Sunday, July 31, 2011

Free agent additions parts Detroit Lions needed

My column in Monday's Oakland Press:


What I really thought about Jacob Turner's major league debut

Jacob Turner was as good as advertised in his major league debut Saturday. He had poise. He worked his breaking ball well. Most of all, he had command of the baseball. He wasn't wild like a lot of young pitchers when they make their major league debut. It was impressive the way he worked his way out of jams.
It's not a stretch Baseball America continually ranks him very high on its list of the top prospects in all of baseball. I see him as having a higher upside than Rick Porcello or Max Scherzer, who have combined to win 22 games so far this season and been underrated, in my opinion, by many Tiger fans.
But Turner is limited by what he can do in the major leagues at this point. It was embarrassing to see Angel base runners take off like that. His changeup needs a lot of work. There is not as much difference in its velocity from his other offerings to be an effective pitch in the major leagues.
While there is a lot of life on his fastball, Turner didn't display a real blazer. He was mostly in the low 90s.
But the Tigers were wise to hang onto Turner. If he stays healthy, it's not difficult to imagine him as a top-of-the-rotation starter in the near future.
And to perhaps get another spot start or two before the season is over.

Video by Matthew Mowery


Trade made Tigers better, but at what cost?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Why I think the Tigers trade is risky

It's not that I don't think Doug Fister won't help the Tigers. I believe he will. I think David Pauley is an underrated part of the trade. The Tigers badly need backend relief help.
It may pan out in the end. But make no mistake about it - it was costly.
Francisco Martinez is the best position prospect in the Tigers'organization. There is risk he will comeback and haunt the Tigers to a big degree in the future.
That he is performing as well as he is as a 20-year-old in the Double-A Eastern League is an indication of a high ceiling.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tigers bullpen woes fall on Dombrowski

There have been many times this season when manager Jim Leyland has been criticized for the way he has handled the bullpen, but in reality, the culprit for the Tigers' relief pitching troubles has been general manager Dave Dombrowski.
In truth, Leyland hasn't had much to choose from.
The Tigers' farm system simply has not procured quality relief pitching. Nor has Dombrowski been able to garner effective relievers from elsewhere that were not costly.
The Tigers have four quality relievers. One is a high-priced free agent closer, Jose Valverde. Another is a high-priced free agent setup man, Joaquin Benoit. Phil Coke was acquired as a part of an expensive trade involving a premier player, Curtis Granderson. The only exception is Alberto Albuquerque, a journeyman minor leaguer the Tigers discovered in the Dominican winter league. And he's often been unavailable lately because of an arm ailment.
Two factors have killed the Tigers' bullpen this season. One was Dombrowski's decision to re-sign Joel Zumaya to a one-year, $1.4 million contract despite his history of injuries. It was risk that obviously didn't pay off. Another has been the lack of development by Ryan Perry, a first round draft choice from 2008. He has been, to say the least, undependable and is at Toledo.
The Tigers' first four selections that year were college relievers. Second-rounder Cody Satterwhite and third-rounder Scott Green missed last season with injuries and have just returned. Satterwhite is still in the rookie Gulf Coast League, but at least is throwing again. Green has moved up to the short-season New York-Penn League and has a 7.71 ERA in two appearances after pitching mostly in the Gulf Coast League this season. The Tigers traded fourth-round pick Brett Jacobson to Baltimore for Aubrey Huff. He has since been traded to the Twins organization. He has a 4.78 ERA in Double-A.
Dombrowski's theory is that the best bullpens are developed within - and I agree with that premise. But the Tigers aren't developing relievers. Look at the revolving door from the minor leagues this season. Lester Oliveros, Brayan Villarreal, Adam Wilk, Robbie Weinhardt. Those are your homegrown products.
Dombrowski did trade for David Purcey. He was OK for awhile. Lately, though, home plate umpires keep repeating the name of a famous baseball book when Purcey has been on the mound.
"Ball Four."
Winning a division, even one as lame as this version of the A.L. Central, is extraordinarily difficult without bullpen depth. It why you end up with Chance Ruffin making his major league debut with the bases loaded. It's a constant game of throwing stuff on the wall to see what sticks.
I've heard over and over from Tigers fans, "How could Leyland put that (name the reliever) in that situation."
Answer: Because he didn't have a choice.
That's not necessarily on Jim Leyland, but his general manager.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

On Lions signing Durant, Tigers Avila's slump and why history is with the Vikings McNabb

Justin Durant is an excellent tackler and can play outside or inside linebacker. He does fill the Lions needs at one linebacker, but there is a downside. It's injuries. He missed nearly a full season (14) games with various injuries during his four years with Jacksonville.
This will be an excellent signing for the Lions - about as good as they are going to do at this position - if he can stay healthy.
And they need one more starting caliber player linebacker. I have to admit Nick Barnett is interesting. Some have viewed him as an underachiever in his career. I haven't. He's been a terrific player. But I do wonder how much he has left in the tank at 30 after missing most of last season. Stephen Tulloch obviously would work, but is in demand.

- Alex Avila has slumped mightily in July. He is hitting .175 with just three extra base hits, all doubles, in 57 at bats. He hasn't driven in a run since June 30.
Avila has made some great adjustments from last season when he struggled, especially taking outside pitches to the opposite field. Obviously, he catches a lot of games and it can wear down a player, especially given the unusually hot weather this month. I also feel there is a leveling off process. Avila isn't as good a hitter as his numbers in April, May and June suggested. It isn't his spot in the batting order. He drove in 46 runs in those three months hitting in the bottom third of the order.
But I do think he is a better hitter than he displayed last season after making the necessary adjustments. As the season moves on, it's likely he will find a middle ground.

- We've seen a lot of quarterbacks go to Minnesota and resurrect their careers. Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Brett Favre. Can't help but think Donovan McNabb will be next.


The Lions are better, but how much better?

My latest column for The Oakland Press:


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

If not this year for the Tigers, when?

The Tigers win over the White Sox Tuesday was one of those that separates contenders from pretenders, and in some sense displayed the difference between the two clubs this season.
The Tigers have been on the brink of falling apart a couple times. They have survived. Look at all the last games of 3-game series they have won after dropping the first two? Another factor is Justin Verlander. He has been incredibly clutch. Twice this season, during the late innings in Chicago, he has delivered 100 mph fastballs to stick daggers in the collective heart of the White Sox, who just continue to flounder. Anybody holding their breath for that team to wake up? Or the Twins? The comeback seems improbable this time. The Indians? They have hung in there reasonably well. But compare the two teams player-by-player and the Tigers are better.
The Tigers should win this division. Actually, running away. The A.L. Central is a mess. Owner Mike Ilitch has made it clear what he is thinking without exactly saying what he is thinking at the Kris Draper retirement press conference.
We're all thinking the same way, aren't we?
It's time for Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski to deliver.
For if not this year, when?


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Defending Jim Leyland's decision to bring in Chance Ruffin

In the Twitter world Monday night, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was roundly criticized for bringing in Chance Ruffin with the bases loaded.
It was his major league debut. Ruffin gave up a hit there, and a couple home runs later. The Tigers lost the game to the White Sox.
But I didn't have an issue with Leyland's decision.
Ruffin was a lower draft pick (48th overall) in 2010, who was expected to reach the major leagues quickly. He has much better "stuff" than the back end of the Tigers' bullpen. He is not some young kid. He'll be 23 in a little less than a month. He throws hard - in the mid 90s. He has good bite on his breaking ball. He's from a high-profile college program - Texas. His father, Bruce, was a major league pitcher. He is better prepared for the pressure cooker of the big leagues than the vast majority of players making their major league debut.
The trade deadline is less than a week away. The Tigers need to find out whether this kid can help them, or whether they need to deal for bullpen help.
And they were trying to win the game, but knowing you can't use Phil Coke, Alberto Albuquerque and Joaquin Benoit every night. The other options weren't very good - Charles Furbush or David Purcey, the latter who has struggled with control. Or Lester Oliveros, who the Tigers sent down to make room for Ruffin. Remember, it was just the fifth inning.
This notion Leyland risked damaging this kid's psyche beyond repair is ridiculous. The key to playing in the major leagues, especially for a relief pitcher, is the ability to bounce back. The best are unshakable in that regard. The worst don't last long. Ruffin either has that inside him or he doesn't.
He isn't a fragile water glass you have to keep out of the dishwasher (there's a bad analogy for you).
Now as far as Leyland's decision to play Ryan Raburn at third base, that's a different story. He got away with it Monday, but in my opinion, playing Raburn at third is a recipe for disaster.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Where do the Lions go from here?

On Tigers Peralta making like Tram, the Lions and Johnathan Joseph - and Max and Porcello

I will be the first to agree that Jhonny Peralta isn't the second coming of Alan Trammell, but he is doing a pretty good impersonation of Tram even at his best.
Peralta is on pace this season to hit .322 with 26 home runs and 95 RBI. In his entire 20-year major league career, Trammell topped those numbers just one time in each category - when he had his best season in 1987 by lifting the Tigers on his back and carrying them to the American League East title. It was, by the way, their last division championship. Tram's stats in '87: .343-28-105. Peralta's OPS this season is .911; Trammell's in '87 .953.
Peralta has also been very good in the field. It wasn't just a good trade by Dave Dombrowski to acquire Peralta, it was a great trade.

- Johnathan Joseph is a tremendous football player, who is in his prime and has been under the radar for a number of years because he's played for the low-profile Bengals. The salary cap when the NFL returns is not going to be unlimited, but Joseph would likely be the best cornerback who might be in the Lions' price range. Two problems with Joseph, though.
One is injuries. He missed four games in 2010 and eight games in 2008 because of injuries. When he played the full season in 2009, he ranked just about any corner in the NFL.
Two, Joseph was one of the Bengals who got into trouble off the field. He was charged with marijuana possession in 2007.

- There is all this moaning about the Tigers' starting pitching, but Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have combined to go 21-11. They can't be that bad.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bottom Line: The Lions are about Matthew Stafford this season

My column in Monday's Oakland Press:


Saturday, July 23, 2011

The sun will shine the brightest on Kurt Richardson and his Clarkston Wolves someday soon

My column in Sunday's Oakland Press


Friday, July 22, 2011

On the Tigers' biggest need, Verlander and Pistons hiring Lawrence Frank

I think the Tigers can mix and match with the fifth starter spot the rest of the season. I feel bullpen depth is their biggest area of concern because other than Justin Verlander, their starters are 6-inning pitchers. Rick Porcello is averaging 5 2-3 innings per start, Max Scherzer just under six and Brad Penny 6 1-3. And that's before you factor in the fifth starter.

- Jared Weaver has better statistics than Justin Verlander. That's just a fact. But they are only slightly better, and there is no way Weaver has meant as much to the Angels as Verlander has to the Tigers. Nearly a fifth of the Tigers' victories this season - 10 - have been decisions won by Verlander following Detroit losses. He's picked up the club time after time this season.
I think Weaver is terrific. Don't get me wrong. But who has better "stuff." Who would you take in one game right now?
I'd take Verlander. He is why, if the Tigers somehow get to the postseason, they have a fighting chance to surprise in a series or two.

- I would have taken Mike Woodson over Lawrence Frank as Pistons' head coach. One of the problems the Pistons have had is controlling players. Woodson's status as a former player of note would help him in that regard. Also, I didn't think Frank did that well in New Jersey. He completely lost his last Nets' team and was more of a media darling than an actual success. If the Pistons wanted Brian Hill, John Kuester's top assistant last season, they should have just named him head coach. Hill and Frank are obviously closely tied.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Inge saved his career by accepting reassignment to Toledo

Brandon Inge has enough money to last a lifetime - and those of his children. He doesn't have to play baseball anymore. Maybe it's just he genuinely loves the game.
Anyway, by accepting the Tigers reassignment to Triple-A Toledo, he is keeping his career alive. He wasn't going to land anywhere else in the major leagues if he declined re-assignment, which most players in his spot do.
What I find interesting is there are a number of fans who strongly believe Inge will return to the Tigers. There are others who are disappointed the Tigers didn't just give him his outright release.
Toledo represents the perfect compromise. He can work on finding his batting stroke there. The Tigers have a lot of money invested in Inge. It would be worth it to them to give him a second chance - one that unlikely would come from another organization.
None of it will matter, though, if he can't hit.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Betemit deal could go either way in terms of impact for the Tigers

Wilson Betemit is a streak hitter, who if he gets hot, will help the Tigers a lot. If he doesn't, he is not going to much of factor. It's like flipping a coin. He could either direction, but will unlikely be in the middle.
Betemit has to hit to be effective. He is a far below-average defense player - especially at third base - and on a team lacking range defensively, he only adds to the issue.
But in the bigger picture, is an upgrade from Brandon Inge? Absolutely. Put it this way. There is no way he will be as bad or worse. He is also much better player than Donald Kelly, who would get exposed badly were he to play every day at third base for the Tigers.
As for Inge's future, it's not out of the realm of possibility a club will trade for him - but for virtually nothing in return, and only if the Tigers' pick up his contract other than the required minimum portion. Inge can refuse any trade.
Otherwise, the Tigers will likely release him. The handwriting is on the wall.


Just some thoughts on baseball and the Tigers

A sobering thought: In no other division other than the A.L. Central would the Tigers be in first place. They are six games behind the Yankees in the wildcard chase. Doesn't appear that is going to be an option this time. They must win the division to reach the postseason.

- The Twins come-from-behind victory over Cleveland Tuesday is the type that often jump starts a winning stretch for one team, and a losing span for another. The Tribe, who won the first two games of the series with a doubleheader sweep Monday, could have stuck a dagger in the collective heart of the Twins. They didn't do it.

- The Tigers have four of the top 10 hitters in the American League in regard to batting average, and two of them, Brennan Boesch and Victor Martinez, didn't even play in the All Star Game.

- Duane Below's key to major league success will be velocity. If his fastball is like Adam Wilk or Luke French in terms of velocity, he has no chance of being a long-term major leaguer. He had been hitting 90 mph regularly on the radar gun at Toledo, though.

- Among the things I never figured upon at the start of this season: Philip Humber would be having a year equal to that of Felix Hernandez.

- The Tigers most underrated player this season Brad Penny. They'd be in big trouble without him given the inconsistency of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.

- The Tigers most overrated player this season has been Donald Kelly. He is hitting .239 with three home runs and 11 RBI in 155 at bats and is a below average fielder at third base. But anybody looks good in comparison to Brandon Inge these days, right?


How can this town not support Chris Osgood for the Hall of Fame?

My column in Wednesday's Oakland Press:


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

If Jacob Turner is called up by the Tigers, it would likely be for just a spot start

The idea the Tigers would call up prized prospect Jacob Turner from Double-A Erie to start Wednesday has some merit. He probably has as good a chance to win one game as any of their other minor league starters. But he can't possibly be considered their long-term solution in the rotation for the remainder of the season.
This is why:
- He already thrown 105 innings and is just 20 years old.
- The kid is loaded with long-term potential, but he has won just three games this year and his ERA is relatively high (3.49).
- His stats have been getting progressively worse. In July, he is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA.
Turner might get a start or two while the Tigers work on a deal to get another starting pitcher. It also speaks to their lack of starting pitching depth in the minor leagues he is their most viable option at this point.


Without question, Chris Osgood belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame

Most sports debates are good ones. There are the rare few that are ridiculous, though.
Among the most ridiculous is the one we have endlessly in this town: Whether Chris Osgood belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
There should be no doubt he does.
He is 10th on the all-time list for wins at 401. Eight of the nine goalies ahead of him have been elected to the Hall of Fame. The one exception is Curtis Joseph. The knock on him: He never won the Stanley Cup. Osgood did - twice as the primary goalie, and another time when he was the primary goalie during the regular season and backed up Mike Vernon during the playoffs.
Osgood ranks 24th all-time in goals against average at 2.49 - ahead of such hall of famers as Glenn Hall, Johnny Bower and Patrick Roy.
His playoff record was 74-49. His goals against average a sparkling 2.09. His save percentage above 91. Chris Osgood wasn't a good goalie, he was a great goalie by any standard of the definition. He wasn't just a product of the Red Wings' strength overall, which his detractors claim.
He had winning records with the Islanders and St. Louis - teams that have tended to miss the playoffs since he departed. He took both seven game series in the opening rounds before losing.
And what have the Red Wings done when Osgood hasn't been one of their goalies? They won the Stanley Cup 2002. That's it. He was paramount to their success in 1997, 1998 and 2008 - and also played extraordinarily well in 2009 when the Red Wings advanced to the finals.
I understand how difficult this town is on goalies, but the notion some have that Osgood has been a glorified backup is absurd.

Tigers better not look back because you never know when the Twins will catch up

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press:

The NFL lockout is coming to an end - thank you so much

Some views on Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and college football overall

Monday, July 18, 2011

There are reasons to be skeptical about the Tigers - this is why

The Tigers are tied for first place. It's July 18. The trade deadline is less than two weeks away. In theory, this town, which has experienced just one postseason appearance since 1987, should be going bonkers over the Tigers. But it is not.
This is why:
- The Tigers have not only lost six of their last eight multiple-game series (there was also a makeup win over Toronto), but they were all three-game series in which the Tigers lost the first two games and had to win the third game to salvage anything. They are 12-12 in their last 24 games. Not exactly the stuff of the '98 Yankees.
- The Tigers have a 49-45 record. They had a better record after the same number of games in 2010 (50-44), 2009 (50-44) and 2007 57-37 - and didn't reach the postseason. Even in 2008, when the Tigers' season was widely labeled a disaster because they shot for the moon with a huge player payroll and struggled from the start of the season, they weren't that much worse, in regard to record, than they are at this point of the season (47-47).
- The White Sox have floundered. You saw what they lack in not being able to put the Tigers away Sunday. The Twins have been decimated by injures and their bullpen is suspect.
But the White Sox aren't that bad, and the Twins have gotten Delmon Young and Jim Thome back - and Joe Nathan, who had been written off, got the save Sunday. The Twins are winning games and are only five games back. And that's before factoring the Indians into the equation.
Look, I think the Tigers have the best team in the A.L. Central. My best educated guess is they will win the division.
Just having Justin Verlander leading their rotation and Miguel Cabrera in the middle of their batting order puts them ahead of other clubs.
But they are not going to win it losing two out of three games at a time.
As for the skepticism, it's justified. "Every year is different..."
Yeah, I heard that in 2010....
And in 2009...
I might have even said or written it myself.
Not this time.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Michigan's Denard Robinson? Michigan State's Kirk Cousins? Who is the better QB? You pick

Tigers couldn't have sent a worst message with first two games following the All Star break

My column in Sunday's Oakland Press:


Friday, July 15, 2011

Padres relievers on Tigers' radar

I heard from a baseball source (not in Tigers organization) the Tigers are looking at Chad Qualls and Mike Adams, relievers for the Padres. Qualls has a $6 million club option for next year and a buyout for over $1 million Padres want nothing to do with. Adams is arbitration eligible next year. Both are having decent years.

Randy Moss or Plaxico Burress - who will have the bigger impact in 2011?

Both will be 34 this season. Each has benefited greatly throughout their NFL careers because of superior size and speed. Both have forever been considered temperamental at best, and complete and total jackasses at worst.
But whether you love them or hate them, it's difficult to dispute their impact.
Randy Moss is one of the greatest receivers of all time. Only Jerry Rice has caught more touchdown passes. If he is reasonably productive for two more seasons, he will be the second all-time leading receiver in regard to yards. He is currently eighth in receptions.
Plaxico Burress was the best player on the Giants in 2007 when they won the Super Bowl. When he has applied himself, he has been brilliant.
Moss had an awful year in 2010 from a perception standpoint. He wore out his welcome with three different teams. The Patriots just rolled on without him.
Burress had a far more difficult year, though. He was in prison.
Moss has talked about having a chip on his shoulder and proving his detractors wrong this season. First he has to find a team in order to that. Would it be worth it?
In his defense, while Moss caught only 28 passes last season, five went for touchdowns. He did average 14 yards per reception, which was more than the likes of Roddy White, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Marshall.
Burress was interviewed on NFL Network and looked in great shape. I've seen his act since he was at Michigan State. It was tiresome even then, but he seemed poised and determined and in great shape. Michael Vick's name kept coming up. Maybe Burress has learned something.
I don't think it would be wise for teams to get into a bidding war for either Moss or Burress. I don't think a lesser team would be served well by either player.
But a contending team, with strong leadership in the lockerroom, seeking one last element to put them over the top - these guys fit. From the Lions' point of view, would you want to see either Moss or Burress on the Bears this season?
As for which one will be better - I'd say Moss. He did play last year, and he has always been the better player of the two.


This what the second half of the baseball season will be like for Tigers, others

My column in Friday's Oakland Press:


Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Detroit controlling own destiny, Cabrera's injury and a potential starting pitcher for Tigers

If the Tigers don't want to let the White Sox and Twins to come rolling up on them from behind, it's real simple. All they have to do is take of business the next two weeks. Ten of the Tigers' first 12 games following the All Star break are against the White Sox and Twins.

- The most anticipated lineup card of the season: Friday whether Miguel Cabrera's name is on it. Tiger fans are waiting with bated breath wondering how serious his injury in the All Star Game is, and it won't be known for sure until Jim Leyland posts that lineup card in the Tigers' clubhouse Friday afternoon.
For all the angst about Cabrera's off-the-field issues, he is a durable player who has averaged 158 games played per season since 2004. It's one of his greatest attributes.

- A possibility if the Tigers starting pitching woes continue is San Diego's Aaron Harang. He's pitched well this year (7-2, 3.45 ERA) and is eligible for free agency following the season. Harang was on the disabled list for a month, but in his first start back just before the All Star break threw six hitless innings against the Dodgers before being pulled after 95 pitches because of a pitch count.


Why the Tigers will beat out Indians to win AL Central...and why they won't

Why they will:

Why they won't:


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Some thoughts on the Tigers Brandon Inge...

Brandon Inge has become an epicenter for controversy. How can he be playing when his production is so limited?
Here's some thoughts on Inge's current status with the Tigers:
- Multiple-year contract or not, the Tigers simply can't afford to play Inge regularly if he remains on pace to hit .184 with two home runs and 30 RBI. At 34, with knee issues from the recent past, he is no longer a viable catcher or outfielder - or utility player in any way. If Inge is out of the lineup at third base, with a division race very much at stake, the Tigers must make a decision to keep him or cut their losses and release him. His roster spot is too valuable to waste under the circumstances.
- Donald Kelly can play third base occasionally and be reasonably effective, but it would be a recipe for disaster to place him there every day. He is a 25th man on the roster - at best - not a regular third baseman. Miguel Cabrera played poorly there in 2008 - and that was many pounds gained ago. Carlos Guillen was equally as bad there in 2008. Ryan Raburn at third base? Come on. Third base prospect Francisco Martinez has made a ton of errors at Double-A Erie - a sign the 20-year-old isn't ready of the major leagues. If Inge goes, the Tigers must deal for a player who can play third base at least part time in rotation with Kelly.
- The Tigers have a couple weeks, if that, to make a decision on whether Inge (and Guillen, for that matter) can still play effectively. If the answer is "No," they'd be wise to make moves sooner instead of later. It's obvious jobs are at stake here, both in the front office and the dugout, not to mention the trust of a fanbase that has grown weary of being led on only to be let down.
There are possibilities for deals to fill the hole at third, but they seem limited to players who can play third base, but it's not their best position - Jeff Baker (Cubs), Greg Dobbs (Marlins) and Omar Infante (Marlins). Casey Blake (Dodgers) would have been ideal for the Tigers, but he has had many injury issues this season, particularly a neck ailment, which currently has him on the disabled list. Aaron Miles (Dodgers) might also fit. Problem with the Dodgers is they are baseball's version of the Pistons' last season - in flux and not necessarily in position to deal.
Aramis Ramirez (Cubs) is a longshot. He has said a couple times he wouldn't waive the no-trade clause in his contract. The Cubs have a $15 million option on his contract for next season - with a $2 million buyout.
- I do think some of the venom recently released by Tigers' fans at Inge is misguided. He is not arrogant, which I've heard recently. I've heard fans question his hustle. He does play hard. I've heard people question whether he is a team player. In the past, the Tigers have kicked him around from position to position. Phil Garner made him change his whole hitting style when he arrived to the major leagues as the Tigers' top prospect, which set him back several years and hindered his ultimate development. It's led Inge to have this notion that if he doesn't believe in himself, nobody else will. So he speaks his mind sometimes in that manner.
In this case, fans are so disgusted with Inge's performance on the field they are equating it to him a person and assaulting his character. To me, that's not the issue. It's whether he can be an effective player anymore. And that is very much in question at this stage.
He can't afford not to hit right out of the All Star break and still expect to be on the club, let alone in the lineup. It could make these upcoming games some of the most important of Brandon Inge's career.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Huge turning point for Hoke and Wolverines in recruiting fight with Ohio State

It is a sad commentary for Ohio State football that on the day the Buckeyes welcomed back one their great heroes, Mike Vrabel, to help clean up the mess left by Jim Tressel, it was totally overshadowed by the comments of a high school recruit who shunned the Buckeyes.
And to a degree by Vrabel's past.
Vrabel's press conference was in the morning of the day Kyle Kalis, an offensive lineman rated by some as the best prep lineman in Ohio and a 4- or 5-star recruit (depending on the service) announced he was going to Michigan.
But it wasn't just rescinding his initial commitment to Ohio State that was so revealing, but it was what Kalis told ESPN.Com about the decision:
"I believe the Michigan-Ohio border is now open. I think you're going to see eight or nine guys from the state of Ohio going over to Michigan this year."
He talked about wanting, "a solid, grounded coaching staff."
Kalis had originally committed to Ohio State when Tressel was coach, and briefly to Tressel's replacement, Luke Fickell, but decommitted in June.
Vrabel is a tremendous football player, but his inclusion on Ohio State's staff under the circumstance of scandal can legitimately be questioned. This is how the Associated Press described his past legal issues:
"Vrabel has had at least two skirmishes with the law. During his Ohio State playing days, he was arrested along with a teammate for beating up a man in a bar parking lot in Kent, Ohio. They eventually pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct, paid a fine and performed 30 hours of community service. Their attorney in that case was Chris Cicero, the Columbus lawyer and former Ohio State walk-on who sent emails to Tressel in April 2010 that players were taking improper benefits from a tattoo-parlor owner. Just this past April, Vrabel was arrested for theft from an Indiana riverboat casino. The charge will be dropped if he isn't charged with another crime for 180 days, according to a diversion agreement signed in late June."
Brady Hoke and his coaching staff have huge ammunition at this point to recruit against Ohio State. So does Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, who like Hoke, has strong recruiting ties in Ohio.
This could be a major turning point, especially for Hoke and the Wolverines.


Baseball's All-Star Game still means something, but exactly what?

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tigers apparently eyeballing Cubs' Baker and why there might be hope for Ryan Raburn

The Tigers apparently are eyeballing Chicago Cubs utilityman Jeff Baker. It would make sense. His best position is second base, but he has played extensively at third base in his career. He is a solid .275 career hitter (.306 this season) and has experience in a pennant race with Colorado in 2007. He is an arbitration eligible player, who is making $1.1 million on a one-year contract this year. He will not be eligible for free agency after this season. His agent is uber-agent Scott Boras, which might scare off some clubs, but not the Tigers, who have had many successful dealings with Boras in the past.

- Evidence strongly suggests Ryan Raburn, a source of constant consternation for Tiger fans this season, is a better second-half hitter than first-half hitter.
His career batting average in the first half of seasons is .223. It's .291 in the second half.
In 2010, he hit .208 in the first half and .315 in the second half. In 2009, he hit .269 in the first half and .310 in the second half.
Raburn is hitting .286 in July.


What the Tigers need in order to win AL Central

My column in Monday's Oakland Press:


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Excitement looming around Lions will erupt when NFL lockout is lifted

My column in Sunday's Oakland Press:


Friday, July 08, 2011

On the AL elite, the best prospect in baseball few have discussed and somebody worse than Dombrowski

The current standings don't necessarily suggest so, but is there any American League club that can legitimately threaten the Red Sox or Yankees in the postseason?
Just don't see it. Texas would have the next best chance - I guess.
Then maybe the Tigers - because Justin Verlander might be an important factor in a short series.

- With all the hype about Bryce Harper, the best prospect in baseball just might be Mike Trout, a 19-year-old outfielder who was called up by Angels. Trout doesn't have Harper's power potential, which is enormous, but he will hit with good power in due time. His modus operandi is he can fly. He has exceptional speed. Not too many players with legitimate plus tools across the board. Trout is one of them. Will be interesting to see, even at his young age, whether he have bearing on the pennant race. Special talent.

- Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has, justifiably, received his share of criticism for bad contracts, but White Sox general manager Ken Williams has been worse.
He traded for Alex Rios and Jake Peavy for past pennant drives, taking on their huge contracts in the process, and signed Adam Dunn as a free agent.
Rios is making $12 million each this season and next, and $12.5 million in both 2013 and 2014. He is hitting .214 with six home runs and 20 RBI.
Peavy is being paid $16 million this season and $17 million in 2012. He is 4-2 with a 4.63 ERA. Dunn, who signed a four-year, $56 million free agent contract in the off season, is hitting .163 with eight home runs and 32 RBI. He has struck out 113 times in 257 at bats.
Dunn hit fourth and Rios fifth for the White Sox Thursday against the Twins. They lost and continue to sputter below .500. The reasons why are obvious.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Tigers can't afford to waste the gift of four games in Kansas City

This is an extremely important weekend for the Tigers, who are sputtering. The Royals are not a good club - probably the worst in the American League.
And the Tigers will be facing four starters this weekend - Danny Duffy, Kyle Davies, Luke Hochevar and Jeff Francis - who have struggled. Only Francis has an ERA below five. Davies' ERA is over seven.
It would be typical of the Tigers of recent years to go to Kansas City and struggle. They can't be that way if this summer is going to be different. The season is past its halfway point. The Tigers have turned away from enough opportunity. The All Star break is almost here.
Last year, it was four games after the All Star break - a sweep by the Indians, who were struggling at the time, in Cleveland that determined the Tigers' fate. They can't afford the same thing before the break this year.
The Tigers, who have lost five of their last six multiple game series, need to beat up on the Royals. You can bet other division foes will - now that the schedule is focused on games with the American League Central. The division-leading Indians, for example, have beaten the Royals five straight times - by a combined score of 50-12.


All things considered, Tigers have underachieved this season

My column in Thursday's Oakland Press:


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Should the Tigers cut their losses with Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn?

I hear this question more than any other lately: Why is Jim Leyland playing Ryan Raburn? Or, if it's not that, it's this: Why is Jim Leyland playing Brandon Inge?
It's gotten to the point now when I answer those questions, my first response is, "Don't yell at me...."
Because the answer is obvious. They both have multi-year contracts. The Tigers made an organizational decision that they were going to play Raburn and Inge the next two years during the past off season.
As such, they get a lot more slack than a player on a one-year deal, especially a younger player in the first years of his career and there is no concern about the possibility of salary arbitration and a trip to the minor leagues remains an option.
The Tigers choices with Inge and Raburn are either have them on the team - or release them. So Leyland does what is common protocol in the major leagues, he keeps them in the lineup, at least semi-regularly. It's a decision made easier because the Tigers don't have a ready-made replacement for either player.
Donald Kelly is a 25th man on a club - if that. He is a good athlete who does everything OK except hit, which he does below average for a major league player, especially a third baseman. We've seen over and over that Ramon Santiago is good spurts, but not-so-good when he plays continually. As such, it diminishes his value as a solid major league backup to play him every day.
But knowing that, and that the Tigers owe Inge and Raburn about $7 million for the remainder of this season and 2012, and tolerating it for fans, are two different things. At what point is there no return for Inge and Raburn? In other words, when does it get so bad the Tigers just release one or both.
It's doubtful either would have trade value - even if the Tigers were willing to pick up all their salaries other than the pro-rated major league minimum of $400,000.
The bottom line is the Tigers have a fairly formidable lineup, but Inge and Raburn have often been rally killers. At what point should the Tigers stop waiting for the turnaround from two players they have invested heavily in? Would it be the right move? Or will Inge and Raburn be different players in the second half of the season?
They have a similar decision soon to make on Carlos Guillen, a $12.5 million player this season, who has been injured all year, but is likely to return after the All Star break. He is hitting, by the way, just .179 on rehab assignment to the minor leagues.
It's one of the more pertinent questions facing general manager Dave Dombrowski these days - especially from Tiger fans.
Have the Tigers underachieved?


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Does Justin Verlander deserve MVP consideration?

The Tigers lost last night in Anaheim. Justin Verlander is their starting pitcher tonight as they try to turn it around against the Angels. The expectation is the Tigers will win. That the bleeding will stop.
This season, Verlander has pitched extraordinarily well following Tigers' defeats, getting eight of his 11 victories under such circumstances. Another victory came over Cleveland when the Tigers were deadlocked for first place in the American League Central with the Indians.
Doesn't this make Verlander a candidate not only for the Cy Young Award, but also for MVP?
Statistically, Verlander has been a marvel this season. But it isn't just that he is performing exceptionally well, but when.
Without him, the Tigers wouldn't be close to a playoff contender.
The concept of a pitcher securing the MVP Award is not a novel one. The last two times the Tigers won the World Series, 1968 and 1984, Denny McLain and Willie Hernandez were named American League MVP.
It's just it hasn't happened at all since 1992 when Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley was A.L. MVP. It was fairly common the years before that in the American League. Roger Clemens (1986), Rollie Fingers (1982) and Vida Blue (1971) also were named A.L. MVP as pitchers, in addition to Hernandez and McLain. No National League pitcher has been named MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968.
The arguments against a pitcher being named MVP are valid. A starter only works once every fifth game. A closer usually just an inning, and about half the games - if that.
But let me ask you this question, what American League player been as valuable to his team as Justin Verlander has been to the Tigers so far this year?
I can't think of one, can you?
Some thoughts on the Tigers pitching overall:


Red Wings played the right cards during wild free agency period

My column in Tuesday's Oakland Press:


Monday, July 04, 2011

Ousted Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp was more of an experiment than most people realize

Sometimes a pitching coach can make a difference, but what I find curious about the Tigers decision to fire Rick Knapp abruptly Sunday is that his replacement, Jeff Jones, was already on staff as the bullpen coach.
I think Jones is a terrific pitching coach, and one of his specialties is teaching the cut fastball, which has become baseball's "in" pitch. But essentially Knapp's firing can only be viewed as addition by subtraction.
Billed as the guy who developed the Twins pitching staff in the minor leagues, he was an iffy hire to begin with because he had no experience pitching in the major leagues, nor had been a major league pitching coach before.
The only time it seems to work for a pitching coach, who didn't pitch in the major leagues, is when he teaches youngsters in an organization on their way up and gets the major league job with that team. Then, if he moves to another organization, he has established his credibility.
I've been told on a number of occasions it's a primary respect factor for getting the ear of major league pitchers.
It could also open the door for the Tigers to bring Steve McCatty back to their organization. He has had a lot of success in Washington, but there was a managerial change recently - and there could be another one after this season. Davey Johnson is essentially an interim manager whose long-term contract is that of a team consultant.
A replay of my video podcast Monday with sports editor Jeff Kuehn. Discussed Knapp firing, Red Wings off season so far - and other sports topics:

Video streaming by Ustream


Saturday, July 02, 2011

Where does the Big Ten stand nationally in the post-Jim Tressel era?

My column in Sunday's Oakland Press:


Friday, July 01, 2011

Tigers need to deal for pitching above all else at trade deadline

Second base, as much anguish as it has caused Tigers' fans this season, is not the club's primary need as the trade deadline approaches.
It is pitching. It is starting and relief.
I see getting a solid right-handed reliever for the bullpen as a priority. Do you trust Ryan Perry? Phil Coke should definitely be a plus in the bullpen.
I feel the Tigers may need another starter. We'll see what Charles Furbush does on Monday, but Rick Porcello and Brad Penny have been shaky. Also, it is a question whether Max Scherzer is an authentic No. 2 starter behind Justin Verlander.
The Astros could be willing trade partners. Wandy Rodriguez is signed long-term, but expensive. Brett Myers has a contract through 2012 - and is signed for 2013.
One thing about second base, there are players at that position who could be available. I still think the best fit for the Tigers among them is San Diego's Orlando Hudson. He has hit .282 since coming off the disabled list in June. Mark Ellis is off the market. He was traded to Colorado.


In some ways, this was Justin Verlander's best start of the season

My column in Friday's Oakland Press: