Saturday, March 29, 2008

Keys to the Season- 25 man roster

It appears as if Jim Leyland has finalized the roster, with Yorman Bazardo and Aquilino Lopez taking the last two spots in the bullpen and Clete Thomas indeed making the team as a reserve outfielder. Here's some keys to the season for each player on the team.

Justin Verlander (25): Like all pitchers, the key will be to stay healthy and take yet another step forward. Verlander appears to be a possible favorite for the Cy Young Award this season. With Dan Haren and Johan Santana gone to the National League and John Lackey injured, Verlander is one of the names mentioned to be in contention for the award. Overall, it's hard to expect regression unless an injury crops up. Verlander should be the Tigers' ace for years to come.

Kenny Rogers (43): He needs to prove that last year wasn't the end. The blood clot was unfortunate, but the constant elbow problems after returning suggest that The Gambler may not have another season in him. If he does, another 2006 season from Rogers will be great. If not, you may be hearing the name Virgil Vasquez or Yorman Bazardo every fifth day. Either way, Rogers showed great loyalty to the organization this off-season, firing Scott Boras when Boras shopped him to other teams. Between that and his tutelage of younger pitchers, I wonder if Kenny will be in the organization in some fashion after he retires.

Jeremy Bonderman (25): Hopefully his problems from last year were merely tendinitis and not the start of something more troubling. I've said it before, but it will be important to make sure his velocity is up in the mid 90's, and the slider returns to its "Bugs Bunny" status. Will this be the year Bonderman finally develops a change-up? In addition to being an additional pitch for hitters to think about, the change-up also imposes less tress upon an elbow than a slider. It's win-win if that finally works out.

Dontrelle Willis (26): People who don't know as much about baseball as they think will claim that Willis was the big part of the Marlins deal. It will be interesting to see how much all of the negatives of pitching in Florida the past two seasons hurt him. Will he pitch better with an above average defense behind him? Will he feed off of a much more enthusiastic crowd? Will he pitch better away from the sweltering humidity? Or is Dontrelle Willis simply a mediocre pitcher hiding an injury? If anybody is the key to the team's season, this is the guy. The wide variation of what the Tigers could get out of the D-Train could be the difference in a stable pitching staff versus a repeat of last season.

Nate Robertson (30): A solid stabilizing force in the rotation, Robertson is what he is: an average pitcher who can straight up eat innings. Like Mike Maroth before him, he needs to be able to eat innings in order to remain of value, so keeping him healthy will be a priority. On a completely unrelated note, I heard one commentator refer to Dontrelle Willis as a veteran and Nate Robertson as a young gun. Clearly, that is far from true.

Todd Jones (40): Most players don't get to retire on their own terms. What I mean by that is players will often decline to the point where they are no longer worth keeping around while still under contract. While I hope that's not the case, Todd Jones is at the age and has the skill set of somebody on the verge of a collapse. The arm strength issues from earlier this spring need to stay away. If the Roller Coaster can stay in service for one more season, it will be huge for a bullpen that can't afford to have another piece taken from it.

Denny Bautista (27): It will be easy to dismiss Bautista because of his lack of success in the past. Right now, though, he's the hot hand. If that hot hand can find the strike zone, the Tigers may have found something here. Remember, Fernando Rodney was a struggling flame thrower with control problems until he finally broke out at age 28. Bautista is 27 right now. It's not too late.

Bobby Seay (29): An unsung hero from last season, the key will again be to keep Seay's role as close to facing exclusively lefties as possible. With no Byrdak to help him, Leyland will need to do his best to pick his spots with Seay, who will be a valuable weapon against the likes of Hafner, Mauer, Morneau, and Thome.

Jason Grilli (31): Grilli really came on towards the end of last season, but still will feel the wrath of fans as he was Mr Hyde at home and Dr. Jekkyl away from Comerica. There's still a chance that he can be the dependable arm this bullpen needs. There's also still a chance he gets the ball in high pressure spots when it should be going to somebody else. Hopefully if he struggles this year, the Tigers aren't afraid to cut bait and try another arm in the bullpen.

Zach Miner (26): It seems like Miner is in the bullpen for good. He'll need to stay away from some of the ugly performances he had last season. The 3.02 ERA is a bit misleading, as his peripherals suggest he should have been somewhere in the 4-5 range. Could he be the guy who steps up in the absense of Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya?

Aquilino Lopez (32): Lopez was the beneficiary of Tim Byrdak's struggles as is the last guy to make the bullpen. Jim Leyland has made no secret that he wants another lefty, and Dombrowski is seemingly trying hard to find another bullpen arm. Lopez will probably be the one sacrificed if/when that occurs. Overall, I'd expect low-leverage roles for Lopez, who will need to pitch pretty well this season to be a big part of the plans. Note that he turns 33 in April, and is not 27 going on 28 as The Baseball Cube says.

Yorman Bazardo (23): I'm as high on Yorman Bazardo as anybody else, but it does appear that he will need some sort of an out pitch to be a high leverage reliever. I'm betting the Tigers leave him in a long relief role so he remains stretched out. He's probably the proverbial sixth starter right now.

Ivan Rodriguez (36): Is he a new man, determined to improve his plate discipline and regain his defensive dominance? Or is Pudge going to be another year older? We'll find out, but the fact that this could be his last contract year could play in the 2008 Tigers' favor.

Carlos Guillen (32): In Will Carroll's Team Health Report on the Tigers (subscribers only), he came to the conclusion that moving to first base won't do much to help his knee problem. That will be something to watch. Guillen also hit just .267/.320/.427 after the All Star Break last season. Whether it was a result of fatigue in the knees or just simple decline is hard to tell. He's got four more years left on his contract, and it will be important for him to hit like he did the first 3.5 years of his time in Detroit.

Placido Polanco (32): Depending on who rates him, Polanco will either be overrated or underrated. He's a .300 hitter with a 1.000 fielding percentage, but doesn't hit for too much power or walk much. Anybody who watched the extra inning rain delay game against the Yankees knows that the 1.000 fielding percentage is somewhat tainted anyhow. Polanco's a solid performer who will need to remain as such as he approaches his mid 30's.

Edgar Renteria (32): Renteria hit over .330 last season, but the .372 BABIP is unsustainable. The key will be for him to be a solid performer at the plate and just as importantly in the field. Keep an eye on Danny Worth and Cale Iorg this year. If either or both of them emerge and Renteria struggles, I doubt the Tigers will want to pick up that $13M option.

Miguel Cabrera (24): Cabrera can hit, and will hit. The question will be if he can field well enough to keep at third base. There's no longer the question of how long he will be a Tiger, as he will be donning the Olde English D through 2015.

Ramon Santiago (28): Billfer contends that his defense is overrated. I will tend to agree, but having somebody on the bench who can play shortstop capably is nice to have. Hopefully Santiago will be nowhere near the regular lineup if Renteria or Polanco goes down for a long term injury. Keep an eye on Michael Hollimon's recovery, as he should be back around early June. If he can dominate Toledo, Santiago's roster spot becomes a bit more perilous.

Jacque Jones (32): The Cubs are paying most of his salary, so the Tigers aren't on the hook for that much here. The key for Jones will be that he can provide superb defense while having his power return. There's not much use for .330/.400 corner outfielders in the league these days, and I can think of at least three guys who would love to have his playing time. He absolutely must hit for power to stay more useful than Inge, Thames, and Raburn.

Brandon Inge (30): There hasn't been a more talked about player this spring. Inge's desire to play third every day was well known, but the Tigers weren't able to find a spot for him. His ability to fill in capably anywhere on the is valuable, as shown already during Curtis Granderson's injury.

Magglio Ordonez (34): Had a great season last year, but how often to players hit .360 two years in a row? Ordonez will be a solid contributor this year, but the Tigers will have to make up the inevitable loss in his production somewhere else.

Gary Sheffield (39): I'm a bit more worried about Sheff's shoulder than most. His swing probably generates more stress on the shoulder than anybody out there, and I could see a scenario where he reaggrivates the injury and the Tigers lose out on his production. It's still hard to believe that Sheffield was leading the team in steals for much of the year before Curtis Granderson overtook him at the end of the season.

Ryan Raburn (26): He doesn't play them all well, but Ryan Raburn could play just about every position if needed. It will be interesting to see if the catching experiment sticks (I doubt it does). Raburn is a very useful player, as he can fill in for Polanco, Jones, Granderson, Ordonez, and Sheffield, and he can hit pretty well.

Marcus Thames (31): Jacque Jones' platoon partner has tremendous value as a bench player. He's become a bit more redundant with Inge and Raburn also on the bench. The Mets seen truly interested in Thames, as they now have a terrible bench and nobody to back up a decrepit Carlos Delgado. The Tigers, desperate for relief help, won't and shouldn't give him up for anything less than Aaron Heilman.

Clete Thomas (24): It's a thrill for him, but Thomas is probably only in the plans as long as Curtis Granderson can't swing a bat with the broken finger. He'll be back to Toledo when that happens and it will be very important for him to put up a solid season there if he wants to earn a role on next year's team. Perhaps the addition of Thomas to the roster was merely to prevent Miguel Cabrera from being the youngest active position player on the team. I have no way to support that theory, so take me at my word.

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