Monday, July 24, 2006

Soriano signals World Series run

The baseball season has hit late July, and you know what that means.

Trade rumors.

They’re swirling around once again, and this year, big names are blowing around with virtually every team outside of Kansas City or Pittsburgh in the hunt.

And for the first time in a decade, the Tigers are serious players at the July 31 trade deadline, looking to buy rather than sell.

(For all of you who were up in arms last July when G.M. Dave Dombrowski dealt Kyle Farnsworth to the Atlanta Braves for a couple of minor league pitchers, let me clue you in on one thing: they were not buyers in any sense of the imagination. And one of those minor league pitchers is 6-2 as a rookie. Zach Miner, anyone?)

So, as we get pelted daily with rumblings of players headlined by the Washington Nationals Alfonso Soriano, let’s all collectively do something.

First, find the nearest mirror and look it square in the eye. Then, repeat after me.

“Alfonso Soriano.”


“World Series.”

Then pinch yourself.

Because if Dombrowski does pluck Soriano from the Nationals, the Tigers will undoubtedly become the World Series favorite in the American League.

The Nationals reportedly want Tigers top pitching prospect Humberto Sanchez, who is 5-3 with a 3.61 ERA at Toledo, another high pitching prospect like Toledo’s Jordan Tata or the rising Jair Jurrgens in Erie, and an additional prospect, most likely a positional player.

Sanchez’ potential prowess on the mound is compared to the dynamic rookie duo of Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya.

But the success Verlander and Zumaya have enjoyed thus far have Tiger fans jaded.

Jaded, because for every Verlander there’s a Rick Ankiel, and for every Zumaya there’s a Ryan Anderson, prospects who were billed the next big thing but couldn't produce.

So who’s to say Sanchez will turn out to be more of a stud than dud? The unknown factors of the potential deal are what make it all the more fascinating.

Although the loss of Sanchez would be key in the deal, the most important factor is that Soriano is an unrestricted free agent next winter, and will test the market.

He is the crown jewel of next year’s class, and he will cash in after being dictated to join the Texas Rangers, then the Nationals via trade. Many people believe he wants to go back to New York.

You don’t think the Yankees would love an Alfonso Soriano right now?

If Soriano wants to wear pinstripes again, he will, because George Steinbrenner’s pockets seemingly grow larger each year.

The probable departure of Soriano would then leave the Tigers with a three month rental of the five-time All-Star for the top pitching prospect in the organization.

Not exactly a wise flip-flop.

But the reward that can be reaped in October from an Alfonso Soriano smack dab in the middle of an already dangerous lineup is immeasurable.

That reward is a World Series championship, which would certainly vindicate any kind of deal bringing Soriano to the Motor City, regardless of whether he stays or not.

Somewhere, Dave Dombrowski is asking for a raise.

And something tells me he’s going to get it.

Dombrowski has made shrewd moves to get this team to where they are today. The Jeff Weaver trade that brought Jeremy Bonderman in, acquiring Placido Polanco from the Phillies last summer, and the signings of Pudge Rodriguez and Kenny Rogers form the nucleus of this first-place

So as the trade deadline looms, Dombrowski will once again be put to the test.

Is Soriano the missing piece to the puzzle, or is the risk of losing him too great to part ways with a young fireballer?

This city and these fans have been starving for a winner for nearly 20 years now, and everyone, including the players, can taste it.

But the first-place Tigers have merely tasted how sweet victory can be with their 64-31 record now compared to the jubilation of winning in late October.

To do that, Dombrowski will once again make the right move at the deadline.

The right move is Alfonso Soriano.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pay day for Big Ben

Ok, so you’ve sentenced your Pistons’ Ben Wallace jersey to a sad, dark, gloomy life in the back of your closet.

You might have even set it ablaze; cursing, screaming, kicking and crying, finally confirming the neighbor’s suspicions that you’re crazy.

And that afro wig you thought looked so hip, well, that’s finally been served up as dinner to your dog.

Two weeks ago, Wallace, who is now viewed by many Detroiters as a Benedict Arnold, decided to take the 4 hour trek west on I-94 to the Windy City and become an employee of the Chicago Bulls.

Check that.

Wallace is probably taking the sub-60 minute trek by plane. Possibly in a new private jet, which he can surely afford after accepting the Bulls 5 year/$60 million offer.

The Bulls offer was $12 million more than the Pistons offer of 4 years for $12 million per year.

And just like that, with one stroke of the pen, the chances of the Pistons winning a third straight Central Division championship became just a little bit slimmer.

Because not only did the Bulls get significantly better with the addition of Wallace, they also robbed the Pistons of their trademark stingy defensive ways and now force them to give in to the offensive dominant NBA.

The harsh reality is the Pistons run could be over with the Wallace’s departure.

The philosophy change that must come with losing the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year coupled with the emergence of the Eastern Conference will play huge roles in next year’s success.

As we saw first-hand this spring, LeBron James is ready to win now in Cleveland. In Miami, where the Larry O’Brien trophy resides, Dwyane Wade shows no signs of slowing down after an unbelievable postseason. And in Chicago, with the addition of Wallace, they have instantly become a team that can make a deep run in the playoffs.

The recent signing of Nazr Mohammed to replace Wallace is a huge question mark. Mohammed, who played on the 2004-05 Spurs championship team, has shown some signs of becoming a solid center, but couldn’t get off the bench in San Antonio as recently as last year.

Wallace was the cornerstone of this franchise for the past five seasons, and arguably the most popular athlete in Detroit during that time. He epitomized their “Goin’ to Work” slogan with his hard-working attitude and blue-collar play on the floor, transforming the Pistons defense into one of the best in NBA history.

He was a perfect fit for Detroit, and Detroit was a perfect fit for him.

So the question is, why?

My question is, why not?

Ben wasn’t himself this past season, his final, in Detroit. There were the obvious clashes between new head coach Flip Saunders and Wallace. The tension reached its peak on April 7, when, after being removed earlier in the game, Wallace refused to re-enter the game when his teammates needed him late in the 4th quarter. The Pistons lost, 89-87.

His displeasure continued to leak out during the Pistons’ struggles against the Cavaliers and Heat this past postseason, at one time criticizing the way Saunders ran practice.

It’s also not a secret that he wasn’t happy with the amount of touches he was getting on the offensive end.

So, naturally, that’s going to weigh on your decision to return, even with the four great seasons before 2006, which included a championship.

Even more natural is the wide-eyed look any one of us would get on our face if we were face to face with $12 million. Which Wallace was.

The decision probably wasn’t that hard for him anyways. Stay in Detroit, take $12 million less, play for a coach whom he doesn’t like, and count on playing only defense for 82 games.

Or, go to Chicago, swim in a pool of dollar bills, play for an upstart team with young coach Scott Skiles at the helm, and shoot the ball in the process.

It was Wallace’s last chance to cash in on a maximum contract. He took advantage of it. More power to him, and to the Bulls for making a wise choice.

Wallace can be more than just a defensive player if utilized the right way. Under Larry Brown, Wallace averaged just under 10 points a game. That declined last year, when he averaged only 7.3 points a game.

So while the popular opinion is that Chicago overpaid for a one-way player who’s past his prime, I’ll put a vote in for the minority. John Paxson knows what he’s doing with the Wallace signing.

He signed a veteran who will bring tons of experience to a talented young cast of players such as Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, and Luol Deng. He signed a center who could average a double-double.

And he robbed a rival of their identity.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Tigers midseason report card

A gift sent from the heavens above.

That’s how you can describe the Tigers first-half of the 2006 season, in which they lead the defending champion Chicago White Sox and in a most impressive fashion, boast baseball’s best record at 56-28.

Magical is another word.

Whether it be Curtis Granderson’s game-tying home run in the ninth inning with two strikes and two outs on May 20, or Marcus Thames matching Granderson’s feat against the St. Louis Cardinals a little over a month later, the first half has been simply magical.

And in the process, they’re waking up ghosts of 1984.

The ’06 Tigers are only one game behind the ’84 champions’ record of 57-27 through, ironically, 84 games.

But how dare this team. How dare they rattle off wins on a pace we haven’t seen since the Bless You Boys of ’84, the only year this past quarter century people remember for the Tigers.

Detroiters, for good reason, are still skeptical of these Tigers, who have a unique mix of fresh and seasoned talent. Many won’t be sold on the team until the final out is recorded on October 1st.

But it’s crystal clear that these Tigers compare to the previously futile Tigers like day compares to night.

The first stepping stone was the 40-game mark, which Hall-of-Fame manager Sparky Anderson was known to judge his teams by.

27-13, check.

Now, as the All-Star Break looms, the Tigers have continued their torrid pace, and remain at the perch of the MLB.

Here are the mid-season grades:


Curtis Granderson, CF. Grade: B+. Such a pleasant surprise to see Granderson produce this well in his first full big-league season. Has delivered in several clutch situations, hits to all fields, and shows flashes of power. His average (.283) has been steadily increasing. Fielding has been nothing less than extraordinary, especially with Comerica Park’s spacious confines. Needs to cut down on the strikeouts.

Placido Polanco, 2B. Grade: B. Polanco has been true to form, striking out only 21 times in over 300 AB’s, and his average sits at .284, which will get higher. He missed 12 games due to injuries that could be nagging him the 2nd half. Sometimes kills rallies, he has grounded into 12 double plays.

Ivan Rodriguez, C. Grade: B. Pudge can still hit, that’s obvious by his 90 hits and above .300 average, but his ability to drive in runs has left him. His 39 RBI’s are the least in the everyday lineup besides Marcus Thames, but he has roughly 100 less AB’s. This team wouldn’t be where they are right now without his leadership, as he has made a U-turn from last year’s attitude, now having fun again. Pudge will be starting the All-Star Game for the American League behind the plate.

Magglio Ordonez, RF. Grade: A-. The Tigers finally reap some benefits from Ordonez’ massive contract. He has 15 homers and 59 RBI, putting him just a notch below what the Tigers expected when they signed him. Another good sign is that it appears as if the injury woes are behind him. Ordonez has played in 80 of 84 games so far, and is replacing Boston’s Manny Ramirez on the All-Star team.

Carlos Guillen, SS. Grade: B. Guillen is showing the same stellar numbers he put up in 2004 before his injury. With 10 home runs and 50 RBI, he is knocking in runs, and his average is hovering around .300. He’s still a rock at shortstop, and is running more under Leyland, with 12 stolen bases.

Chris Shelton, 1B. Grade: B-. Sure, he was tearing the cover off the ball the first two weeks of the season, but since his production has been way down. Still, a 16 home run start is good for his first full-time stint in the majors. However, Shelton has struck out too much (82 times), and has been very streaky at the plate.

Brandon Inge, 3B. Grade: B-. Inge recently surpassed his season high for home runs—in the first half. He’s discovered an unforeseen ability to hit for power, but his average has struggled. .225 ranks with the lowest of starting A.L. position players. Defensively, he has been average—makes astonishing grabs, but muffs some routine plays.

Craig Monroe, LF, Grade: C. Monroe has shown above average power the first half of the year, hitting 12 home runs with 41 RBI. His approach at the plate has been questionable at times, banking on the long ball instead of situational hitting. Monroe is also battling trade rumors and the emerging Marcus Thames.

Marcus Thames, lF, Grade: A-. Thames has exploded onto the scene after platooning between Toledo and Detroit for a few years. He has hit 17 home runs in only 196 at bats, and has completely taken the left field position away from Monroe. Thames has an amazing .633 slugging percentage, and is proving he can hit for average as well.

Omar Infante, UTIL, Grade: B+. Finally, Infante has found his niche as a utility man. Leyland likes him in this role, and likes even more the way he’s been playing. In 33 games, Infante is hitting a respectable .269 and has provided the Tigers with a reliable backup at the infield positions.

Vance Wilson, C, Grade: B+. Wilson has provided Leyland with a steady backup catcher that can provide occasional offense but more importantly, veteran leadership for the young starters. Already he has surpassed last season’s totals for home runs and total bases, and Wilson is hitting .310 with 84 AB’s. And let’s not forget the 2-run homer off Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana back in May.

Ramon Santiago, UTIL, Grade: C-. Santiago is merely a backup that cracks the lineup because of his slick fielding. Not much to expect offensively in the 2nd half either, he is hitting a putrid .194 with a dozen hits and an RBI.


Kenny Rogers, SP, Grade: A. With an 11-3 record and a probable All-Star Game start in Pittsburgh, Rogers has performed like nobody could have imagined at the young age of 42. His veteran presence can be felt throughout the whole staff, especially with the starters. Rogers has a 3.85 ERA and is averaging more than 5 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Jeremy Bonderman, SP, Grade: B+. Bonderman’s 7-4 record doesn’t do him justice so far this year. His run support is the worst on the staff, and he has pitched very well deep into games with nothing to claim but a no-decision. Bonderman stands 5th in the A.L. with 107 strikeouts, and hasn’t allowed more than 3 earned runs in a start since May 29.

Mike Maroth, SP, Grade: B+. After a hot 5-2 start where he routinely pitched into the sixth and seventh innings allowing no more than a run or two, Maroth was sidelined due to elbow problems. Maroth underwent surgery on his left elbow to remove bone chips, and is expected to return in August.

Nate Robertson, SP, Grade: B+. Robertson’s 8 wins and 3.35 ERA virtually came out of nowhere, producing All-Star type numbers. Before coming up north in April, Robertson was the biggest question mark in the pitching staff because of his spring struggles. He has a 1.27 ERA against left-handers.

Justin Verlander, SP, Grade: A-. A rookie by title only, Verlander has stifled opponents with a 3.01 ERA, good for 2nd in the A.L. Even more impressive than his 10 wins, which is tied for 3rd in the league, is the fact that he has pitched most of the first half without his knuckle curve, his most effective breaking pitch. Considered an All-Star snub by many, Verlander’s velocity is routinely clocked in the upper-90’s.

Zach Miner, SP, Grade: A. The rookie who was a relative unknown in last year’s Kyle Farnsworth deal with Atlanta has done nothing at the big league level but win. Miner is 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA. He is 5-0 after his rough debut against the Red Sox, and even managed to record a complete game on June 20 in Milwaukee, only the 2nd Tiger this year to do so.

Roman Colon, RP, Grade: C-. Colon’s only start of the year wasn’t very impressive, as he only lasted 2 1/3 innings, allowing 5 runs. He has been spotty at best out of the bullpen, and has allowed 5 home runs in 24 2/3 innings pitched, mostly contributing to his 4.74 ERA.

Jason Grilli, RP, Grade: C. Grilli has done a serviceable job in middle relief, with a 3.86 ERA in 24 appearances. He hasn’t allowed more than a run in any appearance since April 13.

Jamie Walker, RP, Grade: B+. Walker is used exclusively as a left-handed specialist, and has thrived, with a 1.17 ERA. He has only allowed runs in 3 of his 27 appearances.

Wil Ledezma, RP, Grade: INC. Ledezma, who was called up in June, is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 5 games.

Joel Zumaya, RP, Grade: A-. Equipped with a fastball that hovers around the century mark, and on occasions, topping it, Zumaya is 2nd among A.L. relievers in strikeouts, with 53. He is 4-1 with a 2.09 ERA, and has delivered in many clutch situations. Opponents are hitting a mere .176 off of him, and his 20 holds lead the majors.

Fernando Rodney, RP, Grade: B-. Rodney, who started the year as the closer, opened 2006 without allowing a run throughout April. He is 7 of 9 in save opportunities. Down the stretch he has hit some rough patches, those highlighted by allowing 5 runs on July 2, lasting only 1/3 of an inning.

Todd Jones, RP, Grade: C+. Jones is on pace to notch another 40-save season, saving 22 of 25 this first half. However, his ERA has ballooned to 6.00, and his record still stands at a dark 1-5. It doesn’t appear Jones has the ability to pitch more than his standard one inning of work any longer, two out of the three times he has, he has given up four runs or more.


Jim Leyland, Manager, Grade: A+. Leyland has brought discipline and confidence to a team that has not had such a leader since Anderson in the mid-1990’s. His relationship with players individually has been great, and his hard-nosed personality has fit well. Frontrunner for Manager of the Year, Leyland has shown the spark that was so evident in his days with Pittsburgh and Florida.