The Top 10 Tigers Stories of 2008: #5 – The Emergence (and Trade) of Matt Joyce

Number 5When I began pulling together this list over the past month or so, it became clear that possibly the only positive story to come out of the Tigers season was the emergence of Matt Joyce. Joyce finished the 2008 season with a .252 average, 12 homers and 33 RBI in 92 games.

At long last, the Tigers appeared to have developed a left-handed power-ish hitter who could take over one of the corner outfield slots perhaps as soon as 2009.

But, when Jim Leyland announced that left field would be Carlos Guillen‘s position next season and when it became more apparent that Magglio Ordonez was going nowhere this offseason, Joyce’s role went from promising to fuzzy — at best.

Nevertheless, Joyce was a sign of progress in the Tigers’ farm system beyond pitching depth and maybe a budding star.

Until he wasn’t…at least in Detroit.

Three weeks ago he was dealt to his hometown of Tampa Bay for pitcher Edwin Jackson. From what we’ve read, the acquisition of Jackson will be a winning one for the Tigers. And in the end maybe it will be.

Still, it would be nice to see a young position player develop into a star — or something close to it — wearing the old English D.

Joyce Goes Home, Tigers Fans Go “Huh?”

Meet your new number-three starter: Edwin Jackson. Or maybe he’s number two. Who knows? All we do know is that the Tigers made the most curious trade since…since…Dickie Noles-for-Dickie Noles?

While the Mets, Mariners and Indians were swingin’ a 12-player trade (with J.J. Putz as the centerpiece) the Tigers were not zeroing in on a closer, instead they were dealing for a starting pitcher.

The 25-year-old Jackson won a career-high 14 games in 2008 at the back end of the rotation during Tampa Bay’s breakout season. He posted a 4.42 ERA to go with his 14-11 record, pitching 183 1/3 innings, allowing 199 hits and 77 walks while striking out 108. Jackson’s arrival adds some more certainty to a rotation that faced major question marks at the back end. Justin Verlander and Armando Galarraga are the only certainties from last year, while Jeremy Bonderman is expected to be back to full strength after missing the second half of last season following shoulder surgery.

Ian offers some hefty analysis of the deal here.

Lynn Henning suggests that this deal could be a signal that the Tigers’ are concerned with Jeremy Bonderman‘s progress. That or the Tigers are hedging their bets against another poor season by Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis.

Or both. What do you make of this trade?

Matt Joyce for Edwin Jackson

I really want to give Dave Dombrowski the benefit of the doubt on this one. I really do. But I am not seeing it.

Matt Joyce is a lefthanded power bat, something the Tigers have needed for a while, who could take over at either of the corner OF spots once Sheffield was gone and either Maggs or Guillen could move to DH. I guess the Tigers think Jeff Larish can play outfield, too.

While the Tigers needed an influx of major-league ready arms, closer was the most pressing need. Edwin Jackson has a great arm, but he’s had plenty of problems finding the plate. Granted, he’s young and could come around.

Someone want to talk me down on this one? I’m all ears.

Catching Up on a Week of News

Catcher.jpgEvery time I sat down to write about a bit of Tigers news in the past five days, another shoe would drop and I’d think “I’ll write about both of those items.” Then another and another, etc.

So, as I wait out this Tigers/White Sox rain delay from bright, sunny Phoenix, it’s time to weigh in on:

  • Todd Jones’s Retirement. The decades-old joke in Detroit is that the most popular person in the city is the Lions’ backup QB and/or the Red Wings’ backup netminder. I think we can now add the Tigers’ setup man to that punch line. Detroit is unusually cruel to its closers. Less than a year after Willie Hernandez won the 1984 Cy Young and MVP awards, he started getting booed and it’s never stopped. Mike Henneman did too, but to a much smaller degree. The Tigers were so unwatchable during Todd Jones‘s first tour of duty in Detroit, that often he was the only bright spot. Come to think of it, he was a welcome sight then because it mean the Tigers were in line for a rare win.

    But what was it about Jones in his second stint as a Tiger? What made it so infuriating? Sure, he got 93 saves in just under three seasons but his ERA was always around four and … ah, what’s the use? Jones is a good guy and I’m sure he’ll be missed by his teammates. I guess. For me, though, I’ll never be able to forgive him for not being Joe Nathan.

    Continue reading Catching Up on a Week of News

Back in Time: 2008 is 2005

BallTherapy.jpgIt wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Here we are, approaching the third weekend of August, and the Tigers are mired in third place, nine-and-a-half games out of first place. And, as I’m always reminding myself, only five games out of last place. This was supposed to be like 1984, 1968 or even 1945. It was not supposed to be like – gulp – 2005.

The Tigers record coming into this weekend series against the Orioles is 59-62. Entering play on Aug. 14, 2005, the Tigers were 53-61, 21-and-a-half-games out of first.

While the 2005 club was further back in the standings mathematically on Aug. 14, the current team feels about that far behind the White Sox and Twins. Doesn’t it?

Three years ago, Tigers fans seemed more interested in whether or not Alan Trammell would return as manager, who they’d acquire in the offseason, and what on God’s green earth to do with Carlos Pena?

Today, well, the team has probably more questions than the 2005 team did. One thing we can be assured of is Jim Leyland returning as manager. And that’s a good thing. Of course, some may disagree with that, but I believe there are very few buttons he could’ve pushed this year that would make up almost 10 games in the standings.

Here are 17 questions about the 2009 season rattling around in my head:

  1. Who’s the closer in 2009?
  2. Does Chuck Hernandez return as pitching coach?
  3. Is Nate Robertson a Tiger next season?
  4. Can Dontrelle Willis bounce back?
  5. Can the Tigers deal Carlos Guillen?
  6. If the Tigers can get a catcher, do they — and do they move Brandon Inge back to third?
  7. Does Vance Wilson return at long last?
  8. Who’s the shortstop?
  9. Would they deal Magglio Ordonez as some suggest?
  10. How does Jeremy Bonderman recover?
  11. Is Clete Thomas on the big club to stay?
  12. Who is 2009’s Matt Joyce?
  13. Are the Tigers counting on Freddy Garcia?
  14. Will Brent Clevlen finally break through?
  15. What can the Tigers expect out of Joel Zumaya?
  16. Do they sign Placido Polanco to an extension before the season?
  17. What’s Gary Sheffield‘s role — if any?

Ultimately, the 2005 Tigers finished 20 games under .500. Will this year’s team finish that far off the pace? Some days (i.e., against Tampa Bay) it certainly feels as if they could, but I doubt it.

I’m tending to believe that Doug’s right — 81 and 81 for this year’s club. But the fate of the 2009 team lies in how they address the pressing issues hovering over the organization.

Game 106: Tired Tigers Wake Up

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The Score: Tigers 8 – Indians 5

The Gist: Armando Galarraga is to the Indians as Paul Byrd is to the Tigers. Well, not quite, but Galarraga beat the Tribe for the third time this year, Tigers hitters were spared batting practice and turned it on, you know, during a game. But back to Galarraga: three runs over 5.1 innings to earn his ninth win of the year — more than Justin Verlander, folks. (For now.) Brandon Inge stroked three hits including a two-run homer and a double. Miguel Cabrera also went yard as he, Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen and Matt Joyce collected two hits apiece.

The Quote: “We keep winning, we can come in at 6:15 every night for all I care. The guys liked it, so we’ll have a little fun with it and keep them fresh at the same time.” — Jim Leyland on the Tigers skipping BP on Tuesday night.

The Stat: 20. The combined number of balls thrown by Freddy Dolsi and Fernando Rodney — out of a total of 36. Both threw 18 pitches, eight of them strikes. Sigh.

Up Next: Tigers @ Indians

Nate Robertson (6-8, 5.63) vs. Cliff Lee (14-2, 2.29)

Game 90: 41,062 at Comerica Park Play the Role of Lazarus

ESPN highlights not available here.

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The Score: Tigers 8 – Indians 6

The Gist:Of all the games I’ve been to at Comerica Park, admittedly not a lot, this one ranks near the top. The fans were asleep one moment and awoke only long enough to express anger for what appeared to be another shutout-after-blowout loss.

Poor Eddie Bonine couldn’t do anything right, whereas Casey Fossum (six strikeouts in 3.1 IP) cobbled together a terrific outing to keep the Tigers in it. But what about Matt Joyce‘s clutchitude? I enjoyed his homer more than Miguel Cabrera‘s winner only because Joyce’s was a virtual no-doubter. Cabrera’s seemed more likely to punch a hole in the left field wall than clear it.

The Quote: “What do you call that thing you talked about? A corn crib?” — The drunk idiot behind me at the game, trying to remember the phrase “can of corn” used, incorrectly, by his fellow drunk buddy.

The Stat: 0. The number of times the Tigers showed the replay of Cabrera’s homer on the scoreboard.

Up Next: Twins @ Tigers

Kenny Rogers (6-6, 4.60) vs. Kevin Slowey (6-6, 3.78)

Game 47: Seattle Slew

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The Gist: Hey now! Jeremy Bonderman earns a quality start — and a win — after a six-inning, eight-hit outing against the Mariners. And what do you know? The Tigers beat the Mariners 9-2 to sweep the series. Freddy Dolsi was lights-out over three innings of no-hit relief. The Tigers banged out 13 hits (43 for the series), including three from Gary Sheffield (to raise his average to .202), two from Matt Joyce and a three-run jack from Brandon Inge.

The Quote: “They want me to run on and off the mound. I smoke three packs a day.” — Jim Leyland on MLB’s efforts to accelerate games.

The Stat: .281 – Placido Polanco‘s average, despite an 0 for 4 day on Thursday. Talk about flying under the radar.

Up Next: Twins @ Tigers

  • Friday: Armando Galarraga (3-1, 3.06) vs. Kevin Slowey (0-4, 5.49)
  • Saturday: Nate Robertson (1-5, 6.08) vs. Boof Bonser (2-5, 5.25)
  • Sunday: Justin Verlander (2-7, 5.61) vs. Glen Perkins (1-1, 3.44)

Game 43: Winning Ugly Can Be Beauteous

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The Gist: Armando Galarraga threw a gem, Matt Joyce went deep and the Tigers eeked out a one-run victory, 3-2 over flame-throwing D’backs rookie Max Scherzer. It wasn’t a lot of offense, but the Tigers got enough and were able to overcome some untimely walks issued from the bullpen. The play of the game, at least from our view from section 112 at Chase Field, was Pudge Rodriguez‘s coaxing the D’backs into a double play with the old “let-the-pop-fly-drop.” Orlando Hudson didn’t run on the pop-up and was likely treated to an earful from Arizona bench coach and baserunning instructor Kirk Gibson.

The Quote: “He actually reminds me a little bit of Jim Northrup.” — Jim Leyland on Joyce.

The Stat: 1. Saturday night’s win was the Tigers’ first in 2008 when they scored fewer than five runs.

Game 39: An E for the Day*

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The Gist: Nate Robertson finally showed up but the offense took the night off (do I hear an echo?) and Edgar Renteria, well, Edgar thought it was a good idea. Let’s put it this way: if it worked, a definite top-five Web Gem. If it didn’t, Esteban German would come around from second to score the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth — and the Tigers would lose 3-2. You know the rest. Matt Joyce hit his second career homer. If only he’d hit his third.

The Quote: “Jose Guillen has had a lot of success against Nate Robertson in his career.” — Royals’ TV announcer Ryan Lefebvre mere seconds before Guillen unloaded a game-tying, two-run double in the third.

The Stat: 4. The number of errors by Renteria in 2008. How many did he have in all of 2007? How about 11?

*Yes, I’ve used this headline before. Not only is it appropriate but it’s also a nod to a goofy sociology teacher fellow Fungo scribe John Milton and I had in ninth grade.