Fungoes

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?

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Fungoes

2012 Top 10 Stories: #9 – Brennan Boesch Vanishes

What difference can a year make? Look no further than The Case of Brennan Boesch.

In the 2011 ALCS, the Tigers desperately missed Boesch in the lineup’s number-two slot. How he could’ve elevated the order’s production when Magglio Ordonez went down with a broken ankle.

A year later the Tigers were back in the ALCS and Boesch was nowhere to be found, left off the roster just as he was in the ALDS against the A’s. How far had he fallen? Far enough to be replaced by a 21-year-old who didn’t face big-league pitching until September – and who started the season at Lakeland.

If ever a player embodied the notion of wait-’til-next year it was Boesch. Coming into 2012, the Tigers were counting on the 27-year-old to have a breakout, injury-free season and live up to the promise we’d all witnessed in 2010 and ’11. With Victor Martinez on the shelf for the year, Boesch’s healthy return was crucial.

He got off to a promising start in Spring Training, hitting .288 with six homers, and 21 hits in 24 games. Unfortunately, his Grapefruit League performance didn’t translate to the regular season.

By the end of June, it looked like his return was anything but healthy. He was hitting below .250 and with only seven home runs showing none of the power the Tigers had hoped for (and probably expected.) About six weeks later, he talked about his still-tender thumb and how it hampered his swing:

“Once you do surgery on your hand, things need to re-create, they need to reboot,” Boesch said.

(snip)

“I never blame performance on injury,” said Boesch, who was expected to deliver a steady punch in manager Jim Leyland’s lineup, but who found himself Tuesday batting .247, with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs. “But have I played long enough to make necessary adjustments when dealing with an injury?

“Probably not.”

By the time August arrived Boesch was a non-factor, appearing in a mere 19 games. In fact, beginning in May, Boesch played in fewer games each successive month: 27 in May, 25 in June and 23 in July. Not coincidentally, his playing time reached season lows when Andy Dirks returned from the disabled list in August.

So it came as no surprise that Jim Leyland left Boesch off the ALDS roster.

“The Boesch decision was a tough one,” said Leyland, “but it made sense for versatility and things of that nature. Plus he hasn’t been playing lately, so it was common sense.”

Again: What difference can a year make? Enough that Don Kelly and Quintin Berry leapfrogged Boesch on the Tigers’ depth chart. I agreed with the decision at the time, but admit I would’ve rather seen Boesch taking cuts against the Giants’ bullpen than Berry, even if the results were the same. There’s always a chance Boesch, unlike Berry, will connect on a long ball.

At the Winter Meetings this week, the Tigers were reportedly listening to offers for Boesch; among others, the Mariners and Mets were showing guarded interest. But as of this writing, he’s still a Tiger. But if he has a lackluster Spring Training and Garcia or Nick Castellanos pass him on the left, chances are Brennan Boesch is to achieve his potential, it’ll be for a team other than the Tigers.

Brennan Boesch’s 2012 Stats

Split G PA H 2B HR RBI BA OPS
April/March 22 94 21 2 3 11 .231 .607
May 27 110 25 7 2 8 .245 .663
June 25 97 20 3 2 8 .220 .576
July 23 82 23 7 4 17 .295 .868
August 19 63 14 1 0 5 .246 .616
Sept/Oct 16 57 10 2 1 5 .196 .614
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table | Generated 12/6/2012.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

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Fungoes

Top Five Magglio Memories

I’ll admit it: I wasn’t the biggest Magglio Ordonez fan in 2006. After an injury-riddled debut season with the Tigers in 2005, I was ready to see the Ordonez that seemed to crush Detroit at every opportunity while with the White Sox.

But he just didn’t seem to deliver as often as I expected him to, and I don’t remember if it was based on gut feeling or cold-hard stats.

Whatever. When he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning of the 2006 ALCS, I didn’t expect him to come through. And from that point on I shut my mouth about Magglio Ordonez.

Here’s my Magglio Top Five list:

  1. 2006 ALCS Homer. Of course.

  2. 2007 Batting Title. After the Tigers faded in the standings Magglio’s march to a league-leading .363 average was all we had – and fun to watch.

  3. 2011 ALDS Performance. With good reason, people scoff at the term “professional hitter”, but how else can you describe what Magglio did against the Yankees? He hit .455 (5 for 11) and a 1.045 OPS.

  4. 2005 Return Homer off Randy Johnson. On July 1 Maggs returned from an extended stay on the DL thanks to a sports hernia – and we worried about his creaky knee – and went yard to deep left center off Johnson. The season was a loss at that point; the Tigers were 37-39 and 15 games behind the White Sox. But oh the long-term possibilities with Ordonez in the Tigers lineup. He finished that year at .302 with five homers.

  5. February 7, 2005. The day the Tigers signed him was another step toward making baseball relevant again in Detroit.

That’s my list. What’s yours?

For a broader look at Magglio’s career, checkout this excellent piece by Chris Jaffe in The Hardball Times.

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Six Months Off, Two Months In: The Daily Fungo Returns

Six months ago I turned out the lights on The Fungo. The other day, I changed my mind. I know you’ve got lots of great Tigers blog choices so I hope you’ll work this site into your rotation.

Allow me, if you will, to catch up on the past half-year:

  • Victor Martinez out. I think this injury, like few others that I can remember, showed how close to the edge a Tigers offense was treading. Suddenly the club had no designated hitter, no number-two catcher (though who expected him to catch more than a handful games – at most – in 2012?) and no one to hit behind Miguel Cabrera. And, with Magglio Ordonez not coming back, who else would be a reliable middle-of-the-order hitter?

    Today, I wonder how much better the Tigers would be with Martinez at DH over Delmon Young? Methinks much, much better. I hope the possibility of a September return becomes a reality. If the Tigers have faded by that point I’m sure we won’t see #41 until Spring Training 2013.

  • Prince Fielder in. When word circulated Tigers had signed him for nine years and $214 million not long after Martinez was lost for the season (presumably) I thought “of course they did.” It was the quintessential Mike Ilitch move – and likely displeased Dave Dombrowski for no other reason than he was forced to again deal with Scott Boras. The immediate thought was “they wouldn’t move Cabrera to third would they? Nah.” Ahem.

    As a Tigers fan, who suffered through so many years of superstar-less teams, how could you not love the addition of yet another All Star? I loved it and, with his current .320 average, still do.

    P.S. I heard this on MLB Network Radio yesterday on the way to work and saw it on ESPN.com today:

    Prince Fielder (at 275 lbs) just hit his 10th career triple. According to baseball-reference.com, Prince Fielder is the second player in MLB history weighing at least 275 pounds to have 10 career triples. Adam Dunn (285 lbs) also has 10.

    Delicious.

  • Brandon Inge whines, whiffs and vanishes. So much has been written on this guy that I won’t waste much of your time with it. My issue with Inge, beyond his anemic hitting, was that he suffered from delusions of grandeur.

    Remember when he was the Tigers’ starting catcher and the club signed Pudge Rodriguez? Inge thought he should still be the starter. Remember when they traded for Cabrera and he thought he should still be the starting third baseman? No one argued that Cabrera was a better defender but did Inge really think the Tigers would stick Cabrera in left field in 2008 … or move him to DH after signing Fielder?

    From all accounts Inge is a tremendous person and certainly didn’t deserve to get booed as loudly as he did at Comerica Park. But if he hit even .240, he’d be the Tigers’ second baseman today.

  • Delmon Young shows his ugly side. We didn’t think the Delmon Era in Detroit would be a light and breezy affair, did we? I’ll be surprised if he’s on the roster at the end of June.

  • Verlander’s gem. I was bummed out when Josh Harrison foisted the ball into center, which I heard on the radio. When I saw the replay, I wondered why Jhonny Peralta didn’t lay out and try to knock it down. After a couple more looks it was clear that it would’ve been tough for him to get his glove on it.

    Not since Mark Fidrych have the Tigers had a pitcher you’d pay to see no matter the opponent. Every Verlander start is appointment TV for me.

I could go on – about the infuriating offense, Max Scherzer‘s Max Scherzerism, the inconsistent relief work, Austin Jackson‘s resurgence, Brennan Boesch‘s slow start, Ryan Raburn‘s woes, Doug Fister‘s injuries, dismal umpiring – but why bother?

Final thought: It’s bad enough to see the Tigers struggling as they are, but to see the White Sox sitting atop the A.L. Central is insulting.

And so is the idea of Craig Monroe as a studio analyst. (But I’m sure Rod is happy to have him around.)

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Leftovers: Putting a Bow on the ALDS

It’s taken me about 22 hours to regain my regular heart rate but I think I’ve finally settled down.

Was Game 5 the best Tigers game I’ve ever seen? I keep asking myself and I couldn’t decide, mainly because the competition features games with different circumstances and consequences:

1984 ALCS Game 3

  • Scenario: Tigers ahead of Royals 2-0 in best-of-five
  • At Stake: Trip to World Series
  • Result: 1-0 win

1987 Final Weekend

  • Scenario: Tigers enter weekend one game behind the Blue Jays
    • Tigers take two of three, force one-game playoff
    • Blue Jays take two of three, they win A.L. East
    • Tigers sweep gives them division title
  • At Stake: A.L. East Title
  • Result: Tigers sweep

2006 ALCS Game 4

  • Scenario: Tigers ahead of A’s 3-0 in best of seven
  • At Stake: Trip to World Series
  • Result: 6-3 win

But then it was an easy choice. In all these other games the Tigers had room for error. Not Thursday night – or any game in the series. So, yep. This ALDS was the most grueling – and gratifying – set of games I’ve ever experienced in my Tigers-following life.

Other leftovers …

  • Remember when the Tigers acquired Doug Fister and led us to believe he’d be the fifth starter? If Fister’s the fifth man in the rotation, where does that put Brad Penny? Eighth? Truth is, Dave Dombrowski probably never thought of Fister anything less than what he’s proven himself to be: a number-two starter with ace-ish ability – and he proved it with gusto on Thursday night.
  • Here’s something about this five-game series that I’ve never experienced before: the difficulty I had enjoying the game as it was being played. Every pitch seemed to have so much hanging on it I resigned myself to studying the box score to get a reality check on a player’s performance. This was the case with Fister. As I watched Game 5, it sure seemed like he was throwing a gem — and lo and behold, he was: five innings pitched, five hits, one earned run, four strikeouts and just two walks.
  • And how about Magglio Ordonez? He hit .455 in the ALDS after going two for three in Game 5. Jim Leyland sure seems to be in perfect sync with Magglio, when to play him, when to give him a day off. With a couple of lefties on the horizon in the ALCS, I’m thinking we’ll see more Magglio rather than less.
  • If you can stand to watch (and I don’t recommend it), Around the Horn looks at Game 5 through the prism of “Praise the Tigers or Blame the Yankees?”

On the field, the Detroit Tigers did what tough baseball teams do, defeating the New York Yankees, 3-2, in a deciding Game 5 to win the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium.

Off the field, the Detroit Tigers then did what all silly baseball teams do, celebrating the series victory with a raucous, over-the-top champagne party that was far greater than the entirety of their achievement.

Three wins. They were throwing a New Year’s Eve party for three wins. Think about that.

They were spraying each other over wins that could have occurred over the course of a long summer weekend. They were pouring it on each other for wins that totaled less than 12 hours.

The Detroit Tigers just played three good games, yet felt it necessary to celebrate with countless cases of liquor and cigars, and it just makes no sense.

It isn’t just the Tigers who do this, of course, it’s every baseball team after every postseason series win, the constantly popping corks adding to baseball’s reputation as a big fraternity house while diminishing the parties that really matter.

  • What do you think? I agree that in general watching four champagne celebrations is a bit much … when it’s not your team doing it. Here’s hoping we see another one in the next week or so.

And with that, adios, New York. Hello, Arlington.

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Tigers Look to Porcello to Repeat What Bonderman Accomplished in ’06 ALDS Clincher

Five years ago this week, the Tigers sent a young, often frustrating righthander to the mound in the fourth game of the American League Division Series.

With a win, no sure thing with the unpredictable starter, the Tigers would eliminate the Yankees and move on to the American League Championship Series against the Oakland A’s.

Twenty-three-year-old Jeremy Bonderman was the Tigers’ starter that chilly Saturday afternoon and he faced righty Jaret Wright, who’d gone 11-7 witha 4.49 ERA in 30 appearances (27 starts) for New York.

Tigers fans didn’t want to seem overconfident, but compared to the Yankee starters in the series’ first three games (Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson) Wright seemed like a notch above batting-practice quality.

That day, the Tigers staked Bonderman to a 3-0, second-inning lead on home runs by Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe. They tacked on five more runs by the end of the sixth. (Detroit chased Wright with two outs in the third after he’d surrendered four runs on five hits.) The late Cory
Lidle
allowed three runs in his inning-and-a-third of work.

But at the start of the day, all eyes were on Bonderman. Could he handle the big stage, an elimination game against a New York lineup that Jim Leyland dubbed “Murderer’s Row and then Cano” and prevent a trip back to the Bronx for a decisive Game 5?

Could he ever.

Continue reading

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Post-Game Reading: Game 2 Edition

  • Magglio Ordonez went three-for-three in Game 2, but he almost retired at midseason.

  • Interesting scoop here from Danny Knobler on Dave Dombrowksi’s dogged pursuit of Doug Fister. Teaser: “Over a three-week period, we called [the Mariners] a couple of times a day. Sometimes three times.”

  • Ian O’Connor says that Yankees’ Game 4 starter A.J. Burnett should strike fear in New York fans, not the Tigers lineup:
    A.J. Burnett is the Yankees’ worst nightmare, a pitcher with good stuff and bad everything else. He isn’t wired to carry the burdens tethered to a 2-1 division series lead, never mind a 2-1 division series deficit.

    And yet there he is lurking around the bend, ready to follow Verlander versus Sabathia with a misadventure his team can’t afford to weather in the early hours of October. If Mariano Rivera is the indomitable closer, Burnett is the indefensible opener.

  • Buried deep in this piece from Knobler we find out that Kenny Rogers is throwing out the first pitch Monday night before Game 3.

  • And to think I used to like A-Rod:
    “I’m assuming over the next day or two or three that there will be some big at-bats I’ll be waiting for,” Rodriguez said. “Two outs, runners in scoring position all over the place. It’s something that I relish.”

  • Nice article on Scherzer and Alex Avila in The New York Times.

    Avila tracked the ball, moving slowly, and stole a glance at the railing, before he stepped onto the plastic on-deck circle, which he later said felt like a slip-and-slide.

  • Jose Valverde declares the series over … but not really.

  • Great stuff from Ian on Scherzer showing the world that the Tigers are more than a one-man rotation.

  • Happy 42nd Birthday to former Tigers catcher and minor-league manager, Matt Walbeck. Today’s the 52nd birthday of Dave Beard, who pitched in two games for the 1989 Tigers.
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