Springtime Storylines: Is Dontrelle Willis going to make the Tigers rotation?

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Tigers logo old.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Tiger Time:

The
big question: Is Dontrelle Willis going to make the Tigers rotation?

I’m still kind of dubious, but the fact that it’s the end of March and we’re even asking that question is pretty astounding.  Before spring training started the rotation seemed kind of set: Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, Armando Galarraga, Jeremy Bonderman and, if Bonderman couldn’t cut it, Nate Robertson.

But then a funny thing happened: Galarraga got optioned to Toledo. Bonderman has struggled. Robertson has been pretty solid but Willis — the guy who told everyone at the beginning of spring training that he was terrible — has been nothing short of astounding. Well, maybe that’s putting it too strongly as spring training stats are beyond unreliable, but the ball is going over the plate, he isn’t walking too many people and guys are swinging and missing.  Today was a mixed bag — Willis was wild, but he recovered and his velocity was good — but the fact remains that Jim Leyland is going to have tough choice to make before the Tigers leave Lakeland.

And even if Willis doesn’t make it, at the very worst, a guy that everyone gave up for dead is going to walk off the mound this spring rather than be carted off, and that’s more than we ever could have imagined a mere month ago.

So what else is going on?

  • New young faces: Austin Jackson in center. Scott Sizemore at second. A lot of people thought that Johnny Damon (more on him below) would be the Tigers new leadoff man and that Jackson would start in Toledo, but a great spring from Jackson changed that.  I’m curious to see how he does. He obviously won’t be as good as his spring has indicated — he’s green and will get challenged once pitchers stop fooling around with him — but I also think that the Tigers sold high on Granderson, so even if he struggles it won’t be that big a falloff.  As for Sizemore, he’s had a rough spring. Lingering effects of the broken ankle? First real exposure to major league pitchers? Hard to say.  If he struggles early he could be in Toledo himself.
  • New old face: Johnny Damon. I’m not expecting good things here. Just because you read Damon’s home/road splits from 2009 a million times over the winter — .915 OPS and 17 HR at Yankee Stadium and seven
    homers and a .795 on the road — doesn’t mean the difference is being overstated. He’s losing the short porch in right. He’s gaining some hectareage he’ll have to cover in left.  Opposing third base coaches will be waving fat guys from second base on Damon’s noodly left appendage.  At least he’ll have the octopus to cheer him up. 
  • New thin face: Miguel Cabrera gave up the sauce, shed some pounds and came back to camp with his head seemingly screwed on right.  He hit .324/.396/.547 all puffy, hungover and, at least on one occasion, arguably drunk.  With his fresh and healthy new outlook, the guy may really hurt some baseballs this summer.

So how
are they gonna do?

Pretty good, I think. Their top three starters are better than the top three on the competition. I worry about the non-Jose Valverde portion of their bullpen, though, and between the youthful inexperience of Sizemore and Jackson and the aged fragility of guys like Brandon Inge, Carlos Guillen, and Magglio Ordonez there are a lot of things that could send the Tigers’ season sideways.  Still, I’m vibing optimistic for some reason, and I think they’ll contend on the arms and backs of Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello and Cabrera.  And if, as is sadly likely, Ernie Harwell departs the mortal coil sometime this season, I expect him to pull an Obi-Wan, become one with The Force and freakin’ will this team to the playoffs (alongside the shimmering spirits of Ty Cobb and Mark Fidrych) 

Prediction: Second place, AL Central, but I think they’ll be in it all year.

Nationals acquire Derek Norris from Padres

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Derek Norris #3 of the San Diego Padres prepares to bat against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the sixth inning of a MLB game at Chase Field on October 1, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
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According to an official team announcement, the Nationals have acquired catcher Derek Norris from the Padres in exchange for right-hander Pedro Avila.

Norris, 27, batted a career-low .186/.225/.328 in 458 PA with the Padres in 2016. He hit career highs with 14 home runs and nine stolen bases, but his dismal production rate through the second half of the season spelled the end of his time in a starting role in San Diego. Norris’ departure from the Padres also confirms 24-year-old Austin Hedges‘ spot on the roster, as reported by MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell:

Heading to San Diego is 19-year-old right-handed starter Pedro Avila, who was acquired by the Nationals as an international free agent in 2014. The 19-year-old spent his first season in Single-A Hagerstown and went 7-7 with a 3.48 ERA and 2.42 K/BB rate in 93 innings.

Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame ballot: Bud Selig

Bud Selig
Associated Press
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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. The final candidate: Bud Selig. 

The case for his induction:

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, in January 2015, as Bud Selig was stepping down after 20+ years as baseball’s commissioner, I wrote a column claiming that he was “The Greatest Commissioner in Baseball History.” I stand by that assessment.

Which is not to say that he was perfect or that he was, in an absolute sense, good. He was simply better than all of the other commissioners, most of whom weren’t worth a tinker’s damn.

More important to that analysis than his historical comps, however, was that when people talk about how good or bad a commissioner was, they’re usually judging him by their own, subjective terms, not the terms of the commissioner’s employment. Contrary to popular belief, the commissioner is not a president, governor or mayor of baseball. He is not elected by nor answerable to the fans or the public. He may play up all of the trappings of political leadership because it makes him seem important and noble and serves to justify the power he wields, but in reality the commissioner of baseball is merely the Chairman of the Board for Baseball, Inc., answerable to anywhere between 16 and 30 owners depending on what time in baseball history he happend to serve.

People hate being reminded of that. They want to say Bud Selig was a failure because he did things they did not like, but that’s beside the point. He did things his employers liked and did them better than most others who preceded him. In the process he made a lot of people very rich, including all of the other owners, broadcast executives, players, agents and just about anyone else who holds a stake in baseball. His transgressions — discussed below — were real, but they were not considered deal breakers for anyone to whom Selig actually owed a duty. He may have betrayed you or me and he may have done things that harmed our love of baseball, but it was never his job to make us happy. Sorry I had to tell you that so bluntly, but it’s better you heard it from a friend.

So, the case for Bud: he did his job the way he was supposed to and he grew the game and made his employers rich. That’s not an inspiring case, but it’s the case we have.

The case against his induction:

Personally, I don’t think any commissioner should be in the Hall of Fame, but as we noted with the other executives, that ship has sailed. Bowie Kuhn is in the Hall of Fame for Pete’s sake and he bungled just about everything that came his way. Hall of Fame induction for a commissioner is a gold watch. A lifetime achievement award.

It may also be worth noting that he’s on the Hall of Fame board for crying out loud, so he has a blatant conflict of interest here, what with having been part of selecting or approving the very people who will vote for him on Monday. Based on what we’re seeing in other arenas, however, I suppose we’re over things like conflicts of interest in late 2016 America, so that gets us nowhere.

Still, let’s not pretend that Bud Selig was not an accomplice and, according to many, a ringleader of a literal criminal conspiracy that harmed people’s livelihoods and, in turn, compromised the product on the field. Let us not pretend he did not launch a disastrous, cynical and greed-inspired labor war that cost us the 1994 season and World Series. Let us not pretend that he did not turn the ownership ranks into a secret society open only to those who know the secret knock, rewarding those inside the club, however incompetent, and destroying entire franchises. Let us not pretend that he did not willfully turn a blind eye to steroid and performance enhancing drug use in the game, knowing that the resulting dingers helped boost fan interest and revenue, only to then turn around and vilify and scapegoat the players who used those drugs in a comically grandstanding and self-serving manner.

Should all of that be held against him? Absolutely. Will they be? I seriously, seriously doubt it.

Would I vote for him?

We hear from BBWAA voters so very often that to withhold a Hall of Fame vote from someone is not a “punishment” as much as it is a mere denial of the highest honor. We hear that withholding a vote does not deny a player’s greatness, just a place in the Hall. If that’s the case I see no problem withholding a vote from Selig, even if he was the greatest commissioner. Yes, he was great, but he also did a lot of stuff which brought ignominy to the game and which actively harmed people. Many, many players have been effectively barred from entering the Hall of Fame for far lesser transgressions. Bud Selig is not, in my view, worthy of baseball’s highest honor.

Will the Committee vote for him?

It’s a mortal lock. Baseball loves nothing more than patting Bud Selig on the back. He made everyone involved with it quite wealthy. I’d place the odds of him making it in on Monday’s vote at 100%.