While the Detroit Tigers have a brand new roster, they must still have a bit of luck to compete in 2016. There are still plenty of holes on the roster.
First thing’s first, this Detroit Tigers team looks nothing like the one that ended the 2015 on a low note. That Tigers team ended with a 74-87 record and last in the American League Central.
After starting off the 2015 campaign on a blistering pace to the tune of an 11-2 record, they went 63-85 the rest of the way. To say the least, Tigers fans everywhere were waiting for the winter months to hit.
The Tigers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and their pitching was abysmal. Nearly everything went wrong for the starting rotation.
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Justin Verlander went down early in the year and missed significant time. The injury bug also hit Anibal Sanchez like in earlier years. David Price was traded mid-season. Alfredo Simon was well, who we expected him to be, but that’s not necessarily his fault. Shane Greene failed after a red-hot start to the season.
2013 and 2014 seemed like a long time ago when the Tigers featured one of the best starting rotations in the Majors. Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Doug Fister are all onto other teams after their service with the Tigers.
But believe it or not, the bullpen was somehow even worse. That might be easy to believe for Tigers fans though. The bullpen has been the Tigers’ fatal flaw for years now and blew games almost religiously.
That’s why what new General Manager Al Avila has done is nothing short of impressive. He’s absolutely retooled his bullpen in a way ex-GM Dave Dombrowski never did.
He’s made big splashes in free agency like the 5-year/$110 million deal Jordan Zimmermann received. And with Price and Zack Grenkie’s new contract, it’s looking like a bargain every day.
The bad part? The Tigers still have plenty of question marks going into 2016. There are even some things Avila can’t fix no matter how much he tries. Will Justin Verlander ever be Must-See-JV again? Can Victor Martinez come back healthy and productive? How’s the left field situation looking? Will Anibal Sanchez ever be healthy for a full season?
And that’s only maybe a bit more than half of the Tigers’ questions. Question marks surround almost every position besides first base, second base, and right field. Even then you can’t be sure. Superstar Miguel Cabrera went on the disabled list last year for the first time in his career. The injury bug can be unexpectedly fatal.
But back to the questions. How are these Tigers going to respond to after such a down year? Verlander talks about winning and being competitive all the time. For all intents and purposes, reports confirm how fiery of a competitor Verlander is.
And Verlander’s resurgence is a big part of the Tigers’ plans. He pitched extremely well down the stretch and the front office is relying on him heavily. The 32-year-old is turning 33 soon and not getting any younger. His decline in fastball velocity has been well-documented. But the good thing about Verlander is he’s matured into a pitcher who doesn’t just rely on a strong arm anymore.
The biggest of the Tigers’ problems may be Victor Martinez and Sanchez. Both were derailed by injuries last season and they need to be contributors to this team.
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Sanchez may never pitch 200 IP in his career. But him being healthy is vital to this team’s starting rotation. As mentioned before, it’s a shell of its former self and can use all the help it needs. Sanchez is a quality pitcher when healthy and can be a big boost to this team.
Victor Martinez though, is the real wild card. He had a career-year at the tender age of 35 in 2014 on his way to being the runner-up in MVP voting. Then he followed that up with a career-worst year derailed by injuries.
He’s turning 37 extremely soon and is on contract for the next two years after 2016. He’s with the Tigers to stay at least for the short-term and they need to him produce.
If Martinez can be the plus-hitter he once was, and that’s a big if, this offense will be more than just fine. Cabrera and J.D. Martinez are still elite hitters and guys like Nick Castellanos or Jose Iglesias may take their net developmental step.
The Tigers are also going to need to fix this whole Left Field situation that’s been brewing. There are plenty of options out there, but it’s an issue that must be addressed.
While Tyler Collins may be a serviceable fourth OF’er one day in the future, betting on him to be an everyday starter is a formula for failure. Am I betting against the guy? Absolutely not. But it’s also true that rolling the dices on just him and a platoon of Cameron Maybin may not be the best route.
It’s not like this division is getting any easier either. The World Champion Kansas City Royals are still sitting there pretty. The Cleveland Indians went on to have a fine second half of 2015 en route to finishing with an 81-80 record.
The Chicago White Sox are making their seemingly annual big splash to boost their roster. And who can forget those pesky Minnesota Twins, randomly good out of nowhere and fighting for a Wild Card spot last season.
All in all, what Avila has done for this bullpen and team is impressive. But there are still a few holes on the roster that he needs to patch up. Other than that, luck and performance will play a huge role in how the Tigers do in 2016.
Now, your thoughts. How do you feel about the Tigers and this team? Good? Bad? Too early to tell? Whatever the case, this is a much better team than 2015, folks. They might be one of a few teams in the Majors that are a dark horse team. And for the Tigers, that might just be perfect for them.