Mailbag: Rotation questions abound
Beat reporter Jason Beck answers Tigers fans' questions
What is the status of Jeremy Bonderman? Is he throwing at all right now?
-- Brad N., Soldotna, Alaska
I talked to Bonderman over the final week of the season, and he's currently doing rehab exercises back home in Washington state. He isn't throwing yet, but the hope is that he'll be cleared to start next month. Bonderman plans to be ready to pitch at the start of next season, and president/general manager Dave Dombrowski gave him a vote of confidence a week ago by putting him in the club's plans for next spring.
What are the chances the Tigers will go after a free-agent pitcher like CC Sabathia or Ben Sheets? What do you think their rotation will even look like?
-- Trevor J., Monroe, Mich.
Don't expect the Tigers to get into the bidding on the top of the starting-pitching market. They've tried to avoid big contracts for free-agent starting pitchers in past winters, opting for Kenny Rogers a couple years ago over bigger names. With so much money tied into current pitchers and Justin Verlander heading into his arbitration years, that outlook isn't going to change. Their best shot at a free-agent signing is probably Freddy Garcia, after his September stint in Detroit.
As for the rotation next year, it starts with Verlander, Armando Galarraga and most likely Bonderman. The other two spots are open. Garcia or Zach Miner could fill one or both of the spots, but the Tigers also want to see how Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis look in Spring Training. They're both under contract for two more years, and the Tigers probably need to get production out of one or both of them if they're going to have a rebound season.
My question is about Mike Hessman. Do the Tigers have plans for him, or what? His power numbers, even when he is with the Tigers, are pretty good for the little bit of play he gets. Could they play him at third base next year and have Carlos Guillen as the DH? That might produce more run production and definitely more power.
-- Mark S., Taylor, Mich.
With Miguel Cabrera at first base and Brandon Inge at third, the Tigers don't seem to have a role for Hessman, a right-handed power hitter who plays two positions where the Tigers currently have right-handed hitters. The fact that Jeff Larish also plays the corner infield spots and bats left-handed doesn't help Hessman's situation in Detroit.
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Manager Jim Leyland praised Hessman down the stretch and openly hoped that the infielder would find a spot in the big leagues, whether it's in Detroit or somewhere else. That said, Hessman also didn't start many games over the final week or two. Unless the Tigers keep him on the 40-man roster this winter, he'll be a Minor League free agent. Hessman said a couple weeks ago that if he's a free agent, he'll look around and try to find his best shot at a potential big league job.
In light of Dusty Ryan's strong performance in September and Guillen's persistent health issues, is there any chance we see Ryan getting a look as the potential starting catcher next year? Inge going back to third, unloading Gary Sheffield and moving Carlos to DH would be a great way to free up some money to spend on the bullpen overhaul.
-- Nick G., Kalamazoo, Mich.
Sheffield probably isn't going anywhere, though Guillen is moving to left field. As for Ryan, he has put himself in a position to vie for the starting job at catcher. However, the Tigers have to decide whether he's ready to stick in the Majors and how much of the job he could handle, or if he needs more seasoning in the Minors. While he made an impression down the stretch, scouts and fans alike noted that Ryan needs polish defensively and must block more pitches in the dirt.
The Tigers are going to look on the free-agent and trade markets for a catcher, at least as a platoon option, if not for the bulk of the duty. What they find out there will have a bearing on what they decide with Ryan. But quality young catching is one of the toughest commodities to find, and Ryan has played his way into a good spot.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.