Mailbag: Do Tigers need to run more?
Beat reporter Jason Beck answers fans' questions
Last year, the Tigers had only one guy steal double-digit bases (Carlos Guillen with 20). The next best was Curtis Granderson with eight. It seems that the Tigers need guys who can swipe a base. Are they looking into this issue, and if they are, what are they doing about it?
-- Jacob T., Bryan, Ohio
Tigers manager Jim Leyland mentioned at various points last season that he'd like his players to be more aggressive on the basepaths, but he has been realistic when mentioning that his club doesn't have a lot of speed. If the Tigers weren't able to pull off the Gary Sheffield trade, they might've been left looking for a player who could do that type of damage. But they're not going to downgrade in other areas, especially hitting, simply to get a speedster.
I think what you'll see this season is an emphasis on more aggressive baserunning aside from stolen bases, such as going from first to third or second to home on singles more often. They have the personnel to improve in that area. Guys like Placido Polanco and Ivan Rodriguez aren't speedsters, but they're intelligent baserunners, and their stats on taking the extra base back it up. Brandon Inge and Craig Monroe also have potential in that area.
No one has mentioned the concept of having Guillen leading off in the Tigers' potentially strong lineup. With Guillen at the top of the order, they would gain the advantage of having someone with terrific on-base potential, a hitter who is willing and capable of taking a walk and a basestealer with good baserunning instincts. Follow him up with Polanco, and the team would regularly set the table for the power to follow. This would also allow Granderson the opportunity to better hone his batting skills and develop at a more realistic pace into the player that everyone expects him to be. He seems blessed with the emotional maturity to be able to handle a move to the bottom end of the order.
-- Len J., Elora, Ontario, Canada
Actually, readers have brought this up many times before. The problem is two-fold. First, Guillen has said more than once that he doesn't feel comfortable in the leadoff spot. Second, as the one switch-hitter in the lineup, and a multi-tooled weapon, he's too valuable in the middle of the order to hit up top. He keeps opponents from automatically going to their right-handed relievers in the later innings. Sean Casey could take Guillen's place down there and hold his own, but he probably wouldn't do it as well.
Assuming that Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez will hit three-four in some order, where do you see Casey and Guillen hitting? Should one assume they would hit two-five, or will Casey hit down in the order? Is it possible that Rodriguez could hit eighth or ninth?
-- Danny S., Knoxville, Tenn.
If Guillen doesn't hit third, he'll probably hit fifth again and make sure Ordonez sees strikes. Casey has an intriguing situation. It's hard to see him batting sixth after Guillen when Detroit's lineup leans right-handed. But if he hits lower than that, how much is he going to benefit Monroe and Inge further down? In regard to Pudge, I don't see him batting that low, certainly not ninth.
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The Tigers recently signed Joey Eischen. Ten years ago, I was sad to see him go. What are Eischen's chances of making the team? Does Felix Heredia have a shot? Also, any chance the Tigers will pursue Bernie Williams as their left-handed bat?
-- Michael P., Gibsonville, N.C.
If Eischen shows he's healthy, he has a shot. The Tigers were rumored to have interest in Eischen last spring when he was still with Washington, enough to have trade talks on some level. Rotator cuff surgery at Eischen's age is tough to totally recover from, but the Tigers felt he was healthy enough to at least give him an invite.
Heredia hasn't pitched much the last two years, also with shoulder problems, and he was released twice last year. Again, though, health could go a long way toward proving his effectiveness. But bottom line, unless Wilfredo Ledezma is injured or is forced into the rotation, Eischen or Heredia (or any other lefty) is going to have to show he can do more for the Tigers than the club would get from another right-handed reliever. They're not going to carry another left-hander just to have two.
As for Williams, the chances appear slim. If he's going to accept a Minor League invite, it would probably be with the Yankees again.
What's the word on Kyle Sleeth? I remember him being a big-time prospect, but couldn't even find an article on him after last June, when he first came back from Tommy John elbow surgery. What's his future with the Tigers?
-- Jake B., Freeland, Mich.
Sleeth pitched 37 innings in rookie and Class A ball last year. Player development director Glenn Ezell told MLB Radio last week that he's encouraged after talking with Sleeth this winter. It's way too early to talk about his future, though. Right now, the priority is to get him a full season of work.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.