Prince on board, but Tigers still have needs

Can Miguel Cabrera man the hot corner with confidence in 2012? (Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press)

Yes, the Tigers have Prince Fielder. They have Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. They do not have Victor Martinez. Let’s move on. There’s a lot of work to do, namely in these places:

  • A 2B troupe of Ramon Santiago/Ryan Raburn at second is a $4.2 million investment in the unknown; Santiago struggling as an everyday second-basemen, Raburn’s traditionally inconsistent. It should be said, though: Santiago is a solid middle-infield glove and Raburn provides a bit of pop.
  • Fith starter. Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and a pitcher TBA. After today’s comments to the Detroit News, Dave Dombrowski sounds “most likely set” on his position players but seems content with the idea of letting rookie Jacob Turner vie for the spot. When asked about the possibility of picking up a veteran to fill the role Dombrowski said, “There’s a chance it may not happen — which is fine.”
  • Third base: MLB Trade Rumors reported yesterday that “executives and scouts” around the league have little or no confidence in Cabrera defensing the hot corner. Platooning Brandon Inge/Don Kelly is a crapshoot. It makes more sense defensively, but in 2011, they produced the following numbers: .221/.278/.610 in 526 combined at-bats.
  • No DH: Prince is on board, and a lot of Tigers fans are excited, but big-time contracts don’t always make immediate sense. The Tigers haven’t solved their Victor Martinez/DH problem, and with Fielder’s addition/Cabrera at third, defense has taken a big hit.
  • Brandon Inge is not happy. (It won’t be long before Detroit finds something to name a curse after.)
  • Gene LaMont didn’t land a job in Boston, so it’s likely he’ll reprise his role stopping runners from rounding third base (and scoring). LaMont is Jim Leyland’s right-hand man and probably deserving of another managerial position. While it’s nice to have two skippers on your team, one wonders whether LaMont will be wearing a stop-sign for a hat during the 2012 season.
  • Lead-off hitter: Austin Jackson saw his sophomore slump – .249 BA with an OBP of .317 is hardly what the Tigers were looking for in their table-setter. On the other hand, this says nothing about his range in center field. In 2011, Jackson showed flashes of brilliance and signs that his outfield arm is improving.
  • Speed/Stolen Bases: Last year, the Tigers were the American League’s worst in stolen bases (49). With Cabrera moving to third and Prince Fielder now on first, Detroit will have to find another way to mobilize runners. Sure, there’s more pop on the corners, but with a likely 3-4-5 order of Cabrera, Fielder and Delmon Young, speed is an immediate concern.

With all of this, the Tigers are favored to win the AL Central, but this might also have to do with the division’s overall weakness. This isn’t to say the Tigers haven’t made good moves this offseason; they’ve shown their seriousness by committing to the fourth largest contract in baseball history. Mike Ilitch is a serious business man and wants a ring now. I’d be surprised if another check isn’t written before pitchers and catchers report in two weeks.

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