In the final edition of our Kings of Kauffman Spring Q&A’s with our friends around the AL Central we chat with the Detroit Tigers. Matt Snyder is the editor over at Motor City Bengals and here are his thoughts on the preseason division favorite.
Motor City Bengals – Martinez has played a couple of games at first base this spring, but the plan is for him to pretty much be a DH-only guy this year. Prince Fielder doesn’t miss a lot of time — he’s missed one game total over the last four seasons — so there probably won’t be much playing time at first for Victor. He could fill in for a game here or there, but I don’t think he’d even be the primary backup option should Fielder go down with an injury.
Leyland has opened the door for Martinez to get back behind the plate for a handful of games in National League parks if they’re facing a left-handed pitcher. But between catcher and first base, I don’t expect him to see the field for even a double-digit number of games.
KOK – The Tigers are clearly the best team in the Central but what do they plan to do to not win the division later in the season again?
MCB – There was a lot of talk of “underachievement” last season, but I think the truth was that they simply weren’t quite as good as many thought they were. Delmon Young was a terrible DH, and I think we actually saw the real Brennan Boesch in right field (those two combined for -2.0 WAR). They’ve plugged those two holes with Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter and they’ll be getting full seasons from Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez (who they acquired at the deadline last year). I think the team could be seeing a 5 WAR improvement just in the RF and DH positions over last season.
Other than that, though, you just have to put the players on the field, watch the games, and understand randomness is a part of the game. Jim Leyland never panicked last year, even when it was September and they weren’t where they wanted to be. Fans hated him for it (though the anti-Leyland chatter mysteriously died during the playoff run to the World Series), but he managed his way up until the very end of the regular season.
KOK – What are the concerns of the fans heading into this season in the Motor City?
MCB – The bullpen is definitely a concern. Right now no one knows who will close out games – and Leyland usually does like to have “a guy” – so there is a lot of hand wringing there. It looks like rookie Bruce Rondon will make the team and could be the guy to get the first crack at save chances. He throws 100 mph and strikes out a ton of guys, but he also issues a boatload of walks. Other guys in the immediate closer mix include Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, and probably Octavio Dotel.
I would personally like to see them play out the final innings based on situational leverage and platoon matchups, but that’s not something the Tigers have done under Leyland. He has said that he will “play the matchups” if they don’t have a closer named, but he’s always been much more comfortable defining seventh, eighth, and ninth inning roles.
KOK – After getting swept in the World Series do you think that this team will have enough motivation to end its title drought?
MCB – The players really seem to want it, especially a guy like Justin Verlander who has been to two World Series with the team (with a 1-8 team record). Following the season, a bunch of players took to Twitter and talked about training all offseason in order to get those final four wins.
As a fan, though, I don’t really concern myself with postseason success. I obviously would love to see a World Series Champion in Detroit, but so much of each playoff series is determined by luck and randomness that I can’t pin all my hopes and dreams the outcomes. I’m much more concerned with their overall play in the regular season, winning a division championship, and simply getting that playoff berth. In October, I just try to enjoy being there (not that I’m there, of course).