The Detroit Tigers frustrating loss to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series wasn’t without plenty of scapegoats. Prince Fielder felt plenty of ire for his failure at the plate and on the bases, the performance of a shaky bullpen was under fire and Jim Leyland, of course, faced his share of questions before he announced his retirement on Monday.
A quiet problem most of the year, though, was production from the left field spot. Andy Dirks, Don Kelly and company didn’t get the job done all season, and that played a major role in the playoffs. From Dirks’ perspective, improvment was non-existent at the plate, and Kelly isn’t a quality major league player that can be counted on for a major role, as he’s proven time and again when starting.
Regardless of who ends up managing the Tigers or who managed them in 2013, production from left field was and might remain a problem for the lineup if an upgrade isn’t sought. Dirks and Kelly didn’t get the job done in time. Matt Tuiasosopo is more of a bit part player than Kelly. Jhonny Peralta, despite his apparent willingness to stay on and play left field, is not a capable outfielder and should not be considered a long term solution. Between the realistic options, Dirks’ .256 batting average and .323 OBP are the most solid numbers in the group. That’s downright scary for a team that wants to win.
Fortunately for Detroit, a perfect solution exists in the form of Jacoby Ellsbury, the Boston center fielder and impending free agent with representation from Scott Boras. Ellsbury would bring the ideal combination of speed and contact hitting to the top of Detroit’s order, as others like Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe have already noticed. Ellsbury can hit for a consistent average, can steal a base and brings more of the desired speed element that the Tigers so sorely lacked during the season and the playoffs.
Though the Tigers already have Austin Jackson in the fold, they could conceivably sign Ellsbury, explore a trade with Jackson and slot wunderkind Nick Castellanos in left field to start the 2013 season. Additionally, if that solution didn’t tickle their fancy, they could also keep Jackson and play either him or Ellsbury in left field and explore a trade of Nick Castellanos to fill some other holes, as it potentially relates to the bullpen or other spots. Should the Tigers keep Jackson, they could then slide him down in the order where he looked much more comfortable after the switch.
The Tigers likely won’t make huge changes or upgrades during the offseason, and even though he will likely cost a decent amount of money and a draft pick, Ellsbury is young enough at 30 and exactly the type of player that could take Detroit to the next level. Jackson has routinely failed to set the table during his tenure, and despite his revived play after a lineup switch during the playoffs, it would be best to either move him down the order for good or sell reasonably high on his talent.
A shakeup in the outfield is just what the Tigers need to start 2014 fresh and continue on an offseason of change. Considering the issue was one of the biggest which plagued the team in 2013, a resolution here would go a long way towards helping to solidify a roster still on the cusp of a championship.
In the final Talkin’ Tigers of the 2013 season, we use the Facebook Feedback segment to showcase a fan’s thank you to Jim Leyland, who retired Monday after eight successful years in Detroit.
Tommy Gee: He was great for our team, turned our team around and made them winners. But like most others have said, it is time to go and I hope the hitting coach (Lloyd McClendon) goes too so we can get someone in here to get (Prince) Fielder performing the way he should.
Leyland deserves so much credit for the Tigers’ turnaround. Like Tommy said, he made baseball relevant in Detroit again, showed a fantastic connection with the city and its fans while brining a winner to town in the meantime. That was an amazing accomplishment. Despite this, the time had come for Leyland to retire in his own mind. Credit him for not hanging on for another year if his spirit wasn’t in the game. Though Leyland’s approach will certainly be missed, like Tommy also stated, the positive flip side of this coin is some new voices should be coming to town. It will be interesting to see what the team can achieve given a new approach. Change, while sometimes unfortunate to lament, doesn’t always have to be deflating.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax