What happened in 2019?
In short, a whole lot of losses, with a record of 47-114 that tallies up to the second-worst in franchise history behind the 2003 Detroit Tigers 43-119. The Tigers were awful in 2019 and almost unwatchable at times.
Injuries to players such as Josh Harrison (who was ultimately released after just 136 at-bats in August) and JaCoby Jones (who suffered a fractured wrist after being hit by a pitch) and Jeimer Candelario (with shoulder issues in June and later a thumb sprain in August). Add to this Miguel Cabrera not performing to expectations while also carrying knee and weight issues, being some of the problems that faced and derailed a rebuilding Tigers franchise.
While they were never tipped to contend for the AL Central, no one could see the season that happened coming, but there was also a lack of desire and morale around that clubhouse all season long which made it a struggle for fans to sit and watch games.
Trades of Shane Greene and Nick Castellanos failed to bring any real help at the deadline, and it was reported that general manager Al Avila was asking for the moon when it came to trading star starting pitcher Matthew Boyd at the deadline. Boyd, himself, had a tale of two seasons being an ace before the All-Star break and then having a mediocre second half.
All in all, it was a bad season that came within seven losses of setting a new record in the modern era for the most in a season, narrowly avoiding both the 2003 Tigers and the 1962 Mets.
More than $20 million has been spent in the offseason to sign the likes of Cron, Schoop, Nova, Romine and Maybin, but its three minor league contracts that intrigue me more this offseason.
Jordy Mercer, while not being a stellar player last season, was one of the more positive aspects of a beleaguered Tigers infield. He signed a minor-league deal with the Tigers back in January with an invite to major league camp and will look to provide depth at the infield spots.
Zack Godley, the former starting pitcher of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Toronto Blue Jays, signed a minor-league contract in December with a major league camp invite and is one of my personal favourite signings made by Avila. Godley has struggled so far this spring, but would be a prime candidate to take Jordan Zimmerman’s spot, should Zim (most likely) get injured.
Jorge Bonifacio also signed a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training in December and will provide depth in the outfield. Bonifacio is a career .247 hitter who has spent the entirety of his career in the Kansas City Royals franchise. He has hit four doubles and one home run this spring.
Michael Fulmer is expected back at some point after the All-Star break, barring any setbacks after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2019. I expect the Tigers to take it fairly easy on him and to manage his innings count, but he will be a welcome breath of fresh air for a Tigers rotation desperately in need of a true ace.
The former Rookie of the Year in 2016 hasn’t pitched since spring last year, and with the rise of the top prospects Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal, the Tigers rotation has the potential to look drastically different in August and September than on Opening Day. A potential season-ending rotation of Boyd, Mize, Manning and Skubal bolstered by a recovered Fulmer could be the best rotation in baseball, and the best rotation the Tigers have had since the days of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.
Five reasons for optimism in 2020
(1) Riley Greene, the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft, has been a monster this spring compiling a .417 AVG and a .617 OBP in 18 plate appearances, going yard twice. Here’s hoping he makes life a little more difficult for Avila and gets the call to head north to Detroit. The smart money will be that he starts back at the West Michigan Whitecaps and gets a rapid promotion through Single-A Lakeland Flying Tigers and ends the year with the Double-A Erie Seawolves, which will be a massive confidence boost to the highly regarded 19-year-old.
(2) Casey Mize, the former number one pick overall in the 2018 draft, has gotten off to a sluggish start this spring compiling a 4.50 ERA with six strikeouts and two walks over four innings. He was shut down in August after throwing 109⅓ innings in his first full season in the minors, but this is a pitcher with a fantastic arsenal of pitches with plus command and will most likely open as the ace of the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens starting rotation.
(3) Tarik Skubal. What can you say about this guy that hasn’t already been said? The former ninth-round pick in the 2018 draft, who famously had super-agent Scott Boras call the Tigers and implore them to take a deeper look at him in the 2018 draft, has been stellar this spring compiling a 1.93 ERA over 4⅔ innings with six strikeouts and three walks. This is a talent who has ace upside and will most likely start the season with the Mud Hens alongside Mize.
(4) Filling out the rotation in Toledo will also be Matt Manning, one of the cornerstone members of that amazing Erie starting rotation from 2019. So far this spring Manning has compiled a lacklustre 7.20 ERA with three strikeouts while only issuing a single walk in five innings. This is another former first-round pick in 2016 (ninth overall) with high upside, and along with Mize will hopefully see major league action at the tail end of the season.
(5) Miguel Cabrera. It’s been no secret that Miggy has been battling health and injury issues for a few years now, and I have been one of his biggest critics in the past, but he turned up to Spring Training looking healthy again … and with some swagger. In 29 plate appearances, he’s amassed a .346 AVG with a .414 OBP hitting three bombs along the way. If (and this is a big if) the former triple crown winner can stay healthy, he can provide some much-needed artillery in the middle of the lineup this season as it has been sorely missed these past four years.
Paul Robinson has joined the team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds to cover the Tigers in 2020. Follow him on Twitter @Robbo1701a