The Detroit Tigers should enter this season very frustrated. After a surprising season that included a 12-win improvement from the year before to 86 wins, they had their playoff destiny in their own hands. All they had to do was beat up on the Atlanta Braves and they were likely postseason bound. They didn't, and they weren't. So now they head into a new season, and we have to determine how much of last year was a fluke and what we can reasonably expect this year.
The Tigers clearly felt surprisingly good about their squad as it sits, because they did about as little as a team can do in an offseason to change their roster - never mind to improve it. They basically stood pat - which isn't what top poker players typically do when dealt a middling hand. So, is it enough? Can this team, motivated by the spirit of late owner Mike Ilitch, take another step forward and return to the postseason after missing out for two years? Or is a step backwards in the cards?
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Tigers 2017 Projected Lineup
We have to start by talking about age. Miguel Cabrera is the engine that makes this team go, but he is 33 years old, so he's very unlikely to be any better than he has been - and likely somewhat worse. He suffered a minor injury setback during the World Baseball Classic, and the team has to hope that it isn't a sign of things to come. Victor Martinez at DH is 38. That's less concern given that he won't play in the field, but it's still not necessarily ideal. Ian Kinsler is 34 and not getting any younger, either. I'm not suggested that old guys can't get it done, or even that those guys are massively old, but it's less than ideal no matter how you spin it.
Beyond that there are two issues that stand out above the rest. J.D. Martinez needs to have a strong year for this team to achieve anything, but he is already dealing with a Lisfranc injury that will cost him a month, and that's one of those injuries that can linger and cause longer issues - especially for an outfielder with lots of ground to cover. The bigger concern is Nick Castellanos at third base. He had, by some metrics, a breakout year last year. When you look closer, though, it's hard to find a whole lot of reason to be optimistic that he has a lot of upside at the plate left, and his fielding is just plain awful - he's solidly the worst defensive American League third baseman. They need both of those guys to shine given how they have constructed their roster, and I just don't share their optimism.
At its best this is a roster that can certainly compete and make the playoffs. There are a lot of players with a high risk of downside, though, and that could lead to a very disappointing season. At the very least, this team has a wider range of potential records than almost any out there.
Tigers 2017 Projected Rotation and Closer
Justin Verlander was robbed of the Cy Young last year - and I'm not just saying that so Kate Upton doesn't beat me up. He was underwhelming for a couple of years before that, though, and he is 34 years old. Can we trust him to be a workhorse at a high level again, or will he fall back to earth? And what about rookie of the year Michael Fulmer? He had a surprisingly strong year last year, and it had a big effect on where the team is, but again it is tough to know if it can be replicated and if we can trust him.
With questions up front in the rotation, it should would be nice to have some stability on the back end. That definitely isn't the case here. Jordan Zimmermann and his ridiculously inflated contract were great in April last year but just plain awful after that. Anibal Sanchez used to be really good, but you would never guess it from watching him last year. His numbers were awful, and he often seemed to get lost in games. He needs to bounce back, but he's three years from his best, so that may not happen. Daniel Norris offers a lot of upside, but last year he just couldn't stay healthy - he threw less than 70 innings.
Again, this rotation makes this a very tough team to judge. If Verlander and Fulmer return at strong form, Zimmermann starts to earn his money, Sanchez stabilizes, and Norris stays healthy then this is a very solid rotation that can lead this team a long way. There are plenty of opportunities for disappointment here, though, and that means that the floor is as low as the ceiling is high.
K-Rod is again the closer for this team. No other active guy has saved more games than Francisco Rodriguez, so that's a positive - though again age, at 35, is a potential concern. He headlines a bullpen that isn't going to light the world on fire but should get the job done.
Tigers Futures Odds
BetOnline has the Tigers right in the middle of the pack - at +1400 to win the American League pennant they are the eighth of 15 teams. They are the third choice to win the AL Central at +425, albeit miles behind the Indians (-350) and Royals (+100). At +3300 to win the World Series they are behind 13 other teams and on a whole different level than the top contenders. Add it all up and this team is viewed as, at best, a fringe playoff team with upside.
Miguel Cabrera is at +1600 to win the MVP. That seems about right - he's the seventh choice, and was ninth in voting last year. Verlander is tied with Yu Darvish as the third choice to win the Cy Young, though far behind Chris Sale (+200) and Corey Kluber (+300).
Tigers 2017 Predictions
The season win total is set at 82.5. Not surprisingly, action seems pretty split between both sides. If everything comes together they could go over that easily and potentially eclipse their 86 wins from last year. If things hit a rough patch or three, though, they could lose 90 games and it wouldn't be hugely shocking. It's very tough. Personally, I'm not that optimistic, and I see them reverting to somewhere around 80 wins. They will limp to third in the division and will be forced to look in the mirror and realize that it is time for a rebuild.
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