This was my opening paragraph last year when previewing this team: "Is the championship window closing for the Detroit Tigers in 2015? I do believe this is the final year this club has a shot at the World Series." I actually went over the team's win total of 84.5 but said the Tigers wouldn't win the AL Central even though they were co-favorites.
Detroit finished 74-87 and last in the division, ending a string of six straight non-losing seasons and four straight with a playoff berth. The shakeup of the roster began around the trade deadline as the Tigers, who have one of the worst farm systems in baseball and an aging roster, dealt away ace David Price to Toronto and slugger Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets for prospects.
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In a surprise, the team then forced out GM Dave Dombrowski right after he made those trades. I don't think anyone in baseball thought that was a smart move for the franchise, and Dombrowski was quickly snapped up by the Boston Red Sox. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch is rather impatient and he badly wants to win a World Series before he dies. He's a great owner in that regard because Ilitch always spends big in the offseason to accomplish that feat. This winter was no different. Unfortunately, that payroll is bloated because of ridiculous deals given to the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. Two of the best players at their position this decade for sure but also now breaking down in their early 30s.
Detroit opens the season Tuesday in Miami in an interleague matchup.
Tigers 2016 Projected Lineup
Detroit ranked 15th in runs last season and will have a few new every-day starters. The main losses were catcher Alex Avila (son of the team's new GM) and outfielder Rajai Davis. So not much.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler returns as the leadoff man, and he was very good as usual last year, hitting .296 with 11 homers and 73 RBIs. Likely to hit second is new left fielder Justin Upton. He was lingering on the free-agent market in mid-January until the Tigers swopped in and offered him a six-year, $133 million deal. I think the Tigers will regret that deal in a couple of years, although the contract includes an opt-out after the second year. Upton batted .251 with 26 homers and 81 RBIs last year. His average was his worst since 2008 and his on-base percentage of .336 his worst since 2007. He hit just .191 and had only three of his 26 home runs against left-handed pitching. Maybe getting out of Petco Park will improve Upton's numbers. Good player, don't get me wrong, but not worth that kind of money.
Cabrera will play first base and bat third. Guy is still a top-five hitter in the majors as long as he can stay healthy. I'm not convinced he will. Cabrera was limited to 119 games last year but won another batting title with a .338 average -- his power was down with 18 homers and 76 RBIs. Supposedly he's healthier than ever right now. Sure he is.
Clean-up hitter and DH Victor Martinez (.245, 11 HRs, 64 RBIs) predictably struggled in 2015 after a huge 2014 season got him a big extension. He played only 120 games last year and is another injury concern. Right fielder J.D. Martinez (.282, 38 HRs, 102 RBIs) bats fifth and is one of the most underappreciated players in baseball. He'll make only $6.75 million this season. That's a steal.
The rest of the lineup should be third baseman Nick Castellanos (.255, 15 HRs, 73 RBIs) catcher James McCann (.264, 7 HRs, 41 RBIs), center fielder Cameron Maybin (.267, 10 HRs, 59 RBIs) and shortstop Jose Iglesias (.300, great defender). Maybin was acquired this offseason after a huge bounce-back season with Atlanta. He's not likely to be ready for Opening Day with a wrist injury, meaning Anthony Gose will be in center. Those two will platoon all season with Gose against righties and Maybin vs. lefties. Maybin has much more upside.
Tigers 2016 Projected Rotation & Closer
The Tigers finished last in the AL in 2015 with a rotation ERA of 4.78.
Verlander got a late start to last season due to injury and struggled badly at first. In his last 14 starts, however, Verlander posted a 2.27 ERA (best in AL over that stretch) while holding opposing hitters to a .207 average and regularly hitting 99 mph on his fastball again. He finished 5-8 with a 3.38 ERA in 20 starts. Needless to say, the success of this team will largely fall on his right arm.
The big addition in this group was right-hander Jordan Zimmermann from Washington. He got five years and $110 million. He was 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA in a career-high 33 starts for the Nationals last season. He is one of four pitchers to work at least 190 innings and make 32 starts in each of the past four seasons. He has 66 wins and a 3.14 ERA over that span, ranking No. 4 and No. 10 in the NL, respectively.
Anibal Sanchez (10-10, 4.99) regressed last season and already has had one injury scare this spring. Mike Pelfrey was (6-10, 4.26) was signed away from the Twins. The fifth spot was favored to go to young lefty Daniel Norris, who was the key piece the Tigers got from the Blue Jays for Price. But he's dealing "non-displaced fractures in his spinous process," whatever that means, and will start the season on the DL. Thus Shane Greene (4-8, 6.88) is the leading contender for that final spot.
It seems like the Tigers have been searching for a competent closer this entire decade. Now that role belongs to Francisco Rodriguez. He had 38 saves and a 2.21 ERA last year with Milwaukee. He's not the fire-balling K-Rod he used to be but obviously still pretty effective.
Tigers Futures Odds
At BetOnline , Detroit is +2200 to win the World Series, +1200 for the AL pennant, +425 in the AL Central and has an "over/under" wins total of 81.5, with the over a -120 favorite. Martinez is +2500 to lead the majors in homers and Cabrera +2800. Cabrera is +900 for AL MVP with Upton at +3300 and Martinez also at +3300. Martinez has a homers total of 30.5 and Cabrera at 26.5. Verlander is +3300 for AL Cy Young and Zimmermann +5000. Zimmermann's wins total is 12.5.
Tigers 2016 Predictions
FanGraphs projects Detroit to finish 81-81 and second in the AL Central, five games behind Cleveland. Love that top five of the lineup if everyone stays healthy. Verlander and Zimmermann are a potentially very good 1-2 punch, but after that it's worrisome. I'll go over that wins total but don't see a return to the playoffs. Go over Zimmermann's win total and over Martinez homers but under on Cabrera.
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