It's the battle of the two teams that lost in last year's ALCS and NLCS at Dodger Stadium. To prepare for the two-game series, I caught up with Rob Rogacki from the Tigers' SB Nation Blog, Bless You Boys.
ROB ROGACKI: Like most of the major moves the Tigers have made in recent years, I initially hated this trade. However, I quickly came around and saw all the positives that it created for the Tigers. Kinsler's hot start in 2014 has helped, but this trade essentially transformed the entire roster. Miguel Cabrera is no longer the most statuesque third baseman in baseball, and is actually a better defensive first baseman than Prince Fielder. Nick Castellanos, who spent all of 2013 in the outfield, has looked more comfortable at third base (his natural position) than many people expected. Kinsler filled a void at second base, and slotting him into the leadoff spot has afforded Brad Ausmus the luxury of moving Austin Jackson down in the order. Add in the fact that the Tigers will save $72 million over the life of Fielder's deal, and it's an easy win for GM Dave Dombrowski.
DL: As for the big offseason move Detroit didn't make, Max Scherzer is only signed until 2015. Was that a big mistake to not sign him to a long-term deal?
RR: I don't think it was a mistake, and that is not because I don't buy Scherzer's awesome 2013 season. Something clicked with Scherzer in May of 2012, starting with a 15-strikeout outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his final 24 starts of 2012, Scherzer went 14-4 with a 3.02 ERA and 4.36 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His amazing 21-3 record last season was a surprise, but everything else was just a repeat of the end of 2012. As for beyond 2014, I think the Tigers are better off letting Scherzer walk. He is going to command Kershaw-type money on the open market, and the Tigers already have two expensive starters in Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. The club is also high on left-hander Robbie Ray, who was the prize of the Doug Fister trade. Owner Mike Ilitch has been known to interfere when it comes to signing marquee players (see: Fielder, Prince), but I think we see Scherzer wearing a different uniform in 2015.
DL: The one extension the Tigers did agree on keeps Miguel Cabrera in Detroit for a very long time. Good or bad deal?
RR: Sure, it's a ton of money and probably a couple years longer than it should be, but it is truly a joy to watch Miguel Cabrera hit for my favorite team every day. A lot of the analysis of this trade has focused on comparing Cabrera to players like Albert Pujols and Frank Thomas, but has generally overlooked the fact that Hall of Fame caliber players tend to produce well into their late 30s. For instance, Baseball Reference lists Hank Aaron as the most comparable player to Cabrera through age 30. Cabrera will probably never approach Aaron's home run totals, but he is actually on pace to break Aaron's total bases record by the end of this contract. Also, the incredible inflation we have seen in player salaries over the past decade may change how this deal looks in another five years. It is an overpay, no question, but one that most Tigers fans can live with.
DL: The Tigers were in the news a lot this offseason overall, but were there any other moves I haven't mentioned they should've made or should not have made?
RR: I was not a fan of the trade that sent Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals, but only because of the return. The Tigers received utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi (who has since been traded for 37 year old shortstop Alex Gonzalez), LOOGY Ian Krol, and left-handed prospect Robbie Ray, but it would have been nice to see a fourth name added to that list. Another bullpen arm or two would have also been a welcome addition, but otherwise I cannot complain about how this roster was constructed. I was happy that the team did not overpay for Shin-Soo Choo or forfeit their first round pick for one year of Stephen Drew. Rajai Davis has been surprisingly effective so far, but his limitations against right-handed pitching will eventually rear their ugly head.
DL: When he was still playing, former Dodger Brad Ausmus was thought by many to be a great future manager. Do you think he was a smart hire for Detroit?
RR: Hiring Ausmus was a bold move, but it seems like Dave Dombrowski really did his homework here. Ausmus has seemingly been in complete control of the clubhouse from day one, something that Jim Leyland was praised for during his tenure in Detroit. It helps that he retained bench coach Gene Lamont and pitching coach Jeff Jones, but this is clearly Ausmus' team. The Tigers were very aggressive on the basepaths during Spring Training, and forcing other teams to make plays seems to be a point of emphasis for the young skipper. I am interested to see how Ausmus handles things when the Tigers hit a losing streak, but there is no cause for concern yet. He has passed every other test with flying colors so far.
DL: Who would you say is the Tigers' pre-season or early seasons rookie of the year?
RR: Barring a miracle from someone else, Nick Castellanos will be the best rookie on the club in 2014. He is a bat-first prospect who has shown the ability to adjust at every level, and hit .276/.343/.450 in Triple-A last season as a 21 year old. His September call-up did not go well, but he has gotten off to a hot start this season. I would not be surprised to see him among the finalists for the AL Rookie of the Year award.
DL: What about Cy Young?
RR: Justin Verlander. He had a down year by his lofty standards in 2013 that sent a lot of fans and pundits into a panic. Verlander cited some mechanical issues as the cause of his struggles, and he seemed to put things together in September and the postseason. He had core muscle repair surgery during the offseason after suffering an injury during a workout, but did not allow a run during Spring Training and has looked like his usual self during the regular season.
DL: And MVP?
RR: The obvious answer here is Miguel Cabrera, but Victor Martinez will also have a major impact on how the offense fares. Martinez got off to a slow start in 2013 after missing the previous season with a torn ACL, but was a monster in the second half, hitting .361/.413/.500 after the All-Star break. He was another one of those moves that I initially hated, but Martinez has put together a pair of amazing seasons as the team's primary designated hitter (some might even consider him the best DH in franchise history already). Martinez will get some starts in National League parks, both at first base (with Cabrera at third) and behind the plate (probably against lefties).
DL: How do you think Detroit will do this season overall (playoffs included)?
RR: I'm confident that the Tigers will win their fourth consecutive AL Central title, especially after how the team has looked in the first week of the season. They have the most talented club in the division, by far. The gap between them and the Cleveland Indians was much larger than the standings indicated on the final day of the regular season. As for the playoffs? I think that they have as good of a chance as anyone in the American League thanks to a rotation of Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, and Rick Porcello. The bullpen is still a concern (especially after nearly blowing a six run lead in the ninth inning on Saturday), but otherwise this team is as good as anyone in baseball. I'm up for a Tigers-Dodgers World Series, what about you?
DL: Dodgers' Series prediction?
RR: I think we will see a split. Max Scherzer looked excellent in his first start of the season last week, and I was really impressed with Hyun-Jin Ryu's start against the San Diego Padres in the Dodgers' stateside opener. Both games should be low-scoring affairs, and a bullpen meltdown will probably be the deciding factor in at least one.
Be sure to head over to Bless You Boys for Tigers' coverage all season. And to read what I told Rob about the Dodgers, click here.