Last season, Tigers’ fans had to watch in despair as their team failed to reach expectations, by missing the playoffs for the first time in four years. In addition, Detroit also lost their AL Central supremacy to the defending World Series Champions, Kansas City Royals.
Owner Mike Illitch promised the fan base that despite the last place finish, the team was going to reload, not rebuild. During the off-season, Illitch stuck to his word and provided new general manager Al Avila with a blank check in free agency that was used to restock their major league roster. The Tigers were able to acquire two $100 million players – starting pitcher Jordan Zimmerman and outfielder BJ Upton, as well as proven closer Francisco Rodriguez as well as some complimentary pieces (Cameron Maybin, Mike Pelfrey, Jarrod Saltalamcchia and Mike Aviles). It’s early, but the Tigers are shaping up to make another run in the tightly-packed AL Central.
Moving forward, let’s take a look at the biggest developments that the Tigers are experiencing entering Spring Training.
Refurbishing new and old talent – Detroit is laden with superstar players who are either in the middle of or exiting their prime years. While it’s true that most of these players are getting up there in age, injuries aside, each should return to their previous dominate form or at the very least continue to produce at the same level. What Tigers’ fans (and I’m sure management) are really excited about however are the abundance of cost controlled, young players Detroit has. Many of them are on the verge of achieving major milestones. This stars with short stop Jose Iglesisas (26), third baseman Nick Castellanos (23), catcher Bryan Holaday (28), right fielder JD Martinez (27), relief pitchers Angel Nesbitt (25), Kyle Ryan (24), Drew Verhagen (25) and starter Daniel Norris (22) whom are all projected to play major roles for the Tigers this season. Here’s to betting that none of these players, with the exception of maybe Martinez, are nearing their full potential.
The new and improved bullpen – For the past five seasons, the bullpen has been a hindrance for the Tigers. No other major league bullpen has sustained a worse ERA the last five seasons than Detroit has– 4.08. Avila made sure that fixing it would be top priority this offseason, and judging by the moves he made, he did pretty well.
Avila executed a trade for K-Rod, reliever Justin Wilson and signed Mark Lowe. Those three should take care of the 7th, 8th and 9th inning duties. Alex Wilson will be a dependable arm that Detroit can utilize in varies forms, either in a closing role, or in long-relief. This leaves a plethora of good arms to fill out the rest of the bullpen with the wild card being 100 mph pitcher Bruce Rondon. Detroit’s bullpen isn’t the best in the majors. But with the recent changes that were made, it seems for the first time in years, that the Tigers’ bullpen actually looks like a strength, instead of a detriment.
Restocking starting rotation– Justin Verlander showed down the stretch in 2015 to why he is still a force in the majors. Verlander is finally healthy again, and this is a good thing for him, as he completed the season in typical Verlander fashion. Over his final ten starts, Verlander allowed 41 hits and 16 earned runs through 70 innings. Left-handed batters were held to a .216 avg and right handers to .244 avg. While he didn’t display the 99 mph fastball that’s been involved in Verlander’s arsenal in the past, he did consistently hit the 94 mph range, which should please Avila and the rest of the Tigers’ pitching staff.
After Verlander, Detroit’s starting rotation is in decent shape. They brought in Zimmerman, who is the perfect #2 starter. Daniel Norris, who was obtained in the David Price trade, provides the stuff to develop into a top flight MLB starter. Mike Pelfrey was signed as an innings eater and reaching 180 innings isn’t out of the question.
However, the life-line of the entire Tigers’ rotation starts and ends with Anibal Sanchez. If Sanchez can return to his 2013 form, where he struck out 202 and polished a career best 2.57 ERA, then Detroit’s staff will once again be dominate. Even if the Tigers have to go to the farm system to reach out for a starter on occasion, there are more than enough quality arms to give the team stability.
More speed – The Tigers are never going to be depicted as a team that will swipe bases and win games off their speed alone. Their lineup is consisted of contact and power hitters and that isn’t changing anytime soon. However, this off-season they did add more quickness in the outfield with signees of Cameron Maybin, Anthony Gose and B.J. Upton. This potentially can provide the power guys (Cabrera and Martinez) within their lineup an opportunity to drive more runs in with runners on base.
Health – Funny that this is the fifth point being made, because the Tigers’ season may very well be determined by the health of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Justin Verlander. As of today, DH Martinez isn’t reporting any major issues with his surgically repaired knee. For once, did Cabrera and Verlander both have a normal offseason. With that being said, every one of these players, when healthy, are capable of winning games by themselves.