Tribe Confident Despite Tiger Trade

It seemed like a logical question, considering the blockbuster trade made this past off-season that landed the Detroit Tigers a pair of All-Star players in pitcher Dontrelle Willis and third baseman Miguel Cabrera. It is what many fans and "experts" have been wondering ever since: "Should the Detroit Tigers now be considered the favorites to win the American League Central Division this year?"

"Huh?," shouted Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach in a voice loud enough to be heard by the two dozen or so players and media members scattered throughout the home team locker room at newly-named Progressive Field. "What month are we in? This is January 21st."

The disgusted look on Shoppach's face was one that you'd expect him to make if Manny Ramirez had just stolen second, third and home against him on consecutive pitches.

Next question, please.

As Shoppach's blood pressure came down a bit, he said, "It doesn't matter what you've got on paper. It doesn't matter. It never has and it never will."

Shoppach is absolutely right. Even though the Tigers look to have strengthened themselves a great deal with the additions of Willis and Cabrera, there will definitely be an adjustment period for both players as Willis learns the hitters and Cabrera learns the pitchers in the American League.

David Dellucci, for one, isn't totally convinced Willis, a pitcher his teams faced many times during their National League days, will be able to step right in and dominate from the get-go.

"I think they helped out their team an awful lot, but this is the American League and I will be curious to see what Dontrelle can do in the American league," said Dellucci, who is expected to platoon in left field with Jason Michaels. "Dontrelle is a very good pitcher, but he is now coming over into a league where offensive lineups are set up much different than they are in the National League."

In other words, Willis' days of coasting through the bottom of the order are a thing of the past. In the American League, you more often than not face a tough out one through nine in the lineup, thanks due in large part the designated hitter.

Cabrera might very well be a much more important acquisition since he'll be on the field every day and is generally regarded as one of the best young offensive performers in the game today. He didn't get the recognition with the Marlins that he would have had he been playing in a big media market like New York, but anyone who follows baseball knows of his talent.

Franklin Gutierrez certainly does. "I think the trade was very good for him (Cabrera) and the Tigers. They didn't have a third baseman. Now they have a very good one. He gives them more power in their lineup," said Gutiererz who has played against Cabrera in Venezuela, where both players were born and raised. "It's going to be a tough division. They have a great team. We have a great team. It's going to be great to play against them this year."

But just like Shoppach, Gutierrez says the proof will come once the season begins. "Anything can happen on the field, even if Detroit has great names. We are going to play hard," said Gutierrez, who is expected to go into the season as the Tribe's everyday right-fielder after starting last season in the minor leagues.

Also virtually assured of an everyday job at first base is Ryan Garko, who went into camp last year just hoping to land a job with the major league club. The experience he and his teammates gained a year ago should make the Indians better, even without adding any high-profile players.

"That was a great trade they (the Tigers) made," Garko said. "It's going to be fun playing against those guys. Miguel Cabrera is one of the best right-hand hitters in the game today. They (the Tigers) raised the bar a little bit in our division and I think it was already the best division in baseball. We are going to have to come ready to compete with them from start to finish.

"Our whole division is looking great on paper," Garko said. "The White Sox and Royals added a lot, too."

Jake Westbrook, who will have the task of trying to limit Cabrera and the power-laden Tigers lineup, says, "This division is so unbelievable with talent. You have to come ready to play. Every team is going to get better. Every team has gotten better. It's up to us to go out there and compete night in and night out and do the best we can."

Shoppach said it was only natural for the Tigers to make the moves they made. "If you're not trying to get better, then you are trying to get worse. So, obviously you are going to go out there and do something you think can make your team better. Every team does it.

"The Tigers are no different than anyone else in major league baseball or any other professional sport. If you are not acquiring guys who you think are going to make your team better, then I don't know what you are doing."


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