Note to Dombrowski: It's Time For An Ace

If Dave Dombrowski is serious about improving the Tigers for 2006, he must make a statement this offseason and acquire (either via free agency or by trade) an established starter to anchor the Tigers' rotation.


Any idea what the significance of that number is? That is the number of starting pitchers that pitched in the World Series this past fall that, if placed on the Tigers' staff, would immediately step up as the ace. The fact is, that number is simply unacceptable. If the Tigers hope to be competitive, they can't continue to skate by with mediocre pitching.

To his credit, Dombrowski has realized that his offense has received enough that with a bit of luck in the health department, they should supply plenty of runs. Before 2004, Dombrowski signed Ivan Rodriguez to be the figurehead of the organization. And just before spring training earlier in '05, Dombrowski added Magglio Ordonez to provide a power presence in the middle of the lineup.

Add to that group a healthy Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco, and TigsTown's top two prospects from last year (Curtis Granderson and Chris Shelton), and the offense should produce.

But the rotation continues to wallow in mediocrity. Jason Johnson, Mike Maroth, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman all carried an ERA in 4's in 2005. An ERA in the 4's guarantees you a job somewhere in the majors, but it doesn't do much as far as getting into the postseason.

Forget .500, Dombrowski is now on his third manager with a significantly increased payroll. The Tigers have to make a move to prove their only goal is playing meaningful games in September. The goal is not hoping the team will find some late season motivation to get over that awful .500 hump.

A.J. Burnett and Kevin Millwood highlight the free agent crop. Beyond those two, there likely isn't a single free agent starter that would come in and vault himself to the top of the group.

Beyond free agency, both Carl Pavano and Javier Vazquez have been rumored to be on the trading block and would be available for rather cheap considering the hefty salaries that come with them. Neither had a great season in 2005, but have proven capable of leading a rotation in prior years, and could easily return to form in pitcher-friendly Comerica Park.

The Tigers have a pair of spectacular young right-handers that are among the best in all of minor league baseball. Justin Verlander will likely receive every opportunity to win a job in the rotation this spring. Joel Zumaya is just 21 years of age, and will likely start off 2006 in AAA Toledo, though a spectacular start from him could land him in the rotation as well.

But expecting Verlander or Zumaya to be big time contributors as rookie starters is simply unrealistic. Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest pitcher of the last 50 years, posted an ERA over four with just nine wins in his first full season. Randy Johnson? ERA of 4.40, just seven wins.

The bottom line is these guys can certainly contribute, but aren't going to be go-to guys in their first year. The Tigers need a stopper at the top of the rotation to take the ball every fifth day, and give the team hope.

Jeremy Bonderman may turn out to be that type of pitcher in 2006, but people also hoped that coming into the 2005 season, Bonderman would grab that role. He improved on his previous season, but not enough.

The Tigers need an ace. They've needed one for a long time actually. It's time for Dombrowski to make it happen.

And what if Bonderman finally fulfills his potential and becomes that guy? Well, that still leaves the Tigers two short of the World Champs. So, my guess is, they can still use all the help they can get if they have any ideas of ending the now 18 years and counting playoff drought.

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