WTNYFebruary 03, 2004
The Blues Continue in Motown
By Bryan Smith

Ivan Rodriguez finally signed with the Tigers, a topic I've been hesitant to comment on for the last few weeks. This is largely because I didn't believe it would happen, I mean, from the World Series to Motown? Pudge is the player that almost single-handedly beat the Giants, teared up my Cubbies, and played an instrumental role in the David over Goliath win over the Yankees. And now, he'll need another big season just to get the Tigers out of the MLB cellar.

This is one of the top five greatest catchers in history, signing out of necessity (no one else really wanted him) to one of the top five worst teams in history. This shouldn't happen, and it's a signal of the future that the MLB economic system is headed down. I would love to pick the brain of a team executive or agent on this subject, so if any are reading (which they aren't), e-mail me (bryball@hotmail.com). The middle (or even lower) class teams can sign big-name free agents, although many are players that were passed on by the Yankees or Red Sox or Mets.

Many of my articles follow Rob Neyer, who seems to write transaction analysis articles minutes after the AP posts it. Neyer pointed out how catchers don't age well, and the upper echelon of catchers have fallen apart (30% decrease) in their 32-35 seasons. And yes, there is more than history to believe that Pudge isn't going to be worth $40M down the road.

First of all, there is the fact that Pudge only hit 3...THREE home runs after the All-Star Break. He didn't hit one after September 10, nor any between August 6 and 9/10. He also only posted a .779OPS away from home, as Pro Player Stadium actually proved to favor a few hitters in 2003. Pudge came to camp totally fit and with a chip on his shoulder a year ago, but how much does he still have to prove to us? He's in the Hall of Fame, he has an MVP, more Gold Gloves than one could imagine, and a World Series ring. If he's hoping to turn around this team, he's mistaken.

There's no question the Tigers will be better next year, I mean, Dave Dombrowski has at least been active this offseason. Here is a look at the team that Tiger fans should, at the very least, be able to identify with next season:

C- Pudge Rodriguez
1B- Carlos Pena
2B- Fernando Vina
SS- Carlos Guillen
3B- Eric Munson
LF- Rondell White
CF- Alex Sanchez
RF- Bobby Higginson
DH- Dmitri Young
Bench: Mike Diefelice, Chris Shelton, Omar Infante, Greg Norton, Craig Monroe

1. Jason Johnson
2. Mike Maroth
3. Nate Cornejo
4. Jeremy Bonderman
5. Esteban Yan

CL- Fernando Rodney
SU- Franklyn German
SU- Matt Anderson
RH- Al Levine
LH- Jamie Walker
MR- Danny Patterson

Well, I can at least say that I know they will be improved next year. The team will surely sport the anti-OBP Sanchez and Vina atop their order, yet I can hardly say that I support such a notion. The 3-4-5 of Ivan Rodriguez, Dmitri Young and Rondell White should be fairly productive, followed by Eric Munson, Carlos Guillen, and Carlos Pena. All three have solid potential, and I think Munson could become a 30HR threat this season, although a reader reminded me of Kevin Mench (whom I thought the same about) yesterday. Pudge should give a drop off from his 2003 stats, and Higginson is a waste of space, I'd much rather have Cody Ross and Craig Monroe fill that void.

The pitching will be improved, as experience usually has such an effect. Jason Johnson will profit from moving to Comerica Park, although Nate Cornejo pitches like his ERA should be above 5.00. Mike Maroth, despite the losses, was the best pitcher on last year's staff, and should improve from not competing against aces this year. Who knows if Jeremy Bonderman will ever reach his one-time potential, and the Esteban Yan experiment is a crap shoot if I ever heard of one.

The bullpen could, and I use that term lightly, be imposing. I like Fernando and Franklyn at the end of games, and Jamie Walker is one of the better LOOGYs in baseball. Matt Anderson and Danny Patterson once had juice in their system, and Al Levine is not about to hurt anyone out there.

Detroit will be an improved team next year, and the Motor City fans will find players they can cheer about. However the lack of anything vaguely resembling a farm system will hurt them down the road, as the Tigers won't be in the playoffs in the next five years...or anything even close to it. But, Pudge may bring the team to the promised land...fourth place!