Free Agent Menu: Catchers

If you haven’t heard, the Tigers need a catcher. With all due respect to Dusty Ryan, I don’t think the Tigers’ Win Now-ish pitching staff can achieve its full potential — not that we’d necessarily know it if we saw it — with a rookie catcher.
Catcher.jpg

Scott Boras got things buzzing this week with his push for Jason Varitek to sign with the Tigers this offseason. Who knows if the Tigers will replace 36-year-old Pudge Rodriguez with the 36-year-old Varitek, but one thing’s for sure: the Tigers have quite a selection of backstops from which to choose.

The problem? The average age of the dozen catchers that filed for free agency on Nov. 1 is 34.9. That’s years.

I’ll admit that Varitek might not be the answer but take a look at the following list and you tell me which of these catchers you’d want as your 2009 starter.

And “None of the Above” is not an acceptable answer.

Continue reading Free Agent Menu: Catchers

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.

Vance Wilson's St. Patrick's (Birth)Day Celebration

Catcher.jpgThree quick hits:

  1. This past weekend my wife and I traveled to Indian Wells, Calif., to watch the second round of the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament.

    When you take away the two-hour line to park and the gale-force winds, we had a great time watching some big-name players including Lindsay Davenport, Ana Ivanovic, Carlos Moya and defending champ Rafael Nadal.

    Between matches I pulled out my recent issue of Sports Illustrated and read about youngsters and teams making noise in big-league camps. The first snippet was on Tigers phenom Rick Porcello:

    Already Porcello, who has a repertoire of a mid-90s fastball, curve, slider and changeup is drawing comparisons to Josh Beckett (and even Jim Palmer) and stirring talk of a possible late-summer debut.

    Jim Palmer? No pressure there. Though, with all the young talent the Tigers have brought along — or traded — in the past few years, I find myself longing for the days of Sparky Anderson‘s predictions. Can you imagine what Sparky would have said about Justin Verlander, Curtis Granderson, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Porcello?

    And while I’m glad the Tigers are high on Porcello, why even toy with a post-Sept. 1 callup? What’s the rush?

  2. With a name like Michael Patrick McClary you can imagine that St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in my family. Yet, March 17 is probably a much bigger day for Tigers catcher Vance Wilson who happens to have the good fortune of a St. Patrick’s Day birthday. He’s 35 today.
  3. Did you happen to catch the Dontrelle Willis topic on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters on Sunday? It appeared that they needed a hook to talk about the Tigers and asked the panel if the D-Train would be running on time this year now that he’s with a better team. The consensus? A resounding “yeah, probably.”

Emptying Out the Mental Notebook

There have been lots of thoughts percolating around my head lately. Now that I’ve cleared my driveway of snow for the third time today, it’s time to get those thoughts out to the masses.

Brandon Inge
If you recall prior to the 2004 season Mr. Inge acted like a petulant little child when the Tigers signed Pudge Rodriguez. He whined and complained about how the catching job was his and he wasn’t giving it up without a fight. Of course he turned into a super-sub of sorts (playing 139 games, logging 400+ ABs at five different positions) and eventually won the starting third base job.

Fast forward four seasons and Mr. Inge no longer wants to be a catcher; he fancies himself a third baseman apparently. Though not as loudly, he appears to be lobbying to move out of town now that Miguel Cabrera appears to be the Tigers’ new third baseman. I don’t believe for a minute the Tigers can trade him and the $18 million left on his contract and receive anything close to good value. With that said, I suggest Brandon close his yap, buy a few extra gloves, learn how to scoop balls at first, play all three outfield positions, and get comfortable in the tools of ignorance again. Return to the role of super utilityman for this season. Milwaukee Brewer Bill Hall logged over 500 ABs in a similar role in 2005, playing three different positions. If Inge can play 3B, 1B, OF, and even a bit of C, I would expect enough at bats will come his way to keep him happy.

The goal, or promise to Inge, is that he becomes your full-time catcher effective 2009. He’ll have this year to study the pitching staff, pick Pudge and Vance Wilson‘s brains, and relearn the position. With the offense that will be surrounding him, Inge would merely have to concentrate on his fielding — any hitting would be a bonus. And if you’re really trying to do the hard sell, remind him the staff he would have to catch would include Justin Verlander, Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, and — at some point — Rick Porcello.

Dontrelle Willis

I heard Willis’ first interview on local radio following the trade. WXYT had him on and I liked what I heard. He has a passion for the game, he has a personality, he’s energetic, and he should endear himself to the Detroit fanbase. Will he be able to pitch? The good news, I suppose, is that Detroit isn’t counting on him to be the ace. All they really need from him is 200+ serviceable innings. Ideally (with the bullpen the Tigers have) that’s what they’d like to get from all five starters — save Rogers I suppose. Chew up innings boys. The bats should get enough runs to keep this team in virtually every game.

One other item about Willis. Don’t underestimate the impact another African-American will have on the Tigers’ fan base. Willis is an inner-city kid and, like Curtis Granderson, has a personality that will make him popular. For a city that’s attempting to make a comeback, I think it’s outstanding the youngsters in town will have a couple of role models on the home team to look up to.

By the way, has anyone else noticed an entire Hispanic infield? Non hablas Espanol?

The Mitchell Report

Nothing surprises me (nor should it), but I’d like to launch a conspiracy theory on Roger Clemens. I wonder if his decision to stall his comeback each of the past couple of seasons was due merely to making sure he had it in him or rather he had it in him? I’m certainly no expert on performance enhancing drugs, but doesn’t it suddenly seem plausible that The Rocket was taking a late-winter cycle of PED’s before deciding to come back? Are unsigned free agents subjected to the testing? If not, it wouldn’t surprise me if Clemens got his body finely tuned and then gave his body time to flush the evidence before signing. So much for all those stories of his legendary workouts that I always admired as a younger man.

Mitchell Report Part II

Nook Logan? Mark Carreon? Alex Sanchez? This is our Detroit connection? No wonder our home team stunk during the Steroid Era!

Clearly Carreon wasn’t on the juice when he was a Tiger. He hit a career-low .232 that year.As for Sanchez — the first to be busted — it’s a good thing he was on the stuff, otherwise half of those swinging bunt singles he had would’ve rolled foul at the plate, right?

And Nook? Well, I got nothing for Nook.

Bullpen

If the starters can get into the seventh inning I don’t feel too bad about things. It’s that middle/long relief that gives me the Guillermos. I know Zach Miner will be serviceable and I shouldn’t fret about Jason Grilli, but neither instill a lot of confidence — especially if they get thrown into roles they’re not comfortable in.

I actually feel pretty good about the two situational lefties they’ll enter camp with: Tim Byrdak and Bobby Seay. Seay was especially effective the last half of the season when used correctly. Speaking of using folks correctly, Memo to Jim Leyland: Todd Jones can only pitch one inning this year and it should be at the start of the inning, not mid-inning with runners on base.

I’m not expecting Joel Zumaya to contribute anything this year.

The Monday Report

My son woke me up at 5:45 this morning so I had some time to catchup on my reading and thinking…

  • Call me naive, but I thought the Kenny Rogers thing would be a slam dunk, even with The Scott Boras Factor. Now that Rogers, who turned 43 on Saturday, is testing the market — the market for a mid-40s pitcher coming off a season virtually lost to serious injury that is — one has to wonder if the Tigers have used up the patience they reserve for dealing with Boras. From everything I’ve read, most still expect a deal to get hammered out. And I tend to think so too if only because Dave Dombrowski doesn’t seem to be a cut-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face kind of guy.Speaking of Rogers, I thought I’d stumbled upon major news over at Yahoo! Sports when I read in this Tigers rumor:

    According to the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit Tigers and free agent lefty Kenny Rogers have parted ways.  

    If you read to the story referenced in the piece you’ll see that nowhere does it say Rogers isn’t coming back. Perhaps a little fact checking would help.I’m intrigued by the Dontrelle Willis thing but can’t fathom what it would take to acquire him (for starters, Brandon Inge, perhaps?). Sure seems like a drastic change of course going from re-signing Rogers to dealing for Willis.Ah, but you gotta love the smell of hickory on the Hot Stove.

  • Our man Ian Casselberry notified me of the Omar Infante-for-Jacque Jones trade this afternoon. I think it’s safe to say Ian and I were both underwhelmed by the move. As Jon Paul Morosi suggests, this is likely a stop-gap solution until Cameron Maybin is ready for prime time, all the time. If that’s the case, I supposed I can live with it.

Still, you have to believe that somewhere in the Dominican Republic, Timo Perez is wondering what he has to do to become more than a September call up.But probably not in those words.

  • If you missed it, Joel Zumaya turned 23 on Friday. Here’s hoping his birthday wish was for health and wellness. And, while the Lions were stinking up University of Phoenix Stadium yesterday, Jason Grilli and Chuck Hernandez were celebrating birthdays. A belated #31 to Grilli and #47 to Hernandez. To help you plan your card and gift shopping, here are the upcoming Tigers birthdays of note: Nov. 18 – Gary Sheffield (39); Nov. 19 – Preston Larrison (27); Nov. 29 – Tony Giarratano (25); Nov. 30 – Ivan Rodriguez (36). 
  • Mr. Casselberry and I also wondered aloud who the Tigers backup catcher would be on Opening Day. Vance Wilson should be ready to come back and reclaim his job, but Mike Rabelo certainly made a case for himself in 2007. Too bad one of them can’t play another position — or that Ryan Raburn can’t catch. Ian thinks Rabelo comes North. I’m undecided but tend to think Wilson will rejoin the team if he has anything that resembles a decent spring.