Time goes by like pouring rain:
In 1985 Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said Chris Pittaro was the best rookie he’d had in 15 years — that was good for a 95 at-bat major-league career. The Tigers were just as effusive in their praise of pitcher Rick Porcello, who cracked the starting rotation at age 20 in 2009. Porcello’s career has already outdone Pittaro’s, and he has won 24 games in two seasons. But last year he wasn’t very good: his ERA jumped nearly a run to 4.92 and he gave up 188 hits in 162.2 innings in a pitcher-friendly park. His strikeout rate is barely more than one every two innings, which doesn’t portend well for 2011. The Tigers may want to lower their expectations.
I feel I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Tigers do have a young pitcher with the promise of long career, but it’s not Porcello. Jacob Turner won’t be 20 until May, and only has 115 innings of minor-league experience, but he’s likely to start the season in Class AA. Turner was the Tigers’ No. 1 pick in 2009, two years after Porcello was, throws strikes and misses bats. There’s no rush, since the Tigers could have Porcello, 22, and Andrew Oliver, 23, in the rotation. But it might not be long before Turner forces the rotation to get even younger.
What is this man doing here? We’re not sure what it is major league teams see in pitcher Enrique Gonzalez, but it can’t be his numbers. The Tigers are Gonzalez’s fourth major-league team in five years, and he hasn’t been terribly good for any of them. He has a 5.54 career ERA in 141.1 innings and allows a home run every seven-and-a-half innings. It’s easy to see why three teams have gotten rid of Gonzalez; less easy to see why a fourth signed him.
Outlook: The Tigers thought they had positioned themselves into the vacuum at the top of the AL Central by signing free agents Victor Martinez to catch and Joaquin Benoit to pitch eighth innings. And then Miguel Cabrera, who just might be the best hitter in baseball, went Charlie Sheen on them.
In another time, a half century or more ago, baseball would have handled Cabrera’s drinking problem the way Lincoln handled Grant’s: Find out what he’s drinking and send a case to all the first basemen. That the Tigers have handled it with care is a sign of progress (of course the question of whether they would have treated a utility infielder with the diligence they have Cabrera is a question as old as baseball itself).
If the Tigers don’t win in 2011, presumably it won’t be because of Cabrera’s problems. It will be because the Tigers’ didn’t appreciably fix theirs. They signed Martinez at $12.5 million per year, and he’s worth 99 percent of it as a hitter, and 90 percent of that vs. lefties. Against righties last year, Martinez had a pedestrian .694 OPS.
Benoit gets $5.5 million a year, which may seem like a lot come July for a pitcher who was horrible in 2008 and disabled for 2009.
Some decline wouldn’t be surprising for 24-year-old Austin Jackson, and he’s a mediocre leadoff hitter anyway; he probably should be a Diamondback, given that he walked just 47 times and fanned 170 times. Jackson is still better than Brennan Boesch — the Tigers would do well to remember the real Boesch is closer to the one who hit just .164 from July on last year.
And as if the Tigers’ defense didn’t decline enough with Martinez, they’re going to try Carlos Guillen at second — we’d like to hear candidly how the pitchers feel about the team behind them.
All that being said, the Tigers have as good a chance as anyone else in the AL Central. Just not as good as they think.
Remember when: No team suffered a more difficult offseason than the Tigers, losing ex-manager Sparky Anderson and ex-broadcaster Ernie Harwell. The latter was once traded for a backup catcher — the Brooklyn Dodgers, who traded for Harwell, got the better of the deal.
From Ernie Harwell’s 1955 poem, The Game For All America, which appeared in The Sporting News:
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