Hot Stove Daily: Detroit Tigers
Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Detroit Tigers.
2008 record: 74-88
Finish: Last in AL Central, 14½ games behind the Chicago White Sox
2008 opening-day payroll: $138 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $135 million
Or as the case may be (and certainly by the standards of last winter), idleness.
The Tigers a year ago were the hot pick to win their division and battle the Boston Red Sox for AL supremacy after trading for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis and jacking up their payroll to $138 million (actually leading to some offseason action a few weeks back, namely writing a $1.3 million luxury tax check).
They finished last, of course, and spectacularly, meaning now is the time for solutions because the 2006 World Series buzz is gone and no one's coming to the park to see a team that couldn't catch the ball, throw it or put it in play with runners in scoring position.
So they dumped some old guys. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez, shortstop Edgar Renteria, closer Todd Jones and starter Kenny Rogers either are playing somewhere else or retired. Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez was fired because nobody could explain what happened to Justin Verlander or Nate Robertson. He was replaced by Rick Knapp, hired out of the Twins' system.
Manager Jim Leyland was allowed to stick around, but in another development that qualifies as inaction, he goes into 2009 with only one season left on his contract.
And despite a bullpen that generally made the last four innings worse than the first five, the Tigers so far have passed on what was a decent market for closers.
Instead, general manager Dave Dombrowski, who once built a winner out of nothing in Detroit and certainly can make something of this, has kept his moves small. Adam Everett takes over at shortstop, Gerald Laird at catcher. Edwin Jackson, who found organizational love and strike-zone consistency in Tampa Bay, takes a place in the rotation after Verlander, Armando Galarraga and, the Tigers hope, Jeremy Bonderman.
Another year like the last one and they'll be paying Dombrowski to break up the ballclub he assembled, starting with the manager.
It'll ride with the pitching staff. Management was convinced its core starters had amassed too many innings the previous two seasons and therefore backed off their spring training workload. A couple of months into '08, that strategy clearly hadn't worked, everybody's fastball still was a little sluggish, and the season was gone.
Now they need Verlander to be the guy who averaged 17½ wins in his first two seasons, not the one who lost 17 in his third one.
Now they need Bonderman to come back from circulatory surgery. And Robertson from whatever the heck happened to him.
Now, after watching other organizations make the big plays on Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood, J.J. Putz, Trevor Hoffman and the like, they need Fernando Rodney to point that big fastball and fabulous changeup at the catcher's mitt in the ninth inning. Either that, or get lucky with Jason Isringhausen or Tom Gordon.
Now they need Dontrelle Willis to, oh, just be a big-league pitcher again.
There's more, of course. Brandon Inge gets third base, but it would be nice if he hit, too. Miguel Cabrera led the league in home runs, which was fair considering the $152 million contract extension, but it would be nice – really nice – if he hit a few more of those in the first three months. It's about Gary Sheffield's health and potential walk years for him, Magglio Ordonez and Placido Polanco, and it's about having a few things go right after a season in which everything went wrong.
Next: St. Louis Cardinals