By: Eric Thomas

Viewed in a vacuum, the news that Andy Dirks will miss the next 12 weeks with the Tigers is no big deal. Dirks is a decent player, but a superstar by no stretch of the imagination. He had great numbers in 2012 and came crashing back to earth in 2013 with an eleven-points-below-average 89 in created runs. The trouble is, as it always is, that losing Andy Dirks for 12 weeks isn’t in a vacuum, and the context that surrounds his surgery doesn’t bode well for the Tigers.

It’s the death of a thousand cuts. The Tigers offseason moves don’t jump out when viewed individually. They certainly do when you add them up. The Tigers have lost a lot of offense in the off season, now fielding a team that is shaded toward speed and defense. The small ball people—whom Leyland would address as citizens of the “City of Bunt” (assuming he meant the play in baseball where the batter dribbles the ball into the space in front of the plate and not the spongy cake)—rejoiced, but when you go position by position, the offense looks to be left wanting.

Prince Fielder’s departure was met with an enthusiasm reserved for V-J Day, and the move made the Tigers better, mostly because it was clear that Fielder didn’t want to be here. The Doug Fister trade was met with an understandable hail of tomatoes; Peralta and Benoit left quietly. Omar Infante was never expected to re-sign and surfaced with the Royals. Any of these individual moves wouldn’t jiggle the needle, even Fister—because of the Tigers’ relative strength in the starting rotation—but when you continue to subtract pieces from this Jenga pile, the rest of it gets wobbly. It starts to look like a team that is starved for bats, and leaves a Tigers team with a lot of questions.

We have no idea how Kinsler is going to do. While he’s had solid post season statistics—AS A TIGER?! IS THAT EVEN ALLOWED?!—he’s struggled in the first 162 for the past two seasons. If Kinsler can play like he did in 2011, the Tigers are going to be fine. If he hits below .300, that’s a loss for the Tigers because Infante was relatively reliable.

The biggest question mark, by far, is at third base. Nick Castellanos has occupied the Tigers’ hope for the future in the past few seasons. His future is now. With the losses, he has a lot to make up for. Many people will look at him suspiciously if he rolls snake eyes in 2014. Is that fair for a kid in his first year with the bigs? Probably not, but that’s where we are right now.

Here’s the caveat: the Tigers never looked as good on the field last year as they did on paper in 2013. If you spent the season watching every at bat, you’d probably be surprised to learn the Tigers had the second most runs in the AL. It certainly didn’t feel like it. It was a lot of strikeouts and a surprising number of shut outs.

The bad news for the Tigers is that the subtractions are starting to add up. The future is hard to predict. On paper, this team doesn’t look good—but paper can lie. The Red Sox looked like they were in salary shedding mode last year, but they gelled and won the World Series. Could the young guys like Iglesias and Castellanos make an impact? Speaking of Iglesias, should fans be concerned about his shins? How much does Torii Hunter have left? Vmart?

The Tigers enter the season with a lot of questions and few answers. This is bad, unless it’s good. Hard to say. At least it will be warm when they’re playing. Right? RIGHT?!


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