WTNYJanuary 19, 2004
Baseball After Football Sunday
By Bryan Smith

It has been really hard for me to sit down and write this column because, well, nothing is going on in the baseball world. I'm sorry, but the signings of Rey Ordonez, Reggie Taylor, and Edgar Huerta don't really inspire me to write. There are some exciting long-term negotiations being discussed between Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, and Kerry Wood with the Cubs. On Thursday, Maels Rodriguez and Yobal Duenas will try out for teams, so Maels negotiations should fly through the roof.

Another happening of note is that the Detroit Tigers offered Pudge Rodriguez a four-year, $40M contract. Some say Pudge allowed the Tigers to get in the process to increase the Cubs offer, but Jim Hendry has called Boras' bluff. This is the best offer that Pudge is going to get anywhere, and I'm not exactly sure he's worth it.

Last year, Rodriguez was actually better in Pro Player Stadium, with his numbers declining to .279/.336/.443 on the road. Right-handers have started to get the best of him, as he only hit .274/.340/.444 against them last season. While he had a fantastic post season, Rodriguez declined in the second half, hitting only .294/.361/.417. In fact, Pudge only hit three home runs in the second half, during which time he had 218AB. Yes, that number should scare teams away, although the Tigers don't exactly have a lot to replace.

One of the reasons behind the Tigers ghastly performance in 2003, was the pitiful job done by their backstops. The catchers for Detroit hit a combined .190/.243/.308, led by the ever-terrible forgotten prospect Brandon Inge. Inge was the only of four catchers the Tigers had to hit above .200, although during 330AB, he hit only .203. The team chose Chris Shelton first overall in the Rule V Draft, although teams see Matt LeCroy in Shelton, so he won't get much time catching in 2004.

If the Rodriguez acquisition were to go through, Dave Dambrowski will have likely improved his team in four positions. Here are the lines for C, 2B, SS, and LF, of which the Tigers will/might have Rodriguez, Vina, Guillen, and Rondell White next season:

C- .190/.243/.308
2B- .253/.307/.350
SS- .220/.283/.282
LF- .244/.294/.480

And here are the lines of the four "replacements"...

Rodriguez- .297/.369/.474
Vina- .251/.309/.382
Guillen- .276/.359/.394
White- .289/.341/.488

Those four represent vast improvements, as they combined for something along the lines of .278/.355/.435, compared to the Tigers 2003 foursome of about .227/.282/.355. Also, consider that Dmitri Young, the Tigers lone All-Star whom hit .297/.372/.537 will now have all his at-bats in the DH slot, which accumulated a .270/.341/.440 line a year ago. Dave Dambrowski is hoping to see improvements from Carlos Pena and Eric Munson, while accepting that Alex Sanchez and the Bobby Higginson/Craig Monroe spots of the lineup will hurt the team.

As for Munson, I'm excited to see if his bat will catch up with the potential it once had. Remember, Munson hit 53HR in 1100 minor league AB, giving scouts much to drool over. Last year, the converted third basemen hit .240/.312/.441 in his first extended test of the Major Leagues. Yet, there was still potential within his bat. Munson showed a definite platoonable split, hitting only .208/.299/.377 in 77AB against southpaws. Fifteen of his eighteen home runs came against right-handers, and in only 236AB. Although he got injured, Eric was starting to turn it on as the season went on. Excusing a July slump, Munson improved with each month:

April: .175/.273/.333
May: .256/.344/.423
June: .291/.321/.506
July: .206/.316/.444
August: .273/.294/.545

So not including his July slump, Munson's OPS improved in each month, as he got more used to Major League life. I expect big things in 2004, especially 30HR. A .260/.330/.500 line is not out of his grasp. For you fantasy baseball competitiors, Munson is actually not a bad bench option to have, if not just for his power.

Dambrowski also improved the rotation this off season, recently signing Jason Johnson to a two-year contract. While Johnson's potential isn't very high, it hasn't been matched yet. His career GB/FB ratio of 1.05 wasn't great for Camden Yards, but will suffice in the spacious Comerica Park. Johnson succeeded with a high WHIP last season, which isn't the greatest indicator for future success. But, Jason has done well against most (excluding the White Sox) of his AL Central foes in recent seasons, and that move will help considerably. While I think Johnson's ERA will rise from 4.19 next season, he should pitch better than he did in 2003, and give hope for a promising 2005.

The rest of the rotation is up for grabs, with only Mike Maroth also guaranteed a spot. The final three slots will be a battle with Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Cornejo, Wil Ledezma, Matt Roney, Nate Robertson, Gary Knotts and more competiting for. The team is going to have to live and learn with Bonderman, and I imagine Trammell will pick Nate Cornejo, whom almost was the Tiger All-Star last season. Ledezma has the most promising future of the bunch, but he and Rule V partner Matt Roney struggled mightily in the few starts they were given. Robertson and Knotts didn't impress either, so really, it's a crapshoot. Anyways, don't be surprised if the team makes another stupid decision, hurrying the likes of Kenny Baugh or Preston Larrison.

The final piece of the puzzle is the bullpen, which I think could be good in 2004. I like the idea of Fernando (Rodney) & Franklyn (German) finishing games, as the two large guys can bring a lot of heat. As can Matt Anderson, whom may or may not be ready to get back to the pitcher he once was. Veterans Danny Patterson and Al Levine will solidify the right-handed situation. Knotts, Chris Spurling, and Chris Mears will also fight for slots. Left-hander Jamie Walker is a damn good LOOGY, as lefties only got on base 25.4% of the time last season.

So, there you go. I didn't know where I was headed when I started the article, but then went on a 1,000 word rant on the Tigers. In conclusion, I give you there newly updated depth chart (with Pudge), which unfortunately, doesn't have Cody Ross on it.

Starting Lineup
1. Fernando Vina- 2B
2. Carlos Guillen- SS
3. Pudge Rodriguez- C
4. Dmitri Young- DH
5. Rondell White- LF
6. Carlos Pena- 1B
7. Eric Munson- 3B
8. Bobby Higginson- RF
9. Alex Sanchez- CF

1. Mike Diefelice- C
2. Chris Shelton- C/1B
3. Greg Norton- 1B/3B/OF
4. Craig Monroe- OF
5. Pablo Ozuna/Omar Infante- MI

Starting Rotation
1. Jason Johnson- RH
2. Mike Maroth- LH
3. Jeremy Bonderman- RH
4. Nate Cornejo- RH
5. Wil Ledezma- LH

1. Fernando Rodney- RH
2. Franklyn German- RH
3. Matt Anderson- RH
4. Danny Patterson- RH
5. Al Levine- RH
6. Jamie Walker- LH
7. Chris Mears- RH

And while this whole article was about free agent Pudge Rodriguez, Walt Jocketty announced today the team will not be pursuing other top free agent Greg Maddux, who has seen his market decline more and more. I'm going to step out on a limb here and say either Pudge or Mad-Dog ends up with my Cubbies.