Tigers Questions for 2014 Continue to Multiply
After the team was eliminated in game 6 by the Red Sox, two addition obstacles were made present: the likely upcoming surgery for Miguel Cabrera’s torn groin (which wasn’t previously revealed by the organization) and the loss of manager Jim Leyland.
So begins a strange, interesting, frustrating, pivotal, and fascinating offseason for the Detroit Tigers (probably another 75 to 100 adjectives you can throw in there).
The health of Cabrera and the status of Scherzer’s contract are the two biggest keys. With the big long-term contracts of Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Justin Verlander, General Manager Dave Dombrowski might not be able to squeeze in another monster deal for Scherzer. If the likely AL Cy Young winner were to test free agency (eligible after the 2014 season) he would probably see some big figures tossed his way from the likes of the Yankees and Dodgers, something around 5-years, $100 million. So unless Scherzer is willing to sign on for less than his potential worth, the Tigers will have to spend to keep him.
Losing Scherzer would be an enormous hit to the Tigers. He was the team’s second most valuable player throughout the regular season and one of the top 5 performers on the team in the postseason (along with Verlander, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Cabrera). Moving Anibal Sanchez up to the #2 spot in the rotation behind Verlander obviously isn’t the end of the world, but with the starting foursome of Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez and Doug Fister, the Tigers are really just a reliable bullpen and timely hitting away from being a terrifying playoff opponent.
Cabrera’s amazing 2013 season allowed for Prince Fielder’s overwhelming year to almost slip through the cracks. But when the playoffs came around and Cabrera was hurting, Fielder’s struggles really, really hampered the team. If Cabrera is compromised during the start of the 2014 season, there’ll be enormous pressure on Fielder once again to produce something that supports his contract. In an ideal world, the Tigers would probably consider trading Fielder away over Scherzer, but the All-Star first baseman’s contract is so big that putting a trade together with him at this point could be pretty tough.
It’s sad to see Leyland go as he was an essential part in turning the Tigers from bottom-dwellers to the MLB’s elite, but he’s going to stay on with the organization, and likely assist in the hiring of the new coach. All in all, it’s not really a crucial hit to the team. Plenty of managers have had great success in their first years with organizations. Leyland took the Tigers to the World Series in his first year and John Farrell just achieved the same for the Red Sox this season. If they hire within the organization, hitting coach Lloyd McClendon is probably the frontrunner but there’s a chance the team goes for some new blood in the clubhouse, possibly Dusty Baker (who has recently expressed interest).
Then there’s the bullpen. It was shocking that the team did just about nothing leading up to the 2013 season to remedy their bullpen, but hopefully they learned their lesson after another tough postseason defeat. It doesn’t always take a ton of money to overhaul the bullpen, you just need to be looking in the right place. Joaquin Benoit was great in the closer role this past season and may return as the team’s closer next year but he needs more dependable 7th and 8th inning guys before him. Jose Veras, Al Alberquerque, and Drew Smyly are all good pieces for the bullpen, but they don’t have the kind of shutdown pitches the Tigers really need.
The Indians and Royals made great strides this past season and the Twins have a lot of young talent coming up shortly, but the AL Central is still Detroit’s division to lose and barring the loss of Scherzer, lingering injury effects to Cabrera or other great obstacles, they remain not only the top dog in their division but one of the AL’s top competitors going forward as well.