Monday, December 24, 2007

Wish List Almost Fulfilled -- Except For Catcher Of The Future

There have been plenty of early Christmas gifts for the Tigers and their fans since the 2007 season ended. Edgar Renteria, Jacque Jones, Miguel Cabrera, and Dontrelle Willis have been added in trades. Kenny Rogers was re-signed, and Willis was inked to an extension.

But at the risk of sounding greedy and unappreciative, I'll make another plea to Santa Claus, er, GM Dave Dombrowski.

Where, oh where, is the Tigers' catcher of the future?

Rodriguez keeps himself in marvelous shape, but the calendar stops for no man

This isn't the first time I've asked such a question. But the answer hasn't presented itself, and I think it's something -- here I am, sounding like a broken record -- that needs to be addressed.

Pudge Rodriguez has turned 36. That's 66 in catcher years. Remember, the so-called experts warned of Rodriguez's age when the Tigers signed him in early 2004 -- when Pudge was 32. Signs have creeped in that the calendar is catching up with him, though Rodriguez keeps himself in excellent condition. Never have I been in the Tigers clubhouse and NOT seen Pudge giving himself a strenuous workout before a game in the team's weight room.

But sooner or later, even the most well-conditioned athlete has to bow to Father Time. And at 36, that time surely must be on the horizon for Pudge.

Vance Wilson's absence in 2007 due to injury was greater than many would admit, or care to notice. But Wilson is among the game's top backup catchers, and no disrespect to Mike Rabelo, but the Tigers could have used Wilson -- even for half the season -- on many, many occasions.

Yet Wilson is not the long-term answer. He'll be 35 in March. No bright catching prospects exist in the Tigers system; it's the one area where the team is deficient in young talent.

My guess is that the Tigers will utilize another package of prospects and young major league talent to secure a catcher in his late-20s -- probably in 2009. Unless a free agent becomes available. Rodriguez could at that point become a DH or a part-time first baseman.

I know it's too late for this Christmas, Santa Dave, but don't forget the part of the wish list that hasn't been crossed off yet.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Selig's Reaction To Mitchell Report Likely More Important Than Its Contents

Often times, sports commissioners don't define the games over which they preside -- it's the other way around. Baseball, more so than any other sport, proves this theorem.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis's legacy is his swift and severe rulings when it came to the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Few folks, save the most obsessed historians, can tell you much about Landis's term as baseball commissioner -- and it was a long one -- but they know that the Judge banished the White Sox players who were involved in fixing the World Series that year.

Ford Frick would be nothing more than a footnote if it wasn't for his ill-advised addition of an asterisk to Roger Maris's record of 61 home runs in 1961. Maybe that's where they get the term "fricking" -- as in, "I can't believe there's a fricking asterisk next to Maris's name."

Bowie Kuhn almost bucked this trend, for he sometimes imposed his will in a proactive manner, i.e. when it came to dealing with matters that he felt weren't "in the best interests" of baseball. But most of what happened during Kuhn's administration defined him, not the other way around. Under Bowie's watch, we saw the lowering of the mound in 1969, the introduction of the DH in 1973, and most importantly, the dawn of free agency. None of these things did he initiate -- but how he responded to them and how he shepherded the game through them solidified his place as one of the game's greatest commishes.

Who knows much about Bart Giamatti -- besides the fact that he's the father of actor Paul Giamatti -- other than he was the one who put the scarlett letter on Pete Rose's lapel?

Now Bud Selig, no threat to the legacies of Landis, Kuhn, et al, has himself an opportunity.

How will Selig commandeer the ship thru the rough waters created by the wake of the George Mitchell steroid report?

How swiftly will Bud react? How significant will be the ramifications -- if any? What changes will he make to ensure that this -- or anything remotely like it -- doesn't happen again?

Selig has already fumbled many handoffs.

There was the All-Star game tie/debacle several years ago. Then the decree that the winner of the midsummer classic would have home field advantage in the World Series, rendering the regular season meaningless in that regard. His strange silence and ambiguity as Barry Bonds approached Hank Aaron's HR record was the latest.

But yet there is hope for Selig.

The way he responds to the Mitchell report, which cited some of the game's biggest stars as users of performance-enhancing substances, will (in my mind anyway) go a long way toward defining Selig's legacy as a commissioner. So he could still pull this one out of the fire.

If you have some skepticism, you are more than excused.

Can Bud do it? Can he put a stamp on the game that has, so far, branded him as an incompetent and mealy?

The odds are long. Oops -- no betting in baseball. My bad.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Who Says Winter Meetings Are Dull? Tigers Shock With A Blockbuster

Twenty-four hours ago, Cameron Maybin was "untouchable." Andrew Miller was "practically" untouchable. The Tigers' chances of pulling any sort of deal, much less that of the blockbuster variety, were slim at these Winter Meetings -- capitalized because it's baseball's. GM Dave Dombrowski said on Monday that the Tigers would be satisfied to go into the 2008 season with the roster they had when the Meetings began.

Something funny happened on the way to status quo.

The Tigers pulled off maybe their biggest and boldest trade since they dealt batting champ Harvey Kuenn for home run champ Rocky Colavito before the 1960 season. A whopping eight-player deal, and the fact that the Tigers are only getting two of those eight players tells you how far they've come as a major off-season player.

When you trade six for two, and your front office isn't brain dead, then you know the two you're getting are Rolls Royce players, as Dickie Vitale would say. And they are -- lefty Dontrelle Willis and 3B Miguel Cabrera come to the Tigers from Florida. These are two huge stars (though Willis is coming off a down year) who are in their mid-20s. Two All-Stars with a World Series title under their belts. The types of players who instantly thrust you ahead of the pack in your division, and maybe in the league. Maybe, in fact, ahead of the other 29 teams in MLB.

But oh, how the Tigers paid to get them.

I was, to put it mildly, shocked when I saw the little chicklet at the bottom of the screen on ESPN News.

BREAKING NEWS: Fla agrees to trade Cabrera, Willis to Tigers

Eyes widened, I waited for the MLB news to flash, after the interminable NBA and NHL scores, and other inconsequential sports drivel.

Marlins agree to trade LHP Dontrelle Willis and 3B Miguel Cabrera to Tigers for six players, including OF Cameron Maybin and LHP Andrew Miller

Oh. My. God.

Despite how gifted Willis and Cabrera are -- and they ARE -- my first thought went to the Tigers' rapidly depleting farm system. And to how Maybin was supposedly never going to be traded -- no way, no how. All we'd heard since the Tigers drafted him is how he's a genuine five-tool player who'll one day make Detroit go crazy. The Tigers all but laughed at the Washington Nationals in 2006 when the Nats wanted Maybin in any deal involving OF Alfonso Soriano. Back to that word, "untouchable."

Miller was another who you'd figure wouldn't be going anywhere. The no. 1 pick in 2006, Miller was rushed to the majors after being aggressively signed with the idea that he could be a playoff performer, at the age of 20. That didn't happen, but you knew the Tigers still had big plans for him in 2008 and beyond. As recently as Monday.

So here the Tigers are, trading their two best prospects -- their best prospects in years, according to some -- and even though they netted two big fish from the Marlins, the move still makes me squirm a bit. Between the Gary Sheffield trade last year, the Edgar Renteria deal last month, and now this mind-number, the Tigers have SEVERELY cut into their prospects pool. But, on the other hand, your team is now LOADED.

Here's a possible batting order:

Curtis Granderson CF
Placido Polanco 2B
Gary Sheffield (healthy) DH
Magglio Ordonez RF
Miguel Cabrera 3B
Carlos Guillen 1B
Edgar Renteria SS
Pudge Rodriguez C
Jacque Jones LF

Goodness gracious.

And here's the rotation:

Justin Verlander RH
Dontrelle Willis LH
Kenny Rogers LH
Jeremy Bonderman RH
Nate Robertson LH

Cripes sakes.

This team could run away with the Central title. It's that good on parchment, the Indians be damned. Manager Jim Leyland must be beside himself. I bet you he's already jotted down about a dozen variations of the batting order I took a stab at earlier. I can almost hear him telling the media with typical self-effacing humor, "This team looks good -- as long as I don't screw it up."

Of course, you gotta perform. But I think the Tigers, having made some major, MAJOR moves since the last out was recorded in 2007, are about as well-equipped as a team can be for a 162-game battle. Yes, the bullpen might still be shaky, but that can be addressed. It's not like Dombrowski has shown any shyness. Besides, this trade makes Brandon Inge expendable. It's a "win now" mentality, for sure, but with Willis and Cabrera, it can be win now -- and later, too. Willis is 24. Cabrera will be 25 in April. That ought to soothe any concerns -- including mine -- about "mortgaging" the future. Yet the Tigers sure stunned a lot of folks by trading both Maybin AND Miller. At least they're in the National League now.

Last year I wrote a piece about how the Winter Meetings seemed to lack that excitement and sense of urgency of years past. About how you just didn't have any real reason to look forward to them, as in the days of yore. Sometimes they occurred and you barely knew that they did.

But mark December 4, 2007 as the day the Tigers turned baseball on its ear with one of its biggest trades in years -- both in terms of sheer volume of players and in star power, present and future. Truly a win-win deal - if Maybin and Miller are as good as we keep being told that they are.

Nicely done, DD -- but I'm still a little squeamish. Until Opening Day, when I see the Tigers trot out onto the field and I see, for real, what the Tigers GM has wrought.