Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Renteria Trade Another Example Of Tigers' New-Way Of Thinking

When the Tigers lured Dave Dombrowski from the Florida Marlins in November 2001 to be their new, three-headed baseball man -- president, general manager, chief executive officer -- it was quite a sell job, to be honest. For the Tigers of the early 21st century were a team devoid of much talent on the field, and with a mostly bare cupboard of young talent in the minor leagues. They had a brand-new ballpark with ridiculous dimensions in left and left center field, and after two seasons of Comerica Park, the novelty was already starting to wear off.

How the Tigers managed to get the well-respected Dombrowski to come to Detroit to resuscitate their franchise, after over a decade of poor decisions and horrible drafting, surely will go down as one of the greatest coups in this city's sports history.

Back then, when Dombrowski addressed the media for the first time as a Tigers employee, wearing a Tigers jacket inside a CoPa suite -- the baseball diamond as a backdrop -- you might have wondered if even he knew what he was truly getting himself into. Did he have buyer's remorse?

Dombrowski's approach is to do whatever it takes to secure solid big leaguers like Renteria

In the early years of his job here, he spoke of the future. The idea was to cobble together a product on the field that, one day, would be good enough to challenge the Yankees and Red Sox and even the Twins for league supremacy. The other phase of Dombrowski's plan was to fortify the minor league system -- one that had become an MLB-wide joke. A third phase was to have the first two phases in place so that he could begin talking as he did yesterday.

"We're trying to win now," Dombrowski said in the wake of the news that the Tigers had acquired shortstop Edgar Renteria from the Atlanta Braves. The price for the 32-year-old, five-time All-Star Renteria was pitching prospect Jair Jurrjens and potential big league outfielder Gorkys Hernandez. Two of the Tigers' brightest young prospects, in other words.

That's where the Tigers are now. They are in Phase III of Dombrowski's plan. They now have a big league roster loaded with talent and a feeder system overstocked, to be used as bait for more talented big league talent.

It's why Dombrowski can talk with the sense of urgency normally reserved for the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, and other big-market MLB clubs. It's even being mentioned that the Tigers' "window" for winning some serious hardware might be closing soon -- based on the ages of some of the team's key cogs.

Talk of windows and "winning now" and trading some of the future for some of the present is all new stuff for the baseball team from Detroit. It was talk that would have seemed absurd as recently as four years ago. Then Dombrowski, perhaps using the same salesman skills once used on him, managed to get Fernando Vina, Rondell White, and most of all, Pudge Rodriguez, to sign with the Tigers in the off-season after the horrific 43-win season of 2003. The path to respectability had begun to be forged. A pre-2004 trade brought Carlos Guillen into the fold. A mid-2005 trade fetched Placido Polanco. Free agency brought Kenny Rogers in December 2005, and another trade sent Gary Sheffield to Detroit last November.

Now, the Renteria deal. And talk, from the GM himself, of winning now.

"You always want to set yourself up for the future, but to get someone like Edgar we knew we'd have to give up some talent," Dombrowski said. And the Tigers, thanks to Dombrowski and his razor-sharp lieutenants like scouting director David Chadd (swiped from the Red Sox), have managed to put together a model big league organization in relatively short order.

Edgar Renteria is a Tiger this morning because the team saw an opportunity, seized on it, and filled another hole that needed to be filled, thanks to their stockpiling of young, quality players. Just like that.

That's how the consistent winners in baseball do it. Which is what the Tigers have now become, and clearly intend to remain.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cold, Idle Rockies Will Be Overmatched By Warmed Up Bosox

The Colorado Rockies, the way I figure it, are like a once-hot engine that's been sitting in a cold garage for eight days. In the winter time. In fact, it may be more like they've been sitting in the driveway, exposed to the elements: the wind, the cold, the moisture.

It's the Boston Red Sox that are the warmed up engine, revving and waiting to host the Rockies in Game 1 of the World Series. It's like two racing competitors, at the starting line, waiting for the flag to be waved -- but one of them, the Rockies, has to begin the race with its engine turned off.

OK, OK -- enough with the automobile analogies. But you get the idea.

Frankly, this may end up being one of the most interesting Fall Classics in recent memory, if only because I'm dying to see how the Rockies, winners of 21 of their past 22 games, will respond to their enforced eight-day layoff after sweeping Arizona in the NLCS. Aren't you curious as to whether Colorado can continue to ride the hottest end-of-season streak in baseball history all the way to the world title?

Perhaps my views are tainted by what happened to the Tigers last year, but I believe the Red Sox will make relatively short work of the Rockies -- like five games worth.

None of this nonsense about the Rockies' taking two of three from Boston in Fenway Park way back in June. The Tigers swept the Cardinals in Detroit in 2006, you know. Anyhow, I hope you know that it's folly to use regular season matchups as any sort of post-season barometer.

No, the Red Sox will win because there'll be too much Josh Beckett, too much Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and too much of a playoff-veteran team that, thanks to its 2004 World Series win (which included the famous comeback from an 0-3 hole in the ALCS) and this year's ALCS comeback triumph, absolutely knows how to win the big games. The Rockies' run has been fabulous, but except for the one-game playoff against San Diego, the Rockies haven't encountered any playoff bumps yet. They've never trailed in a series, let alone 3-1. So how do we know that they can win under such duress?

But having said all that, I still think it will be an interesting, albeit short, World Series.

The first-ever crowning of an MLB champ in the city of Denver. But it won't be the home team -- it'll be the Red Sox in Game 5.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rockies' Run About To Face Biggest Challenge Yet

The Colorado Rockies are in the World Series. Fancy that. Good for them. They have been virtually indestructible, winning 21 of their last 22 games -- including a three-run rally in extra innings to even qualify for the playoffs to begin with. They are, right now, a buzz saw that is slicing through everything in their wake.

But now they face the biggest challenge of them all: the wait between the NLCS and the World Series.

The last thing the Rockies want to do, I would think, is sit around and wait, and wait, and wait ... while the ALCS plays out. They have something special going on, and it's all been predicated on playing games in relatively rapid succession.

Look no further than our own Detroit Tigers of 2006 to illustrate what I'm talking about.

Magglio Ordonez slugged his ALCS-winning home run on Saturday, October 14, giving the Tigers a sweep over Oakland. But then, due to the NLCS going seven games, the Tigers had to wait a whole week before starting the World Series. Their bats and pitchers were out of sorts, and thanks to some crooked pitchers' throws to various bases, the Tigers fell meekly to the Cardinals.

Some blamed the week-long wait on the Tigers' poor performance. And those folks would not be far off the mark.

Baseball is a game of rhythm and routine. One-hundred-and-sixty-two games played out, almost every day, for months. It's not a game built for several days off between matches. Pitchers and hitters alike bask in the consistency of the sport.

So it's no wonder that the Tigers had rust to shake off in the World Series, and it was a task that they never really completed.

The Rockies have gone through these playoffs with lightning speed. They are dispensing of teams as if they're on a time clock, which they kind of are -- midnight is looming for this year's Cinderella.

The ALCS looks to be a six or seven game affair, which means the Rockies will have a similar wait as the '06 Tigers did. They'd play tomorrow if they could, being on the roll that they are on currently. But instead, they'll try to bottle whatever it is they're taking and save it for the World Series. Only, it usually doesn't work out that way.

AL Champ in six.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Pudge's Replacement Better Be Identified Sooner Rather Than Later

When you've followed baseball as long as I have, certain images stay in your mind that remind you of the passage of time, and how the calendar stops for no man.

For instance, I remember seeing Bill Freehan tutoring young Tigers catchers in the late-1970s, one of them being Lance Parrish. Then, about 20 years later, there was Parrish, passing on his knowledge of catching to the next generation of Tigers backstops.

I'm not sure, however, who's doing the teaching of catchers nowadays in Tiger Town.

The question has some urgency. The Tigers, not surprisingly, just picked up Pudge Rodriguez's option for 2008, at a cool $13 million. They could have let him go for $3 million. The caveat is that the organization has no real option other than Rodriguez, at everyday catcher. There's no real help due for several years, and even that is questionable.

The lack of grooming a new full-time catcher could nip the Tigers in the keister if they don't act soon.

The well-conditioned Rodriguez isn't well-conditioned enough to play forever

Free agency wasn't going to be the answer for 2008. Aside from the Yankees' Jorge Posada (who's likely to re-sign with New York anyway), the pickings are slim and a trade down from Rodriguez, at least defensively. No catching prospects have been drafted in the early rounds by the Tigers for years. So it became a no-brainer to bring Pudge back, albeit an expensive no-brainer.

There's no question that Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, 36 years old by the time the 2008 season starts, is not a $13 million catcher. But that's hardly the issue right now.

The real issue is that the Tigers, for all their recent success in developing homegrown talent, have failed when it comes to finding a suitable everyday replacement for Rodriguez. And all their $13 million has bought them is one more year of time, that's all. Barring a trade or other transaction, the Tigers will be faced with the very same question in October 2008 as they faced last week. Namely, who will catch for them in the very near future?

Rodriguez, for his part, keeps himself in excellent physical shape. Amd that's terrific. But sooner or later (and definitely sooner), the calendar will move faster than his body can keep up. And the inevitable crash and burn could come rather quickly.

The Tigers, thanks to their exercised option, bought themselves out of trouble for 2008, presuming Rodriguez stays healthy. But they're tempting fate if they don't solidify an heir apparent behind the plate. Soon.

Monday, October 08, 2007

My Slightly Warped 2007 Baseball Awards

Some 2007 awards from the Baseball Academy of Arts & Sciences -- if a) such an academy existed; and b) if it was populated by warped, mildly inebriated individuals.

Best Performance By An Ex-Tiger Who Played Himself Off The Team (On the field)
Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay. He hit 46 home runs, in a year in which he showed up to spring training just trying to make the team. And he wouldn't even have done that, but there was an injury to Greg Norton, so Pena made it after all.

Best Performance By An Ex-Tiger Who Played Himself Off The Team (Off the field)
Dmitri Young, Washington. He was named NL Comeback Player of the Year (Pena was the AL's version), a year after being unceremoniously dumped by the Tigers, mostly for his off-the-field behavioral problems.

Best Re-creation Of The Famous Billy Martin-Reggie Jackson Dugout Confrontation
Michael Barrett and Carlos Zambrano, Cubs. The catcher Barrett and pitcher Zambrano jawed at each other in the dugout at Wrigley, reminiscent of Martin and Jackson in Boston in 1977 -- an incident also recreated on the ESPN series "The Bronx Is Burning." But the Cubs players went Martin/Jackson one better -- actually trading punches before being separated. Barrett soon became an ex-Cub.

Best Re-creation Of The Famous 1964 Phillies Collapse
The New York Mets. Like the '64 Phils, who blew a six-game lead with ten games to play, the '07 Mets sunk faster than a hot air balloon made of lead and piloted by Shaun Rogers. They had a seven-game lead as late as September 12 over the (ironically) Phillies, before going down the tubes. And you thought the Tigers late season slump was bad!

Best Comeback By A Player Who Never Really Left
Roger Clemens, Yankees. The Rocket pulled his usual "I'm not sure I'm going to pitch again" act during the off-season, and this time it lasted well into May before Clemens finally announced, in dramatic fashion (over the PA system at Yankee Stadium during a game), that he was pitching for the Yankees in 2007. Even his rehab stints in the minors were shown on ESPN.

Best 180 Act
Ozzie Guillen, manager, White Sox. Less than a year after dissing Magglio Ordonez, who he once managed, Guillen had nothing but lovely things to say about his fellow countryman after Maggs won the 2007 batting crown.

Best Impersonation Of The 1927 Yankees
(tie) Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals -- whenever they played the Tigers. Had Guillen's Chisox or Buddy Bell's Royals had the Tigers on their schedule more often, we may have been looking at a five-way battle for supremacy in the AL Central. Oh, how those teams were thorns in the Tigers' sides in 2007.

Best Job At Remaining Faithful To A Baseball Adage
Tigers broadcasters Mario Impemba and Rod Allen never used the term "no-hitter" during Justin Verlander's gem in June -- at least not on the air. Their omission -- true to the baseball adage that says you don't mention the possibility while it's occurring -- sparked a mini-controversy, namely: how much responsibility do the broadcasters shoulder to let their viewers/listeners know that history might be in the making?

Biggest Trade Deadline Flop
Eric Gagne, Red Sox. It didn't harm their playoff hopes as it turned out, but closer Gagne was simply awful after being acquired from Texas. He was so bad that he was banished to set up man for the set up man.

Biggest Mystery
The White Sox extending manager Guillen's contract for several years. After winning the World Series in 2005, the White Sox have been nosediving. They were tied for last with Kansas City in the season's final weeks.

Best Example Of Cooler Heads Prevailing
The Mets and GM Omar Minaya, who didn't act on a knee-jerk reaction and fire manager Willie Randolph in the wake of the team's collapse. After a day of reflection, Minaya announced randolph would return, admitting in the presser that he needed that day to take a step back and look at things rationally. Good for him.

Best Way To Hit Your 500th HR
Jim Thome, White Sox. Thome hit no. 500 in walk-off fashion. Doesn't get any better than that.

Saddest New Sight
Base coaches wearing batting helmets, in the wake of the tragic death of minor league first base coach Mike Coolbaugh, who was hit in the head by a batted ball and died shortly thereafter.

Better Late Than Never
MLB's suspension of umpire Mike Winters, for baiting Padres OF Milton Bradley with profanity. The incident led to Bradley's ejection and a season-ending knee injury after he was restrained by his manager. It's about time the men in blue were reeled in a bit.

Best New Addition -- For Half A Season
Prior to injuring his shoulder just after the All-Star break, new Tigers DH Gary Sheffield was every bit the catalyst that was expected, and then some, for the team's offense. With Sheffield at full strength, the Tigers were 57-36 and their lineup fed off each other -- and Sheff. After he got hurt and was far less than 100%, the Tigers finished 31-38, and struggled to score runs consistently.

Worst Stadium
The Metrodome, Minnesota -- 26 seasons and counting.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Postseason Awards Coming Monday

I know I promised my wacky postseason awards for today, but things got a little crazy around the homestead. Instead, I'll leave you hanging all weekend; they'll appear here on Monday.

We apologize for any inconvenience.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Fearless Forecast: Cloudy, With A Chance Of Accuracy

2007 Postseason Prognostications

I'm not the predicting type, normally. My last greatest call was Gerry Cooney KO-ing Ken Norton in under a minute of the first round back in 1981 (I predicted the fight would last 58 seconds; it lasted 54). Seriously. I'm Jimmy The Anti-Greek. Or maybe I'm Jimmy the Geek. Whatever.

But in the spirit of good humor, if nothing else, here's a look at how the 2007 MLB playoffs might go -- if we lived in a world where I was ever right about such things:

American League

New York vs. Cleveland: It's tempting to just look at the Yankees' 6-0 record against the Tribe in '07 and say that means a win in the ALDS, too. But we all know that today's game is tomorrow's momentum, and regular season matchups usually mean little. Yet, having said that, I'll still take the Yankees in four because I think they're due for a postseason explosion, and I believe the loss to the Tigers last year got under their skin more than poison ivy.

Los Angeles vs. Boston. Intriguing matchup. Two teams that recently ended being vexed (Angels in 2002; Red Sox in 2004) for years. And the Red Sox eliminated the Angels in 2004. But I look at the Red Sox and their resilience in fending off the Yankees, and their desire to make amends for their awful '05 postseason and '06 absence, and I like Boston in five.

National League

Colorado vs. Philadelphia. Wow. How do you handicap this one? Both teams qualified thanks to miraculous comebacks. The Phillies finished 13-4 to overtake the Mets. The Rockies sprinted to the finish 13-1 to leapfrog the Dodgers and the Padres. Both teams will be riding high emotions, but that usually dissipates after the first game. I guess I'll go with the Phillies in five, mainly because I like their overall team strength and their pitching is a tad better.

Chicago vs. Arizona. Another difficult series to pick, because neither team has any playoff success to brag about in the last, oh, 95 years or so. (I know, the Diamondbacks haven't been around that long, so chill). The Cubs' regular season record wasn't all that impressive (the Tigers would have won this division handily), but neither was that of the '06 Cardinals, and they won the whole enchilada. As much as I hope I'm wrong, I'm sticking with the Diamondbacks in four. Why? pitching, and there's a reason the D-backs won 90 games and the Cubs fell far short of that. They're the better team.

So that's all, folks. Oh -- and this time I'm picking Cooney over Norton in 22 seconds. Fighters lose a lot of stamina in their 50s and 60s, after all.

Coming Friday: My slightly warped end-of-season awards!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(this is the last edition of MMM for 2007. Beginning next week and continuing until spring training 2008, this blog will be updated on Mondays and Fridays only. Thanks for reading this season!)

Last Week: 3-3

I don't know that anyone would want to take the time to look up such a thing, but I can't imagine the Tigers ever playing a season-closing game that was filled with as many individual milestones as yesterday's 13-3 win over the White Sox provided.

To wit:

1. Magglio Ordonez wins batting title. With a .363 BA, to boot. I never dreamed that Maggs would stay this hot for this long. I kept waiting for the nosedive to the .330s or so. But he was simply unbelievable in 2007. A monster year. Let's put it this way: as rich as Ordonez's contract was that he signed in 2005, I bet most would have considered it a bargain had they been told that the contract would include a walk-off HR to win the AL pennant, and this line in 2007: 216 hits, 117 runs, 54 doubles, 28 HR, 139 RBI, .363 BA, .595 SLG, .434 OBA. Goodness gracious.

2. Placido Polanco gets 200 hits. The Energizer Baseball Bunny. Polanco is amazing. He finished at .341, which wins batting titles many seasons. He struck out only 30 times all season. Plus, he committed no errors. That's zero. Zilch. Nada.

3. Curtis Granderson has his first .300 season. Well, .302 to be exact. Grandy was overshadowed at times by Ordonez, but his 20-20-20-20 season (2Bs, 3Bs, HRs, SBs) and 122 runs scored is an MVP-type year sometimes.

4. Carlos Guillen has his first 100-RBI season. Well, 102 to be exact. Again hampered by injuries, Guillen nonetheless hit .296 and slugged 21 HRs. Next year's first baseman had himself a very decent year, once again.

5. Mike Rabelo hits his first big league home run. He waited till the last day of the season to do it, but Rabelo erased that goose egg in his HR column. His final numbers might not have been much worse than Vance Wilson's would have been, but the Tigers' loss of Wilson to elbow surgery was underrated. It's hard to quantify what a veteran backup like Wilson brings to the table.

Of course, the team milestones, the Tigers fell short of: a playoff berth, 90 wins. But with as many man-games missed to injuries, 88-74 and not being eliminated until the final few days of the season isn't all that bad.

Coming Wednesday: I handicap the playoffs in both leagues.

Coming Friday: I hand out my sightly warped end-of-season awards.