Despite the early doubters, the Detroit Tigers busy offseason allows them to contend as front-runners in the AL Central.
In a USA Today Sports article entitled “MLB Win Totals: How we see the 2016 season unfolding,” they predict what the upcoming season has in store for Major League Baseball. In the column, it lists the Detroit Tigers finishing 4th in the AL Central with a dull 82-80 projected record.
In several other articles, the Tigers are looked at as a sleeper team, a squad that fans should definitely keep their eyes on throughout the season.
They added a top-end starter to go along with Justin Verlander in the rotation, they signed one of the best hitters in baseball, and they have (finally) improved their faulty bullpen. Despite the acquisitions, the Tigers still oddly remain as underdogs in their highly contested division.
On November 30, the Tigers signed their top target in Jordan Zimmermann to fill the need of another ace. In Zimmermann’s last four season with the Washington Nationals, he compiled a 58-32 record, along with a 3.13 ERA over that span. “We love this guy. We feel like he is a top of the rotation guy, a horse on the mound who will give you 200 innings. He’s going to battle out there,” said first-year GM Al Avila in Zimmermann’s introductory press conference.
Avila added Justin Upton to a six-year deal worth $132.75 million in January. A career .271/.352/.473 hitter, Upton adds pop to a right-handed heavy lineup, and is expected to slide in to hit before the trio of Miggy, J.D., and V-Mart. Upton will now become the Tigers everyday left fielder.
In the past few seasons in which the Tigers have clinched four straight division titles, the Tigers Achilles heel has been the bullpen. Last season, it did not get any better. They finished 27th in the league for ERA, with an underwhelming 4.38 ERA.
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To solve the long-lasting issue, Avila signed a proven closer in Francisco Rodriguez. A career 2.69 pitcher with 386 saves, Rodriguez and his devastating changeup bring stability and consistency to the closer’s role in Detroit. The Tigers displayed a closer-by-committee in 2015 when Joakim Soria was dealt at the trade deadline.
Before the offseason would come to a close, Avila would add two more relief pitchers, a center fielder, a utility man, a backup catcher, and a veteran starting pitcher that is expected to round out the rotation in the fifth spot.
An improved division, experts say, could be a reason why the Tigers crumble. They will have to play the defending champion Kansas City Royals 19 times, and even the revamped Chicago White Sox, who acquired Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier to boost their offense. The youthful Minnesota Twins surprised many last year, and played the Tigers well. To top it off, the Indians and their lethal front end of the rotation can never be counted out.
However, while the division has improved, the Tigers have improved the most. Avila’s first offseason as GM consisted of him filling every team need, allowing manager Brad Ausmus to have plenty of late-inning options.
Forgetting the competition, some baseball experts believe what will keep the Tigers out of the playoffs comes from within. Whether Anibal Sanchez can remain healthy and consistent remains an issue, and if Justin Verlander can duplicate last season’s dominant second half.
As players and coaches head to spring training in Lakeland, Florida, they do so with optimism, thanks to GM Al Avila. Despite the early criticism from baseball experts, the city of Detroit feels a sense of optimism, and the Tigers are ready to run away with the AL Central.