Jim Leyland is famous (in my mind) not just for his mustache, but for busting up the most clichéd sporting myths with curt quotes. (Never mind that he’s responsible for some completely original epic inventions, like the time he said in a mid-inning interview that that sound of the ball coming off a great hitter’s bat just plain sounded different. Amazingly, he was talking about Craig Monroe, who, say what you will about where he is now [out of baseball], could evidently ring the distinct sounding sweet spot with the greatest hitters Jim had ever heard.)
Jim says team chemistry is overrated; give him a group of guys who can win together.
Watching the wonderful new installment of Ken Burn’s Baseball (the original, I sheepishly admit, I have yet to watch), The Tenth Inning, a player mentioned something similar: the chemistry comes when you’ve been winning together, when you are all bought into the plan, when the games get tough and you all— each of you—grind out each at-bat, each pitch, to get the right ball to hit and the hit that drives in the run that wins the game.
That kind of focus and workmanship has been missing from the Tigers since, well, 2006. And it’s the kind of thing you don’t get by building, or retaining, guys for amorphous reasons, like “He’s a veteran,” “He’s a leader,” or “The sound of the ball off his bat is different, like all the greatest hitters the game has ever known.”
So the Tigers have already announced who is not coming back—at least, not at this pay scale.
Cue up the music, whistle a song, because certainly, these guys were nice, but they’re moving on.Neither Magglio Ordoñez’s winning smile, spectacular hair or even the way he came back to trigger his option in 2009 with a stellar end of season is worth the price of this year’s option—$15 million. Of course we’ll all always remember fondly his walk-off homerun, which sent the hooded Placido Polanco galloping and celebrating around third, and sent the Tigers to the 2006 World Series. My money is on Brennan Boesch ironing out his late-season batting issues and winning the job in right field. If Magglio does re-sign, I bet he’ll be primarily a DH supporting the everyday RF.
Jeremy Bonderman hasn’t pitched a complete season that I can recall, either suffering a “dead arm” or a legit blood clot or some variation thereof. He’s got good stuff, but, as doomed former skipper Alan Trammel would say, it’s the one bad inning that gets him. Every start. Too bad for him the Tigers can get a starter who’ll be hurt often and give up tons-o-runs one inning each start for much, much less than Bondo’s recent rate. Some National League team will get him at a bargain rate, and he’ll probably become a 5th (maybe 4th) starter of note. He’s welcome to Spring Training if he doesn’t catch on anywhere else, and if that happens, I think the bullpen is an option.
And goodbye Johnny Damon, whose single most important contribution to the team in this, his single year as a Tiger, was not his spirited defense of the city of Detroit as he spurned the waiver wire advances of the Boston Red Sox, but the time he convinced the bullpen, a few starters and some other position players to trim their locks into Mohawks. Wouldn’t it be great if he ended up back with the Royals? Or the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he could pick on National League pitching and hang out with new manager Kirk Gibson?Probably Carlos Guillen should pack his bags too. Despite his willingness to play anywhere (platooning in the outfield, short stop, second, first when Cabrera was originally signed and then third when Cabs moved to first and no one wanted to apologize to Brandon Inge and put him back at the hot corner) microfracture surgery—which he had after the hard “break up the double play” slide that sent him to the DL—is no joke. It’s not promising to have anything in common with Greg Oden (well, ok, maybe ONE thing), and his creaky knees are probably never going to improve. Besides, I’d rather see Will “Busta” Rhymes and Scott “Don’t Call Me Grady” Sizemore have a metaphorical knife-fight for the right to play second. Frankly, I’d rather see Cabrera and Inge as the team elders, and the payroll down substantially to make room for a few new guys.
It looks like we can say welcome back to Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Inge (barring a contract impasse). Dave Dombrowski says the Tigs won’t chase a Cliff Lee-caliber player, but they’re looking for rotation slots 3/4/5 to be filled. One with Phil Coke. (And his spectacular sideburns.)
Perhaps in the coming months we’ll have signed Carl “The Perfect Storm” Crawford (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease), gotten word that Joel Zumaya will never be hurt again (I’m saying rosaries for that one) and maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally get a call back about being the Tigers bench coach.
One just can’t say for certain. But it will be something to look forward to, to tide us through the winter.
Quick hit playoff picks:The Twins will continue to be a team good enough to win the AL Central handily, not good enough to make it out of the first round. Yankees in six, with A-Rod doing something douche-tastic in the fourth game.
The San Francisco Giants will fall prey to The Curse Of Barry Bonds’ Jerkism (and paying way too much money for Barry Zito) and will be dispatched by the Braves. Braves in 5.
In a battle of sweet red uniforms (my personal favorite) the Reds and the Phillies will take it to seven games. Much as it pains me to say this (because the Phillies are my National League team) the Reds will take game 7. Tear.
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the hype. A rookie closer and Josh Hamilton’s sore ribs won’t be much more than a speed bump for Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Matt Garza. These boys know how to win, and they grind it out. Rays in 5. Four if Longoria has a beard.