Last Friday during their Winter Caravan, the Detroit Tigers made a stop at my work. This is the second year in a row they came to the office, and it certainly got me itching for baseball. I’m pretty quick to fire up and snap into baseball mode with Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera sitting right in front of me.
The caravan took place just after devastating news of the probable season losing injury to Victor Martinez. The injury is a punch to the mid-section, no doubt. The loss of Martinez devastates the offense by leaving little protection behind Miguel Cabrera. The loss takes away a switch hitter, and a guy that just seemed to come up big in the clutch. It’s a painful blow.
But, the injury itself isn’t really what concerns me with this Tigers team. The situation is a compounded one. The loss of Martinez compounds on the bigger elephants in the room.
The VMart loss is made bigger due to the glaring holes at second and third base. To go into the season without an obvious starter at two key infield positions is risky business. It would be a risky thing to platoon one of those positions, but to platoon both? I don’t get it, and I don’t agree. I’m hoping this double platoon nonsense is just pre-season fodder, and will sort itself out as the season nears. Regardless, it’s a massive elephant in the room.
And the VMart injury only compounds the concern.
Adding to the grenades two-stepping at 2nd and 3rd, is the biggest elephant in the room; the career years had by so many Tigers. Can we honestly expect Justin Verlander to repeat as Cy Young and MVP? No. Can we honestly expect Papa Grande to go a second season without blowing a save? No. Can we honestly expect Miggy to win the batting title again? It’s possible, but it’s a probable no. How about another Silver Slugger for Alex Avila? Will Jhonny Peralta repeat his all-star season?
The answer to most of these questions is that it’s risky business to expect back to back career years by so many key players. Verlander should still dominate, but he may “only” win 20, which leaves us 4 wins less than last year. Papa Grande should still dominate, but he may blow a save or two, which leaves us a couple wins less than last year. Many of the Tigers who excelled in 2011 may still shine in 2012; it’s just unlikely they will shine as bright.
It’s a massive elephant in the room, and the loss of VMart only compounds the problem.
With all of that worry being shed, however, there is still hope. Austin Jackson may actually have a break-out year. If Brennan Boesch stays healthy, maybe he will find a way to consistently drive in runs. And in the end, baseball always comes down to pitching, and with additional starters likes Fister, Scherzer, and Porcello, greatness is possible. I, for one, was thrilled when the Tigers traded for Doug Fister, and he only confirmed my excitement with a tremendous half season with Detroit. For whatever reason, call it instinct, I don’t think he’ll disappoint in 2012, either. Maybe having Fister the entire season, can win back some of the games I moved into that loss column. And it’s really time for a break-out year from young Rick Porcello. It’s make or break, and he’s finally pitching for a contract. Maybe he, too, adds additional wins in the good column. Maybe the stars and talent will align.
I know fans are clamoring for a big move, and the Tigers will probably still make one (or two). I anticipate some action heading into spring training, and I wouldn’t be surprised by more mid-season moves before the deadline. Some speed on the bases would help, as would tightening up the defense and securing a pitcher for the 5th starting role. The Tigers will play in a mediocre division, and if they keep afloat, they should eventually win it. From there, anything can happen.
But, instead of just focusing on replacing a player that you can’t replace, the Tigers might be wise to feed those big and intrusive elephants in the room.
Roar and Go Tigers!