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September 22, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Detroit Tigers

by Tommy Bennett, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Detroit Tigers goodbye.

The overview

The Tigers managed to hang in the AL Central race before being blindsided by a series of injuries to Magglio Ordonez, Joel Zumaya and Carlos Guillen, and they never recovered. The Tigers went into the second half 10 games over .500, at 48-38, but by Aug. 13, they were five games under .500. Miguel Cabrera may have been the front-runner for the MVP at the All-Star break, but the injuries thinned out the Detroit lineup and allowed rival teams to pitch around the slugger constantly; by season's end, he'll probably have accumulated close to three dozen intentional walks, and close to 100 walks overall.

Cabrera arrived in spring training looking like a different person after receiving off-season counseling—in the aftermath of a late-season domestic incident in 2009—and he was rewarded with on-field improvement. For the first time in his career, Cabrera is posting an OPS over 1.000. The Tigers successfully installed some young players, too. Max Scherzer had a solid first year with Detroit, Austin Jackson hit immediately and is one of the frontrunners for the AL Rookie of the Year, and Rick Porcello appears to have solved some early-season problems. The Tigers have a whole lot to build on as they look ahead toward 2011.

The Tigers have already signaled to others that they expect to have some payroll flexibility in this offseason, and so Detroit could pursue one of the big-ticket items in the free agent market, whether it's a Jayson Werth or an Adam Dunn. And the Tigers will go into the offseason looking for an everyday shortstop and third baseman, as well as a starting pitcher to slot in behind Justin Verlander, Scherzer and Porcello.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Verlander and Scherzer proved that either could be the sole No. 1 starter on plenty of major league teams. Detroit's pair of aces have combined for a 3.50 ERA, 371 strikeouts and 134 walks in just shy of 400 innings despite Scherzer's brief demotion to Triple-A. This is a good sign for the future, since both are under contract for at least two more years. Cabrera, also in town for the long haul, had one of the best offensive seasons ever by a Tigers hitter, putting his name alongside those of Al Kaline, Norm Cash, and Hank Greenberg. Cabrera is hitting .326/.417/.611 and on pace for the most walks and fewest strikeouts he's ever had in a full season.

What went wrong: The Tigers went from an above-average offensive unit with the bases empty (hitting .271/.336/.428) to a powerless lot with runners in scoring position (.253/.344/.378). The pattern was flipped for the pitching staff: it pitched much worse with RISP than with the bases empty. Call it luck or timeliness—either way, the Tigers didn't have it in 2010. The result is a team that won a full three fewer games than its individual batting and pitching statistics would predict.

The key number: 2.43. Scherzer's ERA since his return to the major leagues following a May demotion. Over those 141 innings, Scherzer has struck out 147, walked only 49, and surrendered just nine home runs.

What won't happen again: A high-wire act like the one the bullpen put on in 2010. The 'pen has a decent 4.12 ERA despite an ugly 1.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio that is well below league average. Jose Valverde is under contract for 2011, but needs to reduce his walk rate to remain an effective closer.—Tommy Bennett, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

Production or prevention: The Tigers may have some money to spend if they decline the option on Ordonez, but where they spend that money is the multi-million dollar question at hand. After Verlander, Porcello and Scherzer, there is much uncertainty in the club's starting rotation. They could look to bring back free agent Jeremy Bonderman or kick the tires on such names as Aaron Harang, who is expected to have his option declined by the Cincinnati Reds, or Ted Lilly, who could hit the open market despite mutual interest in the left-hander returning to the Dodgers. On the other hand, without Ordonez, free-agent-to-be Brandon Inge and possibly Carlos Guillen to start the season, the Tigers could also use a bat or two to improve an offense that has hovered around the middle of the pack in the AL most of the season. Ty Wigginton could be a fit for third base, as could Jhonny Peralta if the Tigers pick up his $7 million option for 2011 and find another shortstop, such as J.J. Hardy or Cesar Izturis.

Stable bullpen: One way to save the club payroll space to use on starting pitching and impact bats around the infield is to stay in-house when it comes to the bullpen. Valverde will be back and unless the club moves left-hander Phil Coke to the rotation, he'll also return. Right-hander Ryan Perry figures to return as the setup man and Daniel Schlereth could mow his way onto the roster permanently with more of what he's brought to the table this month. With such power arms already in the organization and ready to contribute regularly, the Tigers can wait to look for another veteran arm to throw into the mix and spend that money elsewhere. If they feel the need to land that pitcher this winter, perhaps Jason Frasor, Octavio Dotel or J.J. Putz fits the mold.—Jason Churchill, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

The Tigers farm system is bereft of talent at the upper levels, but 2009 draftee Andy Oliver, who made five starts for the big league squad in the middle of the season, is gunning for more of an opportunity in 2011. With the kind of pure power stuff rarely found in a left-hander, Oliver made strides in his pro debut by finding more consistency with his breaking ball, and scouts see a potential No. 2 or 3 starter if he can begin finding the strike zone more often.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Detroit Tigers,  The Who,  Tigers

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