We looked high and low for a mainstream media member to chime in with their take on the upcoming baseball season. Our first choice was Mitch Albom, but our sources at the Detroit Free Press regretfully informed us that Albom retired from writing sometime in 2003. Too bad.
Anyway, someone suggested 105.1's Matt Dery and we called him, and he didn't hang up. (Thanks, Matt!)
Here's what he thinks is going on, including what the players thought about the boos during last year's playoff run, the problematic rotation, and more.
Metro Times: Do they miss Jim Leyland at all? Is Brad Ausmus capable of getting them over the hump?
Matt Dery: I think they did miss Leyland a little bit last year. I think Brad did a good job in his first year. Some fans got on him for his late-game decisions, or his comments about beating his wife, which were just a joke and he apologized, but they got on him for that. But I think the team missed Leyland a little bit. He grew up in the organization. It was a perfect fit. He'll always be a legend here. He took his fair share of criticisms, but the die-hards still love him. He broke down in tears a couple of times talking about the stadium and his players and the fans.
MT: Any reason to have early concern about Miguel Cabrera's contract?
Dery: I don't ever really talk about that contract. The contract that's a bigger concern is Justin Verlander's. Miggy, for all his injuries, plays through them and is productive. He's dominant. His personality rubs off on the other guys. He's having fun, and baseball's supposed to be fun. Verlander, though ... I think he'll be better than last year. Of course, it'd hard to be worse for him. And the radar gun controversies. If the gun is accurate, and it's on, that's a bad sign.
MT: For those that didn't catch up on that, what happened?
Dery: In his last couple of starts, he threw his first pitch at like, 88 mph. Then they shut the radar gun off. They claimed they were having trouble. After his last start, he said the gun was messed up and sometimes it's right and sometimes it's wrong. It's a huge discussion. It's a huge focus. If it's on or off, if he used to hit 98 or 99 mph late in games. It's a bad sign if he's not hitting that anymore. With his contract, he's untradeable.
MT: I was going to ask you what your biggest concern is. I take it that it's Verlander or the rotation in general.
Dery: Yeah, I think David Price pitching for a contract is good for the Tigers, but I question the three through five spots compared to the past. You used to have Max Scherzer at three, Porcello at four, Drew Smiley at five. You had good, young arms. Doug Fister! And you lost them all in the last two years. Those were guys any team in the division would be thrilled to have. You've replaced that with what? Shane Greene? Alfredo Simon?
MT: Is the run of AL Central division championships over?
Dery: I actually think the Indians are going to win the division. I think the Tigers can win the division. I think the Royals can win the division. I think even the White Sox can win the division. But I think the Indians will win the division. I think Terry Francona's the best manager in baseball. The Tigers ... I just think they're going to break down. It'll be competitive, but I just don't think the have the best team anymore.
MT: What are they going to be looking for at the trade deadline, if anything? Too soon to talk trades?
Dery: I think if the Tigers do anything, it'll be to find another reliever. The biggest thing to watch right now is Joe Nathan. It's not even a lock, from what I'm being told, that he'll make the team. And you're paying him $10 million. Dave Dombrowski is not good at eating that sort of money. I think having Joakim Soria and Bruce Rondon, that does add some spice to it.
MT: What do your callers think about the team?
Dery: I think the callers have no idea right now. They're very skeptical. I think they are worried. They are great fans, of course, and they come out in droves. But, last year, and I know this for a fact, that some players and some people in the organization were very upset at Game 3 of the ALDS when the Tigers were down 2-0 in the series, and Soria and Joba Chamberlain got booed in the introductions for how they played in game 2. I think it ticked off many people in the organization. There was an edge last year between the players and the media, not a rift, but there were uncomfortable moments. I think the organization felt like the media was too harsh on a team that had won three straight division titles.
MT: Well, you spilling the beans on that is bound to heal those wounds, I'm sure.