Even With Fire Sale, Detroit Tigers’ 2017 Rotation Could Be Good

Sep 16, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) reacts after being called for a balk during the third inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 16, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) reacts after being called for a balk during the third inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Even if the Detroit Tigers decide to trade ace Justin Verlander, it’s possible that the rotation will be the team’s strongest unit in 2017.

The rumors of Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander going to the Los Angeles Dodgers have swirled for several weeks now. It reached a fevered pitch when it was widely reported that Verlander and his supermodel fiance, Kate Upton, purchased swanky new digs in Beverly Hills. No, not Beverly Hills, MI, rather the home of the elite within the entertainment industry and LA sporting scene.

This caused a renewed amount of speculation as MLB enters its annual Winter Meetings. Many of the most jaw-dropping trades this side of the July Trading Deadline are made at this time.

It was then reported a few days later that Miguel Cabrera may be readying himself for a trade, saying that while he “loved playing in Detroit,” “the doors are open.” Rival GMs, however, were quick to point out that there have been no trade talks for the 33-year old future Hall-of-Famer.

Changes Are A-Comin’

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Everything is still influx and in rumor stage, but the franchise’s goals seem clear. The makeup of the Detroit Tigers will indeed be different from the rosters we’ve seen the last decade.

For many fans it would seem the Tigers are sliding back into the depths of the baseball also-rans. They’re probably right–at least for 2017.

The loss of Cameron Maybin and the presumed losses of J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler, who have been drawing the most interest, will leave gaping holes on this team that probably won’t be easily plugged in 2017. There have also been plenty of rumors surrounding Victor Martinez. The Tigers would probably also like to shed the contract of Justin Upton as well.

The biggest game changer for the franchise, assuming Cabrera is not dealt, would be if Verlander take his talents to Laguna Beach. Despite putting his career back on track in the last season and a half, including a Cy Young-caliber season in 2017, his absence from the rotation may not be as harsh as you might think.

The Tigers are looking to rebuild around the youth movement that they’ve tried to implement on the fly since bringing up Nick Castellanos in 2014. Tigers’ brass seems somewhat confident that the loss of Verlander will not only take bucks off the payroll and bring in some good prospects, but help the young pitching staff develop.

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Rotational Youth Movement

Assuming Michael Fulmer doesn’t suffer from a sophomore slump, the Tigers hope the AL Rookie of the Year winner could be the ace in a Verlander-free TigerTown. That’s not to say there isn’t cause of concern with Fulmer because he stumbled down the stretch a bit. However, an extended workload for the youngster could be the reason for an uneven finish.

Perhaps more than any other starter last year, Matt Boyd may have taken the biggest strides. He struggled during his first few months in a Tigers’ uniform, after coming over in the trade for David Price. Despite giving up 15 earned runs over his final three starts, Boyd was one of the Tigers’ most consistent pitchers in the second half.

Daniel Norris made quite a splash in his debut period with the Tigers, highlighted by hitting a homer in Wrigley Field. Penciled in as the fifth starter in 2016, Norris was injured early on. This led to struggles regaining form in the minor leagues. He came up with the Tigers for good on June 23 and put together a nice 4-2 season with 3.38 ERA and 1.399 WHIP.

The dark horse in the race is Jordan Zimmermann, the prized free agent acquisition from a year ago that was lights-out the first month and felled by injuries the rest of the way. The Detroit Tigers have to believe it was injuries, and not a sudden regression, that had Zimmermann’s post-April statistics looking grisly.

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With a bounce back year from Zimm, the Tigers’ top four rotation would look formidable, even without Verlander. Of course, without Verlander, it means the flaming corpse of Anibal Sanchez or Mike Pelfrey will get the fifth starter spot (assuming they’re not used as filler in a trade). Or they could hope that Drew VerHagen or Buck Farmer will finally get up to speed.

If the rumored trades happen, the 2017 Detroit Tigers on paper will be a 90+ loss team. The starting rotation could be the only thing to keep this team afloat.