Posts Tagged ‘Detroit Tigers’

Cabrera_

Nothing was the same in the middle ground point of the American League last year….well sort of. The Tigers did win the division for the third consecutive year, but they were not pushed by their usual rivals in the Chicago White Sox. Instead, it was a mixture of a coming of age revival in Kansas City, as well as a rebuilt and recharged Indians club that made the division quite interesting for the first time in a while.

2013 Finish

1. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

2. Cleveland Indians (92-70)

3. Kansas City Royals (86-76)

4. Minnesota Twins (66-96)

5. Chicago White Sox (63-99)

Looking ahead at this year, and there is perhaps no division with more clubs in “win now” mode than the Central. The Royals are at a boiling point coming off of their progressive 2013 campaign, with their young studs at a complete maturity point and their rotation anchor, that they traded the farm for just last season, likely in his last year in town. Likewise, the Indians have taken a few losses from last year’s surprise Wild Card-winning club, but are still laden with young talent and a manager in Terry Francona that proved he still has the innate ability to get production out of players they failed to see in themselves. Even the bottom feeders in the division have made strides to get back into the mix. The Twins moved their all-universe catcher in Joe Mauer to first base to get more from him more often, while the White Sox had an understated, but clear overhaul on their roster to attempt to reverse the free fall they spun into last summer.

Even the champs have refused to stay pat. While the Central has been the Tigers’ lair, they saw fit to make some stunning changes, shipping out a franchise cornerstone in Prince Fielder after only two years, and moving on All-Star pitcher Doug Fister, all in the name finding some sort of edge that is more than just being a regular division champion, but fizzling out before becoming much more. Will the winter of change be enough to shake things up in the AL Central? Or will it be more of the same when the summer dust settles?

All-Division Team

1. Austin Jackson—Tigers, Center Field

2. Torii Hunter—Tigers, Right Field

3. Jason Kipnis—Indians, Second Base

4. Miguel Cabrera—Tigers, First Base

5. Victor Martinez—Tigers, Designated Hitter

6. Alex Gordon—Royals, Left Field

7. Salvador Perez—Royals, Catcher

8. Trevor Plouffe—Twins, Third Base

9. Astrubal Cabrera—Indians, Shortstop

Mauer's move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from his division's dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Mauer’s move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from the division dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: Max Scherzer—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: James Shields—Royals

Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale—White Sox

Right Handed Reliever: Aaron Crow—Royals

Lefty Handed Reliever: Tim Collins—Royals

Closer: Greg Holland—Royals

Cleveland's decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Cleveland’s decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Just taking a look back up at the all-division lineup tells you all you need to know about the potency of the Tigers lineup. Even without Fielder, their 1-6 of Ian Kinsler, Hunter, Cabrera, Martinez, Jackson and Alex Avila is just a gauntlet. However the Royals have a relentless balance of speed and line drive hitters, built around the ability to score in bunches. Likewise, the Indians have a lineup that could be more potent this year than last, as their core continues to develop.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Cabrera is the best hitter alive, and has won the previous three AL batting titles and previous two MVPs. Simply put, he’s better than the heart of a few teams lineups himself. However, KC could see an upswing in production from the heart of its lineup with the decision to move Gordon back into it, just as the White Sox should be more potent with the addition of Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu.

Table Setters

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

The place that the Tigers get most noticeably better is at the top of their lineup, by adding a bonafide speed/contact/power threat in Kinsler to join the ageless Hunter. But the addition of Norichika Aoki (.356 on-base %) in Kansas City, along with former Tiger Omar Infante (.345 OBP) gives the Royals a hellacious duo to lead off games as well.

Depth

1. Indians

2. White Sox

3. Tigers

4. Royals

5. Twins

Cleveland won with an everyman approach last season, and they return a team that is capable of pulling out all stops for contributions. With Mike Aviles and Ryan Rayburn as versatile weapons at his disposal, Francona can compete even at less than 100% roster availability. An increase in MLB-ready youth as made the White Sox deeper, with players such as Dayan Viciedo and Matt Davidson waiting in the wings, and experienced utility man Jeff Keppinger back in a more suiting support role.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer, all before reaching the promise of Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.

Rotation

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Detroit boasts the AL’s best rotation, with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (winners of the 2 of the last 3 AL Cy Youngs) headlining, and the underrated Anibal Sanchez (the 2013 AL ERA champ) coming out behind them. The Twins still have a ways to go, but added a headliner in Ricky Nolasco and solid rebuild project in Phil Hughes to help resurrect the Majors worst starting five from a year ago.

1-2 Punch

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

There is no better 1-2 combo in the game than Scherzer and Verlander, who have combined to win 67 games over the past two seasons. James Shields is perhaps the most indispensable member of any rotation that is slated to be in the pennant race this year, as his presence likely guarantees the Royals stay in the division and/or wild card race or if he is shipped out to help another contenders chances. In Chicago, it is tough (if not impossible) to name a better under 25-or-younger hurler than Chris Sale.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Bullpen

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. Twins

4. Indians

5. White Sox

Spearheaded by Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera, the Royal pen led the AL in relief ERA by nearly half a run at 2.55 and had the lowest average against at .217. It is one of the premier units in all of the game, even with Luke Hochevar lost for the year. The Tigers’ Achilles heel has been locking down games late, but they spent top dollar on Joe Nathan (43 saves, 1.39 ERA) to end those concerns. Glen Perkins is one of the more underrated closers in the game, closing out 52 of the Twins tough earned wins over the past two years.

Defense

1. Royals

2. Indians

3. White Sox

4. Tigers

5. Twins

By a team defense measuring metric, the superb Royals defense saved 93 total runs last year. With Gold Glovers in Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez leading the way, the Royals cover their spacious home in Kaufmann Field exceptionally well. The addition of Adam Eaton to Alejandro De Aza in Chicago gives the Sox two very athletic outfielders to accompany an equally capable middle infield of Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez.

Manager

1. Terry Francona—Indians

2. Ron Gardenhire—Twins

3. Robin Ventura—White Sox

4. Brad Ausmus—Tigers

5. Ned Yost—Royals

Francona proved his worth as one of the game’s best game managers and motivators last year, pulling the Indians into the postseason in his first year in Rock City and becoming the AL Manager of the Year in the process. Ventura and Gardenhire are held in high regard, despite the lacks of talent they have at their command. Ausmus will be asked to fill in some sizable shoes in replacing the retired Jim Leyland.

Finances

1. Tigers

2. White Sox

3. Indians

4. Royals

5. Twins

The Tigers have shown the willingness to spend the extra dollar to add what is needed to win, and they may have to do so sooner than later to address their suddenly empty shortstop position. Conversely, the Royals and Indians are a pair of franchises that are all in financially entering the season, and finding that extra piece late in the year would take some maneuvering.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Impact Additions

1. Joe Nathan (Tigers via free agency)

2. Jose Dariel Abreu (White Sox via free agency)

3. Ian Kinsler (Tigers via trade)

4. Omar Infante (Royals via free agency)

5. Norichika Aoki (Royals via trade)

The Royals made a series of moves in the offseason to add quality depth, at reasonable costs. The outcome was Infante, Aoki, Jason Vargas and Danny Valencia. Going in the completely different direction, the White Sox made a leap of faith in giving $60+ million to Abreu to add some needed life to a shiftless lineup.

Leap Forward

1. Danny Salazar—Indians

2. Drew Smyly—Tigers

3. Jose Quintana—White Sox

4. Adam Eaton—White Sox

5. Kyle Gibson—Twins

Salazar played so well down the stretch he was chosen to pitch the AL Wild Card game after only 10 games. The club believes in him enough that it was comfortable with letting Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez leave this winter. A similar belief in Smyly allowed the Tigers to move on from Doug Fister and his impending contract negotiations.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Jose Dariel Abreu—White Sox

2. Nick Castellanos—Tigers

3. Yordano Ventura—Royals

4. Matt Davidson—White Sox

5. Erik Johnson—White Sox

No longer is Castellanos log jammed behind an out of position Cabrera at third base, and he will enter the season as a favorite to push for AL Rookie of the Year. The White Sox youth movement is based around acquiring a handful of quick to play rookies such as Abreu and Davidson, who they will put into the mix immediately this year.

PREDICTIONS

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Cleveland Indians

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

The AL Central has long been a class struggle of a mix: the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the impoverished all very clearly separated. But if things play out the way they could this year, it could be a mostly competitive division. The White Sox are better, as are the Royals. It doesn’t seem like it, but the Twins are slowly pulling it together and have one of the game’s best managers to oversee it. The Indians have more fight than any other team, and while some pieces are gone, they are far from has beens.

Then there are the Tigers, and they are….well different than they have been before. But that is a good thing, because what was in place, while good enough to win the division every year, had peaked and needed to be adjusted. They made some stunning moves, but stayed strong where they already were and got more versatile in the process—all while keeping the game’s best hitter and two of its premiere pitchers in two.

But the Royals should not be underestimated. In many ways, they resemble the Pirates of last year in they got a taste of the race, return an improved mix of vets and matured talents and have talent on par with both of the teams that finished ahead of them the previous year. In the end, the Tigers are still the class of the division and will push for the league’s best record as they always do, but the Royals will push them all summer and break into the postseason for the first time in a generation.

For more on the year as it approaches in the Central, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

fielder_prince6401

In a very sudden fashion, the first blockbuster move of the MLB offseason made its presence felt, when the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers agreed on a swap of Prince Fielder (and $30 million) for Ian Kinsler. According to Rangers GM Jon Daniels, it was a conversation that started on Tuesday afternoon, and took less than a day to agree on the parameters. What comes of it is a trade that is both a textbook marquee move, as well as a direction changer for both teams involved.

On the Rangers End: It solves one of their immediate problems that was of the utmost importance to fill: finding a middle of the order bat. Since Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli left Arlington last winter, they had an order low on power and big on gaps to fill. Add in the potential loss of Nelson Cruz, who has topped 20 home runs each of the past five seasons, a possibility as well, the Rangers power down was hitting dangerous levels.

Picking up Fielder fixes that immediately. Despite a down year in 2013, until proven otherwise, it was simply just a down year, because his track record mandates this respect. He topped 30 home runs every year from 2007-2012 and does not turn 30 until next May. He instantly becomes the cleanup hitter to support Adrian Beltre, and is a reliable as they come (playing in every game since 2011). Also, the Rangers are receiving $30 million from the Tigers to offset the difference between Fielder and Kinsler’s contracts, which will be able to be actively applied towards keeping them in the free agent batter market.

On the Tigers’ End: For Detroit, the deal is not as much of a complete approach change as it is a chance to shift its focus. They were on the hook for another $168 million with Fielder over the next seven years, and had a definite need to cut tow on some financial luggage. Many of the Max Scherzer trade rumors came from the fact they did not believe they would be able to afford to resign the now Cy Young winner after next season, but now that will not be a problem.

Also, with Omar Infante testing the free agent waters, they had a clear need at second base, and acquiring Kinsler represents an upgrade at the position, as well as a chance to move Austin Jackson out of the leadoff spot and down the lineup where he would be a better fit.

Most importantly, the Tigers have an instant replacement for Fielder of the highest order, by moving Miguel Cabrera back to where he should be at first.

Kinsler_Andrus

Kinsler’s departure virtually insures Andrus stays in Texas for the long-term, and makes a clear path for Profar to fit in as well.

The Dominos: The aftermath of the deal finds the Rangers as grabbing a premier bat, as well as getting a few extra bucks to play the market with. Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran or Cruz all remain in play. Incumbent first baseman Mitch Moreland is coming off a good year, and with David Murphy off to Cleveland, could be in line for a move out to leftfield to replace him. But the most obvious benefit for the Rangers is the loosening of the tie around their collective infield neck, one that was on the verge of becoming a noose. Kinsler coming out of the mix allows for Jurickson Profar to take over at second, and ends any potential trade rumors of either him or Elvis Andrus.

In Detroit, the most obvious bonus is the freeing up of cash to give to Scherzer, potentially by Spring Training. There is also the freedom to more freely spend in the closer market among the solid class of Joe Nathan, Brian Wilson, Grant Balfour and Chris Perez, among others. They do have a void at third base now, but top prospect Nick Castellanos (.276, 18 HR, 76 RBI at Triple-A) is an immediate plug and play, as he is now unblocked at his natural position. Maybe the only worry point is that it does change the way that pitchers can approach Cabrera now, with the lessened protection behind him, but that with Cabrera there’s no such thing as an easy fix, so that’s not much to raise a flag against.

The Winner: Both teams come away with needs and concerns met, in a surprisingly even deal of All-Star talents. The Tigers make needed reshapes to their lineup, and get away from a burden-bearing contract early in the life of it and pre (serious) decline. The Rangers meanwhile inject a needed power source and big splash deal, on the heels of missing the postseason for the first time in three years.

There are no losers here, but the edge goes to the TIGERS, due to immediate gain of Kinsler, the lineup shakeup and both the long and short term financial flexibility.

For more in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For the rest of the works, head over to i70Baseball and The Sports Fan Journal.

Miguel-Cabrera

It seems odd to think of Miguel Cabrera in terms of all-time, already. He’s the foremost hitter in the game today easily, and he’s in the midst of one of the best primes seen in quite a while. He seems to be a very young 30 years old; after all he did come up with the Florida Marlins as a very advanced () year old, and has already had a career’s worth of accomplishments as is. World Series winner, batting champion, RBI king and home run king…with a few occurring multiple times, and quite notably as well, in the same season (in case it was a very heavy rock you’ve been underneath). With the majority of this series, it’s been based in qualify whether or not for the Hall when it’s all said and done. However, for the sake of Cabrera, it’s about looking at him from the perspective of just how high he could end up in the history of the game. And most likely, it’s a career in the works that lands among some of the most revered of all-time. Let’s have a look at it here.

The Numbers (through May 15): .320 avg, 329 home runs, 1164 RBI, 1860 hits, 396 doubles, 990 runs scored, .396 on-base percentage, .562 slugging percentage

The Case For: Perhaps only Albert Pujols is a more accomplished active overall hitter than Cabrera. Cabrera is the model of a balanced, power bat. His 162 game averages are staggering: a .320 average, 34 homers, 118 RBI, 103 runs scored and 194 hits per year. He’s topped 30 home runs and 100 RBI in all nine of his full MLB seasons, and in five of those seasons he’s bettered 40 doubles as well. In the last three seasons, which could be deemed the entry into his prime, he’s truly ramped up to a historic level. Since his age 28 year, he’s hit .340, with 82 home runs and 285 RBI, along with a .423 on-base percentage. In addition to his impact, he’s a low risk swing; he’s adjusted his swing to the point where his impact has risen along with his contact. After averaging 124 strikeouts his first six seasons against 70 walks a year, he has restricted his zone and only struck out 94 times on average per year since 2010, while raising his walks by 18 per year. He’s nearly brought his strikeouts to walks even, while improving his power numbers (33 to 37 home runs), average (.315 to .334) and total on-base plus slugging percentage (.936 to a ridiculous 1.025). For perspective, his OPS over the past three seasons would be the sixth best of all-time, behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds and Jimmie Foxx’s career marks. As it stands, his career OPS of .957 through 11 years is the 19th best of all-time. And he’s still trending upwards. His ability to drive in runs has already taken him to a historic level, as he is one of four players in history to drive in 1,000 runs before his 30th birthday, along with Gehrig, Pujols and Hank Aaron.

He’s a seven time All-Star that hasn’t finished outside of the top 5 in a league MVP votes in the last four years. He won a World Series in his rookie season, has he hit four home runs and 12 RBI has a 20 year old outfielder. Overall, he has appeared in three World Series before turning 30 years old.

The Case Against: If he stopped today, would he be in? It’s a tough question to ponder, because he’s still short of the “guaranteed” numbers to reach the Hall at his positions, which are particularly offense heavy. The only downfalls in his game are his speed and defensive prowess. He made strides to become a solid defensive first baseman before moving to third base before the 2012 season to accommodate Detroit’s acquisition of Prince Fielder. Conversely, third base was his original position before he was moved to first due to his lack of mobility on the opposite corner, so he’s playing out of position currently, but a bat like his will never be kept from recognition due to a slight of defense. He has had  a few legal issues that have been detractors from his character, but not to the extent that they draw his accomplishments on the field into the shade.

An early start, along with good health and a consistently improving bat has placed Cabrera in rare air regarding his potential career totals.

An early start, along with good health and a consistently improving bat has placed Cabrera in rare air regarding his potential career totals. Where he could be regarded would be among the immortals.

3. Similar players (through age 30):

–          Frank Robinson: .304 average, 373 home runs, 1131 RBI, 1855 hits, 1165 runs, 352 doubles

–          Hank Aaron: .320 average, 366 home runs, 1216 RBI, 2085 hits, 1180 runs, 351 doubles

–          Albert Pujols: .331 average, 408 home runs, 1230 RBI, 1900 hits, 1186 runs, 426 doubles

4. Cooperstown Likelihood (what’s it going to take): Basically, all it’s going to take for Cabrera to make it to the Hall is for him to #1) keep breathing, and #2) stay at a moderately above average pace. To reach 500 home runs, he’d need to stay at his current, mid-prime rate for another four to five seasons. At his current rate of 194 hits per season (his career average), he’d top 3,000 hits in roughly six years. However, the intriguing thing about Cabrera is how high he is spiking currently. He’s having some of the great production seasons in the history of baseball over his past three and a half seasons, and could easily move his time table up some. He started early, being a full-time player at age 20 and has been remarkably durable, playing in no less than 150 games a season in his career, and only once under 157. He has led the league in 15 categories already, including his historic Triple Crown effort of 2012, which potentially could end up not being his best performance of his own career (compare 2012 against how 2013 is shaping up currently).

In terms of his established potential already, as a first baseman, there have been 19 players inducted into the Hall as first basemen, and it is among the most competitive positions of all-time. While he has some way to go to reach the standard marks of a Hall of Fame first baseman (which for comparison sake in this era would be a career such as Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray or Johnny Mize), he’s on pace to hit some pretty hallowed marks with another eight seasons or so that he projects to play at. For projections sake at the likely halfway point in his career, Cabrera could have another 204 home runs, 732 RBI, 246 doubles and 1,164 hits ahead of him. That would put his career totals at 533 homers, 1861 RBI, 642 doubles and 3,024 hits, good for top 5 all-time at the most offensive dominant position the history of the game…at just 36 years old, or just two years younger than Derek Jeter is now.

All of this considered before he enters his DH-only twilight, where he could tack on another 75 homers or so to cap off what truly is, and can be one of the most spectacular careers of all-time.

So if the question is asked today, is Miguel Cabrera in, out or in-between the Hall of Fame, the correct answer is IN-BETWEEN, but enjoy saying that now, because in two years (when he’s a grand old age of 32) that answer will probably be outdated.

For more on what’s happening right now along the road to the Hall for Miggy and many more, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan