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Playing Pepper 2012: Detroit Tigers

Posted on March 2, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Filed Under: Detroit Tigers | Playing Pepper
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Detroit Tigers
95-67, first in the AL Central, lost to Texas in the ALCS

The Tigers were kind enough to spot the Indians some ground at the beginning of the season, but by the time the postseason came around, Detroit was standing on top of the AL Central heap.  Using a legendary season by Justin Verlander and the offensive heroics of Miguel Cabrera, Detroit rolled through New York as well in the playoffs before coming up short against the Rangers.

Not content to stay still, Detroit made a move this offseason.  You might have heard about it.  It happened late in the day, but it was still a move that likely cemented their position as the class of the division.

To talk about that move and other things Tigers-related, we've got a couple of great Detroit bloggers with us today.  Jennifer Cosey writes for Old English D and is a member of the BBA.  Not only can you read her at the site but you can also follow her on Twitter at VivaTigres.  

Until recently, Erin Saelzler was writing at Tigers Amateur Analysis, but now has moved on to contributing at Walkoff Woodard while working up a new site called Tigerology.  Erin is also a BBA member and can be found on Twitter at SabreRoseTiger.

After the jump, we'll talk about the new third baseman and if any rookies can make this squad in 2012.

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C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason?

OED: I was pretty much over the moon with our off-season, given the stealth signing of one Prince Fielder. We had been told that we absolutely were NOT in on Fielder just the week before, so the shock of obtaining a player like Fielder in his prime intensified the frenzied reaction. I was hoping that the Tigers would also sign a starter (Roy Oswalt), but he didn't want to come here, so we're looking at Duane Below/Jacob Turner/Adam Wilk.

WW: This offseason demonstrated one thing I've always said about the Tigers' front office: They keep their cards close, and that means that moves happen quickly and without much warning. Also, Mike Illitch really, REALLY wants to win a World Series. I am cautiously optimistic about the Prince Fielder signing. The number of years makes me a little hesitant about it. I really wish they had built in some option years or an opt-out, and I hope that this contract does not prevent them from retaining their other key pieces in a few years' time (namely Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, both of whom I would very much like to see play for the Tigers for the rest of their careers). However, in the short-term, it can be a big help, and this is clearly a team that's in "win now" mode.

C70: How well do you think Miguel Cabrera can play third?

OED: Miguel Cabrera will be servicable at third. His bat will make us forget the balls that get by him. Anyone pining over Brandon Inge should be examined.

WW: I maintain that Miguel Cabrera will always be a better first baseman than third baseman (and I also believe he's a better first baseman than Prince Fielder), but if he doesn't succeed at third base, it won't be for lack of effort. He's been working really hard at getting ready for the switch ever since the Fielder signing first happened. He took off a good twenty-five pounds or so (and I was not one of those people who thought Cabrera's weight was an issue, at least not in the past two or three years) and he showed up to spring training quite early for a position player. He acts like a person with something to prove. And I don't think he has to listen to people who say he's destined to be a full-time DH in the near future.

C70: What are the expectations for Austin Jackson this year?

OED: If Jackson cuts down on strikeouts, and improves his average/on-base percentage even a modest amount, he will meet expectations (provided he does not regress on defense). He is working on eliminating the leg kick from his batting stance during Spring Training.

WW: Austin Jackson's kind of gotten lost in the midst of all the Fielder hype. I said before last year that I considered Jackson to be an enigma and I still think that. I know a lot of people characterize him as a free-swinger, but he's reasonably good at getting into full counts. The problem is that he only hit .221 in full counts (although his OBP in 3-2 counts was .475). This is actually better than it was in 2010, when he only hit .179. Outside of that, his splits aren't all that mystifying: .306 when he was ahead in the count and .197 when he was behind. I'm not a big believer in sophomore jinxes. I think a reasonable expectation would be somewhere in between 2010 and 2011.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?

OED: Jacob Turner is the obvious answer here. He may not crack the starting rotation this year, however, and I for one, am just fine with that. No need to rush the youngster.

WW: Unless there's a last-minute trade or signing during spring training, it appears that the fifth starter spot will go to a prospect, and that would automatically mean that one of the prospects would make an impact. Prospects are not my field of expertise, so forgive me if I go for a more well-known Tiger prospect here. It remains to be seen whether Jacob Turner will win that spot out of spring training, but even if he doesn't, there's a good chance he'll see time in the big leagues at some point in the season. Having observed him in person, one thing that struck me is that he's very good at maintaining his composure, and that will help a lot when he's in the big leagues. He hasn't faced a whole lot of star power yet, but he doesn't seem to get intimidated.

C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012?

OED: Barring catastrophic injury or Adam Dunn-esque performances from key personnel, the Tigers are front-runners to win the AL Central. I am most excited to see Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder batting three and four in our lineup.

WW: I really don't like to make predictions, but at this point it's the Tigers' division to lose. This is possible, obviously. I could come up with a scenario for each of the other four teams to take the division (though some teams' scenarios are more farfetched than others). However, if the Tigers don't win, I think it's far more likely that it would be because something went wrong with them versus another team being "better." That could take the form of multiple injuries or multiple players underachieving (The Tigers don't have a ton of depth, but I think they could weather one player getting hurt or struggling so long as it isn't Verlander or Cabrera). It's natural to be a little cautious. After all, the last time the Tigers made a big splashy move was before the 2008 season, and that didn't exactly go to plan. However, at this point, the Tigers are the huge favorite to win the AL Central. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing old favorites like Verlander and Cabrera again (as well as a sentimental favorite or two in Triple A, since I live in Toledo). Last year, I was lucky enough to be in Oakland for the division-clinching game. I'm hoping for more than that this time around.

My thanks to both Jennifer and Erin for their insight into the club.  Barring something very unforeseen, it looks like at least October for this squad and perhaps a whole lot more.

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