The eternally boyish Tiger fan is excited to find these new presents under the tree on Christmas morning 2014:
Yoenis Cespedes. A top-notch power tool imported from Cuba, he’s been long coveted in these parts. Not only does this baby have lots of homer juice, he’s pretty speedy. There’s little doubt this tool has the skill set to do the job in the corner of your outfield. He should be in his prime at age 29. It’s not clear, however, what will happen after his $9 million warranty expires at the end of 2015. The hope is he’ll fall in love with his Tiger teammates and the squad’s Latin teammates will put a stopper in his loose cannon. Will he be a good boy or too disruptive in the Comerica clubhouse? Cespedes was great in his rookie year—almost a 4-win player (3.9 WAR), finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting and tenth in the Most Valuable Player race with an .861 OPS and a 139 OPS+. His average, on-base, and power numbers, however, all fell by 50 points or so in 2013, and they didn’t rebound much in 2014. Tiger fans hope he can be the shiny new model of 2012, and not the more run-down versions of the past two seasons.
Anthony Gose. This zippy little toy has only two tools—speed and defense—but they are both formidable. Other settings are defective: he can’t hit for average or power and he can’t throw very well. He’s still young, only twenty-four, and the hope is he can learn from the hitters who’ll be his teammates how to be more than a defensive fifth-outfielder type. Because this lefty can’t hit lefties at all—we’re talking 180./.241/.220 here, like a decent hitting pitcher—he’ll probably see some time platooning with Rajai Davis in center now that Cespedes has locked up left field, and at least he’ll be a much better fielder there than the Raj. His career slash line of .234/.301/.332 has its own small bright spot: it does show an ability to draw walks despite his lack of offensive prowess. He could be quite useful.
Alfredo Simon. Who exactly are we getting in this package? A late bloomer, he’s slightly used: he’ll turn thirty-three in May. He spent nearly a decade in the Phillies farm system before catching on with Baltimore. For the Orioles he pitched in the bullpen in 2010, and in 2011 he was a swingman/fifth starter type who made sixteen starts. But his ERA in those first two full seasons was just under 5.00. Simon was then shipped off to Cincinnati, and there he logged two very solid seasons as a reliever with an ERA under 3.00. He proved so durable in 2013, hurling eighty-eight innings, that last season the Reds turned him back into a starter. He made thirty-two starts and had a decent year with an ERA+ of 105. He managed to pitch a career-high 196 innings.
Defects: As last season progressed, he wore down. He was 12-3 on July 10, 3-7 after that. His ERA was 4.98 in August and 4.34 in September. He’s not a strikeout artist nor does he induce grounders. As a flyball pitcher, he might be OK in Comerica.
Then there are the (ahem) character issues. Simon shot and killed a guy on New Year’s 2011 while firing his gun in the air in his native Dominican Republic—and spent three months in jail while the investigation was conducted before being acquitted of manslaughter. Then he was sued last April by a woman who accused him of raping her in a Washington hotel room in April 2013 while the Reds were in town for a series against the Nationals; Simon’s denied the charges and the case is ongoing. There is no indication that these off-field issues have impacted his career in any way; strangely, in fact, they’ve occurred as he’s begun to blossom at long last as a solid major league pitcher. If he fails as a starter, “Big Pasta” could at least be a bullpen stalwart who could log multiple innings at a time—he would be the first large carbohydrate item to emerge from the Tiger pen since “Papa Grande.”
Shane Greene. Not sure what to make of this present? For some reason, Dave Dombrowski likes him. On an ordinary staff, he would have a decent chance to develop into a #3 or #4 starter. But he pales in comparison with Detroit’s aces. The twenty-six-year-old made the leap from Triple-A to the Yankees’ rotation last year, with surprising results. Never a top prospect, he opened some eyes by harnessing his control issues. His arsenal is strictly fastball/slider, his ceiling is not too high, and like Simon, he may end up in the bullpen if Kyle Lobstein emerges. He, too, wore down last September, with a 5.40 ERA. We’ll see if he’s an astute choice or merely serviceable.
Bad apples under the tree or a bountiful crop? Only the coming season will tell whether these Christmas presents will be worth playing with in Detroit.