The Detroit Tigers will, barring injury, enter the 2008 season with perhaps the most feared lineup from top to bottom. This is a team that had only four lineup regulars hit below .300 in 2007, and only one of those – DH Gary Sheffield – hit below .280. There should be plenty of Motown players drafted in the early and middle rounds.
Miguel Cabrera (3B): One of the best young hitters in the game (he’ll turn 25 this year), Cabrera’s offensive skills should translate well into the American League. The former Florida Marlin came over in a trade with Dontrelle Willis that saw the Tigers’ farm system take a hit, but as long as Cabrera continues to produce like he has, they won’t mind. His numbers from last season: .320 BA/.401 OBP/.565 SLG, 34 HR, 119 RBI, 38 2B. He’s also averaged 158 games over the last four seasons, so injury isn’t a concern. The only knocks on him? 127 strikeouts, and a bit of a defensive liability (23 errors last year). But if those would keep you from drafting him, you probably shouldn’t be playing fantasy baseball in the first place.
Magglio Ordonez (RF/DH): Last year, Mags established himself as one of the top hitters in all of baseball, posting a MLB-leading .363 batting average. The MVP runner-up also posted career-highs in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs and walks, so look for him to get picked up in the first couple of rounds. He doesn’t run like he used to and he has yet to eclipse 30 HR since 2002 (and while you can expect him to hit over .300, don’t expect him .363 again), but he’s still a first-rate player and top pick.
Curtis Granderson (CF): After registering (at least) 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases last year, look for Granderson to be picked up early in your draft. The Tigers certainly have faith that he’ll continue to produce – they signed him to a five-year extension worth a little over $30 million – and many fantasy owners will as well. Having set career highs in most major categories, Granderson looks to be a prime pickup, and rightfully so – how many players post high power numbers AND contribute to your team’s stolen bases? But buyer beware: he strikes out at a hefty rate, being fanned 141 times in 612 at-bats; also, his .302 batting clip is twenty points higher than his career BA, so whether he’ll continue to rake or opposing pitchers will figure him out will remain to be seen.
Justin Verlander (SP): Verlander continued to show improvement against AL batters last year, posting a 3.66 ERA (nearly a whole run below the league average), a 1.23 WHIP and finishing in the top five for Cy Young voting. His K/BB ratio has improved, and with Detroit’s lineup, he’ll get plenty of run support that would make him a legitimate 20-win candidate. I’m including him as a second-tier player because other SPs will likely be picked ahead of him (Santana, Peavy, Beckett, Sabathia, Webb, Bedard, Lackey, Mark Redman – just making sure you’re paying attention), but he’s a high second-tier player and probably won’t be around after the 6th round.
Carlos Guillen (1B): With the acquisition of Edgar Renteria, Guillen switches positions to 1B, a position that will likely place him lower in the draft due to the abundance of power-hitters like Ryan Howard, David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Albert Pujols and Derek Lee. However, he’s still a solid pick-up after having hit .296, 21 homers and 102 RBI; he also can put up double-digits in steals. His ability to play multiple infield positions would make him an attractive utility player.
Placido Polanco (2B): Polanco set a career high in average (.341) and played in his first All-Star Game last season, but it’s questionable if he’ll go much beyond his career average (.305) for a second year. He should continue to produce and hit for average, though there’s not much power or speed (9 HR, 7 SB). Also, he’s a slight risk due to some history of injury.
Gary Sheffield (DH): Injuries have slowed Sheffield’s playing time, though he’s still a strong hitter. He knocked 25 home runs last year and drew 84 walks in just under 500 ABs, and while his batting average was down (.265), his OBP and SLG were still respectable (.378 and .462). He’s still got some wheels, having swiped 22 stolen bases. While he’ll be 39 this year, fantasy owners will like him because of his offensive potential, especially hitting in this lineup.
Ivan Rodriguez (C): Pudge doesn’t hit for power like he used to, but he can still hit for average and will have plenty of RBI chances behind the likes of Renteria, Guillen and Sheffield. He’s still one of the better catchers of this 2008 class, though one that should be available long after the Big Ms – Russell Martin, Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, and Brian McCann – and some others have been chosen.
Todd Jones (RP): Saves are a coveted statistic in fantasy leagues, and Jones can bring ‘em. However, it’ll cost you in your ERA department, not to mention losses and WHIP. Since coming over to Detroit in 2006, he’s registered 75 saves, though with him, there’s never a dull moment. He also won’t offer too many strikeouts – 61 in 125.3 innings in the past two years.
The Great Debate
Edgar Renteria (SS): Renteria turned in two brilliant seasons in Atlanta, marred only by a late-season slump in 2006 and ankle injury in the second half of 2007. He doesn’t offer much in the way of power (12-15 homers) or speed (expect double digits, though his total diminished in Atlanta), but he should pick up a few more RBIs hitting lower in the Detroit order than his #2 spot in Atlanta. Potential owners should keep in mind his struggles the last time he played in the AL (2005 for the Red Sox), and he’s widely regarded as an NL-type player (good at bunts and moving runners over). Will he succeed this time or disappoint?
Dontrelle Willis (SP): Willis had his worst year in the majors last year, setting highs in ERA (5.17), losses (15), hits (241), runs (131), HR (29), walks (87), and WHIP (1.59) in 205.3 IP. He’ll also be pitching in the heavier-hitting American League, so many are questioning Willis’ effectiveness as a starter. A change of scenery to a contending team where he won’t be relied on to be the ace of the staff may be just what the doctor ordered.
Prospects to Watch
Recent trades have depleted the Tigers of their farm system. The major trade that imported Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis saw the Tigers bid adieu to outfielder Cameron Maybin, pitcher Andrew Miller and catcher Mike Rabelo (along with pitchers Eulogio de la Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop); Edgar Renteria’s arrival was at the expense of the departure of starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens (who had a strong showing late in the season for the Tigers) and speedy outfielder Gorkys Hernandez. Before the 2007 season, the Tigers sent three minor league pitchers to the Yankees for Gary Sheffield.
A few prospects to keep an eye on include Virgil Vasquez, a right-handed pitcher who had a rough time in three starts (0-1, 8.64 ERA in 16.2 IP) in 2007, but has good minor league numbers. Yorman Bazardo and Rick Porcello could see some time in the bullpen this year, and outfielder Brent Clevlen could make appearance at some point this summer.