Friday, November 18, 2011

Off Season Moves the Tigers Need to Make

First off, it's been a while since the last post, I hope many of you return and start reading this again on a regular basis because I plan on updating it regularly once again. Thanks to everyone for reading.

Detroit nearly hobbled its way into the World Series in 2011 and despite coming up short of the ultimate goal, the team still finished as one of the last four playing and came within one game of representing the American League for the second time in five seasons.

2011 was a year that provided many insights into this team; Alex Avila became cemented as the No. 1 catcher for the foreseeable future, Doug Fister will push Justin Verlander to be even better than he currently is, and Delmon Young, while expendable, is a power outfielder who comes up huge in the clutch.

Last season also showed the many weaknesses the Tigers have, and other teams exploited those weaknesses to get by them in the playoffs. Once Victor Martinez came up lame in a game he was never able to back up Avila, which led to Avila catching all but two games down the stretch. That over use wore down the young backstop to the point where he resembled Kirk Gibson limping around the bases. The Tigers needed to find a back up catcher for Avila, and they found that in ex-Tiger Gerald Laird.

While not a fan favorite, Laird has proven that he is one of the most efficient defensive catchers in the game. His bat may be the equal to that of Brandon Inge but as long as he stays healthy enough to catch every fifth game and can help to mentor Avila, that's all the Tigers are looking for. This pick up was a good one by the Tigers.

The two remaining glaring holes for Detroit are at third and second base. While Inge is under contract for another season, it won't take long for the Tigers to grow tired of his inability to hit anything resembling a baseball. And after his tirade against the fans last season, his popularity in Detroit is wavering and won't withstand another season from hell like 2011. 

The 2012 free agent class for third basemen isn't exactly chock-full of star athletes; while Wilson Betemit served the Tigers well down the stretch he is not an everyday player and the Tigers brass seems to see things that way as well. Betemit has not been offered a contract for next season, which is the best thing for the team.

Notable free agents that would fit well with the Tigers would be either Jorge Cantu or Kevin Kouzmanoff. Through eight seasons Cantu has a career batting average of .271 and an on-base percentage of .316. Cantu is a good fit with Detroit because he is a utility player who specializes at third base, but has the ability to play either second or first as well. He has struggled to remain healthy and his numbers have slipped recently, but because of that his asking price could be driven down quite a bit from his hay-day in Miami.

Kevin Kouzmanoff is available for arbitration for the next two seasons so if the Rockies see what others see in him then the Tigers won't be able to snag him until he's a free agent until 2014. Kouzmanoff has a career batting average of .255 and a .300 on-base percentage. And he boasted a .713 OPS while playing over 100 games in the expanses of Coors Field.

The Tigers should pursue either of these third basemen diligently as either would bring a solid defensive front to the hot-corner as well as a powerful bat to the line-up.

Second base has become a glaring hole for Detroit, with the position being a platoon for the entire 2011 season, with six players taking the position in the field. Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn, Will Rhymes, Scott Sizemore, Danny Worth and Carlos Guillen all played second last year.

With a revolving door at second, Detroit has no true prospects or options at second base. Once again, the free agent class of second base is quite barren. After the Diamondbacks snapped up Aaron Hill to a new contract the only appealing player on the market is Kelly Johnson, but a contract with him would require the Tigers to send a first-round draft pick to Toronto in return.

Recent rumors have the Tigers trading Delmon Young to Atlanta in return for Martin Prado. This deal would incredibly bolster Detroit and add a powerful, consistent lead-off hitter to the line-up. Prado is a career .293 hitter in his six seasons in the majors with a .341 OBP. He has had experience and success being a lead-off hitter for the Braves and would be able to relieve some pressure from Austin Jackson in that role.

Should the Tigers complete this trade they would need to fill the vacancy left in left field by Young, and the solution is sitting in the free agent pool waiting to be snatched up. Coco Crisp, traditionally a center fielder, is available and would thrive in the vast left field of Comerica Park.

Detroit has long needed to build a team to fit Comerica Park and the addition of Crisp would do just that. Having two center fielders would save the Tigers multiple runs that they would have lost if Young would have continued to play. Crisp has a .271 career batting average and a .330 OBP, not to mention he can bring speed to the basepaths in Detroit. In 2011 he swiped 49 bases for the Athletics and with that speed and clear skill he can teach Jackson how to improve on the paths. 

The off-season is still young and there are still plenty of moves to be made, but the Tigers must address the weaknesses that showed through at the end of the 2011 season. If they do that successfully, they will be back in the playoffs and will be representing the American League in the World Series in 2012.

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