October 18, 2011
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 from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm-system overview.
Today we bid farewell to the Detroit Tigers.
Signs of hope: The Tigers won 95 games and the American League Central flag, making the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and reaching the ALCS before falling to the Texas Rangers. Justin Verlander had a career year, winning the "pitchers' Triple Crown" by leading the league in ERA (2.40), strikeouts (250), and wins (24), not to mention WARP (7.0). Miguel Cabrera moved past a tumultuous offseason to hit .344/.448/.586, winning a batting title and leading the league in OBP while ranking second to Jose Bautista in true average (.359).
Alex Avila emerged as an All-Star catcher, hitting .295/.389/.506 with 19 homers, throwing out 32 percent of would-be base thieves and ranking among the league's top pitch-framers. Avila actually had a better WARP than Cabrera (6.4 to 6.2).
Jhonny Peralta (.299/.345/.478) made good after being re-signed as a free agent, and Victor Martinez hit a sizzling .330/.380/.470 in the first year of his four-year, $50 million deal. Closer Jose Valverde converted all 49 of his save opportunities while posting a 2.24 ERA, with free agent Joaquin Benoit and rookie Al Alburquerque teaming with him to form a formidable late-inning unit.
Signs of disaster: The rotation behind Verlander and Fister wasn't great, with Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Brad Penny all posting ERAs of 4.43 or higher in 30 or more starts. Scherzer and Penny struggled to keep the ball in the park while Porcello (and Penny) didn't miss enough bats. Magglio Ordonez's performance collapsed (.255/.303/.331, minus-1.5 WARP) while he was making $10 million. Carlos Guillen gave the Tigers just 102 plate appearances for his $13 million salary. Ryan Raburn regressed to .256/.297/.432 after a strong .285/.348/.498 during the previous two seasons, and Austin Jackson hit just .249/.317/.374 as his BABIP fell from .396 as a rookie to .340. The team's third basemen combined to hit .222/.286/.331, with Brandon Inge (.197/.265/.283) so bad that he was at one point sent to Triple-A.
Signs you can ignore: After hitting just .266/.305/.357 with four homers in 305 PA with the Minnesota Twins, Young arrived in mid-August and batted .274/.298/.458 with eight homers in 168 PA for Detroit, adding five more homers in 36 postseason PA despite straining an oblique. The former top prospect is still just 26 years old, but his career numbers to date—.288/.321/.428, a .261 TAv and 2.5 WARP—suggest he's merely a placeholder rather than an asset. —Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus
Bowden's Bold Move
Detroit would like to trade for David Wright or Ryan Zimmerman, although the Tigers probably don't have enough to package around top pitching prospect Jacob Turner to make a deal work for either one of them. The dream would be to sign Jose Reyes and move Jhonny Peralta back to third. If that's not an option, I would think about trading for Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose stock is low because of the dismal year he had. Alvarez will break out in either 2012 or 2013 and develop into an adequate defensive player who is capable of winning a Silver Slugger award at the hot corner. Other possible trade targets the Tigers could look at: Chase Headley, Howie Kendrick, Gordon Beckham, Jose Altuve, and Steve Lombardozzi.
Even if the Tigers don't pull off an impact deal this winter, they will still be the favorites to win the AL Central again next season. But to go beyond the ALCS, they need to find an everyday second baseman or third baseman who is preferably a left-handed hitter to help balance a right-handed dominant lineup. —Jim Bowden
Worst-case scenario: 82-80
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus.