Saturday Non Sequiturs: Memories of 2003, Infante’s Future and Wang Chung Tonight

Catching up on this and that while the temperature hits 111 on my back porch — in the shade.

Earlier today I tweeted the recap of the June 29, 2003, Tigers/Diamondbacks game at Comerica Park. The most notable nugget from the boxscore was Jose Valverde‘s six-pitch, four-strike, three-batter save. What a difference 10 years can make. Of the players appearing in that game, only Valverde, Andres Torres, Ramon Santiago and Fernando Rodney are still in the majors.

Then-Dbacks manager Bob Brenly is back in Arizona’s TV booth (from where he was plucked in 2001 to replace Buck Showalter). Alan Trammell and his Tigers bench coach Kirk Gibson have swapped roles and now lead the Diamondbacks. And, we know where Jose Valverde is these days.

Baseball really is the game of retreads.

***

Every time I see Omar Infante make a nifty play or have a multiple-hit game, I can’t help but think back to 2009 and Placido Polanco. Coming off a Gold Glove season in which he hit .285, the Tigers didn’t offer him a contract and handed the keys to second base to the (still) unproven Scott Sizemore.

Are we heading toward a replay after this season with free-agent-to-be Infante? I sure hope not.

When the Tigers cut Polanco loose after five-ish seasons, he was 33. Infante turns 32 the day after Christmas. Why would they part ways with him again? Hernan Perez is hitting. 299 at Erie these days and earned a sip of coffee last season with Detroit, but is he the answer at second base? I’m not so sure.

I’d like to see Infante re-signed for two more seasons and keep at least part of the keystone combo intact for awhile … and avoid another Sizemore situation.

What do you think?

***

Like most Tigers fans, I’m waiting for Victor Martinez to thaw from his low-.200s freeze. He will, right? Yes, I think he will and it will likely be after the All-Star Game. I don’t mind Jim Leyland riding it out with Martinez in the five hole. What other option do they have? None, really.

***

When Leyland selects reserves for the All-Star Game in two weeks will Drew Smyly be among the final roster? I think he should be. I mean, look at his line coming into play today:

W L W-L% ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP BB/9 SO/9
3 0 1.000 2.25 28 7 2 48.0 36 12 12 1 14 48 1.042 2.6 9.0

Yeah, that’s an All Star.

***

By any chance did you catch this story last week on Gary Sheffield, Baseball Agent, in The New York Times? Sheff’s only client is Jason Grilli and here’s some gold from the agent himself:

As a middle reliever in Detroit, Grilli had used sinkers and curveballs to minimize his pitch count and save the rest of the bullpen.

Sheffield did not approve. As with everything, he was blunt in his assessment of his client.

“I told Jason my honest opinion of his pitching style, and he knew I didn’t like it,” Sheffield said. “I let him know, ‘Your stuff and your results don’t match up.’ He’s a big guy with a hard sinker and filthy slider, and when I see that, I think that’s closer stuff — he just had to believe it. Just because someone tells you you’re not that type of pitcher, that don’t mean anything to you.”

Man, I miss Sheff.

***

Finally, enjoy this bit of ’80s goodness courtesy of Dr. Frasier Crane:

Have a great weekend.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Valverde?

It’s been more than 24 hours since Valverde did his latest hack job on a brilliant outing by a starting pitcher. And most of Michigan is still pretty furious. I immediately declared myself part of the “Anyone But Valverde” camp, and I stick by that. But now, someone has to figure out the “Anyone” part. The one thing we do know (or hope) is that the Tigers realize they can’t afford to use Papa Grande in the ninth inning ever again. Plenty of articles, blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts have given their opinions, so I might as well throw my two cents in. Here are the five in-house choices, in order from least objectionable to most heinous:

1. Joaquin Benoit: The good news is he’s here, he’s pitching well, and he has closing experience. The bad news is he has a history of bouts with longballitis. Then there’s the fact that he’d be vacating the 8th inning slot.

2. Drew Smyly: He’s young, versatile, pitching well, and has a much better repertoire than the usual closer. The problem with him is similar to the problem with Benoit: vacating the role he currently holds. Not to mention the fact that it could delay and/or harm his development as a closer (although a similar move didn’t seem to hurt Chris Sale). If Benoit gets the nod as closer, Smyly could be be the 7th-8th inning guy.

3. Bruce Rondon: He’s dominating AAA hitters, but he’s still having control issues. the best course, if they bring him up, may be to put him in the 7th-8th inning roles and let him work his way into the closer role, with Benoit or Smyly keeping the spot warm for him.

4. Putkonen/Downs: Neither is the prototypical closer, but both have been effective in long-relief stints at times.

5. Phil Coke: Coke’s 2013 struggles, especially against right-handers, have been well-documented. He’s not the answer any more than Valverde was.

Of course, there’s always the chance that Dombrowski could trade for a closer, or another bullpen arm who would free up one of the above for the role.

My favorite trade targets would be San Diego’s Luke Gregerson or Washington’s Drew Storen. Neither of these is probably realistic. Washington has the depth to trade Storen, but why should they? They’d ask for a lot. Same with Gregerson. He’s young, cheap, and probably San Diego’s closer of the future after they trade Huston Street.

Street is probably available but would cost significant talent, and he’s not having a great year either. Plus, he’s currently hurt.

Jonathan Papelbon might be available, but he’s getting stupid money for the next three years. Of course that money could keep Philly from asking for top prospects (read: Castellanos or Garcia) for him. The other problem is I can’t stand him. But he’d be just what the Tiger bullpen needs.

Brian Wilson‘s name occasionally floats into the conversation, but no one is sure how healthy his arm is. Not to mention that he’s an attention-craving loon.

The other closers or possible-closers that the non-contenders may offer up would surely cost the cream of the farm system crop.

So we’re back to the question of who will close for the Tigers. The only answer anyone (except Leyland) is sure of is “Anyone but Valverde.”

2012 Top 10 Stories: #2 – Tigers Win the Pennant

Given how the Tigers’ 2012 season went, months of frustration and a division title that came at the 11th hour, a trip to the World Series was far from assured. Far.

As dominoes fell late in the year, the Tigers ALDS opponent depended on which team, the A’s or Rangers, won the A.L. West. They might play the Orioles. Or the A’s. Or the Yankees. No matter which club they played in the first round, a bad match up could’ve been awaiting the Tigers.

In the end, it was the red-hot A’s which vanquished the Rangers in a stunning sweep to end the season. The good news was that the series, thanks to baseball’s new two-three scheduling, started at Comerica Park and not in Oakland where the A’s had mixed up an amazing collection of comeback wins in 2012. Even with Justin Verlander starting Game 1 against rookie Jarrod Parker, the A’s had a kind of juju that made Tigers fans (at least this one) nervous.

A leadoff  home run by Coco Crisp didn’t help. But the Tigers cobbled together enough offense to take the game 3-1. (And who knew we’d witnessed Jose Valverde‘s final save as Tigers closer. More on that in a moment.)

Game 2 featured shaky relief work by Joaquin Benoit and walkoff heroics by Don Kelly to secure a 5-4 win and a 2-0 series lead. Out in Oakland, the series tightened after the A’s won Game 3 and mounted a late comeback in Game 4 to force a winner-take-all Game 5. Thankfully, Verlander was locked in and the Tigers offense gave him plenty of support to send Detroit to the ALCS for the second consecutive year – but this time against the Yankees.

Was I alone in thinking the Tigers were due for the Yankees to exact revenge for New York’s 2006 and 2011 exits? No? Well, I prepared myself for that possibility.

The ALCS got off to a tremendous start in Game 1 with the Tigers leading 4-0 heading to the bottom of the ninth. That’s when Valverde brought to life the worst-case scenario – one like fans witnessed in Game 4 of the ALDS when he surrendered three runs to give the A’s a walkoff win. This time, Valverde gave up four runs on a pair of two-run shots, the first by Ichiro and then one by Raul Ibanez.

In the top of the 12th a Jhonny Peralta ground ball to Derek Jeter changed the series dramatically and for good. Jeter landed awkwardly and saw his season end with a broken ankle. The Tigers scored two in the inning and Drew Smyly shut down New York in the bottom half to earn Detroit an exhausting 1-0 series lead.

The rest of the series was filled with intriguing story lines: Phil Coke‘s emergence as closer, Anibal Sanchez‘s brilliant Game 2 shutout, the Yankees’ offensive drought.

Even though the series ended in a sweep,  it wasn’t completely dominant. Other than in the 8-1 Game 4 win, the Tigers didn’t pile on the runs. Sure, they scored six in Game 1 but only because Valverde didn’t allow the first four runs to stand up. In Games 2 and 3 they scored a combined five runs. But the Yankees scored six in the entire series – and who saw that coming?

The same people who predicted a Tigers sweep of the Yankees to with the American League pennant.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

Recapping the Return of Anibal Sanchez

Detroit fans have been spoiled rotten by Mike Ilitch‘s generosity with the Red Wings for 30 years and the Tigers for the past 20. But I thought even he’d reached his limit with the addition of Torii Hunter last month. And I’m so glad to be wrong.

The re-signing of Anibal Sanchez – to a contact equal to Justin Verlander’s 2009 extension – is not only another indication of an owner’s urgent desire to win, it’s a reminder of how the Tigers have become a destination of choice for big-name players.

For a long time, the Tigers had to overpay any free agent with even a hint of interest in playing home games at Comerica Park:

Then the winning came and with it a reputation for being a great place to play. Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder and Hunter further proved that. And now with the re-signing of Sanchez, the Tigers must be considered a threat to add big names for big dollars every year. But back to Sanchez. He was the highest-profile Tigers free agent since, perhaps, Jack Morris in 1990. But unlike Sanchez, few expected Morris to bolt for his hometown Twins. (Juan Gonzalez doesn’t count; no one expected him to re-sign with the Tigers after the 2000 season. And thankfully he didn’t.)

With Sanchez sticking around to permanently replace Rick Porcello as the Tigers’ fourth starter, his impact on the rotation could be just as big as Hunter’s in the everyday lineup.

 

What Others Are Saying

If anything, this deal highlights the differences between operating a franchise that will spend money and one that either won’t or is limited by its market size. The Royals had to trade a premium prospect to acquire two years of Shields. The Tigers can just dip into owner Mike Ilitch’s wallet and sign a free agent — this offseason, Torii Hunter and now Sanchez. The Royals might think of themselves as playoff contenders,but this signing makes it a little less likely that will be the case. – Dave Schoenfield, ESPN.com “Sanchez signing makes Tigers clear favorite”.

Did the Tigers overpay for Sanchez? Something like that is somewhat relative. In a vacuum, yes, the Tigers are paying $16 million to a pitcher who, while productive, isn’t exactly great like his impressive paychecks will say he is. Was he the best available left on the market, though, and a pitcher who can help Detroit achieve their goal of winning a World Series before the Tigers as we know them scatter to the winds? That’s why they acquired Sanchez at last year’s deadline to begin with. Re-signing him is simply giving that plan another go, and it’s hard to blame them considering how close they were to getting it done on the first attempt. – Marc Normandin, SB Nation “Anibal Sanchez might be overpaid, but fits Tigers

When the reclining Tigers finally sat up and took enough notice to get off their original four-year, $48 million offer, the Cubs almost got him. The Cubs still might have had him if they had been willing to enter a bidding war that would have saddled them with a potentially bad contract. – Gordon Wittenmyer, Chicago Sun TimesTigers outbid Cubs for Anibal Sanchez — but it was close

Some viewed the Tigers as an underachieving bunch, but that did not sway Tigers owner Mike Ilitch’s commitment to winning a World Series. Like he did last year with Prince Fielder, Ilitch swooped in at the last minute to re-sign Sanchez, which preserved one of the strongest pitching staffs in the league. – Jim Bowden, ESPN.com “The AL Central’s strong offseason

[T]he Sanchez signing was essential to preserve the Tigers’ clearest advantage over their divisional foes — and potential October opponents. Detroit’s postseason rotation – Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Sanchez and Max Scherzer — posted a 5-1 record and 1.02 ERA against Oakland and New York in the AL playoffs. And now no member of that group will be eligible for free agency until Verlander and Scherzer after the 2014 season. – Jon Paul Morosi, FoxSports.com “Sanchez signing gives Tigers an edge

What do you think about the Sanchez contract?

Who’s the Tigers’ Youkilis?

White Sox third basemen are hitting something like .180 this season with a single home run. As usual, Ken Williams does his thing and plugs in Kevin Youkilis to anchor the hot corner.

Tigers second basemen are hitting .196 (.192 if you include 20 at bats from Brandon Inge and a pair from Hernan Perez) with three* home runs – two from Ramon Santiago and one from Ryan Raburn). Dave Dombrowski is looking to plug this hole with … Matt Garza. Wha-?

*It’s four if you add Inge’s one homer.

I get why DD is looking for a dependable arm in the fourth spot; Rick Porcello‘s days in the Tigers rotation should be drawing to a close and who wants to see two rookies at the four and five spot? Not me. (Though, of course, I love what Drew Smyly has done and what Jacob Turner will do later this year or next, but come on.)

My guess is the Tigers are looking for – have to be looking for – a package deal with Garza and maybe second baseman Darwin Barney to patch the roster.

As I’m watching Tigers games I picture the opposing second baseman in a strategically placed slot of Jim Leyland‘s lineup maybe hitting second.

But as Lynn Henning writes today, just about every team is alive in their division and has needs of their own. You have only to look at the Pirates’ offense to see that teams hovering near the top of their division could use a serving of firepower.

If the Tigers are going to make a move chances are it will involve lots of bodies, like last year’s Doug Fister trade, right? And if they do, it can’t result in only one decent player coming to Detroit (calling David Pauley.)

My guess is Dombrowski isn’t feeling any pressure because of Williams picking up Youkilis. He’s been dealing with him for 10 years in the A.L. Central. Any pressure is coming from the calendar, the lineup and perhaps the owner.