I don't know about you, but it seems to me like the past couple of months leading up to the start of the season have flown by. I think this may have been due to a combination of having all my enthusiasm extinguished for a period of about three weeks followed by it mostly coming back, followed by actually going to Lakeland. Anyways, with barely over a week until the season starts, the roster is starting to take shape as the Tigers announced a flurry of cuts yesterday, some surprising, some not. Max St. Pierre is not surprising at all, obviously. Fu Te Ni isn't all that surprising, even though he'd been having a decent spring, because he's not on the 40-man roster and there's enough other lefties pitching well. Clete Thomas had also been having a decent spring, but with all the other outfielders also doing well, he kind of got lost in the mix, and apparently he was granted an additional minor-league option because he was hurt most of last year. There's a lot of surprise about Robbie Weinhardt being sent down, and I have to say that I'm one of them. So if you're assuming that there will be seven guys in the bullpen (plus Phil Coke at the beginning of the season), we know that four spots are taken: Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, Ryan Perry, and Brad Thomas (Sorry, I know most of you aren't exactly enamored with him, but he would've had to have a complete meltdown of a spring to not make the team). And barring an implosion or injury, it looks like Daniel Schlereth's chances of making it into the bullpen are real good. That leaves two spots and three pitchers competing for them: Brayan Villarreal, Adam Wilk, and Enrique Gonzalez. All three of them are starters in the minor leagues, so any of them could fill that long relief role. As I've said before, my preference is for Villarreal to go to Toledo because I find his starting potential to be interesting, but I haven't actually seen him pitch yet and I'd love to have the chance to evaluate him before most of the rest of you guys see him. However, both Wilk and Gonzalez are non-roster invitees, so bringing either them north means someone else gets taken off the 40-man roster, and I'm not sure the Tigers want to ax two guys. The other possibility that's been floated around is that the Tigers will start the season with an 11-man pitching staff since they won't need five starters until the first homestand and so Phil Coke will start the season in the bullpen. That way, they can carry an extra position player until Coke's first start, at which time the position player can be sent down and another reliever (likely Weinhardt) will be brought up. I have no idea if they'll actually do this, but it makes sense if they decide to. And speaking of the position players, we have a winner in the second base competition. Congratulations to Will Rhymes. I have to admit that he's the one I was rooting for. I know Scott Sizemore theoretically has a higher ceiling, but he's yet to prove that in the majors (I'm sure he will once he's given the opportunity, but that doesn't have to be now). Mostly I prefer Rhymes because of the type of hitter that he is. The Tigers already have a bunch of power guys that bash the ball all over the ballpark. Rhymes has sort of that prototypical #2 hitter characteristic going for him. He's a left-handed contact hitter who has good speed and at the very least can move Austin Jackson along to be knocked in by the big bats behind him. And if it doesn't work, well, it's not like there's a shortage of second basemen on this team. At that point you can call Sizemore up and give him a shot (I'm leaving Guillen out of the conversation until there's an actual sign that he's close to returning, since he's got to be the slowest healer ever).
While we're talking about guys on the roster, I'll take a brief look at how our five starters are doing (and I mean "brief"). The only one who hasn't had a hiccup at one point or another is Justin Verlander (no complaints there). I haven't seen him yet (because he pitched the day I arrived in Lakeland and he hasn't been on anyone's TV broadcast yet), but all reports indicate that his stuff looks good. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello started out strong but more recently they've both wobbled a bit (oddly enough, their wobbles started right around the same time). They were both better in their last outings, although their walk totals were still a little too high (three walks in less than five innings isn't quite the definition of sharp). Phil Coke's outings recently have been a little strange, and I guess his are the most easily questioned since he is the one making the transition to starter. However, I noticed firsthand in Lakeland that if he gets hit around early, he is capable of making adjustments, which is a quality you need in a starting pitcher, so I'm actually feeling better about him than I once was. Brad Penny was the starter on Fox Sports Detroit's broadcast yesterday, and I may have issues this season. And this may turn out to not even be related to effectiveness or who I'd rather see in his place. Penny is SLOW. I mean glacier slow. He makes Rafael Betancourt look like a speed demon. On the bright side, if I happen to work on a night where Penny is pitching, I'll know that I'll have a good chance of catching at least four innings when I get home.
Maybe it's the fact that spring training is winding down and writers are getting tired of all those preview-type stories they have to write, but I've been noticing a lot of silly mistakes recently. However, none have been as bad as SBN Cleveland's Tigers preview. Now, as far as SBN is concerned, I mostly hang around Bless You Boys (and the writing is terrific there), but from the little bit of the other sites I've seen, the writers have generally been fair-minded and accurate. I've never looked at any of the Cleveland teams, however, and I hope this is a fluke, because otherwise it speaks very badly of their writers. In this article, they make their case that the Tigers might not be the contenders most people think they are because there are a lot of holes. I don't mind the fact that they're criticizing the Tigers. After all, I think the Tigers are a good team that certainly should contend but I also see potential for a repeat of 2008. What I take issue with is that SBN Cleveland has gotten an amazing number of things just flat-out wrong. First of all, they describe Miguel Cabrera as a "part-time" first baseman. Since when? Cabrera made 148 starts at first base last year and only two as DH. That doesn't sound very "part-time" to me. Second, they consistently use the plural word "basemen" when they're only talking about one person. Along the same line, Jhonny Peralta played for the Indians for many years, and yet they still spelled his name wrong (technically, you could make the argument that they actually spelled it correctly, but you know what I mean). They seemed to have missed the memo that Phil Coke is now a starter because they say the Tigers have a "fifth starter by committee" (Granted, there's the possibility that may happen, but not right away). And the discussion of contracts is also screwy. They say Brad Penny is on a $7.5 million contract, when in reality it's $3 million guaranteed plus $3 million in incentives. That $7.5 million contract was with the Cardinals last year. Then they discuss Magglio Ordoñez and how he "almost made 18 million last year even though he hasn't played a full season since 2008." First of all, Magglio's option for 2011 was $15 million not $18 million. Second, it was a vesting option. If he'd played the entire season, there wouldn't have been a choice in the matter. This article makes it sound like Magglio was asking for $18 million in a new contract for this year, which makes no sense. Now, one mistake or even two is okay. Goodness knows I've done that before. However, I counted at least six and possibly more, and these six points make up the bulk of their argument. Messing up that many times really hurts your credibility. The Tigers have a lot of holes? Maybe, but they don't have as many as this article does. I suppose I should just be glad that they didn't bring up Cabrera's DUI arrest.
Lost Boys Update: I wasn't going to update on Pudge and Armando so soon, but there have been developments since the last post and in the case of Galarraga, it ties in nicely with my complaints in the previous paragraph. It appears that Venezuelan writers are not immune to not fact-checking, although this time it's mostly made me confused. The Venezuelan newspaper Lider reported this morning that Galarraga had lost the battle for the fifth starter spot to Barry Enright and that the Diamondbacks were trying to decide what to do with him. The problem with this statement is that the Diamondbacks have more than one rotation spot open. According to MLB.com, there's still at least one spot still open, possibly two (since Kirk Gibson will not guarantee Joe Saunders a spot just yet), so he's still in a battle with Aaron Heilman, presumably (I did see where Heilman's spring ERA is almost six, so it's not as if he's doing all that stellar, either). However, this may not be just a simple case of lack of fact-checking, because Cesar Marquez, who wrote the article, tweeted a quote from Armando that basically translates to "I want to remain a starter, but I'm a professional and it's up to me to work hard to return to the rotation." Note that he specifically said "return" and not "stay" or "remain" (and I know I'm translating the word "volver" correctly as "to return"). He seems to think he's on the outside looking in. The way his spring has gone, I can understand why. Actually, his last couple outings have been really strange. He'll start an inning by giving up a bunch of runs and then he'll retire, like, the next eight hitters in a row or something. From what I've read, it sounds like he's still battling the confidence issue. They say that his stuff looks really good, but he's got to get it into the strike zone more often. Meanwhile, the Nationals apparently want Wilson Ramos to be the starting catcher, so they tried to trade Pudge to the Red Sox but the Red Sox weren't interested. Hey, I have no strong feeling toward the Nationals either way, so if they don't want Pudge as the starter, then I'm all for trading him to a team that wants him to be the starting catcher (so long as that team isn't the Red Sox, any AL Central team that isn't Detroit, or a team where 7 is retired or in use by a top-line player, because seeing him in 12 or 77 just seems wrong). I just find it annoying that both these guys are fighting for their starting lives. By the way, I will NOT be giving daily updates on these two during the season. I may bring them up on a slow news day or an off-day or if I really need to post something, but it's not going to be a regular occurrence.