4 Detroit Tigers Another change in philosophy for a team that can't afford a turn for the worse

March 26, 2001

You shouldn't read too much into spring training stats, but this
one could be telling: When Giomar Guevara stole second base in
the Tigers' third Grapefruit League game, it gave Detroit seven
steals this spring--the same number the team had in 30 games last
spring. Think the Tigers are planning to run more this year?

Before the 2000 season Detroit tried to improve by adding a big
bat to its lineup, trading for slugging rightfielder Juan
Gonzalez. But it did not turn out to be a good fit, and he batted
.289 with just 22 homers and 67 RBIs. Attempts by the club to
sign him to a long-term deal were deflected early on, and the
drawn-out talk of his future was a distraction for the rest of
the team, as was his propensity for removing himself from the
lineup (47 games missed because of various injuries). Gonzalez,
who before last season turned down Detroit's offer of $151
million over eight years, left as a free agent and signed a
one-year, $10 million deal with the Indians in January.

"Last year we had a superstar, and it took away from what we
were trying to accomplish as a team," says righthander Jeff
Weaver. "You constantly had your eyes on the situation, and you
never knew when he was going to be in the lineup."

But Gonzalez's attitude was only part of his problem; Comerica
Park, which opened last year, is as friendly to sluggers as
late-night comics are to President Bush. "You've got to try to
hit line drives," lefthanded-batting leftfielder Bobby Higginson
says of Comerica, which has left-to-right dimensions of 345',
395', 420', 365' and 330'. "You can't get frisky and try to hit
home runs, especially not as a righthanded hitter."

So this season's big off-season acquisition was switch-hitting
Roger Cedeno, who in six major league seasons has 117 RBIs--40
fewer than Gonzalez had in 1998 alone. But Cedeno stole 66 bases
with the Mets in '99 (he had only 25 for the Astros in an
injury-plagued 2000). "When he's on the base paths, Roger can
make the pitcher and catcher a little worried," says Higginson,
who, along with Damion Easley and Juan Encarnacion, is also
capable of 20 or more steals.

Cedeno was obtained, along with righthander Chris Holt and
catcher Mitch Meluskey, in a trade that sent catcher Brad Ausmus
and two relievers to Houston. Meluskey belted 14 homers in 337 at
bats last year, but don't expect him to be a big power threat in
Detroit: 11 of his dingers came at homer-friendly Enron Field. He
is, however, a line drive hitter, and his .374 average with
runners on base was the second best in the majors. "I feel a lot
better about this year because of the way the team is made up,"
says Higginson. "We have more gap hitters who can also get on
base and steal, as opposed to just playing for three-run homers."

That's not to say the Tigers can't win a game with one swing of
the bat. They set a team record for home runs on the road (108),
despite Gonzalez's off-year and power-hitting first baseman Tony
Clark's missing 102 games, mostly with a bulging disk; Clark has
looked healthy this spring. Shortstop Deivi Cruz drove in 82
runs, and Higginson rediscovered his stroke. After his batting
average dropped 45 points, to .239 with 46 RBIs in 1999, the
30-year-old hit .300 with career highs in homers (30) and RBIs
(102) last year.

There were two reasons for Higginson's resurgence. First, he was
healthy; a nagging injury to his right big toe two years ago had
caused him to come off the ball and pull it too much. Second,
he's had manager Phil Garner's support from Day One. "We came in
and said Bobby was going to play every day," says Garner. "This
organization had seen him struggle for a year and a half, and
everybody was concerned."

After a dismal 6-18 start last year, Detroit was 64-49 over its
next 113 games, thanks largely to a dramatic improvement in the
starting pitching. For the season the Tigers had the fifth-best
ERA in the AL, and Weaver and righthander Brian Moehler formed a
respectable duo. After an up-and-down rookie season, the
24-year-old Weaver pitched well in 2000 despite having the
fourth-worst run support (4.23) in the league. He's a hard
thrower who relies on his cut fastball and who's not afraid to
come inside.

Despite having traded the organization's best prospect,
outfielder Gabe Kapler, to get Gonzalez and receiving only two
compensatory draft picks after Gonzalez signed with Cleveland,
G.M. Randy Smith says he doesn't regret making the trade for the
slugger. Moving into a new park, he says, "the thought was we
would have the revenue to support a marquee player, and that was
one thing we were missing. Obviously, it didn't work out, but
I'm not going to look back."

Cedeno doesn't qualify as a marquee name, and playing small ball
might not sell tickets, but the Tigers at least have a shot at
finishing with a .500 record, which they haven't done in eight
years.

--M.B.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO After last year's power failure, the Tigers opted for the speedy Cedeno to set the tone for an offense better suited to Comerica. COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON MELUSKEY

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Tigers

With the addition of Roger Cedeno, the Tigers' new philosophy is
to win with speed and defense, but to do that you'd better have
good pitching--and they have mediocre pitching. This club is
caught in-between. Brian Moehler and Dave Mlicki are
middle-of-the-rotation guys....With their bullpen they're fine
with Todd Jones and C.J. Nitkowski. Setup man Matt Andersen is
getting better, but with that live arm he qualifies as a
disappointment. There are a lot of innings that have to be
picked up by people who are mediocre....In the infield Tony
Clark has not swung the bat well all spring after another down
year, Damion Easley is a solid player, and Deivi Cruz is getting
stronger with the bat, but he has little range. Dean Palmer has
throwing problems because of his ailing shoulder....Mitch
Meluskey is an offensive catcher, and I'm betting those pitchers
are missing Brad Ausmus already. That's a big downgrade
defensively....Wendell Magee and Billy McMillon are decent
outfielders, but is one of them going to emerge with 30 home
runs? I don't see it....Palmer and Bobby Higginson better hit 30
to 35 home runs apiece because this team has no other power.
There are seven clubs that will score more than 900 runs, and
Detroit can't hit with them and its pitching can't hold them
down....The other problem they have is leadership. Where is it
coming from?...This team will scuffle to win 70 games. You might
see Minnesota go by them in the AL Central.

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 79-83 (third in AL Central)
Manager: Phil Garner (second season with Detroit)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

RF Roger Cedeno[1] S-R 96 .282 6 26 25
2B Damion Easley R 165 .259 14 58 13
LF Bobby Higginson L-R 65 .300 30 102 15
1B Tony Clark S-R 159 .274 13 37 0
C Mitch Meluskey[1] S-R 203 .300 14 69 1
3B Dean Palmer R 87 .256 29 102 4
SS Deivi Cruz R 171 .302 10 82 1
DH Billy McMillon L 269 .301 4 24 1
CF Juan Encarnacion R 154 .289 14 72 16

BENCH

IF Shane Halter R 325 .261 3 27 5
OF Wendell Magee R 332 .274 7 31 1
C Scott Servais[1] R 368 .220 1 13 0
IF Jose Macias S-R 382 .254 2 24 2

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Brian Moehler 114 12 9 6.1 1.47 4.50
RH Jeff Weaver 95 11 15 6.7 1.29 4.32
RH Dave Mlicki 193 6 11 5.4 1.57 5.58
RH Chris Holt[1] 151 8 16 6.4 1.56 5.35
RH Steve Sparks 202 7 5 6.5 1.32 4.07

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Todd Jones 35 2 4 42 1.44 3.52
RH Matt Anderson 238 3 2 1 1.43 4.72
LH C.J. Nitkowski 214 4 9 0 1.58 5.25
RH Danny Patterson 253 5 1 0 1.48 3.97
LH Kevin Tolar* (R) 330 4 2 2 1.36 3.00
RH Dave Borkowski* 352 3 1 0 1.23 4.40
LH Matt Perisho[1] 362 2 7 0 1.93 7.37

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Triple A stats

"There are a lot of innings that have to be picked up by
pitchers who are mediocre."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)