Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Special: Tigers Can Still Win Central Despite Their Warts

Imagine going to a magic show and the beautiful girl gets turned into a witch with a mole on her nose.

That's what happened in Tigertown yesterday, when GM Dave Dombrowski managed to turn Placido Polanco into a journeyman left-handed reliever who's on his third team this season.


The Tigers' trade of 2B Scotty Sizemore to the Oakland A's for lefty David Purcey completes the magic trick. Dombrowski is quite the magician; he's also managed to make all the Tigers' positional player prospects vanish, too.

The Tigers let hitting machine Polanco walk after the 2009 season and then handed the 2B job to Sizemore, no questions asked. Even after Scotty snapped an ankle in Winter League ball, the Tigers were resolute: Sizemore would be the starting second baseman, gimpy ankle or not.

Mainly because the organization had no one else of note.

Sizemore limped around for two months last season before the Tigers wisely put him out of his misery and called up Will Rhymes, who did OK, batting .300 in about 200 AB. It looked like the Tigers might have, at the very least, some healthy competition at second base; at the worst, Sizemore would be the odd man out, given Rhymes' performance in 2010.

Rhymes won the job in spring training from Sizemore, who I got the feeling the Tigers weren't quite ready to believe in, for whatever reason.

You know what happened to Rhymes---he couldn't hit his way out of a wet paper bag, and became a bunting specialist. He became a National League pitcher at the plate, and batting second in the order, no less. So the Tigers called up Sizemore a few weeks ago.

This morning, the Tigers are on their fourth second baseman, and we're not even to Memorial Day yet.

Manager Jim Leyland---we'll get to him later---announced yesterday that Ryan Raburn will be the new second baseman until further notice.

Will Rhymes. Scott Sizemore. Danny Worth (don't forget him; he was recalled this week). And now Ryan Raburn?

Raburn, who strikes out a third of the time while hitting .200 and whose glove has to be welded together, not laced, is going to be the Tigers' everyday second baseman.

Unless this is all temporary until Dombrowski pulls off a blockbuster for a real second baseman, then you have my permission to curl up into the fetal position and sob.

Don't forget the Tigers' third baseman, Brandon Inge, who is playing on two bad knees, bats .200, also strikes out about a third of the time, and whose power has been disconnected as if he forgot to pay his DTE bill.

Dombrowski's MO has been to stockpile young power arms, which is fine, but position players have been an afterthought in his drafts and personnel development.

How else to explain the likes of borderline MLB players such as Raburn, Don Kelly, Rhymes, Sizemore, Worth and Clete Thomas---and I could go on and on---occupying spots on the 25-man roster in recent years?

Sometimes DD trades for or signs guys who can't hit; he doesn't always recall them from the minors.

Neifi Perez, Jacque Jones or Adam Everett, anyone?

Dombrowski has been the GM since early in the 2002 season. That's going on 10 full seasons now. You can count the number of stud prospects the Tigers have produced in that time frame---not including those who toe the rubber---on one hand.

Unless DD is trading them away, like Matt Joyce and Cody Ross.

Look at the hitters who are worth a damn in the Tigers lineup. Not one of them came through the system.

Miggy Cabrera. Magglio Ordonez (yes, he still remains in this category until further notice). Victor Martinez. Austin Jackson. Jhonny Peralta.

Don't come at me with Brennan Boesch. He's still very much an unknown entity. I have no idea if the kid is going to be good or not. I wouldn't wager on him with anything more than half a sawbuck, I'll tell you that.

Dombrowski's milieu seems to be the trade or the free agent signing---not so much player development. And even the former has had its cockeyed moments.

Again, Jacque Jones? Edgar Renteria?

But DD, I must admit, has brought some good folks into the organization from outside it. Pudge Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Rogers, to name a few. But see the trend? Aging guys. Ordonez was signed in his prime, but usually Dombrowski brings in guys whose better days are behind them, with the distinct exception of Cabrera.

Dombrowski let Johnny Damon go because he didn't feel that Johnny could play the outfield on a daily basis, which he really can't. But how would Damon look in the two hole right now, even if he plays a stilted left field? Johnny is having himself a fine year down in Tampa.

The trade of Sizemore---and you can argue that it was a quick trigger---and the subsequent shift of Raburn to 2B combine to form an indictment of the Tigers minor league system. It was the white flag of surrender: we have no second baseman.

Dombrowski said after the trade that the Tigers weren't in a "developmental situation" that would allow for Sizemore to work out the kinks in his MLB offensive game. DD said the Tigers didn't have that "luxury."

That's GM speak for, "I'd better win now, because my contract is expiring at the end of the year."

So is Leyland's, and I'm losing faith in him by the day.

Let's play a little game called "Which lineup looks better?"

See the below lineup:

CF Jackson
2B Raburn
LF/RF Boesch
1B Cabrera
DH Martinez
RF/LF Wells/Kelly
SS Peralta
C Avila
3B Inge

The above is a typical Leyland lineup, would you agree?

Now compare it to the following:

CF Jackson
SS Peralta
C Avila
1B Cabrera
DH Martinez
LF/RF Boesch
RF/LF Wells/Kelly
2B Raburn
3B Inge

Which one looks better to you?

Why Leyland insists on suppressing Peralta and Avila, two of the guys who can actually swing the bat, in the bottom third of the order is beyond me.

Can you imagine the increased quality of pitches Jhonny and Alex would see batting 2-3? Especially Avila, who would be protected by none other than Cabrera.

The 1-thru-5 slots in my proposed order---especially if Austin Jackson finally steps it up---certainly look better on paper, don't they?

I heard Dennis Fithian on 97.1 The Ticket yesterday say that moving Avila to #3 might be a risk because the kid may not be able to handle it. And, Fithian said that if you move Avila and Peralta, what do you do if they go into a slump after the switch?

Good grief.

The Tigers have a division to win, despite their warts. The Indians, I'm convinced, are not for real---not yet. The White Sox and the Twins are down, though the Chisox are playing better as of late.

This is the time for ACTION, not for babying anyone---not for worrying about slumps that may or not even happen.

The Tigers need a shakeup, badly.

The Frick and Frack tandem of Dombrowski and Leyland are beginning to make people in Detroit look at them cross-eyed, and for good reason.

This is a team constructed from a blend of AAAA players and veterans, but it could still win the division, which speaks more about the division than the Tigers.

The Tigers have no second baseman. They have no third baseman, either, really. Nor do they have two thirds of an outfield, as far as that goes. And they have a suspect bullpen.

But they can still win this thing, if the manager stops being stubborn and the GM gets off his duff and makes something happen. The owner isn't getting any younger, and neither are we.


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