Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Empty Cupboard

As we approach the 2013 season, everyone has their own particular issue they want to point out as a potential weakness with the Tigers. Take a look around ze interwebs. It seems to be an early favorite talking point among writers.

Most are focusing on idea of Bruce Rondon as the early favorite to close for the team. Is he ready? Is he too wild? Can he handle the pressure? Can he dance as well as Jose Valverde? Personally, I could care less. Rondon has great stuff. But if he doesn't succeed early, I think the team can get by just fine with Alburquerque, Benoit, or Dotel taking turns. Closing may be the most overrated thing in baseball, next to Derek Jeter.

Others are focusing on the #5 spot in the rotation. Will it be Porcello or Smyly? Do we trade the loser? Who will 12 year olds squeal over if Ricky is gone? My answers are "I don't care", "Hell no", and "Probably Boesch". Ten different pitchers started games for the Tigers last year. So we have six good options to start? This is a GOOD problem to have. If you trade Porcello, you're relying on Casey "Nate 2.0" Crosby to win ballgames for you if someone gets hurt. Injuries are bound to happen. Let a guy play in Toledo or pitch in long relief until he's needed to start for a couple weeks.

No, the biggest potential problem I see is one that's been a pattern with this team in recent memory. I mean, Jim Leyland is our manager. (No, this is not the problem I'm referring to.) What does Jim Leyland like to do most other than smoke, spit food on reporters, and talk about how "tickled" he is about something dumb?

He likes to keep people fresh and play every guy on the roster. This is a problem because the 2013 Detroit Tigers bench might be the weakest I've ever seen.

There's basically four spots up for grabs on the bench. Catcher Brayan Pena and infielder Ramon Santiago most likely have two of them. That leaves Brennan Boesch, Danny Worth, Quintin Berry, Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus, and non-roster invitee and Jim Leyland chew toy Don Kelly fighting for the remaining jobs.

No matter who wins the four spots, one thing is for sure: None of these guys can hit at a replacement player level. OPS+ numbers for the guys last season from best to worst are on the following list. Keep in mind that 100 is average.

Berry: 86

Boesch: 77

Worth: 62

Pena: 60

Santiago: 52

Kelly: 44

Kobernus: Never played above Double A level

Sad group, isn't it? Now each guy has at least one positive he can bring to the team. Berry and Kobernus are lightning fast, making them ideal pinch runners. Santiago and Kelly can play anywhere on the field. Worth has an outstanding glove in the infield. Boesch has great power in the 1 in 20 times he makes contact. Pena supposedly calls a good game from behind the dish.

But none can hit. Berry is average at best in the field. Kobernus has never played outfield or anywhere above the low minors. Santiago deteriates every year. Pena, while the nicest Cuban any Tiger writer has ever seemed to have met, is an abortion at the plate. Kelly is even worse. And Boesch's weak offense is only overshadowed by his Delmon-like defense.

Why doesn't Dave Dombrowski get Jim Leyland a decent bench? There hasn't been a decent hitting option "just in case" since Marcus Thames was a Tiger many moons ago. 2012 had Berry, Santiago, Laird, and Kelly and the team made the World Series, sure. But this year's starting bunch is a year older. And questions about several of them remain.

Can Avila stay healthy? He only played 116 games last year and was still banged up most of the time. Gerald Laird amazingly did well in replacing him, but can Pena? The guy's OPS+ numbers for the last three years in Kansas City were 60, 72, and 76. If Alex goes down, it's a big blow to the team. Personally, I would have liked to have seen DD get a backup with some pop like Rod Barajas (minor league deal with Arizona), Dioner Navarro (1 year/$1.75M with Cubs), or Kelly Shoppach (1 year, $1.5M with Seattle).

Can Dirks be trusted to be the full-time left fielder, even against lefties? He was outstanding in half a season's worth of work last year. But the only platoon partner they seem to have is Kobernus, who again, has never played outfield. Avisail Garcia isn't ready and they don't want him to platoon, they say. Nick Castellanos is even less ready for the show. So why not get Juan Rivera (minor league deal with Yankees), Scott Hairston (2 years/$5M with Cubs), or my personal choice, Reed Johnson (1 year/$1.75M with Atlanta)?

I'm okay with Worth or Santiago to backup 2B and SS. Jhonny Peralta's played 146 games or more for five straight years. Omar Infante has played 145 or more the past couple years. We're okay up the middle...I hope.

But what happens if one of the big three goes down? What if Victor's legs explode again, especially since he seems determined to catch on occasion this year? There's no Delmon Young to fall back on to play DH this year. That job belongs to (gulp) Boesch.

And sure, Prince and Miggy have been iron men the past few years, but that can't last forever, can it? Couldn't we have picked up defensive wizard Casey Kotchman (minor league deal with Miami) to be a late inning sub over at first? Or God forbid, bring back Inge (minor league deal with Pittsburgh) to give Cabrera a break at third late in games? You may laugh, but Brandon still has a good glove and more pop than Santiago, Kelly, or Worth.

Maybe I'm fretting over nothing. That's what Tigers fans do, right? And no team is stacked with stars on the bench. But I'm not asking for that. I'm just asking for ONE guy that doesn't make me want to jump out of a window. For once.

Maybe I just miss Marcus Thames, I dunno. But all of you pray that the injury bug avoids Detroit this year. Because Old Mother Dombrowski's Cupboard has never been as bare as it is right now.

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