Originally written January 25, 2013 on isportsweb.com:
The hot stove in regards to the Detroit Tigers isn’t exactly burning at this point in the offseason. Smoldering, maybe. The Tigers may very well make some additional moves to tighten up the roster but by and large the attention is turning to the roster as it currently sits. With that in mind, here are some burning questions that fans are demanding answers to. This will be a 2-part post. Bruce Rondon Is Bruce Rondon capable of being an effective closer for the Tigers? It’s important to remember that the Tigers made it to the World Series in 2012 with the moldy potato, Jose Valverde, as their closer. Papa Grande was featuring a steady diet of 92-94 MPH fastballs and a flat splitter. As a result, his K rate tumbled. He fanned just 48 hitters in 69 innings of work compared to 69 and 72.1 respectively in 2011. No deception requires a power arm. Valverde had neither. Rondon has both.  Rondon started in high-A ball and finished up 2012 at AAA Toledo, narrowly missing a call to the Tigers in September. He saved 29 games with a 1.53 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He struck out 66 in just 53 innings of work. Rondon has the goods and the Tigers seem intent on letting him prove his worth as the team’s closer. I for one love the move. And when you see him dial that fastball up to 102 MPH that very first time, with such little exertion, I think you’ll be hooked too. Oh yeah, and he has a strong slider to boot. I’m all in on Rondon. Do the Tigers trust Andy Dirks with 140+ starts in left field? I honestly don’t think so but can’t figure out why. GM Dave Dombrowski has made it clear that he would love to find a right-handed corner outfield bat to compliment the roster. In other words, to replace Dirks against lefty starters. This thought process is what prompted me to write the Giancarlo Stanton article on Monday. Click here if you missed it. To me, Dirks is a winning player. It’s actually somewhat of a shame that we have to debate the merits of a guy who hit .322 with a .370 on-base % in his 2nd year in the big leagues, not to mention a boatload of intangibles and solid defense. Most teams would be handing him the keys to the kingdom. Dirks held his own against lefties as well, hitting .274 with 3 homers in just 73 at-bats. A year from now left field might look a lot different as Avisail Garcia and/or Nick Castellanos could be ready for everyday roles. Right now though, Detroit wants those guys to get full-time at-bats, so Toledo is likely their joint opening day destination. In the meantime, in Dirks, the Tigers should trust. Can Victor Martinez bounce back? Martinez hasn’t swung a bat in a meaningful situation since the end of the 2011 season. The general tone in camp seems to be that he will be ready to rock come spring training. Jim Leyland knows that it’s a tough task to miss a full year and come back just as productive as before but notes that if anyone can do it, Victor is the right man for the job. His knee, if healthy enough to swing, shouldn’t limit him otherwise. VMart will be a full-time DH in 2013. Something will have to go array for him to put a mitt on his left hand this season. The basic task is to hit the ball hard and jog around the bases. The bottom half of Detroit’s lineup really struggled in his absence in 2012. The thoughts of a 3-4-5 of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Martinez is awfully tantalizing and should boost the entire lineup’s production level. My expectation is that Martinez will be ready to go full throttle come Opening Day. Let’s not forget that he hit .330 in 2011 with 103 RBI’s. The guy is a hitting machine when he’s healthy. Martinez is signed through 2014. Hopefully he plays out the last 2 years of his contract with the health and productivity you’d expect of a $13M/year player. I think he will. Part 2 of this series will be released on Monday. Leave your comments below. To receive an email each time a new Tigers article is published, fill out the Email Notification Form [Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe]
PLAYERS: Prince Fielder
TEAMS: Detroit Tigers
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