The Padres continue interleague play this weekend as the Detroit Tigers come to town this weekend. I had a chance to talk to Rob Rogacki of Bless You Boys about what we should look forward to and what we should dread.
1. Miguel Cabrera just signed a giant contract. There's certainly no doubt he's worth it in the short term, but are Tigers fans concerned about paying a 40 year old $32 million 9 years from now?
The last few years of that contract definitely look daunting, but evidence suggests that Cabrera should be a very productive player throughout the majority of the deal. Hall of Fame talents like Cabrera have typically aged very well, producing huge numbers well into their late 30s. For instance, Baseball Reference's similarity scores rank Hank Aaron as Miguel Cabrera's #1 comparable player through age 30. Hammerin' Hank had a lengthy career after his 30s (and 40s), and I don't think Cabrera will come anywhere close to Aaron's homer totals. Still, Cabrera should be a productive hitter for several more seasons, and his recent move back to first base should only help prolong his career.
2. The last time the Padres saw Justin Verlander was in 2008, which was a rocky year for your ace. Since then, he's won a Cy Young, an MVP, and dated Kate Upton. And then he had to be a showoff and throw 20 scoreless innings this spring. Is he in Cy Young form again this season, or is there another Tiger pitcher we should fear more?
Verlander had a down year in 2013 by his excellent standards, but was still good enough to produce a 3.46 ERA and 5.2 fWAR in 218 1/3 innings. He cited mechanical difficulties throughout the season, but seemed to figure things out in time for the postseason, when he allowed one run in 23 innings. He had "core muscle repair" surgery in the offseason -- I'll let you make your own Kate Upton jokes there -- but his scoreless spring alleviated any doubts as to whether he would be ready for the start of the season. His strikeout numbers are down through his first couple starts, but he is still the ace of the staff no matter how much Max Scherzer tries to prove otherwise.
3. Former Friar Brad Ausmus is in his first season as manager of the Tigers. How did Detroit react to the hire? Are Tiger diehards as in love with the dreamboat as Padres fans?
Reaction to the hire has been very positive, and Ausmus hasn't done anything to change that during his short tenure as the Tigers' skipper. He has done well to preserve the excellent clubhouse atmosphere that Jim Leyland maintained, including retaining Leyland's bench coach (Gene Lamont) and pitching coach (Jeff Jones). I don't know if Ausmus' playing days resonate as well with Tigers fans due to his short tenure with the team and the club's horrific record during that era, but the simple fact that he isn't Jim Leyland is enough to win many casual fans over. It was a bold hire, but it seems to be paying off so far.
4. Smart people who know more about prospects than I do say Nick Castellanos is the young Tiger to watch. He had a solid September call-up last year and is off to a great start this year. What makes him so good?
Castellanos was drafted for his bat, and that bat will determine what kind of career he has. A natural infielder, the Tigers moved him to the outfield in late 2012 when Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera were manning the corner infield spots. Almost immediately after Fielder was traded last December, news broke that Castellanos would be moving back to the infield. Scouts were never high on his glove in the minors, but he has looked surprisingly comfortable (and miles better than Cabrera) at third so far this season. At the plate, he has a beautiful, compact swing with developing power. He launched his first career home run to dead center field at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, and has shown an impressive ability to hit for average and power to all fields. It's early, but he should be among the favorites for the AL Rookie of the Year award this season.
5. We're playing Senior Circuit baseball this weekend, which can be daunting for AL pitchers. Who's going to reach base, and who's going to strike out while bunting?
As good as he is on the mound, Justin Verlander can't hit his way out of a wet paper bag. He is still searching for his first career hit after 35 plate appearances, including 15 strikeouts. His biggest career achievement at the plate is hitting a home run over the Green Monster in batting practice while the team was in Boston last season. If Ian Kennedy gives up a hit to Verlander, all hope is lost. Neither Rick Porcello nor Max Scherzer are much better, but they have both reached base before. Porcello has the higher career batting average, while Scherzer smacked an RBI double off Matt Harvey last season.
BONUS: Seriously, how dreamy is Brad Ausmus?
If the talk about Nick Castellanos' swing wasn't enough to get Tigers fans all hot and bothered, thinking of Ausmus should do the trick. The Tigers have a short history of attractive managers -- and by that, I mean it started the minute Ausmus was hired. Some fans may miss the rugged handsomeness of Jim Leyland sitting in his office with his shirt unbuttoned scarfing down potato salad during a post-game interview, but Ausmus is just too pretty to be contained.
Thanks again to Rob for taking a break from his snow shoveling to chat with us. You can see the other side of our conversation over at Bless You Boys.