2012 Top 10 Stories: #5 – Victor Martinez Lost for Season

About four weeks before the Tigers convened in Lakeland for spring training, the club’s outlook instantly went from brimming with confidence and optimism to soaked in despair and gloom. That’s when Dave Dombrowski received word from Florida that Victor Martinez suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and would eventually be lost for the season.

The Tigers’ front-office boss put on a brave face when he talked to the media after hearing the news:

“After you feel sorry for yourself for a day or so, you move on,” general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “We have a good club. We’ve got a lot of players who will step up.”

But Tigers fans knew the impact this would have on the lineup and most likely the season. Martinez’s provided desperately needed protection for then-cleanup-hitter Miguel Cabrera. As good as Delmon Young was in the postseason, few expected him to be a reliable solution. And, Dombrowski certainly made it sound as if the Tigers would be making no major splash to shore up the sudden loss of Martinez.

Slugging first baseman Prince Fielder remains a free agent, but it’s unclear if the Tigers would want to make a major financial commitment to a long-term contract to replace the injured Martinez.

“Most likely, I would say it’s short term,” Dombrowski said. “But I don’t know that for sure. Depends on what position somebody plays and who they are.”

Dombrowski did seem to shoot down the possibility that Cabrera could move from first base to third, with another first baseman joining the team.

The Tigers signed Gerald Laird to serve as Alex Avila‘s backup, so that part of the equation was solved. The pressing issue was how to replace a guy who in 2011 batted .330 with 103 RBIs and a .855 OPS.

How could they possibly do it? Dave Schoenfield offered some borderline gruesome alternatives:

If there’s good news for the Tigers, there are at least several decent options out there in free agency. One-time Tigers first baseman Carlos Pena could provide a nice alternative, even improving the team’s defense if Jim Leyland is willing to shift Cabrera to DH. Pena needs a platoon partner, but did have a .388 OBP and .504 slugging percentage against righties in 2011. Johnny Damon, another ex-Tiger, would also fit in nicely at DH.

Thankfully, neither of these two options materialized.

And luckily Tigers fans didn’t have to wait long to find out who’d replace Martinez in the lineup.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

Tigers Leftovers, Thoughts and Reflections

Making up for lost time with a stream-of-consciousness post …

It’s been almost a month since Miguel Cabrera took a Sergio Romo 0-2 fastball down the middle for the final out of the World Series. In some ways it feels that long ago and in others, still too recent.

So much seems to have happened since the middle of September when the Tigers were a game back of the White Sox and we weren’t certain (well, at least I wasn’t) postseason baseball was in our future.

But it was. A grueling ALDS against the A’s, an exhilarating sweep of the Yankees and then, good God, that World Series.

By the end of Game 2, it became increasingly clear that the Giants were a team of destiny … and the Tigers had gone into another frustrating offensive slumber. As we saw all too vividly, that’s a toxic brew.

Even though the Series was over in a heartbeat, and the Tigers looked overmatched, I was stunned with how it played out. I never for a moment thought they’d lose to the Giants – a mindset that was equal parts homer-optimism and at-least-it-ain’t-the-Cardinals relief. (There was also my anti-Giants bias lingering from the Barry Bonds era.)

And now that I’ve had time to think about it, Bruce Bochy‘s club was perfectly constructed to take down the Tigers. I tweeted that my biggest fear going into Game 1 was that Barry Zito would impersonate Bruce Chen and stymie a rusty Tigers lineup. He did both and, as fate would have it, that was all she wrote.

If I’d created a list of possible World Series scenarios and endings, a sweep by the Giants, an ice-cold Prince Fielder and a caught-looking Cabrera to end it all wouldn’t be on it. None of them.

There was one thing that did not surprise me in the Series: Justin Verlander‘s Game 1 implosion. Who didn’t see that coming?

Listening to the national media leading up to the opener, you’d have thought Verlander had an unblemished postseason (or at least World Series) record. Except, you know, he totally didn’t: 0-2, 5.30 ERA, 1.545 WHIP. And now he’s 0-3/7.20/1.75.

I don’t know about you, but the Game 1 performance is what I feared in ALDS Game 5 … and in the ALCS.

Chances are I wasn’t alone in almost dreading a Game 4 win and what it might mean. Would it prolong the agony? Absolutely. Because at that point it was clear the Tigers weren’t going to beat Zito, Madison Bumgarner, Rick Reuschel, Mike LaCoss or any other starter the Giants rolled out to the mound.

This postseason was one wild ride. One I didn’t expect to come to a screeching halt with Miguel Cabrera* watching one blow by.

*Speaking of the MVP: watch for a post on that whole debate soon.

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Fare thee well, G-Money

When Gerald Laird arrived in Detroit ahead of the 2008 season, I was giddy. At last, a solid backup and successor-ish guy for Pudge Rodriguez. We’d watched Laird abuse Tigers pitching for long enough; time for him to do some damage in The D. Yeah, well, ahem.

I was equally giddy when Laird left Detroit after the 2010 season. He never produced at the level the Tigers had expected (or that fans had hoped) so, good riddance. Right?

When G-Money returned to Detroit for the 2012 campaign on a one-year deal my giddiness returned. He’s the perfect guy to backup Alex Avila and a great mentor for the new young arms coming up, I thought. And how big a lift was Laird this past season? Huge, I’d say.

He was exactly what the Tigers needed as Avila was assaulted game after game. And, Laird actually hit this year (.282) in his 63 games.

Good for G-Money landing a two-year deal with the Braves. Unlike in ’10, I’m sorry to see him go.

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Finally, here are some moldy leftovers. I found this (at best) half-baked post from last October that never saw the light of day:

After watching the Rangers bludgeon the Tigers in a terrifically played series, I just don’t have it in me to watch Nelson Cruz or Mike Napoli again until 2012. That doesn’t, of course, mean I’m not pulling for the Rangers in the World Series. I’d root for any team – even the White Sox – against a Tony LaRussa team.

As it turned out, I didn’t watch any of that Rangers-Cardinals World Series.

No regrets, either.

Baseball Prospectus: Alex Avila is Tigers’ Secret Weapon

Ben Lindbergh at BaseballProspectus.com today makes an interesting case for Alex Avila as the Tigers’ most valuable player.

Miguel Cabrera gets most of the accolades in the Detroit Tigers’ historically top-heavy lineup, and not without reason — the first baseman’s .349 True Average (TAv) trails only Jose Bautista’s among American League batters. However, Cabrera hasn’t been the most valuable position player in Detroit this season. That title belongs to Alex Avila, a 24-year-old catcher who came up through the Tigers’ system before making his major league debut late in 2009.

Avila acquitted himself well in his initial exposure to the majors but his bat crashed back to earth last season, when he hit .228/.316/.340 while splitting catching duties with Gerald Laird. This season, however, he’s hit well enough to take over the team lead in Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), posting a 3.4 figure to Cabrera’s 3.1.

My eyes glaze over on most of the statistical stuff, but the point of the article is interesting.

2009 Player Profile: Gerald Laird

Gerald Laird #8

  • Height: 6′ 1″ | Weight: 225
  • 2008 Stats: .276 – 6 HR – 41 RBI

LairdHead.jpgBefore most general managers had checked into their Las Vegas hotel rooms at the Winter Meetings last December, the Tigers acquired catcher Gerald Laird to fill a gaping hole in their lineup. A career .255 hitter, Laird enjoyed one of his finest offensive seasons in 2008, hitting .276 with nine home runs and 41 RBI in 95 games for Texas.

Laird has shown a tendency to get off to a fast start at the plate, hitting over .300 in the first half of both ’08 and ’06, and as catchers often do, losing steam after the All Star Break. One can forgive Tigers fans that think of Laird as an offensive force: against the Tigers at Comerica Park last season he hit .571, but only .250 in all games against Detroit.

Looking ahead to 2009, Laird will need to lay off the curveball — and avoid chasing the low offerings — if he hopes to match last season’s output. Watch for pitchers to throw inside on him where they had the most success in ’08.

Tigers Get Their Catcher

Well, the Tigers once again barely set the suitcases down in the hotel room before getting down to business. Moving quickly to fill a hole, they acquired catcher Gerald Laird for pitching prospects Guillermo Moscoso and  Carlos Melo.

Laird is a quality catcher who can hit, and he’ll give Dusty Ryan time to grow into the starting job in a couple years. All in all, a nice pick-up for the Tigers.

It did come at a price, however. Moscoso was considered a top prospect, and close to reaching the majors. The worst news is that he’s been compared to Jair Jurrjens by some.

It is good to see them addressing one of their main offseason needs so soon. Hopefully just the start of a very productive week