The 2011 Detroit Tigers entertained us beyond our wildest imagination. With the dominance of Justin Verlander, the franchise’s first A.L. Central division title, a batting title for Miguel Cabrera, the perfect season of closer Jose Valverde, and a post-season win over the New York Yankees, it was a great season.
Now, it’s times to turn the page and look forward. if they want to win the Tigers first World Series title since 1984, owner Mike Ilitch and General Manager Dave Dombrowski are doing just that.
Even though they ran away with the division and won 95 games in 2011, there’s room for improvement. As always,one of the avenues to improvement is free agency, a route that Tiger brain trust has used in the past. Here are five free agents the Tigers should go after this off-season.
1. Mark Buehrle, SP
The Tigers don’t have to look far to find a starting pitcher to slot into their rotation. Just down the road on I-94, Chicago White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle is a free agent for the first time. The Tigers have four righties: Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello. Brad Penny was a one-year gap-filler. The Tigers haven’t said it yet, but they probably need a lefty to balance that rotation a bit. Like Penny, Buehrle is a veteran, but unlike Penny, Buehrle can still pitch. In 2011, the four-time All-Star posted his lowest ERA since 2005. He’s a crafty lefty who rarely walks anyone and can baffle opposing hitters (like Verlander he has two no-hitters). Buehrle, who will be 33 when the 2012 season starts, will attract a lot of attention on the free agent market, including from the White Sox. Adding him to their rotation would give the Tigers a much-needed lefty and with the imminent arrival of Jacob Turner, give Dombrowski the option to trade Porcello if he wished, to fill other gaps.
2. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
A few years ago the Tigers made an overture for Ramirez, but were outbid by many teams. Ramirez returned to the Cubs for a five-year deal, where he’s averaged 24 homers and 91 RBI. He’ll be 34 in 2012, but he still has gas left in his tank. He’ll get a lot of offers, but this time the Tigers should up the ante. Ramirez feels like the guy who will pay off if they grant him a big three or four year deal. His right-handed bat would look great nestled between Cabrera and Victor Martinez. If the Tigers nabbed Ramirez they’d solve their third base problem for a few years, too.
3. Adam Kennedy, 2B/IF
Why pursue a guy who’s been on four different teams the last four years and will turn 37 in 2012? Kennedy is a versatile player who has been on winning teams. Like Ramon Santiago, Kennedy can play both middle infield spots, but he can also play third and fill in elsewhere when needed. The Tigers have a number of guys who might need a rest here and there, and let’s face it, they’ll probably have a player spend time on the disabled list too. Kennedy, a left-handed hitter who can reach the gaps in Comerica Park, would be a useful puzzle piece for manager Jim Leyland. He’d be a defensive upgrade over Ryan Raburn, and given the dearth of second base free agents, he’s a cheap option.
4. Francisco Rodriguez, RP
No longer the shut down closer he once was for the Los Angeles Angels, K-Rod is still a force out of the bullpen, and he’s just 30 (in January). In 2011, the Brewers used him as a setup man after acquiring him from the Mets. The righty blossomed in that role, posting a 1.86 ERA in 31 games for Milwaukee. He can still throw the heat – he fanned 79 batters in 71 innings last season. He’d look very good in the Detroit bullpen with Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, and Phil Coke. If Valverde, who’s four years older than Rodriguez, were to waiver, K-Rod could return to the closer role.
5. C.J. Wilson, SP
Another left-handed starter, Wilson has won 31 games for the Texas Rangers the last two seasons after being converted from the bullpen. More importantly, Wilson has big game experience: he’s started nine post-season games the last two seasons. He also throws hard, an indicator that he will bear the test of time. If they don’t get Buehrle, the Tigers could get Wilson (he’d probably cost more) and plug him into their rotation for several years. He’s just 30 years old. If that’s the case, Porcello and maybe even Scherzer could be packaged for a second baseman or left fielder.