By Brian Bickmore
Opening on Apr.5, this year’s Detroit Tigers team roars into the 2012 campaign with enormous expectations surrounding them. Unfortunately, however, many fans’ perception that Motown’s ballclub will cruise to a championship is incorrect as they won’t be any better than a season ago.
While I am a devout Tiger fan who watches just about every inning and would like nothing more than to see the season culminate in champagne spraying at October’s end indicating a World Series title, it’s just not realistic when you analyze the situation objectively. I expect a team who easily wins their weak American League Central division, in addition to a playoff series or two. Anticipating anything else is foolish.
The optimistic presumption among a large contingent of Detroit supporters that they are a shoe in for a World Series appearance primarily stems from Prince Fielder’s signing. This past offseason, the Tigers inked the star first baseman to a 9 year, 214 million dollar contract. Although Fielder is a great talent, people forget what prompted his signing: All-Star Designated Hitter Victor Martinez’s season-ending ACL injury. Martinez, who played for Detroit last year, put up great numbers, batting .330. Fielder’s average won’t come close to that mark, but he will admittedly contribute a significantly higher homerun total. Nevertheless, I view the two players’ values as identical. So, then, why do people believe swapping a pair of equal players in the lineup yields a superior team? In 2013, when Martinez is expected to return to full-health, I can buy the confident sentiment. For now, I don’t get it because of copious reasons.
One is that there are a multitude of deficiencies on the roster. Instead of spending an absurd sum of money of Fielder (the fourth largest contract in baseball history), General Manager Dave Dombrowski should have addressed other areas. The Tigers didn’t even need a first baseman, already having perennial Most Valuable Player candidate Miguel Cabrera there, but decided he was too good to pass up. Such colossal quantities of dough could have been allocated toward more pressing needs such as upgrading second base, third base, leadoff hitter and fifth starter. Instead, Dombrowski went the less-prudent route, getting Fielder and not much else.
Besides, Fielder’s acquisition forced former first baseman Cabrera to play third base, a position he is not proficient at defensively, to put it nicely. When he broke into the majors in 2003, he played there. His complete ineffectiveness necessitated a move across the diamond. If “Cabby” was the lone defensive liability, I might be more supportive of attempting a shift. Yet, their defensive corps is shaping up as possibly the worst in all of baseball. A golf course has less holes than the Detroit D. Delmon Young is borderline useless in left field, Fielder is below average at first and Ryan Raburn ranks among the league’s worst second basemen.
Those uncertainties make me nervous. I am also skeptical several players who had career years and were integral to last season’s success can repeat their performance. Among them are shortstop Jhonny Peralta, a first-time All-Star last year, pitcher Doug Fister, who is not anywhere near as competent as he showed in his post-trade deadline Detroit stint and closer Jose Valverde, a ridiculously overvalued guy with nowhere to go but down after converting 49 of 49 save opportunities in 2011.
Assimilating all the aforementioned components, I don’t envision my beloved Tigers as being World Series bound. Not all of why lies on players or management roster decisions though. Part of my prediction is based on the stiff competition the Tigers will face in the American League playoffs, assuming they make it that far. During the winter, there was a huge influx of star players to the A.L. The Texas Rangers forked over massive amounts of money to sign impressive pitchers Yu Darvish and Joe Nathan and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim broke the bank to bring in slugger Albert Pujols, along with ace C.J. Wilson. Since both of those clubs play in the American League, Detroit has to get by them to advance to the event dubbed as the Fall Classic. Annual powers including the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox could be roadblocks as well.
Tigers fans can expect to watch a very solid team through the coming months, however anointing a ring for them a mere few games into the season as people are is beyond premature and not intelligent given the circumstances.