If you read my blogs, it is no secret that I am not a fan of Jim Leyland. I respect the man and his career and he has probably forgotten more about baseball then I'll ever know. But that is part of the problem, he has been around a little to long and got set in his ways, thus letting the game pass him by. As much as I wanted Leyland gone, it is not going to be easy to replace him. Finding a new skipper is just the first of many moves the Detroit Tigers need to make in the off season. In fact the needs of the Tigers reads more like a newspaper's classified ad then anything else.
Wanted: One new manager. Must be able to manager a team of veterans that are one step away from a championship. Must be able to handle a pitching staff, especially in the late innings. Will be replacing a Hall of Famer who was loved by his team. Huge fan base to please so be prepared to be criticized. Please no smokers.
Despite Leyland's down falls, he did keep this team competitive since 2006. This could be as much because of the tools that Dombrowski and Mike Ilitch gave him to work with. I personally think he should have been able to do more with these teams but baseball is a funny game. There are lot's of suggestions being thrown around but only one seems like an obvious choice, Kirk Gibson. The problem is, he is not available and it is unsure if he even wants the job. The Tigers could look inside and their are plenty of options available. Lamont, Brookens and McClendon all have experience but none of them stand out as a great move. Dusty Baker is probably the biggest name out there, but he has a history of wrecking arms and like Leyland is known for not being able to win the big one. With the amount of talent on the current roster, they just need to bring in someone who won't lose them games.
Wanted: One left fielder. Left field was a weakness of this team all season. Jhonny Peralta gave them a bat out there in the postseason but was a defensive liability. He has expressed his willingness to play that position all season next year and if the Tigers thought he could improve before the end of spring training, they could choose to bring him back. It is possible that Nick Castellanos will be ready to make the leap next year, but will he live up to his potential. They could also choose to look to free agency to fill the position. A once beloved Detroit star in Curtis Granderson is a free agent this year and would make a great offensive and defensive outfield. But with the current payroll, it is doubtful they would want to pay his price.
Missing: One power hitting first baseman. Prince Fielder struggled through out the entire regular season and completely disappeared in the postseason. With a healthy Victor Martinez batting behind him and the Triple Crown winner in front of him, many thought Fielder would be an MVP candidate this year. He did have a surge at the end of the season to make it to 25 home runs and 100 RBI's, mostly due to his dedication to hitting to the opposite field. The Tigers need to find out what is missing in Fielder and get him hitting like the cleanup man they paid for. First step may be to get Prince to drop some weight and dedicating himself more during the off season.
Found and Lost: Looking for the lost future shortstop of the franchise. It says found and lost for a reason. Jose Iglesias was brought over to Detroit to one, replace a soon to be suspended Peralta and two, to be the shortstop of the future. At the time of the trade, Iglesias was batting well over 300 and was well on his way to a rookie of the year trophy. He looked completely worth the price tag of losing Baby Cabrera to a division rival. But after the trade to Detroit, his bat went cold and his magical glove made the error that ultimately ruined the Tigers chance at a World Series win. Hopefully it was just being uncomfortable with a new team and a full off season with the Tigers will bring the bat back to life.
Must Have: One hitting coach. The most important thing the Tigers need is a new hitting coach. Under Lloyd McClendon, the Tigers have been anything but clutch. The postseason put that in full display as they could not drive in a run to save their season. During the regular season the team would go cold for games at a time and would often look pitiful against poor pitching. Either he did not know how to fix hitters in a slump or he just came up with some really bad game plans. The Tigers showed exactly how much confidence they had with him when they brought in a second hitting coach in Toby Harrah. If you want more examples of Lloyd's inability to do his job, look at Iglesias's slump after coming to Detroit, Fielders decline and not being able to get Dirks to meet his potential. Inge and Rayburn were both inconsistent hitters in Detroit but both flourished once they landed with their new teams and Scott Sizemore was considered a can't miss hitting shortstop prospect but couldn't hit a thing once McClendon got his hands on him. The one triumph that he can claim is correcting Austin Jackson's swing. But he has not been able to keep it consistent. The only reason his job has been safe is because of his relationship with Leyland. With Leyland gone, Lloyd better start polishing up his resume.
Despite Leyland's over management and the short comings on the roster, the Tigers have been on the cusp of a World Series championship the last 3 years. The Tigers pitching kept the team above 500 this year and kept them alive much longer then they should have been in the post season. I believe the pitchers are in place in the bullpen, they just need to be used right. Giving Benoit a full season as a closer and a more mature and healthy Rondon, the back end of the bullpen is in great shape. With better management of the pitching staff and some clutch hitting, this team is still in great shape to make another run. Go Tigers!