With still over three-quarters of the season remaining, it would be foolish to start banging on the panic button like a deranged Red Sox fan after a three game losing streak. But after getting swept by the Twins in a two game series and the overall record falling to 18-20, one can’t help but start being concerned about what’s going on with the ballclub right now.
Unlike some of the usual suspects than many of us read, I want to calmly, rationally take a look at the serious problems with the Tigers thus far and examine the likelihood of these problems fixing themselves. And in an unprecedented step, I want to examine possible solutions to the problems instead of simply trying to identify a scapegoat for them. Crazy, I know.
Now on my way home from work today, the local sports talk radio host suggested that Miguel Cabrera should be taking more blame for the team’s slow start due to him not walking enough. I thought I was going to have a stroke at the stupidity of that statement. Cabrera is not the problem. But there are issues that need to be addressed.
Personally, I feel the three biggest problem areas with the team right now, in no particular order, are second base, the bullpen, and Delmon Young. Let’s examine each of them.
PROBLEM: Second Base
Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Ryan Raburn, is not hitting. Oddly enough, booing him in every at bat and calling him obscene names at every turn is not helping him to play better. You’d think people would have learned from that with Brandon Inge, but no.
Ramon Santiago is not the answer. He has hit as poorly as Ryno has, but with even less power. Danny Worth has showed nothing in his limited opportunities, either. So what should the Tigers do?
Orlando Hudson was DFA’d by the Padres today and they will be responsible for the majority of his salary the rest of the season. But the 34 year old Hudson has only hit .211/.260/.317 this year with 1 HR and 11 RBI in 131 plate appearances. He has lost a step on defense and hasn’t really been very productive since 2009. Danny Knobler has all but called him the antichrist on Twitter today.
However, he would add some speed to the lineup (19 for 22 in steals last year) and would still be a defensive upgrade over Raburn, but do you give up on Raburn already knowing that he is a slow starter every year?
/hears everyone screaming “yes”
What trade opportunities might be out there? Everyone says to make a trade, but they never say for whom or think about what the team would have to give up. The only second baseman worth anything that might be available via trade in my opinion is Kelly Johnson of the Blue Jays. But Toronto looks to still be in the AL East race at this point and I can’t see them letting him go for the marginal prospects the Tigers would feel comfortable in dealing for him. Well, at least not for another month or two when the Jays start to fall back in the standings.
SOLUTION: Sign Hudson. He’s cheap and you have an available roster spot with a pitcher, likely Putkonen, going back to the Hens soon. Maybe signing Hudson will be the kick in the rear that Raburn needs to start his yearly second half rebirth a bit early. And if not, O-Dog, bad as he’s looked, is still performing better than anyone else the Tigers have.
Or maybe after acquiring Hudson, you send Raburn to Toledo for a while to clear his head. He still has one option remaining. Some time away from the evil glares in Detroit might be good for him. It certainly can’t hurt.
Then the closer you get to July 31st, you start exploring a deal for Johnson or someone I haven’t considered if Hudson/Raburn haven’t turned it around. Maybe the Phillies will give Polanco back if they continue to be crappy. I dunno…
PROBLEM: Bullpen Dumpster Fire
Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, and Octavio Dotel are going to be fine. None of them are spectacular, but they are proven veterans and will get the job done more often than not. Duane Below has done an admirable job in long relief. But we need more than five guys to make up a good bullpen.
Collin Balester is pathetic and has allowed 5 homers in 18 innings. Brayan Villarreal and Daniel Schlereth cannot currently be trusted with their control problems. Luke Putkonen is not a Major League caliber pitcher. While Fu-Te Ni and Chris Bootcheck have done well in Toledo, they probably aren’t the answer either.
Who are possible trade options? Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, Brandon League, and Grant Balfour are all free agents after this year and all play for terrible teams. Broxton and Capps play for division rivals, though, and might be difficult to get.
SOLUTION: Beg Billy Beane for Grant Balfour. He still owes us for sticking the Tigers with David Purcey last year. Seriously, though, the A’s will eventually be looking to cut payroll and Detroit may be able to persuade Oakland to part with the proven setup man for a couple minor prospects. Once acquiring Balfour, take Balester back to the MLB Fan Cave and beat him to death with a tire iron. Let the nerds in the Cave deal with disposing of the body.
PROBLEM: Delmon Young
The Tigers seem to have things figured out #1 through #4 in the lineup. Brennan Boesch, Alex Avila, and Jhonny Peralta are not going anywhere in the #6 through #8 spots. But Delmon at #5 is hard to figure out. His numbers are awful thus far. Is it because of his off-field problems? Is he sulking because he’s not playing in the field? Is he hurt and not telling anyone?
Delmon Young has shown that he can be productive in the big leagues and is still only 27 years old. He was a beast in the playoffs last year and as recently as 2010 was outstanding in the regular season. And he’s in a contract year and you’d think that eventually he’s going to come around.
But he can’t field. He has the worst plate discipline of any hitter I’ve ever seen in Detroit. He clearly does not want to DH. And though I have no way of knowing, he just looks like his mind isn’t fully on the game right now.
SOLUTION: Drop him down in the order. He is doing no one any favors in the #5 spot right now. You can’t justify releasing him at this point with no one better to replace him in the DH spot. Boesch and Avila, while not playing great themselves, look to be better protection for Prince Fielder right now until Victor Martinez hopefully comes back in September. And maybe along the way, Delmon finally gets his act together and hits like we know he’s capable of. Like Raburn, I feel his issues are more mental than physical right now.
If he continues to struggle through June, you explore a deadline trade. Carlos Quentin is a free agent after this year and would be a welcome addition to the lineup if his knee is healed by midseason. It’s not like San Diego will have any reason to keep him. And there’s always the yearly Carlos Lee rumors…
/ducks for cover
I don’t know what the answers are. I try to avoid rosterbation posts because it’s all wild speculation. But like you, I’m sure, I am sick of watching this team do so poorly when we all had such high hopes. Any sign of life or an attempt to get better would be a welcome sign at this point.
Yes, it’s still early. Yes, I still expect this team to win their division. And no, I’m not panicking.
But I am starting to get concerned. Your move, Dombrowski.