Typically, teams that were eliminated long before the playoffs started, have the longest winter. However, in a relative sense, the Detroit Tigers have the longest winter in baseball. Winter is always tough for the World Series runners up, but for the Tigers, this one could be especially painstaking.
All the tests have been turned in and the Tigers failed the biggest exam of all: the World Series. As a team, things didn’t quite work out the way they planned. But individuals make up the team, and some of those individuals fared quite well. Lets take a look at how each player did individually, and breakdown what could happen to each player this winter. Today, we will start with the bullpen.
Al Al’s 2012 performance should get fans excited for next season. Although he missed most of the season coming back from shoulder surgery, when he did return, he was at full strength. His fastball is still in the 90s and his slider is reminiscentof a much better, much younger, Jose Valverde. Based on that alone, he is well in the mix, barring a free agent pickup, to be the new closer in 2013. Oh, how Detroit needed stability in the 9th….
To be honest, there’s really not much to be said here. Below performed to expectations; expectations that weren’t very high. He did exactly what Leyland needed: spot starts, mop up duty, and effectiveness against lefties. It will be interesting to see what happens to Duane in 2013 with the reenergized Phil Coke, a healthy Daniel Schlereth, and the emergence of Darin Downs, fellow bullpen lefties.
2012 was definitely a step back for Joaquin Benoit. While he seemed to be on track in the first half of the season, his second half and postseason were very suspect. He ended up giving up 14 home runs, extraordinarily high for a shutdown 8th inning reliever. However, Benoit has been known to be streaky and considering the Tigers never really had the ideal situation to use him, it really makes one think what he could’ve done if he had gotten out of his slump. However, 2013 will be a big season for Benoit as he could compete for a closing job.
Mr. Coke looked as though he played for the A’s with his intensity on the mound. What was looking to be a blasé season for Coke ended up being salvaged and gave Coke the perfect ending. Coke was a man on a mission in the postseason and despite the fact that he was the losing pitcher in Game 4, expect his competitive fire to be in postseason form for 2013. Think he’s in the running for the closer’s job? Just remember his own words “Dude, you better bet your rear end…”
A lot like Duane Below, there’s not much to break down here. Crosby’s performance for the Tigers in 2012 was adequate at best, as he was filling in for the injured Doug Fister. While he pitched well enough to stay in the rotation for a little while, it doesn’t look like he’ll be in the mix for a spot in the rotation or a spot in the bullpen. Look at him as a throw in for a possible trade this winter. But if you see him pitching for the Tigers in 2013, it means the Tigers are in trouble.
What a pickup! Dotel proved to be exactly what Dave Dombrowski was looking for: a versatile right hander who could pitch up to three innings and could be a 6th, 7th, 8th, or even 9th inning guy. The move paid dividends for the Tigers, as Tiger fans all breathed easier when he entered the game. He also provided experienced veteran leadership from being on the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. He was to be a free agent this winter, but the Tigers picked up his option. He could compete for the closer’s job as well.
This was the bullpen feel good story of 2012. Darin Downs had pitched for 10 years in the minor leagues and finally reached the major leagues in early July. What appeared to be a short stint in the majors actually turned into a career year for the 27-year old. His inexperience probably kept him off the playoff roster, but as long as he continues to perform to his 2012 abilities, he should make the team out of Spring Training. Fans rooting for this guy, and everyone knows Jim Leyland is.
Luis Marte was a wild card in the bullpen in 2012. Leyland seemed to like going to him and he was effective in the beginning of the season but after being sent down to Toledo and with the struggles of the offense affecting the pitching staff, his numbers dwindled. However, with work on his walk rate, he could turn out to be a weapon that every bonafide contender needs: a long man with starter’s stuff. He was originally a starter when he signed with the Tigers but due to the lack of openings in the rotation, that’s just not going to happen. Fans can only hope that he can be as effective as, say, Alexi Ogando or Tim Lincecum in the postseason. This should be an interesting, and maybe career defining spring for Marte.
Putkonen was originally a starter, like Marte, but can’t crack the rotation. However, when subjected to the bullpen, he was less than effective. Putkonen doesn’t belong in the majors and will probably be in Toledo coming out of Spring Training. However, much like Crosby, if you see him pitching, it means Detroit’s been hit with the injury bug.
Okay, maybe an F is a little harsh. But what we saw in the postseason was historical in the worst sense of the word. This man possessed an ERA over 30 and had a whip north of 4.5. While he isn’t the reason the Tigers lost the Series, imagine what the city would’ve done if he had lost a game. As a closer, effectiveness is paramount. There’s no alternative, especially during the most important part of the season. Jose Valverde is a great guy. He has a great personality and teammates love him. But you don’t pay a closer to be a great guy. You don’t pay him to be funny. And you don’t pay him to be a great teammate. You pay him to get three outs. It’ll be interesting to see where he’ll be in 2013. Because it isn’t going to be in Detroit.
Ah, the other V man in the bullpen with bad mechanics. Brayan was actually one of the better pitchers for the Tigers in the first half of 2012. However, his bad mechanics and tendency to be wild derailed what looked to be a career year. What should get Tiger fans excited in 2013 is his arsenal. He gets the most out of his 6 foot frame with a mid to high 90s fastball and a dazzling slider. If he works on getting his pitches down and getting better control, the Tigers have a formidable right-handed duo in Villareal and Alburquerque. If he didn’t have control issues, he’d be in the mix for the closer’s job.
As much as certain individuals shined and certain individuals failed, the bullpen as a whole, throughout the 2012 season, was one of the weak points of the team. Different faces took center stage at various points of the season but that’s not how its supposed to work. The reason the Giants were in contention from Day 1 was because they could count on their bullpen. The Tigers shouldn’t have to go to a hot hand; they should go to the matchup advantage, something that Leyland loves doing. But when various relievers don’t do their job, it makes Leyland’s job that much harder. There isn’t a lot Dombrowski can do on his front to improve this area of the team. It lies on the players. They all have to get better and if they do, the Tigers could see themselves back in Series without serious concern when the starter leaves. Otherwise, it’ll be another trying season of wasted quality starts, blown saves, and concern for Tiger fans.
AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS
As much as guys like Bruce Rondon are the future, there’s always the possibility of them being traded or not being effective. On top of all that, David Dombrowski has been known to spend money to fix major problems. But the question as to who the Tigers could add is a pressing one. Here’s a short list of relievers that the Tigers could add to bolster their bullpen.
MIKE ADAMS: RHP, TEXAS RANGERS
Adams has been a great 7th and 8th inning guy for Ron Washington and the Texas Rangers. However, with Neftali Feliz coming back from the rotation, Texas appear to be set in the bullpen. Feliz is ten years younger and throws almost 8 mph faster so Adams’ window with Texas is closing. He’d be a great fit in the Tiger bullpen and would bring stability back to the 7th, 8th, or even 9th innings.
RYAN MADSON: RHP, CINCINNATI REDS
Madson hasn’t played since 2011 but if the Tigers were to sign him, it wouldn’t be off the scrap heap. He was the predicted closer for the Reds going into the spring of 2012 before being lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery. Aroldis Chapman stepped into the closer’s role and simply dominated the National League in a historical season for the Reds. However, depending on whether Chapman will remain the closer or get moved to the rotation, Madson may or may not be going back to Cincinnati. He’s a lot like Adams and would be a great fit for the Tigers.
JASON GRILLI: RHP, PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Grilli is a former Tiger who has revitalized his career in Pittsburgh. While he doesn’t have closer’s stuff, he’s what you would call a “situational righty”. He’s the ideal pitcher for a manager like Jim Leyland, who’s tried to exploit situations with the wrong personnel. I’m sure Dombrowski would love to have him back on the team and he would love to play for the Tigers once again.
The Farm Club will be looking at starting rotation next week, the hitters the week after, and decide what the future holds for Jim Leyland and upper management. It was a successful season for Detroit but this is only the beginning of a long winter for the Tigers.
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