I wanted to answer Daily Fungo Mike’s 17 questions. But that’s quite a few to do in one setting. So I present you the first of however many sessions it takes to opine on the topics that the Tigers might try to answer this offseason. (Or you can read Big Al’s responses, they’re all at once)
- Who’s the closer in 2009?
I’ll say it’s someone in the system right now. I’m about 90% confident in that. Also, this is the correct move. Yes, I know the Tigers lack for a good closer and good bullpen. But I also firmly believe you can’t go out and throw money around to get a good bullpen. You develop from within or pick up some unknown guys at a fair rate, and you’ll probably do just as good or better as money-wasteful teams.
But as there’s no heir apparent to Todd Jones, it will likely come down to spring training. I think the consensus pick is Freddy Dolsi will be strongly in the running. We could also see Fernando Rodney, who has redeemed himself after starting off so poorly in the closer role. But heck, it could be someone else in the system like Casey Fien for all we know.
It’s way too early to hazard an accurate guess, I’d say.
- Does Chuck Hernandez return as pitching coach?
No. I don’t know if he’s as to blame as a lot of fans like to think. I think a pitching coach looks good when his players perform well and bad when they don’t. Like a manager, he gets too much acclaim or blame based on the talent given him. And Chuck Hernandez is getting too much blame. But I think he’s fired as a scapegoat, because you know Mike Illitch will be looking for one.
To me, the problem seems to be more system-wide than just the major league club. A lot of Detroit Tigers have gone down with injury. Some freak (Kenny Rogers’ and Jeremy Bonderman’s bloodclots, Joel Zumaya dropping a box on his shoulder), some not (Bonderman’s elbow, Zumaya’s assorted other problems.) Meanwhile you have the manager using the star pitcher for 130 pitches. Maybe the pitching coach disagrees with that as much as many fans do. And then we have guys who were traded away like Humberto Sanchez, once a stud prospect who had to have Tommy John Surgery. I don’t know. Honestly. It seems to be a bigger problem than Mr. Hernandez.
But on the other hand, the Tigers pitchers just weren’t properly prepared to begin the season. Is that the pitching coach? The manager? The system?
But short answer: he won’t be back.
- Is Nate Robertson a Tiger next season?
Robertson is clearly a Tiger. He likely can’t be traded. Even if he could be traded, his value is probably near record-low, as he has a lot of money hanging over his head (at least $17M), and a pretty ugly season to go with it.
The Tigers should go into 2009 with one sure start: Justin Verlander. After that, the next four guys have to earn their spots, be they Armando Galarraga, Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman (if he’s healthy enough by then), Zach Miner or anyone other than a big free-agent acquisition (also a bad idea if he wants more than 4 years on his contract, maybe even a bad idea at four years!)
And if Robertson can’t cut it as a starter, I’m more than happy to entertain the thought he could go out there and battle for an inning or two at a time. In fact, I hazard a guess he’d make a pretty darn good reliever. I think Dontrelle Willis would make a great late-innings guy, too. (Hey, maybe he’s the answer to the first question!)
Robertson has a spot on this team, and likely, it’s as a valuable contributer to the bullpen. And to me, that’s not a demotion. To the pitcher, maybe*. But all I care about is team wins, and that’s what I suspect the players would profess to caring about as well. Besides, Robertson will earn a nice living and his family is set either way.
*That contract calls for Robertson to earn an extra million in 2010 if he pitches 200 innings in 2009 or 400 combined in 2008-09.