What the Tigers Should Do

by Greg Sullivan

The Tigers are closer to being a contender than most people think. But there's a difference between being close to contending and actually being a contender, and in a division that includes the White Sox and Indians, the Tigers have some work to do before they can make the playoffs.

The first step that the Tigers have to take is one that they almost certainly won't take, but they need to get Juan Gonzalez out of town. He doesn't want to be there, he's got a creaky back, and Comerica Park wasn't exactly built with him in mind. GM Randy Smith just needs to bite the bullet on this one, accept the fact that he made a bad trade to get Gonzalez in the first place, and tell him to take a hike.

Getting Gonzalez out of Detroit helps the Tigers in three ways. First, it saves a lot of money that can be used to fill other needs through free agency. Second, it gets the statistically-obsessed Gonzalez out of the clubhouse and away from this fairly young and impressionable lineup desperately seeking a leader. Finally, it allows the Tigers to focus on building a team that can work in Comerica Park - one based on pitching, speed, and defense.

They need look no further than the 2000 Seattle Mariners to see how they should build their team. The Mariners, who moved into a big, new park and lost lost Ken Griffey, Jr. to a pre-season trade, proceeded to come within two wins of the World Series due largely in part to a strong, deep pitching staff, a strong bullpen, and a speedy lineup that could hit for average.

That being said, the Tigers shouldn't go after any of the big four free agents. As they saw last year with Gonzalez, the quick fix often doesn't work, and they need to plug holes more than they need to add a superstar. Second tier free agent pitchers such as lefty Denny Neagle and/or Michigan native Pat Hentgen would be a good place for the Tigers to start, since they might lose Hideo Nomo and had a suspect rotation for most of last season anyway.

After shoring up the rotation, the Tigers need to fine tune a batting order that was too dependent on power last season. Tony Clark should be dealt for whatever bullpen help he can fetch. The two free agents the Tigers should pursue on offense are David Segui and Tony Gwynn. Both Gwynn and Segui would be well-suited for Comerica as hitters, where they could use the whole field. Segui is a better fielder than Clark and Gwynn, when healthy, is a better hitter than just about anyone and would make an ideal DH.

As far as their own free agents, Hal Morris and Willie Blair can leave town with Gonzo, but the club should keep Gregg Jeffries or Rich Becker as a reserve outfielder or DH if Gwynn isn't healthy.

That takes care of most of the Tigers' short-term problems, but one more player, preferably an outfielder who could lead off, would complete the mix. The solution is simple - sign Rickey Henderson.

When you finish laughing at the thought that anyone would sign Rickey at this point, you can hear the real solution - trade for Johnny Damon. Sure, the Tigers would have to beat out just about every other team in baseball to get him, but they could offer a package of pitching that includes Todd Jones, as the Royals need a closer and Jones' value has never been higher, and Brian Moehler, while most teams are still bidding against each other for the big name free agents.

As for the closer's role after that, they can sign someone like Tom Gordon for the time being, until the flame-throwing Matt Anderson is ready to take over the job full-time.

Plan B:

Sign Gonzo and move in the fences.

2001 Suggested 25-man roster:

LF - Johnny Damon
CF - Juan Encarnacion
RF - Bobby Higginson
3B - Dean Palmer
1B - David Segui
DH - Tony Gwynn
2B - Damion Easley
C - Brad Ausmus
SS - Deivi Cruz

C - Javier Cardona
IN - Robert Fick
IN - Shane Halter
OF - Rich Becker
OF - Wendell Magee

Denny Neagle
Jeff Weaver
Dave Mlicki
Pat Hentgen
Steve Sparks

Tom Gordon
Matt Anderson
CJ Nitkowski
Danny Patterson
Travis Miller
Nelson Cruz

Send Sully your opinions, comments or verbal abuse at sully@JBaseball.

© 2000 JBaseball

"How can you not be romantic about baseball?" - Moneyball.