By: Jeff Riger
It’s pretty safe to say that the majority of Tiger fans hate what has happened this offseason.
It started with the team not bringing back the likes of Jose Veras, Jhonny Peralta, Joaquin Benoit and Omar Infante. It seemingly ended with the team issuing a statement that negotiations with Max Scherzer have broken off.
There has been no good news this offseason – unless you count the trading of Prince Fielder. The only problem with the deal is that a big bat in the order is now missing – and the money saved doesn’t seem like it will be spent on other players.
It’s been brutal.
Doug Fister was traded away in an inexplicable deal where the team gave away a top 30 A.L. pitcher for a reliever, a utility guy and a prospect.
Andy Dirks needed back surgery causing a big question mark in leftfield.
Jose Iglesias is out for the season with stress fractures in both his shins.
Iglesias is being replaced by a couple of utility shortstops acquired in trades for a Detroit pitching prospect. That pitcher – Jose Alvarez – would more than likely pitch at the major league level at some time this season. The utility guy that they got in the Fister deal is also gone. The replacements for Iglesias’ could make for its own blog.
Needless to say, it’s been bad news and bad moves over and over again. It’s been hard to take, especially if you’re a fan that believes this team should be playing in the postseason once again.
And then things got worse.
Bruce Rondon is lost for the season. Rondon needs Tommy John surgery – and the Tigers are now without their setup man.
Of all the issues Detroit has undergone during the spring, the loss of Rondon is the most crippling. The Tigers can get by with a couple of bizarre platoons in leftfield and shortstop. They can still win games that way.
The same cannot be said with their current bullpen.
Who do you trust in the seventh and eighth inning? Luke Putkonen, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Evan Reed, Ian Krol or Joba Chamberlain? My answer would be … well, none of them.
With Rondon missing, the Tigers will have to patch together a pen good enough to close out games without adding anybody that comes with a significant price tag. Seems like a tough task!
It’s pretty apparent that the team can’t spend any more money. If they could, they would have by now. Whether you believe the many rumors that Mike Ilitch is no longer running the team or that a directive from above was issued that the spending must stop, the Tigers are forced to fix their many problems on the cheap or internally.
It just doesn’t seem possible.
I don’t know the Tigers plan. I don’t know who they trust to use in the seventh and eighth innings to get high pressure outs. I don’t even know if they believe the solution is currently on the team.
These are all questions that need to be answered soon, as we are less than a week away from Opening Day.
So here is what I propose.
The Tigers have to move Drew Smyly back to the pen. I know he wants to be a starter and he’s probably capable of being a good one, but the void in the pen is much more important at this point.
The Tigers’ farm system seems to be severely lacking both quality positional players and pitching. Since they can’t solve the problem by throwing money at it, Smyly is the only option.
Anybody can be a fifth starter; it’s not that big of a deal. The same cannot be said for the vacancy in the eighth inning.
The Tigers biggest issue, the pen, looks significantly better when you can trust Smyly in the eighth registering a hold and Joe Nathan getting a ninth-inning save. Smyly was good last year in the setup role and there is no reason that he can’t do the same job this season. There is just no other option!
Oh, and if you’re worried about who will be the team’s fifth starter? Well, maybe they should have thought about that before they traded Fister or Alvarez.
The happenings this offseason seem to indicate that things have changed. The days of surprising the world with high-price free agents seem to be gone. The window for winning seems to be closing. After 2014, the contracts of Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Max Scherzer and others will come off the books.
Will the team replace them with high-priced players or will they choose to operate like they have this offseason? Miguel Cabrera’s deal will expire after the 2015 season. Will the Tigers spend the money to extend him or will he be elsewhere in 2016? Will this organization be forced to go into all-out rebuild mode to better a suffering farm system?
We don’t know the answers. We don’t know the plan.
We do know, however, that the Tigers are favored to win it all this season. The window is still open in 2014; just not with this bullpen.
What do you think?