The Tigers have had three straight division titles and three straight disappointing post-seasons with no rings to show for it. Despite all of the team and individual accomplishments over the past three seasons, such as Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown, Justin Verlander’s Cy Young Award and Max Scherzer’s 20-win season, Tigers fans certainly must be feeling sour as they reflect on the missed opportunities over the last three years to bring home the ultimate prize.
Of course, one does not need to look too far for evidence of these missed opportunities. Against the Red Sox in the ALCS, the Tigers gave up two go-ahead grand slams by their bullpen. In Game 2, with the Tigers leading 5-1 in the 8th inning, closer Joaquin Benoit surrendered a grand slam to Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, tying the score at 5-5. The Red Sox would win the game in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the ninth on a Jarrod Saltalamacchia RBI-single. This was a major momentum shift in the series, as Tigers pitching had held the Red Sox to only two hits in the first 16 innings of the series. Had the Tigers won Game 2 and taken a 2-0 series lead back to Detroit, with Justin Verlander scheduled to pitch in Game 3, the odds would have been in their favor to take the series and have the opportunity to play in the World Series.
However, with ALCS tied 1-1 after Game 2, Boston’s AL pennant hopes were still very much alive. They outplayed the Tigers in Detroit, taking a 3-2 lead back to Boston, yet still facing the difficult task of going up against Max Scherzer in Game 6 and Verlander in Game 7 if necessary. With the Tigers leading 2-1 in the bottom of the 7th inning of Game 6, the bullpen surrendered yet another grand slam, as Shane Victorino took reliever Jose Veras deep over Fenway’s Green Monster in left field. This was the ultimate back-breaker for the Tigers, who went on to lose Game 6, sending Boston to the World Series.
As if things could not get any worse for Tigers fans, on the Monday following the loss, manager Jim Leyland announced his retirement after eight seasons, which included three division titles and two American League pennants. However, a glance at the Tigers’ roster suggests that this will not be the only tough decision made by Tigers personnel this offseason.
First and foremost, the Tigers will have decisions to make on free agent closer Joaquin Benoit, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, and second baseman Omar Infante – three key pieces to the 2013 AL Central Division winning squad. Looking ahead, the Tigers will have more important decisions to make regarding players scheduled to become free agents in 2014. The headliner of that class is Max Scherzer, this year’s likely Cy Young Award winner. The Tigers are going to have to pay to keep him, yet it’s unclear whether that’s part of their long-term plan. Numerous trade rumors regarding Scherzer have floated around. In addition, one of the best hitters this postseason, Victor Martinez, will also be a free agent in 2014 along with veteran outfielder Torii Hunter.
The scarier prospect for Tigers fan is the shrinking time window left for the Tigers to contend for a World Series. While Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder are locked up long term, Miguel Cabrera, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, Austin Jackson and Alex Avila are all going to be free agents in 2015. While Cabrera will most certainly be given an extension, it’s unclear how these other key pieces factor into the long-term plans of President Dave Dombrowski. Furthermore, several on-field questions loom as the Tigers simultaneously try to refuel again to muster another World Series run. Prince Fielder’s power production was significantly down this year. Miguel Cabrera’s health problems reached a boiling point in the playoffs. The bullpen needs more depth, as evidenced in their horrific performance in the ALCS. Most importantly, the Tigers need to find a replacement for Jim Leyland capable of inheriting a contender.
As such, there is great uncertainly surrounding the Tigers this offseason. Hopefully, many questions will be answered as the winter progresses and the Tigers will be back in 2014 and ready to make another run deep into the postseason. Spring Training is only four months away!