Catching up with the Detroit Tigers: Bless You Boys

This off-season The Nats Blog will be conducting interviews with sites from all thirty teams. One team a week leading up to the start of the 2011 baseball season. This week I spoke with Kurt Mensching from Bless You Boys, one of the top Detroit Tigers blogs on the net to talk about the teams recent moves and future expectations.

TNB: Adam Dunn has been linked to the Tigers since the mid-season trade deadline. What would his addition mean to the Tigers lineup, and more specifically Miguel Cabrera?

Bless You Boys: It would have been some protection for Miguel Cabrera — which was sorely needed in the second half of last year when Brennan Boesch fell off a table and provided none at all for Cabrera — but obviously since the question was provided to me the Tigers signed Victor Martinez. What that means for Dunn is that the Tigers will be out of the running for him, as they view Martinez as a DH as well as a catcher. Martinez should provide the same level of protection Dunn would have. He won’t hit for as much power, but he put the ball into play more and hits for a better average from both sides of the plate. So that’s a nice bit of insurance behind Cabrera.

TNB: Speaking of Cabrera, he has been an absolute machine since his arrival to Detroit. Looking back on what you gave up to the Marlins, how big of a steal was he?

Bless You Boys: I don’t think you can call it a huge steal because Cabrera was going to be paid a lot of money and he’s currently under a $152 million contract. Basically, the Tigers paid the Marlins six minor leaguers to get a guarantee of two years of Cabrera and a nice negotiation window for the possibility of more.  The minor leaguers did not pan out for the Marlins, not a surprise given some flaws in their game that we first noticed in Detroit. The Tigers ponied up the cash it would cost to retain Cabrera. Obviously as Tigers fans we’re happy with the results, and we’re glad we have five more years — minimum — of watching Cabrera.

TNB: What can we expect from AL Rookie of the Year runner up Austin Jackson?

Bless You Boys: We know he’s going to maintain his above-average defense. Defense doesn’t take a play off. So half his game is secure. The big problem with Jackson is that his offensive game is so driven by his batting average because he doesn’t have a lot of power, doesn’t walk enough and strikes out a bit too much. His near-.300 batting average was driven by a lot of luck on balls in play. Even though he’s a speedy, line-drive batter it’s pretty reasonable to expect a step back next year in that respect. He’ll be a good player, but even if he improves he’ll probably see worse results and a lower average.

TNB: Despite 2010 being the “Year of the Pitcher”, we didn’t hear a lot from Justin Verlander even though he had another fantastic season. Where would you rank him among the Roy Halladay’s and Cliff Lee’s of the league?

Bless You Boys: Verlander clearly belongs with the aces. But at this stage of his career he doesn’t belong on the same line as Halladay, Lee or Felix Hernandez. There’s a good chance he gets there, but not yet. Where he ranks right now is still good. He struck out more than 200 batters for a second consecutive year to become the first Tiger to do that since Jack Morris. He pitches a boatload of innings and he serves as a stopper. He’s an incredible player. We’re just waiting for him to make the next step.

TNB: The Tigers have loads of talent on their roster. What has been holding the team back from becoming a serious contender?

Bless You Boys: In the past, the talent level just wasn’t quite there. I mean, you can make a good argument it was there in 2008 but so many things went wrong that year. Baseball is so fickle, it’s hard to absorb too many injuries and down years at once. I’d say the key thing is that the pitching hasn’t been good enough. You can’t just have one or two good pitchers, you need three or four to truly be a contender for your league’s title. Detroit still isn’t there in 2011, but when you combine Verlander, Max Scherzer, a maturin Rick Porcello and a future that includes frontline prospects Jacob Turner and Casey Crosby, as well as a No. 3-level Andy Oliver, it looks like everything could come together for the Tigers in the next year or two. They’ll compete in 2011. We’ll just have to see if they can find enough pitching help between now and the end of the season to win the division.