After a dozen or so years of contending, the Detroit Tigers are now in a transition phase. It was fun while it lasted.
Since their World Series appearance in 2006, the Tigers finished first or second in their division eight times, winning it for four straight years at the start of this decade.
The rebuild is underway and some of the Tigers top prospects will start to filter through. With pitchers like Casey Mize (the first overall pick in the 2018 draft), Matt Manning and Beau Burrows, there is the makings of a star-studding rotation in the minors.
On the hitting side, slugger Christin Stewart has already tasted big league action. The 25-year-old has launched 86 homers over the last three seasons in the minors, so his power should compensate for any defensive shortfallings.
But, enough about prospects, when thinking about the Tigers, there is only one place to start: Miguel Cabrera.
The Venezuelan is one of the greatest players during my baseball-watching life. Way back in 2003, he accumulated MVP votes in his debut season as a 20-year-old, and has never looked back. In his first 13 full seasons, the slugger averaged 33 home runs with 115 RBI while hitting .323 AVG.
A ruptured biceps tendon restricted him to just 38 games last year, but he still posted .843 OPS. The big question is how he has recovered for the 2019 season. Cabrera, himself, is optimistic.
“I want to be dangerous.
You have to be confident at home plate. Not like you have to be cocky, something like that, but you have to confident and feel like you can still do it. I’m going to play my best”.Miguel Cabrera with his outlook for 2019
Cabrera’s fellow Venezuelan hitting superstar Victor Martinez will not be returning to Comerica Park, having announced his retirement. Bizarrely, V-Mart produced the best season of his career as a 35-year-old, when in 2014, he hit 32 home runs with 103 RBI and a slash line of .335/.409/.565. Unfortunately, the post-35 decline was steep.
The Tigers best hitter last year was Nicholas Castellanos. The 26-year-old, who hits free agency at the end of the season, will earn $9.9 million this year, so expect him to be dealt. Although, his trade value takes a hit with metrics showing he is the worst right fielder in the league.
Both Candelario and Goodrum strike out too much and don’t get on base enough, but they are young enough to make significant strides in what will be only their second full season in the big leagues.
Signed to a one year deal, long-time Pirates’ infielder Mercer will be the Opening Day shortstop, presumably acting as a stopgap until Paredes or Castro earn promotion.
The rotation is spearheaded by Michael Fulmer and Matt Boyd, supported by Jordan Zimmermann, Tyson Ross and Matt Moore. All five pitchers have shown stretches of brilliance, but it looks like a long season ahead for even the most optimistic Tigers fan.
In the bullpen, closer Shane Greene is another trade candidate, although his 5.12 ERA in 2018 doesn’t help his value. Joe Jimenez looks to have the best arm and will likely assume closer duties when the opportunity arises.
A wildcard for the season is starting pitcher Daniel Norris. If he can avoid injury and control his wildness, then the 25-year-old could be an important part of the rebuilding roster.
Working against the Tigers are the fixtures-Gods, who have determined that Detroit will only play games in the north of the country for the first eight weeks. They suffered six postponements in the first three weeks of the season last year.
Even when they are on the field, playing in balaclavas and with hand-warmers in pockets is not conducive to high scoring games. The Tigers could already be behind in the division before June starts.
The AL Central is so bad, that despite losing 98 games last season, the Tigers still finished third. If the rotation put it together, if the young infielders take a step forward, if Miggy looks like Miggy and if they get production from outfielders other than Castellanos, 2019 might be a better year than expected.