Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Charting the Competition: The Tigers

Today we continue continue our tour through the AL Central competition in an effort to determine whether the Twins' plan of standing pat this offseason puts them in position to enter the 2009 season as favorites to win the division. In breaking down the White Sox and the Royals last week, I determined that neither team's offseason maneuvers were enough to clearly position them above the Twins, who remain completely intact after missing the playoffs by a game last year. Today, I'll take a look at the Motown squad.

Detroit Tigers: Tamed?

The last offseason was an exciting one for GM Dave Dombrowski, who seemingly established his Tigers as division favorites with blockbuster trades that brought in Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria. These two players were coming off excellent seasons, and adding them to an already potent lineup set the Tigers up to feature a top offense that some misguidedly guessed might score 1,000 runs.

As it turned out, Renteria was a massive disappointment, and while Cabrera bounced back from a slow start to finish with numbers that warranted MVP consideration, that wasn't enough to overcome a shoddy defense and a terrible pitching staff as the Tigers finished last in the AL Central.

This offseason has been a much quieter in Detroit, which has been hit harder by the current economic crisis than most any other place in the nation. The Tigers' offseason thus far has consisted of relatively minor moves, such as the acquisitions of Adam Everett and Ramon Santiago via free agency and the acquisitions of Edwin Jackson and Gerald Laird via trade. These are decent moves, but certainly not sufficient to lift a team from worst to first.

With Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Gary Sheffield and an assortment of talented younger players in place, the Tigers offense figures to remain strong in 2009. The pitching staff, however, is another story. This unit was downright horrible last year, allowing 5.29 runs per game and surrendering more homers than any other team in the AL. Justin Verlander is bound to get better and Jackson is a nice backend addition, but the Tigers need some other guys to step up if they want to really get things turned around. Additionally, the Detroit bullpen was a huge liability last year, and the team missed out on all the top closers and ended up signing Brandon Lyon, who is hardly a dominator.

All in all, the Tigers' offseason moves thus far have been pretty uninspiring, and much like the Twins it seems that Detroit will be relying on internal improvements to carry them in 2009. Considering how much older their roster is than that of the Twins and how much further they have to climb, the Tigers seem like longshots to improve enough to capture the division this season.

So, after breaking down three division opponents, it seems to me that even with their passive approach this offseason the Twins are still in strong shape entering the 2009 season. Tomorrow I'll take a look at the final opponent populating the AL Central, the Cleveland Indians.