.
If Rondon can't close, maybe Phil Coke can, or maybe Dotel can, or maybe Brayan Villarreal can, or maybe Joaquin Benoit can, or, heck, maybe Al Alburquerque can. in other words, the Tigers' bullpen could be pretty fun in 2013.
Jim Leyland is back for another year. In September, he looked done for. In October, he had a spring in his step. Likely Leyland was as run down by the stressful season as the rest of us. Some people don't like him because of his X's and Os managing. But as I've said before, those people are unlikely to like any manager in the MLB, because Leyland's not all that much worse than others. Where he's beneficial is the clubhouse. He's loved by his players and gets the most out of them. He has several nine-figure players on his team, and he keeps them all happy and productive. The Tigers are a team that other players hold up as an ideal. That, too, has to be credited to the manager. Leyland will continue to frustrate, but if he wants to come back for another year, bringing him back is the right move.
The coaching staff, on the other hand, frustrates. I've also long said that we don't know much about the coaching staff other than the results we see in a particular year. Was a coach awful one season and better in the next, or is it the players? Coaches do matter, if they didn't teams wouldn't have them. But they seem to matter mostly on the fringes of the win-loss record, not at the core. Leyland's crew, of course, often draws ire. Whispers in the past from those near the team say players have tuned Lloyd out, and some evidence backs that. On the other hand, some players, such as Austin Jackson, have benefited. The addition of Tony Harrah, too, helped alleviate problems mid-summer. Of course, Gene Lamont's windmill at third base drew anger too. His most famous mishap came when Prince Fielder was thrown out at home trying to score in the World Series when everyone knew he was dead in the water.
However, Dombrowski seemed to indicate that roles might be moved around a bit. So maybe Lloyd isn't the chief hitting coach, and maybe Gene is sitting on the bench next to Leyland rather than swinging his arm at third. We'll just have to wait and see. Undoubtedly, there are others out there who could do their jobs. But maybe there's something to be said for having the Skipper and the clubhouse comfortable. After all, this is the defending American League champions and two-time Central Division champions. Things aren't all awful.
Corner outfield will be interesting to follow this offseason. Basically, Dombrowski made no promises to his players. Andy Dirks, Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos all had their names tossed around, and Brennan Boesch will not be jettisoned for his frustrating year, either. But no one was handed starting jobs. That's good. The Tigers really need to add a few more runs in 2013, and corner outfield seems to be one of the best places to add them. Guaranteeing jobs at this point would be a mistake. But if there aren't the right deals to be made, the Tigers should at least be able to tread water.
Anibal Sanchez may be back. Once Sanchez got his mechanics right, he was a consistent performer like the Tigers thought he could be. Dombrowski admitted that Sanchez would make the team better in 2013. No doubt he would. With Drew Smyly looking like he could lock down a rotation spot for years to come, that might spell the end of Rick Porcello's time in Detroit. While the asset is not worth as much as it may have been a few years back, undoubtedly it still has value. Maybe Dombrowski could harvest that. But as Dombrowski said, if the Tigers can't keep Sanchez, they do have internal options.
Summed up: The Tigers should be able to tread water fine. Although they probably won't get a Triple Crown season out of Cabrera, nothing in his stats shouted career year. Austin Jackson might lose some of his shine (at this point, I never know what to think with Jackson) but it seems like the Tigers should have plenty of room for rebound performances out of players, and they have some wriggle room to get better. The same goes for the pitching staff. With another year of experience under Smyly's and Porcello's belt, it's possible they will both improve. If the Tigers can keep Sanchez, all the better. So the team should be better no matter what; the question is what degree of better the Tigers can squeeze out, as the other teams in baseball aren't exactly going to be sitting on their hands, either.