Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski was a guest at this afternoon's Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association luncheon, where he fielded a number of interesting questions about the Tigers, the fan experience at Comerica Park and the potential future of baseball's postseason. Below are the highlights.
- There are a lot of questions circulating about the middle infielders, the offensive production from the left side of the infield and Dombrowski's mindset as it relates to second base. Carlos Guillen, recovering from microfracture surgery on his knee, isn't expected to be game-ready until mid-March. If and when he is ready, Guillen will get plenty of playing time, most of it at second base. In his absence, Dombrowski feels comfortable that Will Rhymes, Danny Werth, Scott Sizemore and Ramon Santiago can fill the gap admirably.
"Let's see when Carlos is ready, how he moves" said Dombrowski. "When he's ready, he'll play second base."
- When asked if there was a chance first baseman Miguel Cabrera could be moved to the third spot in the order, Dombrowski said, "We have talked about it at times. Miguel can hit anywhere in lineup. We've had a #3 in Magglio Ordonez. Not everyone can handle the pressure of the four-spot. With Cabrera, it doesn't bother him at all. Heading into spring training, Jim Leyland has said the middle of the order will be Maggs, Cabrera and (Victor) Martinez at 3-4-5."
- Dombrowski remains incredibly high on centerfielder Austin Jackson, saying, "He does have a chance to have better season. From a pure experience standpoint, it's helpful. He can match and learn a thing or two defensively. Offensively he'll cut down on strikeouts drive in runs and he'll hit the ball with more pop. With a guy like Austin, you hope he doesn't do it early in his career - try to hit home runs - because while he'll hit some out of the park, it can cut his overall productivity and bring his average down."
- I asked whether there will be flexibility with Victor Martinez and how frequently we'll see him catching. Dombrowski said, "We think Alex Avila will be better defensively and at the plate, which will allow us to keep Martinez primarily in the DH role. He will catch occasionally and he can also spell Miguel at first base, but let's face it - when you have a guy like Cabrera you want him out there as much as possible. We have some flexibility there, but we'd like to see it work the way we're envisioning it."
- The Tigers are employing the services of Gene Roof, a minor league instructor, as they hope to change their approach to baserunning this season. Roof will work with the players, utilizing video more and working with them individually after practice. Dombrowski admits the team isn't blessed with a lot of speed, but admitted they can run the bases more aggressively.
"We've always preached good secondary leads and being aggressive," said Dombrowski. "Sometimes that mindset doesn't click in. Gene will work with the team and focus on baserunning and we're incorporating this different approach to get the point across a little different in that regard."
- The pitching rotation should be Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Phil Coke and Brad Penny. "We always thought Coke would be a good starter," said Dombrowski. "He has four pitches, but the Yankees put him in the bullpen role and he succeeded there. We kept him in that role last year after we acquired him, but feel he's ready to start. The one thing he'll have to change is to tone down his max effort out of the gate. He can't start the game throwing mid-to-high nineties. That will come with time."
"Brad Penny is not a normal fifth starter," said Dombrowski, "He's been hurt, but when he was healthy last year, he threw in the mid nineties on a consistent basis."
- Brennan Boesch struggled throughout the second half of the season, to the point where Tigers management told him to shut it down during the offseason and take a break from the game.
"Boesch is an interesting case," said Dombrowski. "Very talented. As good a young player coming up as I've ever seen. I think he put too much pressure on himself and it caught up to him. He's very hard on himself and sometimes that makes it tougher on a player to fight through adversity. We told him not to play this winter and since he's resumed hitting, he's seemed much more relaxed. His swing is back. I wouldn't be surprised if he comes up and contributes."
- Dombrowski said Andy Oliver, Jacob Turner and Charles Furbush are the three young pitchers who will likely get scheduled starts in spring training. He said he thinks Turner is going to be good, likely starting the season in Erie or Toledo. Furbush has matured and he's a guy who could be used in the
bullpen if the Tigers need him to make the team better in that regard.
"Jacob Turner is a guy who can someday get in our rotation and make it very special from top to bottom," said Dombrowski. "But he needs time."
The Tigers Fan Experience
- The Tigers host the home opener Friday, April 8 at 3:05pm against the Kansas City Royals. Dombrowski said the start time is later than normal because the Tigers will be in Baltimore the night before and won't return home until 2-3am. Dombrowski asked the Orioles to play a day game on Thursday, April 7, but Baltimore refused, deciding a night game was better for them. When asked about whether the Tigers would host more games starting at 3:05, Dombrowski said the 1:05 start times have been successful and fans seem to like them.
- Major League Baseball has also eliminated a 20-minute pregame window previously reserved for infield practice. Most, if not all, teams around the league have abandoned pre-game infield practice since fielders get so many opportunities to field ground balls hit by coaches during batting practice. The elimination of this 20-minute window will push batting practice closer to first pitch, which should allow fans to watch more batting practice after the gates open.
The Future of MLB Postseason
- There have been rumors that Major League Baseball is considering an expansion of the playoffs, introducing another wild card to the field for the 2012 season. Dombrowski admitted he has no say in these decisions, but said, "I'm not against expanded playoffs. I can't figure out how you add one more team to play one more game and the loser's out. The second best team could get knocked out of the postseason in one game. Losing a top-market club in that scenario isn't good for the game.
"A best of three - while those two teams are playing a best of three, the best team is practicing waiting to play a game. Ours is a timing game. Sometimes you can sit too much. I haven't figured out the best way to make it all work, but I'm not against it."