It’s time for baseball’s minter meetings, which means it’s once again time for Detroit Tigers’ fans to get ready to expect the unexpected. About the only thing which shouldn’t be expected this week is a trade of franchise mainstays like Miguel Cabrera or Justin Verlander.
Following a week in which Detroit stunningly dealt steady Doug Fister for a modest return and signed Joe Nathan to close, the Tigers now embark on the challenge of filling out their roster further to completion. The biggest remaining hole on that roster seems to be in left field, where Andy Dirks looks to be December’s prohibitive favorite to start on opening day, which is considered a nightmare to most.
Thankfully, though, there’s a long way to go between December 9 and March 31. As it stands today, left field is still the biggest concern of many on Detroit’s roster. Contrary to what Dave Dombrowski might be thinking, Dirks is not the player capable of assuming the full time role by himself, and a team which wants to seriously contend for a championship must realize that and make the necessary fix.
Whether the solution be a semi-undesirable platoon with a modest free agent like Rajai Davis, a trade for a bigger name such as Matt Kemp or Brett Gardner or a signing of a higher-priced free agent like Shin-Soo Choo, the move had better come this week. Over the weekend, Nate McLouth and Carlos Beltran, two options many had suggested Detroit consider were quickly snapped up by the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees respectively, proving this market will wait for nobody and patience might end up being the worst business virtue this week.
The Tigers need more help in the bullpen, and depending on their confidence in young Nick Castellanos, the team may also want to explore an upgrade at third base via a move for the reportedly available Chase Headley. Despite the possible needs elsewhere, the left field situation is the most combustible on the roster at this point in time, and must be treated such by Dombrowski. Last season, Dombrowski foolishly assumed that Bruce Rondon was ready for the closers role, and was quickly proven wrong. He cannot make the same mistake with Dirks, a player who’s batting average probably figures to top out between .265 and .275 at best with plenty of strikeouts mixed in with a full season of at-bats.
If the team mantra is still a title, Dirks must be replaced, or at the very least, have his potential impact minimized. Should Detroit consider keeping the rookie Castellanos on the roster, that would represent one major roster question mark going into 2014. A team looking to contend for a title can only afford to have one such question mark. If Castellanos doesn’t project as quickly planned, Austin Jackson remains hot and cold and the Tigers don’t make an upgrade in left with Dirks struggling, the offense will be in deep trouble. With the subtraction of Fister from the rotation and dependancies made on Rick Porcello to bounce back and Drew Smyly to transition into a starting role, that’s too much pressure to put on an entire roster.
Left field has to become one of the sure things if the Tigers want to set themselves up for success in 2014, and the best place to get this business done right, as always, is the winter meetings. Dombrowski’s first move should be settling down an offseason of questions by finding a reasonable answer in left field.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax