Injuries to Andy Dirks, Jose Iglesias, and Bruce Rondon have left holes in the Tiger lineup and in the bullpen, and they are all issues that need to be addressed. How serious are these issues, and which are the most pressing needs?
I would rank the issues in the following order:
1. Left Field
3. Backup Catcher
Let's take the needs in reverse order:
The Tigers have essentially replaced Iglesias with Andrew Romine. From what I've seen watching Romine with the Angels, he is a very, very solid defensive shortstop. Iglesias is more flashy and spectacular, but he isn't any more efficient. He will hit for a middling .250 average with a .300 OBP, and almost no power. Any extra base hits will come on flares down the line. The Tigers made the decision last year to go with a defense first player at shortstop and look for offense elsewhere in the lineup. I'm still looking elsewhere and I don't see it, but shortstop will be fine until Iglesias returns, and they will have a legitimate utility man on the roster when he does.
Behind the plate, the Tigers have Bryan Holaday. He won't hit even .250, and also doesn't have much power. He will be, quite possibly, the weakest hitter on the team- with the possible exception of Justin Verlander. The Tigers should be looking to get 50 starts or so from their backup catcher. Holaday is a defense only catcher, and that is his ceiling. It shouldn't cost much to find a better backup. James McCann is coming soon, but he needs to play every day.
I wrote about the bullpen here on Saturday. Basically, just give me three solid relievers for the late innings, and we're good. No, a team should not have to start the season with a Phil Coke on it's roster, but the Tigers have had below average relievers every year since 2006. It's at the back end of the bullpen that games are won and lost. Right now, they have Nathan and a prayer book.
Their best hope is that Nathan stays healthy, Alburquerque can keep the ball in the park to minimize damage caused by his league leading BB/9 rate, and Luke Putkonen looks like the most likely to be able to give some consistent performance from the rest. They'll run their course with Joba Chamberlain, just because he is a veteran with tenure and a bigger contract. The sooner they get through that phase, the better. I could be wrong, but I don't see this going well for them. There are always relief pitchers available and it's always a roll of the dice whether they'll perform well.
The most pressing need, in my view, is in left field, where Andy Dirks was supposed to fill the bigger part of a platoon with Rajai Davis. This is the greatest need because of the players who will be stepping in for Dirks. If you expected not much from Dirks anyway, then there was a problem here already. Left field is a power position on most teams. Not on the Tigers. If you expected more from Dirks, as the Tigers clearly did, then there's a big void to fill. Left field is now the biggest hole in the lineup.
Davis doesn't hit right handed pitching. Don Kelly doesn't hit anyone other than ground ball pitchers. Steve Lombardozzi was supposed to be a utility guy (what happened to that plan, anyway?) but might now be the best of a bad lot to platoon with Davis in left.
So, let's look at this situation for a moment. If the biggest need is in left field, and they'll have Dirks coming back in two months or so, and they have Davis for about 30% of the time when they're facing left handers at that position, how bad are things, really?
I don't think this is a cause to panic, but I believe that there are serious issues that need to be addressed. Some of these issues were there before any injuries. The Tigers simply should not even start the season with so many holes in the lineup. Having a defense only shortstop, or catcher is understandable. Having no offense out of two or three spots in the every day lineup, much less the bench, is not the lineup that contenders are made of.
What do you think?