Mike Illitch is laying down the gauntlet – albeit possibly inadvertently. In an interview with Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press, Mike Illitch is quoted as saying "We're going to do whatever we've got to do."
That says it all folks. The Detroit Tigers – led by owner Mike Illitch – are prepared to make the moves necessary to keep this team in first place and push for another American League pennant, and possibly a World Series title.
The following is an open letter as to how this can be accomplished:
There are numerous areas of the roster that require attention, most notably the starting rotation. Start by admitting that Dontrelle Willis is done. D-O-N-E. Done. There is little sense trying to get cute by converting him to the outfield or sending him on another minor league rehab assignment; he's too far gone for that. Just cut ties, let him go, and chalk up the remainder of his contract as a cost of acquiring and signing your superstar first baseman Miguel Cabrera. In the end, it's still worth it.
Second, admit that both Carlos Guillen and Jeremy Bonderman are done for the year. Move them both to the 60-day disabled list, and make better use of the two 40-man roster spots. If by some freak scenario either player appears ready to return to the lineup later this year, the sixty days will have expired sometime in August, and you can make the move with ease.
Next, recognize that you simply can't survive with Dane Sardinha playing more than about once every ten days, and that you can't do that because you have a catcher in Gerald Laird who requires a more substantial caddy.
Decide if you plan to even attempt to get anything of value out of Nate Robertson over the remainder of his contract, or are you just sitting on him and the roster space he is occupying.
If it is the former, then let's figure out what that value might be. Are there actually plans to try him as a starter again when Rick Porcello starts to push a perceived innings limit later this year? Are there plans to try and help him evolve into a reasonable bullpen lefty – though drastically overpaid in that role? Or maybe there are plans to try and find another team with a bad contract that you can swap out and try to resurrect another project. If any of these are the plan, fine, but let's get moving on that plan and make it happen sooner than later; for the betterment of the team.
If they are just sitting on him without a plan forward, then let's end it now. Cut bait, walk away, you're already committed to paying the money, and you've got no clue what to do. That should be a clue in and of itself.
Lastly, along with Willis, the huge gorilla sitting in the corner of every office over at Comerica Park is the status of Magglio Ordonez. Though it hurts because of his memorable moments in a Tiger uniform, the money still owed this year, and the fact that there is no doubt he is trying his best, it is time to let the ‘baseball people' make a serious decision about his ability to perform at a league average level.
If the talent evaluators in this organization are even slightly skeptical of his ability to perform at that level for the remainder of this season, then they absolutely must say good bye. I know it hurts, but he's owed too much money in 2010 and 2011, and that money is attached to his playing time. This team can't afford to be hamstrung like that.
Moving onto to the actual solutions, we'll start back at the top of the list. Dontrelle Willis is done – I believe this has been firmly established. You now have a rotation slot that requires filling. If there don't appear to be viable trade partners at this early juncture, then there are a multitude of options available as you wait out the trade market.
Luke French has been doing his best impression of a viable prospective Major League starter. The traditional numbers look good, as do the peripheral numbers.
Chris Lambert has begun to turn things around after a rough start to the season at Toledo, and while he's no great shakes, he's certainly a viable fifth starter on a good club; particularly if only for a short duration.
The Tigers thought enough of Alfredo Figaro to protect him in December's Rule 5 draft, and after some rough starts in the middle, he's gone back to absolutely dominating the Double-A Eastern League.
All three of these options are already on the 40-man roster, and would simply require a quick phone call and either a bus or plane ticket to Detroit.
Beyond those three, additional options such as Eddie Bonine, Luis Marte, and Brooks Brown could easily consume the 40-man roster spot vacated by the departure of Dontrelle Willis. Depending on your vantage point, all three could conceivably be considered viable options for a turn or two through the rotation as well.
If the acquisition of a starter via trade doesn't materialize, the organization is not lacking for options among minor league pitchers that are capable of working in the back of a rotation, and that depth must be exploited.
By moving Guillen and Bonderman to the 60-day disabled list, we are provided several opportunities to help the roster. You have room to add players from the minor leagues as needed to help rest the rotation, fill in for injured players, or simply give them a shot as the team requires. In addition, there is added flexibility in adding talent to the Major League roster by trading prospects from off the 40-man roster, without having to sacrifice another player by subjecting them to waivers. While this is a seemingly subtle move, it is a keen roster management decision that can pay significant dividends later this summer.
Along with the recognition that Dane Sardinha is not even a suitable Major League backup given that to atone for his grand ineptitude at the plate, he would need to be one of the all-time great defenders (which he is most certainly not), comes the recognition that Alex Avila is in fact your catcher of the future.
Throughout the seasons first ten weeks, it has been quite clear that the organization had every intent to allow Dusty Ryan to get everyday at-bats in Triple-A as part of his preparation for a larger Major League role down the line. Scrap that. Alex Avila's bat and improving glove are your ticket to an answer behind the dish.
Get on with the program and designate Sardinha for assignment, allowing Dusty Ryan to assume his role as the Tigers backup catcher of the future – err, backup catcher of the present and future. Even without full development, Ryan at least provides above-average defense, along with the threat of a discernable eye and power at the plate.
At this point, I assume there is some rough outline of a plan for Nate Robertson. I really don't have the slightest hint as to what that plan may be, but I assume there is one there. With that assumption in tow, I think he has to remain on the roster for the time being, and the ultimate solution to the ‘Robertson issue' may not be fully devised until the off-season.
If the decision is that Magglio Ordonez has simply begun the quick decent that comes at the back end of many careers, then there are still options for this team to find the punch he has previously provided. Players throughout baseball have been bandied about as potential trade targets, including the likes of Aubrey Huff, Hank Blalock, Luke Scott, and Adam Dunn.
A move of this nature would fit with General Manager Dave Dombrowski's past philosophies; draft pitching, pitching, and more pitching, and trade some of the excess for what you need at the big league level. While the Tigers may lack excess premium pitching talent, they certainly have a healthy stable of high ceiling power arms at all levels of the system, and that is something many teams covet as a return in trade.
If a trade is not in the cards, players like Wilkin Ramirez, Casper Wells, and Jeff Larish could all be viable options to provide that thunder to the lineup. Wells has returned with a vengeance after his wrist injury, and Ramirez continues to show well in Toledo after his brief cameo on Detroit.
If you take the roster as currently constituted, and subtract Dontrelle Willis, Dane Sardinha, and possibly Nate Robertson and/or Magglio Ordonez, the potential is there to transform the roster into a team better positioned for success both this season and in 2010 and beyond. Even if each subtraction from the roster is countered by only a promotion from within, the Tigers have the options and flexibility available to them, to make it work if they are willing to shuffle the roster and make moves.
With a front three to the rotation like Verlander, Jackson, and Porcello, combined with an offense led by Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, and the resurgent Brandon Inge, this team has the talent to continue winning. I am confident that the path to that continued winning, and potentially the path to the World Series starts with the moves outlined above.
Mike Illitch, Dave Dombrowski, Al Avila, and the rest of the decision makers in the Tigers' front office have the power and know-how to make this team a winner in 2009 – or should I say to continue the current winning of 2009. Make the moves. Make it happen.