Friday, November 07, 2008

Just As I Feared, Catcher Is Tigers' Albatross

Well, here we are. Just as I feared.

One of the rights of ink-stained wretches and bottom-feeding bloggers is to occasionally play GM, usually when the team needs us the most. So since I belong to both fraternities, and since it's my duty to say, in so many words, "told ya so!", I just have three words today about the Tigers' catching situation.

Told. Ya. So.

If the Tigers were to take the field tomorrow for Opening Day, Dusty Ryan would be behind the plate. Let's just hope that this isn't the case when the team opens for real next spring.

This isn't to knock Ryan -- well, maybe a tad -- because he's probably a nice kid whose fault this certainly isn't. But I began wringing my hands as long ago as 2006, worried that the Tigers had no heir apparent, apparently, for Pudge Rodriguez at the catching position.

Then 2007 came and went. Nowhere could a bona fide major league prospect at catcher be found within the Tigers organization. The only thing that became apparent, instead of an heir, was that the Tigers appeared to think that Rodriguez would catch for them forever. Like he was some sort of baseball Methuselah.

Even a healthy Vance Wilson wouldn't have been the answer, for Wilson is a great backup, but nothing more.

Then the Tigers had a solution in spring training, 2008: Brandon Inge would be the heir apparent at catcher -- for the second time in his career. This was made necessary, of course, by the trade that brought 3B Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. Inge grumbled and groused about it, as has been his wont. But at least the Tigers had a catcher-in-waiting.

But Cabrera proved ill-suited at 3B, and was shifted to first base. Carlos Guillen was made the new third baseman. Inge became the full-time catcher after Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees in July. Now the Tigers want to move Guillen to left field. They're running out of positions for Carlos. It's almost like they're trying to hide him and his glove in plain sight. He's becoming the Tigers' white elephant in the room.

Dombrowski's inability to find a catcher, post-Pudge, is coming back to haunt the Tigers (duh!)

Guillen's third shift in positions means Inge is now the third baseman -- again. Hell, he's been catcher twice, so why not make him the third baseman for a second time?

Which brings us back to catcher. Still.

Ryan, with all due respect, is not ready to be a starting big league catcher. He's the Sarah Palin of the Tigers. Let him be the backup, at best.

Just as I feared and warned (why don't they ever listen to me?), the Tigers are without a big league catcher for 2009.

The free agent crop isn't terribly deep. There's Boston's Jason Varitek, 36. Not a bad option, though funny things start happening to catchers, sometimes, at that age. Strangely, there's even Pudge himself, who is free and will be 37 soon. There could be a trade. Regardless, the Tigers are scrambling now, having not been able to groom a catcher in the Dave Dombrowski Era, which is about to head into its eighth year, believe it or not. For all the good DD has done, catcher is turning into his albatross, just as I had feared. (Again I ask: why didn't they ask me??)

The position isn't one to be trivialized. The Tigers have a new pitching coach, Rick Knapp. The staff was a mess last year. The last thing they need is a catcher with peach fuzz.

Since a Pudge II scenario is unlikely, I'd be happy with Varitek. Or Gerald Laird, if the Tigers can pry him from Texas. Laird is outstanding defensively.

Sorry, but all this could have been avoided. Seven years and no catching prospects? Dombrowski and his crack staff whiffed on this one.


Blogger billfer said...

But there is some good news. As prospect lists start coming out the Tigers will likely have 3 catchers in their top 10-12. This year may be bumpy, but it's not like there isn't a decent shot that the Tigers will have a homegrown catcher contributing by 2010.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

I hope you're right, Billfer! Thanks for visiting and commenting!

1:49 PM  

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