- Phil Rogers
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With Gary Sheffield joining the defending pennant winner, the Tigers were poised for a huge season in 2007. But they hit the ground stumbling when Kenny Rogers was found to have a blood clot in spring training, and never really regained their footing.
Sheffield had seemed like a big addition but battled a shoulder injury all season, limiting his production. Brandon Inge and Ivan Rodriguez also failed to match their 2006 performance, negating terrific seasons from MVP candidate Magglio Ordonez, who won a great batting race with Ichiro Suzuki, and second-year center fielder Curtis Granderson.
The Tigers' pitching took a major step backward, in large part because of injuries to Rogers and set-up man Joel Zumaya. The extended playoff run in 2006 could have been a factor as well, with Detroit following the example of the 2005 White Sox in feeling the fatigue.
But Dave Dombrowski, the team's architect, remained as aggressive as ever, keeping the pedal to the metal in the draft and his other business. Jim Leyland should be willing to take a mulligan in 2008.
1. Closer. Todd Jones, who has accumulated 75 of Detroit's 90 saves the past two seasons, is the top free-agent concern for GM Dave Dombrowski. He's been a valuable leader for a young bullpen but is a risk at age 39.
2. Bullpen arms. Key set-up man Joel Zumaya will be sidelined until midseason in '08 after injuring his throwing shoulder while moving items during the California wildfires. With Zumaya battling injuries last season, the Tigers' bullpen finished with a 4.37 ERA, the fourth worst in the AL. Dombrowski will look to add an inexpensive piece or two.
3. Outfield depth. Craig Monroe's drop in productivity and Cameron Maybin's September stage fright contributed to left field being a weakness. The Tigers played 10 different guys out there, and they combined to hit .240 with 19 homers and the third-lowest OPS in the AL at the position.
A key replacement part for the pennant-winning team in 2006, Zach Miner became an afterthought in 2007. The right-hander could be used in a trade with a team needing pitching depth.
Never a guy who has had a firm spot, Marcus Thames is reaching a point in his career when he could be deemed expendable because of his increasing salary. He figures as a fourth outfielder if Maybin stays in the big leagues.
A five-tool player considered one of the top prospects in the minors -- Dombrowski called him the best he's ever seen -- Cameron Maybin couldn't deliver when he was promoted from Double-A at midseason. He wound up hitting only .143 in 20 games, which creates doubt about whether he's ready to play every day alongside Curtis Granderson and Magglio Ordonez.
A solid fielder who swings for the fences, first baseman Jeff Larish led the Eastern League with 28 home runs and 101 RBIs. The Tigers aren't looking to him for much help in the immediate future, however, shifting Carlos Guillen to first base instead.
As usual, Dombrowski moved quickly, trading for Edgar Renteria while other organizations were still holding meetings and trying to get ready for their offseason movement. That figures to be the biggest move Detroit will make, giving its front office time to spend fine-tuning items like bullpen help and the bench.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com. His book, "Say It's So," a story about the 2005 White Sox, is available at bookstores, through Amazon.com or by direct order from Triumph Books (800-222-4657).
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