The Tigers Built to Win

Rookies Show Discipline, Big Time Power

Originally published in the now defunct: Two On One Out | 16 March 2010

When it’s 75 degrees out and there’s not a cloud in the Lakeland, Florida sky, the weight of last season’s collapse doesn’t seem like such a big deal to the returning members of the Detroit Tigers.

And it’s not, because this is baseball, the sport of second chances.

Perhaps some of my optimism has to do with my belief that the Tigers are going to be more like the ’06 team than the ’09 team this year, although as I say that I cross my fingers, because we should all be wise to remember that the ’06 team collapsed at the end too, only that year they had the Wild Card to fall back on.

When the trade that sent fan-favorite, Curtis “Good Guy” Granderson to the New York Yankees hit Southeast Detroit’s airwaves, the words “fire sale” spread like…well, wildfire. Fans called into the local radio station 9.71 WWJ in the way only Michigan fans know how: Sarcastically and full of exasperation (remember, this is the state that hosts the Detroit Lions).

Oh man! They’ve given up already! You mean to tell me that the economy is so bad in this state that Mr. Ilitch is making Dombrowski sell off his contracts? Granderson?!? What about the Ordonez mess?!?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Tigers, Mike Ilitch is the legendary entrepreneur and owner of the Tigers and Red Wings of hockey. Dave Dombrowski is the Tigers President, CEO and GM.

The answer became obvious very quickly; of course not.

If they were selling off contracts, they would not have enabled Magglio Ordonez to play enough at the end of the season so they could grant his option year of $18 Million, they would have sought something for Miguel Cabrera, whose 8 year $152.3 Million contract runs through 2015, they would not have extended Justin Verlander for 5 years and $80 Million, nor would they have signed Johnny Damon for $8 Million this year.

Simply put, and I hesitate to say this for fear of a lot of people making hullabaloo about it, Dave Dombrowski knows what he is doing. He knows that his payroll of nearly $130 million will plummet to just over $55 million in the offseason. He knows that his team is good enough to win now and next year and he will lose over $48 million from players who are not expected to be major contributors in 2010 and definitely will not in 2011.


A-Jax

This leads us back into the Curtis Granderson trade. His skills and talent aside, his contract was going to increase dramatically over the next three years, and the team saw that for his talent level, they could receive a considerable amount of potential at a much cheaper price.

The result was a three team trade: Detroit sent Curtis Granderson to New York and Edwin Jackson to Arizona. The Tigers received center field prospect Austin Jackson and reliever Phil Coke from New York and pitchers Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from Arizona. The Diamondbacks received Edwin Jackson and New York prospect Ian Kennedy.

The trade was phenomenal for Detroit. They shipped out nearly $40 million in potential payroll and received four players: two potential stars, one solid pitcher, and one potential reliever.

I ask: How could anyone not like that trade? And in turn, how could you not like Austin Jackson? He may have never experienced a major league game, but 23-year-old fleet footed A-Jax has lit up spring training with a .433 batting average in 30 at bats. His 13 hits are third in the league through Tuesday’s play. He has 4 extra base hits and 9 runs scored in the eleven games he has appeared in.

Yet, that isn’t what impresses the team, notably manager Jim Leyland.

Jackson has walked six times while only striking out in four at bats. He has worked deep into counts and, as Leyland says, “The thing that I’m most impressed with, so far-knock on wood- he hasn’t swung at bad balls. He’s laid off some pretty tough pitches…that’s the No. 1 thing…that’s made a great impression on me.”

Isn’t there that little mental edge a player gets when he hears his manager raving about the quality of his play? Throw in Reggie Jackson’s comment about how he was the best athlete in the Yankees organization and you can’t help but smile if you are a Tiger fan.

Jackson has impressed many people this spring, if none more than his manager, and although it’s way too early to predict anything, the trade looks as if it wasn’t a good thing. It was a great thing.


Bu-Boesch

Managers and scouts alike love it when players appear to figure everything out when there were never any real expectations in the first place. Such could be the case with Brennan Boesch, the Tigers’ 24-year-old prospect out of Cal, a former third round pick in 2006.

The right fielder slugged his first home run of the spring Monday in the Tigers 10-7 win over Toronto.

Overall, Boesch is hitting .267 this spring, not an overly impressive figure, but when you throw in the fact that his eye required 11 stitches on March 2 after a wind-blown ball sent him to the hospital in an exhibition game against Florida Southern College, you can understand.

Boesch is 4 for his last 11 and his home run Tuesday sparked conversation from Leyland. “Big-time power,” he said after watching the prospect come off the bench and hit the home run to right field on a 1-2 pitch.

He has incredible poise at the plate. There is potential in his smooth swing, and a clever demeanor when he expresses his bi-lingual skills.

Perhaps we are staring at the heir to right field next year. Perhaps not, all we know is, whenever you spark conversation off a home run, you take it with a smile, and whenever you are given an opportunity, you relish it, both of which Boesch has done.


Other Rookies of note

Scott Sizemore broke out of his early spring slump when he pulled a hanging breaking ball deep to left on a line for a leadoff homer in the Tigers win over Toronto.

Recovering from a fractured ankle in October, he has gotten off to a slow start at the plate, but he has shown more with the glove than expected. On one play in particular on Tuesday he went up the middle on a difficult chopper hit by Phillies’s center fielder Shane Victorino and made a slick pick. He then fired an off-balance throw going away from the bag to get Victorino.

“To be honest,” Leyland said, “he’s a little like (Placido) Polanco. He’s serious, gets his work done and his personality is even-keel. And that’s the way Polly is. That’s pretty good.”

More good words from another rookie who, like Jackson, is expected to make the team out of spring training and start at second.

Casper Wells, the 25-year-old center fielder from Grand Rapids, Michigan is hitting .318 this spring and is slugging .682. Although center field belongs to Jackson, Wells is battling for one of the last roster spots with Clete Thomas, Don Kelly, Ryan Striebly, and the aforementioned Bu-Boesch.

Gustavo Nunez, at 22, has little chance to make the club this spring as his bat is far from ready. But if they could just put him in the field, they would. Nunez has the glove of a god, his defense “ready for the big leagues.” Perhaps he is the reason Dombrowski stuck with Adam Everett for one more year

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