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Let the Previews Begin

Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan has been posting previews for each of the major league divisions this week, and today he looked at the AL Central.

As you might imagine, Sheehan gave the Detroit Tigers the best "Winter Grade," handing out an "A." He also singled out Matt Mantei as the non-roster invitee to watch, and thinks Ryan Raburn vs. Ramon Santiago is the closest thing the Tigers will have to a position battle during Spring Training.

It looks like the preview is free content for all, but just in case you're into one-stop reading, here's Sheehan's sum-up of the Tigers:

There are things that can go wrong here. The Tigers have given up a lot of their pitching depth, so injuries to the rotation could set a fairly ugly cycle in motion. They have an old lineup, and a collective significant drop in performance by the group of Ordonez, Sheffield (whose second half last year was awful), Rodriguez, Jones, and Polanco isn't out of the question. They're the best team in a tough division, so unlike the Angels, they'll need to win 90-93 games to assure themselves of making it to the postseason. Overall, though, you're looking at one of the best teams in baseball, one that should play into October.

Over at Yahoo! Sports, Tim Brown tackled the AL Central yesterday, and sees a two-team race among the Tigers and Indians. But he has a little more fun with his appraisal of the Detroit baseball club.

From just another franchise straining to become relevant, to this, massive stars and bigger plans and a manager in his long johns, making certain the baseball doesn't get lost in the occasionally dippy euphoria. Yes, it's true; jacked by the lightning-bolt World Series in 2006 and management's fighting spirit following the disappointing fall-off in 2007, there's hardly a good seat left at Comerica Park. In five years time, the Tigers have taken the worst offense in the game and made it, potentially, the best. There are better pitching staffs out there, but, perhaps, nothing a Granderson-Polanco-Ordonez-Cabrera-Sheffield-Guillen-Renteria lineup can't handle. Generally, the Tigers are leaning on power arms and power bats, the preference everywhere, but more reality in the AL. And while the knee-jerk analysis says this was a win-now winter for Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers (and it was), much of the roster is locked in through 2009 or beyond.

That touches on something I've been thinking about (and I'm not claiming it's original). We've been talking about 2008 as "the year," and maybe it is, since Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones will probably sign off on their careers after the season is finished. But for the most part, the Tigers have probably given themselves approximately a two-year window.

Any thoughts or disagreements from the BYB bleachers?

[Updated at 8:00 p.m.]