Where They Stand: Detroit Tigers | Sharapova's Thigh

Jeremy Bonderman's shoulder needs to be 100% for the Tigers to compete in the AL Central.

Since we're all huge baseball fans here at the Thigh, we've decided to examine each MLB team and where they currently stand. We'll look at how the team did last year, changes that happened or could happen with the team this offseason, and how it looks like the team will do in 2009 as of now. We'll even toss in the hottest thigh associated with each team. In this edition, we look at the Detroit Tigers.

2008 Outcome:
74-88, 5th(Last) Place In The AL Central, 14.5 Games Behind The White Sox.

What They've Lost: SS Edgar Renteria(Signed With Giants), OF Matt Joyce(Traded To Rays), RP Todd Jones(Retired), SP Kenny Rogers(Retired), RP Kyle Farnsworth(Signed With Royals), Aquilino Lopez(Non-Tendered, Free Agent).

What They've Added: RP Brandon Lyon(1 Year, $4.25 Million), Acquired SP Edwin Jackson(From Rays), Acquired C Gerald Laird(From Rangers), Signed SS Adam Everett(1 Year, $1 Million), Signed C Matt Treanor(1 Year, $750 K), Signed RP Juan Rincon(Minor League Deal), Signed RP Scott Williamson(Minor League Deal), Signed P Fu-Te Ni From Taiwan(Minor League Deal).

Needs: Much better pitching. The #5 spot in the rotation is not settled, and the bullpen is a major question mark. More than anything though, they need pitchers like Jeremy Bonderman and Joel Zumaya to be healthy.

The Talk: The Tigers were baseball's most disappointing team in 2008. Many experts picked them to win the World Series, and most at the very least expected them to win the AL Central(not me I had the Indians, who also disappointed) or AL Wild Card. With additions such as Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and Dontrelle Willis to a roster already full of some All-Star players, it was easy to understand why.

Going into the season, their lineup on paper looked like one of the best we've ever seen. They ended up being in the AL's top five in most offensive categories, but their pitching staff was so bad that they finished minus-36 in run differential, and nowhere close to making the playoffs.

To improve the pitching staff, the Tigers signed reliever Brandon Lyon and traded for starter Edwin Jackson. Lyon was signed to be the team closer after saving 26 games in 29 chances for the Diamondbacks in 2008. The Tigers hope he can be more like the pitcher that had a 2.68 ERA in 2007 than the one that had a 4.70 ERA last season. He only had a 2.43 ERA prior to the All-Star break, but after that had an 8.46 ERA and allowed a batting average of .381. Yikes. Still, the Tigers' leaders in saves in 2008 were Todd Jones with 18 saves, and Fernando Rodney with 13. They combined to blow a whopping nine saves in 40 chances, so Lyon the Tigers understandably feel Lyon will be a nice upgrade there.

To acquire Edwin Jackson, the Tigers had to give up promising 24-year-old outfielder Matt Joyce, who had 12 homers and an .831 OPS in just 277 plate appearances in 2008. For a team desperate for pitching though, it made sense. The 25-year-old Jackson finally put it together this past season for the Rays, winning 14 games and posting a 4.42 ERA in the loaded AL East. He has electric stuff, which is why he was considered one of, if not the top pitching prospect in baseball while in the minor leagues with the Dodgers. If he can keep pitching like he did last season, he'll be a great addition to the starting rotation. It appears that he will be the #4 starter.

The rest of the rotation will feature Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Armando Galarraga, and either Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, or Zach Miner. The now 26-year-old Verlander was a monumental disappointment in 2008. He went 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA in 2006, and 18-6 with a 3.66 ERA in 2007. With more experience under his belt and a great lineup, naturally people were predicting 20 wins from him. He ended up going 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA. In .2 less innings pitched than in 2007, he walked 20 more batters and struck out 20 less in 2008. He's already walked four batters in five Spring Training innings as well, so this is a cause for concern.

Jeremy Bonderman's right shoulder(his throwing arm) is one of the main storylines of this offseason. He had an MRI on it in the last couple days after feeling soreness. The MRI showed there is nothing wrong and he should be back on the mound soon. Still, they won't want to rush the 26-year-old's valuable arm back into serious competition, so it's possible he doesn't pitch right when the season starts. He only pitched 12 games in 2008 after having surgery to remove a rib that had led to a blood clot, and losing a guy that had won double-digit games in the previous four seasons was devastating to the Detroit ballclub.

Their best starting pitcher was a complete shock to everybody. Armando Galarraga went 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA after being an average pitcher in the minors and getting rocked in 8.2 innings pitched in 2007. The 28 home runs allowed in 178.2 innings pitched are a worrisome stat, but overall you can't complain about too much so far with him.

Dontrelle Willis' 2008 problems were well-documented. He started 7 games for the Tigers and walked a ridiculously high 35 batters in just 24 innings, with an ERA of 9.38. Reports were he'd looked good throwing in Spring Training in the last couple weeks, but struggled in his two starts. Since he's making $10 million this year, obviously the Tigers would like him to be the one to win the #5 spott in the rotation, but he better start impressing soon.

In the bullpen, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are likely to be setting up closer Brandon Lyon. Zumaya throws harder than anybody in baseball, but he can't seem to stay healthy. He's coming off shoulder surgery, but is already pitching and it appears he'll be ready by opening day. Rodney struck out 49 hitters in 40.1 innings last year, but also walked 30. His control had never been a problem in the past though so look for him to improve there.

As for the position players, Edgar Renteria was a huge bust after being acquired from the Braves for pitcher Jair Jurrjens(who you could argue pitched better than any of the Tigers' starters) and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez prior to the 2008 season. Rather than gambling that the shortstop whose skills are clearly declining has a bounceback season, the Tigers declined his $12 million option for 2009 and paid a $3 million buyout. They then signed shortstop Adam Everett to be his replacement. He won't have much better than a .600 OPS at the plate, but will be an upgrade defensively.

At catcher, they've added Gerald Laird and Matt Treanor. Laird's a solid catcher that will finally have a situation where he knows he's the #1 catcher, and the veteran Treanor is a very capable backup.

Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter in the lineup and one of the best hitters in the game. It's crazy that he'll just be turning 26 in April. In his career he's batting .309 with a .922 OPS, is averaging 32 homers, and 120 RBI. Also in the lineup is outfielder Magglio Ordonez who you can mark down for a .300 batting average, 20+ homers, and 100+ RBI. They're usually batting with guys on base since terrific tablesetters Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco are ahead of them.

Free Agent Signing/Trade Prediction: Lynn Henning of The Detroit News wrote on Valentine's Day that he expects a trade to be coming for the Tigers:

I'd be surprised if the Tigers didn't make some kind of trade, perhaps a big one, before the end of spring camp.

The team could -- could -- be staring at an excess of starting pitchers if Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis perform reliably, which is hardly a stretch. Both have had a history of 200-inning seasons and that record was not fatally wounded by last year's Robertson-Willis crisis.
Thames is a definite possibility as an add-on in any future trade for a starter. So, too, could be Ryan Raburn, who always has been considered a perfect National League player because of his versatility.
Link(The Detroit News)

Personally, I just can't see them dealing away pitchers right now. Pitching depth is a great thing to have, especially when you were horrible in that area the previous season. The idea of trading Marcus Thames definitely makes sense though as there's a lot of teams that would love his power off the bench. Thames had 25 homers in 316 at bats in 2008, and had an .877 OPS against lefties.

Young Player(s) To Make 2009 Impact: IF Jeff Larish, RP Ryan Perry.

Many of you probably remember Jeff Larish from his days at Arizona State. He slipped to the fifth round of the 2005 MLB Draft, but has hit for a lot of power in the minors and looking a bit like the star he was in college. He got 111 plate appearances for the Tigers last season, batting .260 with 2 homers. He has a great chance to make the team out of Spring Training, and if so should get a fair amount of time at third base, first base, and as a designated hitter.

Ryan Perry was a member of Larish's rival Arizona Wildcats, and was the Tigers' first round pick in 2008. It appears the reliever has an outside chance to make the team out of Spring Training, but look for him to make the team at some point this season at least, especially if Zumaya for example were to go down with another injury which is a good bet.

2009 Outlook: Baseball Prospectus projects the Tigers finish with a record of 80-82, finishing in second place. I think that's a fair projection. With many question marks in the starting rotation and bullpen, it's hard to predict they'll do too much better than that. They're certainly capable of it though with their terrific lineup. Justin Verlander regaining his pre-2008 form, and a healthy Jeremy Bonderman can turn this rotation from an atrocious one, to a pretty darn good one. If that can happen, there's no reason they can't win the division. Last year's team was probably the most talented 74-win team in baseball history.

Hottest Thigh Association: Misty May.

Tip of the cap to Ian at "Bless You Boys" for this suggestion. Misty is the wife of new Tigers catcher Matt Treanor, who is the guy with her in the picture as you could probably guess! The 31-year-old is a volleyball player who just won a gold medal competing for our United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. She's a little bit on the fringe of hotness, a little too muscular in the thigh for my liking. However, when it's gold medal-winning thigh, it definitely makes a nice difference on the hotness scale.

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