Click here for the Tigers’ 2006 depth chart.
C Ivan Rodriguez: Rodriguez’ weight has gone up and down, and he’s had the typical aches and pains associated with catching. Even as he ages, he’s remained consistently solid healthwise. He’s never had a recurrence of back problems or shown any sign that the knee surgery from a few seasons ago adversely affected him.
SS Carlos Guillen: Guillen has had plenty of problems over the past few seasons, but as he distances himself from the knee surgery, he’s also made some adjustments: he’s working harder on the fundamentals, dealing with positioning over range, and made some changes to his batting stance.
3B Brandon Inge: The system still sees some catcher in Inge, which makes his yellow light seem a bit more troublesome than it probably is. Inge is another example of a player who could increase his value by bringing out the chest protector and mask now and again.
LF Craig Monroe: Monroe is generally a healthy player with few problems. The quad problem he’s dealt with for most of spring training could land him on the DL, and the system loves gimmes like a season-opening DL stint.
CF Nook Logan / Curtis Granderson: Granderson is not only the better player, but the healthier player, too. Logan is a typical speed-only guy, one leg problem away from being useless. Guys who get the green light on the base paths don’t often get green lights from our system.
RF Magglio Ordonez: The knee survived a season and that out clause is long gone. It was a hernia that kept Ordonez off the field for much of the year. That’s easily and predictably repaired, but what has us wondering is if the time off for the surgery eased the load on his knee just enough to get him through his partial season. We’ll know by the ASB if Ordonez’s overseas surgery really did clear things up in his knee.
SP Jeremy Bonderman: Bonderman wore down at the end of the year and was smartly shut down. He survived the worst of the Tigers’ losing seasons and is clearly the player from those bad teams most likely to be around when they climb back to respectability. That said, Bob Cluck deserves a lot of credit for keeping him healthy long enough to make that possible.
SP Kenny Rogers: If you looked back at what people thought of Kenny Rogers a decade ago, most people would probably say that “Lady” was cheesy, “Gambler” was just a novelty song, and that the silver beard kind of creeped them out. The few that knew the pitcher wouldn’t have expected him to still be eating innings at this advanced age. Guys like this do it until they don’t, cameramen be damned.
SP Mike Maroth: We know exactly what Maroth is and we know what he isn’t. He’s an innings eater who’s really only as good as his team and seldom much better or worse. Thinking of him like a chair filler at the Oscars isn’t a bad idea, though he’s much better compensated.
SP Nate Robertson: Déjà vu. See above.
SP Justin Verlander / Joel Zumaya: Verlander wore down as his innings piled up, but in the dead arm way, not the “go see Dr. Andrews” way. That’s a positive, assuming he builds on it and doesn’t get asked to do too much. With Zumaya as a possible swingman, the Tigers could easily keep Verlander’s innings down to a reasonable level and have him slowly build to being a good #2 behind Bonderman in the next few years.
CL Todd Jones: People in Detroit like to go across the river to Windsor for a little drinking, a little dancing, and a bit of that good old fashioned Canadian hospitality. There was always a bit of bad, just across the river from the more puritanical city of Detroit. Jones is like that–a bit of good, but there’s always a bit of bad somewhere close. You just never know which happens when. Ernie Harwell called him “The Rollercoaster” for a reason.
What we don’t know about coaching could fill a book, or at least an essay at the back of a future Baseball Prospectus edition. With the rah-rah stylings of the tenaciously optimistic Alan Trammell turned over for the more gruff stylings of Jim Leyland’s Third Farewell tour, the Tigers have shifted their coaching focus a bit; they’ve gone from a coaching staff built for development to one built to try and compete or even win in a difficult division.
Leyland is, rightly or wrongly, seen as difficult on young players–especially pitchers–with an especially unkind record of workloads for starters. Given that he comes in on the heels of Bob Cluck, one of the most underrated pitching coaches around and one whose work with young pitchers is perhaps the best legacy of the former staff, there’s plenty to worry about.
If the Tigers are going to compete, they’ll have to keep their talent on the field. Head Trainer Kevin Rand has a lot of work to do each year, given the need-inflated signings of questionable players over the past few years such as Fernando Vina, Ivan Rodriguez, and Magglio Ordonez, but he’s done very well. Seeing no red lights comes as a bit of a surprise, but one factor in their favor is the quicker than expected return-to-play times that the Tigers have had over the past few seasons. Carlos Guillen may have blown out a knee, but the Tigers not only got him healthy quickly, but also kept him healthy over the course of the next season with smart usage and some work in the training room.
One of the their secret weapons is strength and conditioning coordinator Javair Gillette. Some players have tired under the workload they’ve seen or even fallen victim to traumatic injuries, but Gillette’s work at getting players ready draws raves from people inside and outside of the organization. From working with Ivan Rodriguez on keeping his back flexible and core strong to his work at maintaining the bullpen’s readiness, Gillette is a name that few Tigers fans would recognize despite seeing his work on the field every day.
The Tigers may surprise some this season. Leyland’s protestations against setting .500 as a goal aside, winning as many games as they lose remains a big step for a franchise that didn’t just bottom out as much as it crashed and cratered. Keeping a series of above-average players with above-average risk on the field is a task that only an above-average medical staff can handle. They’ll face another test this season.
Brad Wochomurka is a co-host of Baseball Prospectus Radio.
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