Detroit Tigers 2010 preview

The Tigers held a seven-game lead in the AL Central on Sept. 6 last season, but they went 11-16 down the stretch and lost a one-game playoff for the division title in Minnesota. Detroit entered spring training with the goal of erasing that memory, and the additions of several impact-type players — Johnny Damon, Max Scherzer, Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson — should help the team do just that.

Three questions

Johnny Damon provides some answers, but also lots of questions, for the Tigers.
Johnny Damon provides some answers, but also lots of questions, for the Tigers.

1. How does Damon change things?
Damon provides a leadoff alternative for manager Jim Leyland, who will give Jackson, the rookie center fielder, an opportunity to win that job this spring. However, Jackson never has played in a major league game, let alone while hitting in the pressure-packed leadoff spot. Damon isn’t the spry leadoff man he once was. He still delivers a good on-base percentage, but he is more of an opportunistic basestealer now. Remember, the Yankees moved him to the No. 2 hole last season in favor of Derek Jeter.

Also up for debate: Damon’s projected productivity at Comerica Park. Last season, Damon hit 17 homers with a .915 OPS at hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium and seven homers with a .795 OPS on the road. It might be a stretch to expect more than 15 homers, 10 stolen bases and a .275 average now that he is out of Yankees Stadium — and out of that powerful Yankees lineup.

2. Can they get/stay healthy this season?
There is no shortage of health-related questions early this spring. Is Scott Sizemore, the rookie replacement for Placido Polanco at second base, 100 percent after breaking his ankle in the Arizona Fall League? When will third baseman Brandon Inge, who hit 27 homers last season, be fully recovered from offseason surgeries on both knees? Will Carlos Guillen, who has played in just 194 of Detroit’s 325 games the past two seasons, be able to stay in the lineup now that he is a DH? Will Magglio Ordonez, the 36-year-old right fielder who missed 32 games in 2009, avoid injuries?

3. Who will be the Nos. 4 and 5 starters?
The fourth spot belongs to Jeremy Bonderman, but there are concerns about whether he will be able to stay there. He has battled shoulder problems the past couple of years but says he is healthy. His return would be a huge boost to the rotation. The fifth spot is more muddled. The Tigers have two highly paid — but wildly inconsistent — lefthanders in the mix: Dontrelle Willis ($12 million this year) and Nate Robertson ($10 million). The competition also includes Eddie Bonine, Phil Coke and Armando Galarraga, who was Detroit’s best starter in 2008 (13-7, 3.73 ERA) but its worst (6-10, 5.64 ERA) in 2009. Willis has the most dominating stuff, but he hasn’t been able to consistently find the strike zone since 2005. Ideally, he will show improved command and win the job this spring.

Projected lineup
1. CF Austin Jackson: .300 AVG, 24 SBs for Yankees’ Class AAA team.
2. LF Johnny Damon: 100-plus runs 10 times in career.
3. RF Magglio Ordonez: 9 HRs, 50 RBIs marked huge drop-off.
4. 1B Miguel Cabrera: Averaged .308 AVG, 36 HRs, 115 RBIs past two seasons.
5. DH Carlos Guillen: .242 AVG in forgettable ’09.
6. 3B Brandon Inge: .226 AVG, .697 OPS past three seasons.
7. 2B Scott Sizemore: ’09 in minors: .308 AVG, 17 HRs, 21 SBs.
8. C Gerald Laird: .225 AVG in first season with Detroit.
9. SS Adam Everett: Had AL-high 15 sacrifice hits.

Projected Rotation
1. RHP Justin Verlander: Led AL in wins, IP, K’s.
2. RHP Rick Porcello: 5-2, 3.07 ERA after Aug. 1.
3. RHP Max Scherzer: 9.2 K/9 for Arizona last season.
4. RHP Jeremy Bonderman: Only 13 starts since ’08.
5. LHP Nate Robertson: 3.86 ERA as SP; 7.48 as RP in ’09.

Projected closer
RHP Jose Valverde: 2.33 ERA, 1.13 WHIP for Arizona in ’09.

Grades

Offense: C. Adding Damon will help, and Miguel Cabrera is an elite hitter who will be part of the MVP conversation. The Tigers, though, finished 10th in the AL in runs scored, and there are four returning starters who hit .242 or worse in 2009.

Pitching: B. No other team’s rotation features a top three quite like the Tigers’ trio. Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer are all power righthanders, and all three are locked up for the foreseeable future. If Jose Valverde can make the adjustment to the AL, the bullpen will have a reliable anchor. There are questions elsewhere on the staff, though.

Bench: B. Adding Damon pushes Ryan Raburn (.291 average, 16 homers in just 261 at-bats in ’09) to a valued reserve role. Jim Leyland will use Raburn in the outfield, and he can play third base, too. Clete Thomas can play all three outfield positions, and Ramon Santiago is a versatile infield defender.

Manager: B. There is no questioning Leyland’s resume. The longtime baseball man has a World Series title to his credit, and his Tigers have finished second in three of his four years in Detroit. However, last season’s September slide was a little disconcerting.

Sporting News prediction: There undoubtedly is star power on this team, led by Cabrera and Verlander. Ultimately, bounce-back candidates (Bonderman, Guillen) and unproven rookies (Jackson, Sizemore) will determine the Tigers’ success. Detroit will be a factor, but there are too many questions to expect more than a third-place finish.

Coming Wednesday: White Sox preview.

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

The Tigers held a seven-game lead in the AL Central on Sept. 6 last season, but they went 11-16 down the stretch and lost a one-game playoff for the division title in Minnesota. Detroit entered spring training with the goal of erasing that memory, and the additions of several impact-type players — Johnny Damon, Max Scherzer, Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson — should help the team do just that.

Three questions

Johnny Damon provides some answers, but also lots of questions, for the Tigers.
Johnny Damon provides some answers, but also lots of questions, for the Tigers.

1. How does Damon change things?
Damon provides a leadoff alternative for manager Jim Leyland, who will give Jackson, the rookie center fielder, an opportunity to win that job this spring. However, Jackson never has played in a major league game, let alone while hitting in the pressure-packed leadoff spot. Damon isn’t the spry leadoff man he once was. He still delivers a good on-base percentage, but he is more of an opportunistic basestealer now. Remember, the Yankees moved him to the No. 2 hole last season in favor of Derek Jeter.

Also up for debate: Damon’s projected productivity at Comerica Park. Last season, Damon hit 17 homers with a .915 OPS at hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium and seven homers with a .795 OPS on the road. It might be a stretch to expect more than 15 homers, 10 stolen bases and a .275 average now that he is out of Yankees Stadium — and out of that powerful Yankees lineup.

2. Can they get/stay healthy this season?
There is no shortage of health-related questions early this spring. Is Scott Sizemore, the rookie replacement for Placido Polanco at second base, 100 percent after breaking his ankle in the Arizona Fall League? When will third baseman Brandon Inge, who hit 27 homers last season, be fully recovered from offseason surgeries on both knees? Will Carlos Guillen, who has played in just 194 of Detroit’s 325 games the past two seasons, be able to stay in the lineup now that he is a DH? Will Magglio Ordonez, the 36-year-old right fielder who missed 32 games in 2009, avoid injuries?

3. Who will be the Nos. 4 and 5 starters?
The fourth spot belongs to Jeremy Bonderman, but there are concerns about whether he will be able to stay there. He has battled shoulder problems the past couple of years but says he is healthy. His return would be a huge boost to the rotation. The fifth spot is more muddled. The Tigers have two highly paid — but wildly inconsistent — lefthanders in the mix: Dontrelle Willis ($12 million this year) and Nate Robertson ($10 million). The competition also includes Eddie Bonine, Phil Coke and Armando Galarraga, who was Detroit’s best starter in 2008 (13-7, 3.73 ERA) but its worst (6-10, 5.64 ERA) in 2009. Willis has the most dominating stuff, but he hasn’t been able to consistently find the strike zone since 2005. Ideally, he will show improved command and win the job this spring.

Projected lineup
1. CF Austin Jackson: .300 AVG, 24 SBs for Yankees’ Class AAA team.
2. LF Johnny Damon: 100-plus runs 10 times in career.
3. RF Magglio Ordonez: 9 HRs, 50 RBIs marked huge drop-off.
4. 1B Miguel Cabrera: Averaged .308 AVG, 36 HRs, 115 RBIs past two seasons.
5. DH Carlos Guillen: .242 AVG in forgettable ’09.
6. 3B Brandon Inge: .226 AVG, .697 OPS past three seasons.
7. 2B Scott Sizemore: ’09 in minors: .308 AVG, 17 HRs, 21 SBs.
8. C Gerald Laird: .225 AVG in first season with Detroit.
9. SS Adam Everett: Had AL-high 15 sacrifice hits.

Projected Rotation
1. RHP Justin Verlander: Led AL in wins, IP, K’s.
2. RHP Rick Porcello: 5-2, 3.07 ERA after Aug. 1.
3. RHP Max Scherzer: 9.2 K/9 for Arizona last season.
4. RHP Jeremy Bonderman: Only 13 starts since ’08.
5. LHP Nate Robertson: 3.86 ERA as SP; 7.48 as RP in ’09.

Projected closer
RHP Jose Valverde: 2.33 ERA, 1.13 WHIP for Arizona in ’09.

Grades

Offense: C. Adding Damon will help, and Miguel Cabrera is an elite hitter who will be part of the MVP conversation. The Tigers, though, finished 10th in the AL in runs scored, and there are four returning starters who hit .242 or worse in 2009.

Pitching: B. No other team’s rotation features a top three quite like the Tigers’ trio. Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer are all power righthanders, and all three are locked up for the foreseeable future. If Jose Valverde can make the adjustment to the AL, the bullpen will have a reliable anchor. There are questions elsewhere on the staff, though.

Bench: B. Adding Damon pushes Ryan Raburn (.291 average, 16 homers in just 261 at-bats in ’09) to a valued reserve role. Jim Leyland will use Raburn in the outfield, and he can play third base, too. Clete Thomas can play all three outfield positions, and Ramon Santiago is a versatile infield defender.

Manager: B. There is no questioning Leyland’s resume. The longtime baseball man has a World Series title to his credit, and his Tigers have finished second in three of his four years in Detroit. However, last season’s September slide was a little disconcerting.

Sporting News prediction: There undoubtedly is star power on this team, led by Cabrera and Verlander. Ultimately, bounce-back candidates (Bonderman, Guillen) and unproven rookies (Jackson, Sizemore) will determine the Tigers’ success. Detroit will be a factor, but there are too many questions to expect more than a third-place finish.

Coming Wednesday: White Sox preview.

Ryan Fagan is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com.

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