Being a fan of an AL Central team that finishes just below the Twins year after year , I've come to learn an important lesson about major league baseball: when it's all said and done, you win with pitching. The Twins put out rosters with Nick Puntos, Jason Bartletts, and Jason Kubels littered throughout their lineup, and yet still compete for the division crown every year.
After watching the sweep of the Tigers at the hand of the Rays, I am fully convinced the Tigers should model their franchise after the Twins. Or at least I believe pitching should be their #1 priority every off-season and draft. I know it's July, but I'm considering this season lost. From now through opening day 2011, Detroit has some major decisions to make. In my opinion, management should go about the club this way:
- They have to figure out NOW whether Worth, Rhymes, Sizemore, Avila (just give him the starting job already, Laird's gone after this year) and even Boesch are going to be a part of the team's long-term future. Play them as much as possible. If these guy can develop and get comfortable in the bigs, if even at an adequate level, we can stay competitive next year and feel safe with them as key players. Think future Santiago's and Inge's. If we could get Worth and Sizemore/Rhymes to hit .265 over time, I'd take that middle infield over their careers easy.
- Get deals done: I think you have to keep Inge around. As for Maggs, I think he'll stay too. These guys have been in the playoffs before, they know what it takes. And, I'm not so sure we could field an MLB-status lineup if we don't re-sign them or go get a FA. As for Damon, I think the decision with him lies in how the young guys perform. Most likely, we'll want him back too for another one-year deal, as long as he's fine with it.
- Sign a pitcher, or two, or three. I don't care if we keep Bonderman around for cheap or let him go, but the staff is one or two reliable guys away from keeping this team competitive all season long. That's it. I think that if the players know the pitcher will keep them in games, it gives them a reason to stay focused day in, day out. Provided Leyland doesn't randomly rest half the lineup every game. Tim Hudson, Brandon Webb, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly...all these guys are potentially out there.
- Draft well and develop talent, most important. Ordonez, Guillen, Damon won't be around much longer. We need guys like Wells, Streiby, and Frazier to come through in a big way soon, ala Boesch.
Ideally, the young guys figure it out, and we have a young nucleus of Ajax, Cabrera, Boesch, Sizemore, Avila. With the vets staying strong and a rotation of Verlander, Free Agent, Scherzer, Porcello, Oliver?, we have the makings of a team that could compete in the present and the future.
Being relatively young and not being a Lions fan, I'm new to this optimistic look-towards-next-year approach, but I think the first wo years of the RR era has gotten me used to it.