Has any team had as disappointing of a past year as the Tigers have? Not only did key members of the team fall off a cliff talent-wise, but key figures and familiar faces were dished off to start Detroit’s rebuild.
A new age of Tiger baseball is upon us. It was an impressive run for the Justin Verlander-Miguel Cabrera led squad, though ultimately one which couldn’t reach its goal. Now that Verlander is gone and Miguel Cabrera has regressed down to a league-average player, the Tigers don’t have a seasoned veteran to turn to.
Interestingly, they didn’t replace Brad Ausmus with the forward-thinking, young manager, but rather with someone who has been around the block a few times.
The Tigers organization is quite familiar with new manager Ron Gardenhire, as he was a frequent occupant of Comerica Park’s visitors’ dugout when he managed the Twins from 2002-2014. While he isn’t that forward-thinking voice one comes to relate a rebuild with, there is no reason to think Detroit made the wrong hire. During Gardy’s first nine years in Minnesota, he finished in the top-2 for manager of the year voting six times. It isn’t until his core group of players, such as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, started aging that the Twins fell off the rails, leading to Gardy’s firing.
While no one on the Tigers current team has the capabilities to match what Jacque Jones or David Ortiz did for Gardenhire in his first year in the Twin Cities, Gardenhire will bring a fresh voice to the clubhouse, one which was sorely needed.
Even though he is a veteran manager, Gardenhire made sure to bring back another former manager, hitting coach Lloyd McClendon. While McClendon never found long-term success as a manager in Pittsburgh or Seattle, you cannot say he didn’t care.
Lloyd McClendon disagreed with a close call and got ejected.
Naturally, he took first base with him as he walked off the field.
— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) February 9, 2018
Gardenhire also made one of the offseason’s greatest additions, adding Chris Bosio to his staff as pitching coach. Bosio was fired from his job with the Cubs after last season, and the Tigers pounced on adding him and his resume working with young starters. Bosio turned middling starter Jake Arrieta into a Cy Young award winner while in Chicago, as well as helping guys like Kyle Hendricks and Carl Edwards Jr., two afterthought prospects, become stud major leaguers.
This should really excite Tiger fans, who may now get to see their stud pitcher, Michael Fulmer, unleashed. Under Rich Dubee last season, Fulmer stepped away from his comfort zone, throwing way more sliders than fastballs. According to Fangraphs, Fulmer almost doubled his slider rate while cutting his fastball rate from 37.1% to 21.5%. While Fulmer still had an impressive 86 ERA-, he didn’t improve upon his rookie year. Rather, he regressed.
Even as he regressed, he was still the Tigers’ ace, as he will be this year. That being said, there isn’t much talent around Fulmer to be excited about. The Tigers added one of Gardenhire’s former pitchers, Francisco Liriano, on a one-year deal. The only problem with this is that Liriano wasn’t all that good last year, and hasn’t been better than league average since his 2015 campaign in Pittsburgh.
Francisco Liriano had that slider dancing. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/b3bEQb5l3R
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) April 14, 2017
Liriano does have a wipeout slider working for him, one which the Tigers will love. If he comes out and looks good in spring, Liriano could very likely be the Tigers’ number two starter. That isn’t exactly praising him, however, as Liriano is no longer good enough to be relied upon that high in the rotation.
The Tigers also brought over Liriano’s Astros teammate Mike Fiers on a one-year deal this offseason. However, much like Liriano, Fiers was below league average in both xFIP and ERA- last season and hasn’t been above average in both since 2014. Fiers barely broke replacement level last season, only corralling 0.1 WAR.
It’s safe to assume that both of those guys get better this upcoming season under Bosio, though how much is tough to determine. On paper, a rotation with Fulmer, Liriano, Fiers, and Jordan Zimmerman isn’t horrific, but it isn’t good by any means.
Other than Fiers and Liriano, however, general manager Al Avila only made two other major league moves, both in the outfield. Leonys Martin was signed to a one-year deal, and the Tigers selected Victor Reyes from the Diamondbacks, who Ron Gardenhire worked for last season, in the Rule 5 draft. While neither of these guys is going to be a threat at the plate, it is worth noting.
When it comes to major league veterans, the Tigers are relatively devoid of talent. Neither Miguel Cabrera nor Jose Iglesias had even an average season last year, and many of the Tigers other veterans were traded. After dealing Justin Upton, J.D. Martinez, and Alex Avila mid-season last year, the Tigers dealt their last remaining all-star caliber bat, Ian Kinsler, to the Angels during the offseason.
This means that the infield, specifically second and third base, has already begun its youth movement. Jeimer Candelario, who came over from Chicago in the Alex Avila trade, will get his first full-time taste of the bigs this season with Detroit. The “Candy Man” hit .283 with a 111 wRC+ last season, though it was in an extremely limited amount of games. Steamer projects him at 94 wRC+ this upcoming season, slightly below league average.
At second base, Dixon Machado gets the full-time gig. Machado has some major league experience, but in a similar situation to Candelario, never rose to the top of any big league depth chart until now. Machado had a horrid 64 wRC+ last season, though that is expected to go up to a reasonable number in 2018.
— Tigres de Detroit (@TigresdeDetroit) January 31, 2018
Machado also has quite the glove at that second base position.
The other solid youth piece that will take the field at Comerica Park this season is outfielder Mikie Mahtook. Mahtook, who is likely to play left field, had a solid year for the Tigers last season, slashing .276/.330/.457. Mahtook doesn’t have a ton of pop in his bat, but he will be able to get on base relatively often, which should mean the Tigers at least have some consistency in their lineup.
“Mahtook had a nice under-the-radar season last year, hitting .276/.330/.457 (105 OPS+) with 12 homers in his first extended opportunity in the big leagues. The Cabrera-Martinez-Castellanos middle of the order could be very dangerous if Miggy and V-Mart return to form. Otherwise that is not an overly intimidating lineup, which is par for the course for a rebuilding team.” – Mike Axisa (@mikeaxisa), CBS Sports
The only other notable player on Detroit’s roster is outfielder Nick Castellanos. Castellanos is the Tigers’ best position player, even though he was only worth 1.7 WAR last season. Castellanos actually trended down a tiny bit last season, though the buffer is so big between him and anyone else at the plate that saying he will be the Tigers’ best hitter next season is a more than confident prediction.
That being said, that is a horrific position for Detroit to be in. Castellanos is great as a 5th or 6th best hitter on a contending team, but if he is your best player, you know that a team is going to struggle. Make no mistake: while they have a couple pieces with promise, this roster is completely devoid of talent. This team is horrible.
They may not lose as many games as some think they will, mostly due to the division they play in, the Tigers are still going to be on the hook for over 90 losses. And that’s being generous.
Outside of a general interest in prospects like Candelario, Machado, and Mahtook, the only reason to be interested in this team is Michael Fulmer. While he won’t win any awards because he won’t corral wins, Fulmer may be able to put up metrics comparable to Cy Young nominees this upcoming season. That is, of course, if no one blows the Tigers away with a trade offer.
It’s going to be an extremely long year in the Motor City. Have fun paying Miggy the entire GDP of Paraguay for the next eight years.
Record Prediction: 65-97