Saturday, March 31, 2007

Latest on the Detroit Tigers and Michigan's Basketball Coaching Search

As March turns to April, the Detroit sports scene is heating up. Opening Day is just two days away, the University of Michigan finally looks like they may be focusing in on a potential new head coach, and both the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons get closer to the playoffs. With so much going on in the world of Detroit sports, it's almost hard to keep track of everything. So let's take a look at the latest goings on, see if we can't make some sense things.

Kenny Rogers OUT with Blood Clot: This was the first big story of the end of the week, first with the veteran left-hander being placed on the Disabled List with what was called a "tired arm", then having surgery less than 24-hours later to remove a blood clot from his shoulder and repair some arteries in the same area. Certainly the injury is not good news for the Tigers. Rogers, who many thought was washed up when the Tigers signed him to a two-year deal before last season, was a large part of the Tigers renaissance last year. Not only did he win 17 games, but his experience and his willingness to teach some of the younger Tiger pitchers (especially Mike Maroth and Nate Robertson, two fellow lefties) was invaluable. Now, with Rogers out until July at the earliest, the Tigers have to reform what was one of the strongest pitching rotations in all of baseball.

This is not to say the Tigers are completely lost without Rogers. Far from it actually. The Tigers have some of the best pitching depth in baseball, and Chad Durbin, who is currently handling Rogers' spot in the rotation, pitched very well this spring and had a great season at AAA last year. And if Durbin falters, the Tigers have a number of potential options to replace him, including rookie Andrew Miller. MLive.com's Danny Knobler was on WDFN's Stoney and Wojo Show yesterday and stressed that the Tigers would not hesitate to call up Miller if Durbin fails despite Miller's lack of experience. And as Danny rightly pointed out, if Miller comes up (or Durbin is successful) Rogers injury may actually help the Tigers by giving them more depth. Plus, assuming Rogers comes back healthy, he'll be fresh come August and September. It will be as if the Tigers acquired one of the best left-handed pitchers at the trade deadline. That will make the Tigers look scary to every team in the playoff hunt. The idea of bringing Miller up and having him gain a half-a-season's worth of experience sounds almost too good to be true. Even if he struggles, which would be understandable given he's never started a game at the minor league level, much less in the majors, the experience he'll receive will make him an even better pitcher and allow him to be more successful when he joins the rotation full time, likely next season.

Tigers and Carlos Guillen agree to 4 year/$48 million deal: In a move which team president Dave Dombrowski had to get done, the Tigers locked Carlos Guillen up long-term with a 4-year-deal. Guillen, who could have become a free agent at the end of the season, had said he did not want to negotiate during the season (because it would be a distraction) and losing him would have been a big blow for a team that is really building a team which can contend for a long, long time. Yes, Guillen has had a history of injuries, but he's also been, in many ways, the heart and soul of the Tigers infield, and a leader both on the field and in the clubhouse. With Guillen being locked up, and the previous extensions signed by second baseman Placido Polanco and third baseman Brandon Inge, the Tigers infield is set for years to come. And with Curtis Granderson maturing in center, outfielders Cameron Maybin and Brent Clevlen waiting in the wings in the outfield, and Pudge Rodriguez recently declaring he wants to catch until he's 40, the Tigers could be set for a long, long time, and they could be World Series contenders well into the next decade. Kudos to both Dombrowski and Guillen for getting this deal done, not having it be a distraction during the season, and ensuring the Tigers future is successful.

Michigan locks in on West Virginia's John (don't call him "Jim") Beilein: Last week, I knocked University of Michigan AD Bill Martin for not moving fast enough in picking a new head coach for the Michigan Men's Basketball Team. Late this week, news broke that Michigan was focusing in West Virginia's John Beilein (mistakenly I called him "Jim" in this post originally, which while got me the top Google result under "Jim Beilein" is something I should fix) while also looking at Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery and Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings. While I've often said I want Marquette's Tom Crean, Beilein would be a good choice to replace Tommy Amaker. He has turned West Virginia of all places into a perennial tournament team, making it to back-to-back Sweet Sixteens before graduating most of his top talent. This season, he led the Mountaineers to an NIT Title despite most predications that his team would be in the bottom half, or even bottom quarter, of the Big East because of the talent he lost.

He would also be expensive. He has a $2.5 million buyout from his current contract, and Michigan would have to open up the checkbook Beilein's yearly salary. And, again, if Michigan is willing to pay so much for Beilein, why weren't they willing to pay the same for Kentucky's Tubby Smith, now at Minnesota? No matter who the Wolverines hire, letting Smith get away was a huge mistake. And there have been questions about how great of a recruiter Beilein is, though, some of that is likely because he was coaching at West Virginia (no offense to those reading from WVU). With the Big Ten full of powerful coaches recruiting against you (Tom Izzo, Tubby Smith, the list goes on) maybe somebody with a better track record of recuriting would be best. But, at the same time, Tommy Amaker had a great history of recruiting at Seton Hall, and yet, that did him little good at Michigan, so maybe that isn't the best way to pick a head coach.

Chris Lowery, of Southern Illinois, is a heckuva candidate too. I almost like him more than Beilein. NCAA Tournament success. Success recruiting in the Midwest. Almost 20-years younger than Beilein. Could be someone who will turn Michigan around and be the face of the program for a decade or more. It's not an easy choice, because I understand the attractiveness of Beilein as a candidate. Smart, tough, gets a lot of production out of not a lot of talent (like he did this season) and he's had just as much success in the NCAA Tournament. I'd be happy with either Beilein or Lowery. Let's just hire one already so I don't have to worry about it anymore, okay?

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