With a week before Opening Day, my stomach is twisting and my mind is racing trying to figure out what to expect of the Tigers. Gone are the days of muted expectations, ever since the Tigers' miracle run of 2006 in which they went from Last Place to the World Series. As I attempt to concoct a scenario in which the Tigers do the same thing this season after a crushing 2008, I thought it might be fun to compare the 2006 and the 2009 teams and see how they match up. This will take a number of posts but I'll keep each one short(ish), so let's start with the first basemen.
2006 Chris Shelton vs. 2009 Miguel Cabrera
Shelton was the Rule 5 pick who stormed out of the gate with a record setting home run streak to start the season. He proceeded to go ice cold after April and was replaced by Sean Casey in the second half.
Casey went on to hit for a respectable average, with no power and no speed, though his defense was an asset throughout the season. He injured himself early in the playoffs only to tear the cover off the ball in the World Series, hitting .529 with 2 homers and 5 RBI.
Miguel Cabrera is among the best offensive players in the game and was they lynchpin of the 2008 blockbuster trade that brought him to Detroit in exchange for the Tigers top two prospects, Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin. He finished in the top 3 in the American League in Home Runs and RBIs in 2008.
In 2005 Shelton was on the team as a backup catcher, so there was no continuity at First Base. In 2008, Cabrera started as a 3rd baseman but was moved to 1st before the All Star Break, he has half a year as starting Tigers first Baseman going into 2009.
So, 2006 or 2009?
Defense: 2009 pre-Casey, 2006 with Casey
2009 Easily gets the nod at first base, with one of the game's premier hitters occupying the position. While there may be some defensive liability down the stretch when compared with Sean Casey, the offensive prowess, and acceptable defense more than make up for it.