Thus far, this season has been fun for fans of the Detroit Tigers. The last time the team had a record this good at the 40-game mark was in 2006, when they pounced out of the gate and survived a late challenge to get into the playoffs as a wild card and then won the pennant when this happened.
The 2014 Tigers are a deeper team in many ways, this first-year Ausmus team is much more talented than the first-year Leyland team was eight years ago. But can they get even better? A few roster moves in mid-season could make that happen.
When the Tigers broke spring training camp they had two big question marks:
- How would the loss of Jose Iglesias impact the infield defense? … AND
- Would the bullpen prove to be effective?
Both issues are still a bit fuzzy, but the offense has been so well-balanced and the starting pitching has been so fantastic, that a glaring hole at short and an inconsistent bullpen hasn’t really halted the Tiger Train. However, GM Dave Dombrowski has options on the horizon that could help dramatically in both areas.
The Alex Gonzalez Fiasco thankfully lasted less than a fortnight, it was obvious fairly quickly that Gonzalez was a dead mam walking in baseball respects. The only legacy Gonzalez will have in Detroit will be his game-winning, walkoff hit on opening day at Comerica Park. In his place, Detroit has been content to feed playing time to Andrew Romine and Danny Worth, neither of whom are long term options. Romine has some positives as a utility player who can switch-hit and steal a base here and there, but he’s a bench player miscast as an everyday guy. Worth is Dave Dombrowski’s go-to fallback option when he needs a middle infielder for a few weeks. But this is a team that won’t tolerate Ray Oyler-like offense out of their shortstop slot, and given their lofty start, I’d expect Dombrowski to have the go-ahead to upgrade his shortstop position.
That’s where we get to Stephen Drew, a free agent shortstop revving his engines on the sidelines as he awaits an offer to get back into the game. If the Tigers sign Drew after June 1st they will not be required to send a future draft pick to the Boston Red Sox, the last time for whom Drew was gainfully employed. Rumors are swirling that the New York Yankees may also be looking at Drew to replace Derek Jeter, who’s in his last season and playing like a refrigerator at short. But there’s plenty of reasons Drew would pick the Tigers over any other suitors: Detroit is in the cat bird’s seat and playing great baseball; they have as good a chance to get to the World Series as any team. The lure of a second straight trip to the Fall Classic will be enticing to Drew. And Drew is the type of player the Tigers usually covet: good with the stick with some power, limited range in the field but makes all the routine plays. Basically a lot like Jhonny Peralta. I expect the Tigers to ink Drew to a one-year deal with an affordable price tag, probably in the $6-8 million range with some incentives.
In April, Dombrowski pulled of a shrewd move when he signed free agent reliever Joel Hanrahan to a cheap incentives-laden contract. Hanrahan was an All-Star for the Pirates in 2011 and 2012, a husky, hard-throwing right-hander with some issues with his control at times. He saved 76 games in those two seasons for the Bucs, but last season after moving to the Red Sox he suffered a season-ending arm injury and he had Tommy John surgery. He’s projected to return at some point in early June, and while no one can be sure how effective Hanranan will be, he has the pedigree to be very good. Most likely, Hanrahan would slot in as another 8th inning option, joining Joba Chamberlain in that role.
We also shouldn’t forget that two mid-season additions will come when a pair of injured Tigers return (at some point). Outfielder Andy Dirks is swinging a bat, running, and throwing in Florida in anticipation of his return to the team. Dirks may have to spend a brief spell in Toledo getting his timing back, but eventually he’ll be back in Motown. His left-handed bat will be welcomed into the Detroit outfield/bench rotation, and it probably means J.D. Martinez will be sent elsewhere. In addition, though most sources have assumed Iglesias is out for the season with his shin splints, there’s a chance the defensive marvel will be able to get back to contribute down the stretch or in the postseason. His glove and speed would be welcome.
Also, Anibal Sanchez, baseball’s best #3 starter when he’s healthy, is due back this Sunday to face the Boston Red Sox. Tigers’ starters have put in 24 quality starts in 36 games so far this season, and if Sanchez is back to form when he returns, it’s hard to see how this team could have a very long losing streak.
With the possibility of Drew, the potential big impact of former All-Star Hanrahan, and the return of Dirks and Sanchez, the Tigers could get even more scary fairly soon. Which would be bad news for the rest of the league.