Hot Stove Helper: Lyons and Tigers and Lairds, oh my

Throughout January and February, we're reviewing offseason MLB transactions that have fantasy implications, and we're going team-by-team. This isn't quite like Hot Stove Daily, though. The focus here is limited. We're only looking at ownable fantasy players who've found new employers.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers entered 2008 as the AL Central favorite, boasting new slugger Miguel Cabrera and arguably the best offense on paper in the Junior Circuit. The offense turned out to be very good if not dominant – Cabrera and friends got hot in the second half and eventually rolled up 821 runs and 200 homers – but a horror show on the mound torpedoed the favorites and landed them in the division basement. GM Dave Dombrowski wasn’t able to make a lot of changes to the pitching staff over the winter, so the Tigers once again will need to outslug opponents if they’re going to dream about playoff contention.

Let’s have a look at the major transactions affecting the 2009 club:

Signed RP Brandon Lyon to a one-year contract

The Tigers haven’t promised their closing job to Lyon, but it’s not difficult to connect the dots here. First and foremost, Detroit is paying the journeyman reliever $4.25 million for the year – that’s more than you’d pay someone earmarked for a set-up role. And let’s not forget how Jim Leyland likes to play the ninth inning; he’s most comfortable handing the ball to a veteran who can throw strikes, and Lyon, for all of his foibles, is a pounder of the strike zone. Contrast that to the competition: Fernando Rodney (great stuff, no clue where it’s going) and Joel Zumaya (inexperienced, wild, coming off shoulder surgery). If Lyon doesn’t make a mess of spring training, he’ll become the new ninth-inning guy in Motown.

Traded for SP Edwin Jackson

Don’t let those pretty 14 wins fool you, Jackson didn’t really come all that far in 2008. His 4.42 ERA was a real Houdini act given his bloated 1.51 ratio, and the league hit .281 against him. Jackson was able to address his career-long control problem, dropping his walks down to 3.78 per nine innings, but his strikeout rate (5.3/9) flattened at the same time. Memories of his minor-league press clippings keep getting hazier and hazier.

Traded for C Gerald Laird

Don’t make the knee-jerk assumption that Laird’s bat will fizzle now that he’s away from the Arlington undertow; he produced better stats on the road in two of the last three seasons. Laird isn’t going to make anyone forget the prime years of Lance Parrish, but he’s got job security in Detroit and is capable of a sneaky little .270-10-55 season, the type of return you’d be happy to land in an AL-only league. He’ll need to play his way into our mixed-league plans, but we’ll at least put him on the radar to start the season.

Signed SS Adam Everett to a one-year contract

You can understand why the Tigers quickly tired of Edgar Renteria, he of the declining bat speed and slipping range. Everett still is a plus defender, that’s great, but he’s basically useless when he’s asked to take a spot in the batter’s box (his three-year line reads .233/.286/.331). The top six hitters in the Detroit order figure to produce plenty of runs on their own, but Everett’s automatic out in the No. 9 spot could wear out it’s welcome before the summer is over.

Other Tiger Tales: Curtis Granderson made significant strides against left-handed pitching last year and a hand injury held back his counting stats. I consider him a sleeper MVP candidate and someone that offers major profit potential in 2009 ... It took a while for Cabrera to get fully comfortable in the American League, but he was a one-man wrecking crew in the second half (21 homers, 70 RBIs, .951 OPS over 68 games). Go ahead and take him as early as you like, you’ll get no argument from me . . . Carlos Guillen is a professional hitter and a team-first guy who’s been classy while the Tigers move him all around the diamond, but he’s also missed a chunk of playing time in four of the last six years and that’s a hard trend to be staring at now that he’s 33 ... The 27 home runs Brandon Inge hit in 2006 might have come at a cost; he’s hit just .236 and .205 the last few seasons, in part because he’s become pull-happy with his swing. Inge is set to start at third in 2009 and he’s carrying catcher eligibility from last summer, but there’s too much average risk here to get excited ... Ask 10 people on Justin Verlander’s 2009 prognosis and you might get 10 different answers. Last year’s line is a monumental disappointment for someone of his ability, but I’m trusting what I saw with my eyes – his velocity didn’t look compromised to me, there wasn’t an injury here – and calling for a notable step forward ... Trading for Dontrelle Willis last winter was bad enough, but why did the Tigers have to tack on a contract extension before he ever threw a pitch for the ballclub? Those high-maintenance mechanics need to be completely overhauled, and I doubt he’ll be a fantasy factor in 2009, if ever again.


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