By Peter King, SI.com
Player I Saw Whom I Really Liked Craig Monroe, OF. Monroe is slated to be a bit player for these Tigers, but the way he played Tuesday against the Rays, they'd better make some room for him. Lots of it. Against Hideo Nomo (folks, enjoy Hideo Nomo while you can; based on the junk he threw up there for the Rays, he'll be headed home to Japan the first week of April, out of baseball forever), Monroe hit a 430-foot, wind-aided homer to right-center in the first, smashed two more balls hard in later innings and made a diving catch of a Tampa Bay line drive in right field. He's a lithe 6-feet-1 with a little pop in his bat. Last year he hit .293 in 128 games, with 18 homers and 72 RBI, but the Tigers slated him for only platoon duty this year because they've got Alex Sanchez in center and Magglio Ordonez (health permitting) in right. Alan Trammell needs to find at-bats for Rondell White and, perhaps, Bobby Higginson. Advice to Trammell: Make sure you find some way to get Monroe 500 at-bats. He'll reward you for it.
Team's biggest strengths
The bullpen. How many teams have three (Kyle Farnsworth, Ugueth Urbina, Troy Percival) guys pitching in the seventh, eight and ninth who can hit 95 on the radar gun? Percival has spent time on the DL in four of the past five years, which will give GM Dave Dombrowski pause before he pulls the trigger on a Urbina trade.
Team's biggest weakness
Not even close. The starting pitching can't compete with the other three contenders in the division (Minnesota, Chicago, Cleveland); it's barely better than Kansas City's. When the Tigers lost out on Carl Pavano in free agency, it was a lethal blow to the team's chances to contend this year. Now they'll rely on a starting five who, collectively, were 46-54 with an ERA near 5 in 2004. It's a good thing the Tigers beefed up the bullpen, because the relivers will be used early and often in 2005. Look for Cub import Farnsworth to contend for the American League games-pitched lead all season.
Tigers still seem a little spooked at all the players they didn't sign in free agency. Owner Mike Ilitch showed up in Lakeland and mourned losing Pavano to the Yankees. "I'm going to keep spending till we win," he said. ... Ivan Rodriguez told me: "We were in the [free-agency] ballpark with a lot of guys this offseason, and we got two big ones [Percival and Magglio Ordonez]. Getting those two guys is really big for our team. The ones we didn't get, that's baseball." Pavano and Edgar Renteria went to the big, bad Yanks and Red Sox, of course. ... Farnsworth is one intimidating SOB. I approached him in the clubhouse as he ate a bagel this morning and introduced myself. "Are you #@^*@ [kidding] me?" he growled. "I'm eating." He did speak an hour or so later, telling me he loves intimidating hitters. Oh, really? ... Farnsworth also gave me my quote of the day. I asked him if he was happy, angry or sad that the Cubs traded him. "All three," he said. ... Nate Robertson (12-10, 4.90 last year), vital to this staff, impressed the Tigers by going after Rays hitters in his starting stint Tuesday. Trammell was down on him last year for not being aggressive on 2-2 counts. ... Fernando Rodney and Franklyn German have impressed trying to nail down the last bullpen slot. ... I-Rod is about half of what he used to be. The guy is a beanpole. A cut beanpole. Looks like he's lost 20 pounds.