The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least, that's what the 2014 Detroit Tigers are hoping after they made two major offseason moves, despite reaching the ALCS and winning their third consecutive American League Central title. For fantasy baseball owners, the trades of both Prince Fielder and Doug Fister change the rankings a bit in their respective positions.
With Fielder gone, and Ian Kinsler and Rajai Davis on board, the team should improve on its MLB-worst 35 stolen bases from 2013.
One of the other major changes fantasy owners will have to adjust for is the change in management, as former catcher Brad Ausmus takes over as the Tigers' skipper from Jim Leyland. Ausmus takes the keys of a machine that scored 796 runs last season -- second in the majors for the year year and eighth-best in the league since 2010. That's also the most runs the Tigers have scored since 2008. On the mound, the Tigers struck out 1,428 batters while posting a top-10 ERA (3.62) and a majors-leading 108 quality starts.
The only problem with all of those quality starts is that the Tigers' bullpen ranked 24th in ERA (4.01), and the unit was tied for 21st with 39 saves. The starters would work well through six innings -- then cross their fingers for the final three stanzas.
To remedy that, Detroit brought in veteran closer Joe Nathan, who is no stranger to the AL Central from his seven seasons in Minnesota, when he averaged 37 saves a year. Nathan will get some help from Yankees outcast Joba Chamberlain, who suffered through a horrible 2013, although, much of that could be attributed to his return from two major injuries (Tommy John surgery and a dislocated ankle).
Also, the Tigers are hoping ace Justin Verlander can return to form after a disappointing 2013 that he followed up with offseason core muscle surgery. He's expected to start the season with the team, but his situation will be closely watched this spring.
The Tigers' stripes might look a little different entering 2014, but make no mistake -- this is still a great fantasy pool from which to draft.
MORE TEAM PREVIEWS:
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Torii Hunter, RF
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
4. Victor Martinez, DH
5. Austin Jackson, CF
6. Andy Dirks, LF
7. Alex Avila, C
8. Nick Castellanos, 3B
9. Jose Iglesias, SS
1. Justin Verlander, RHP
2. Max Scherzer, RHP
3. Anibal Sanchez, RHP
4. Ricky Porcello, RHP
5. Drew Smyly, LHP
Others: Kyle Lobstein
Bullpen: Joe Nathan (Closer), Bruce Rondon
What does the insertion of Ian Kinsler into the lineup mean for the offense? When Kinsler came over from Texas, he instantly became the Tigers' new leadoff hitter, as his speed and ability to get on base is better than leadoff incumbent Austin Jackson.
A change of address and hearing his name a lot in the offseason could make him an early-round draft pick in your league. He also reportedly enters spring training 10-15 pounds lighter than he was in any other spring. But understand that he's leaving a better hitter's park, and he's considered a speedy guy that will turn 32 years old in June.
Don't overreach for Kinsler, but consider him a good value at second base by taking him in the fifth or sixth rounds.
Jackson, meanwhile, drops down to fifth in the order, and as he enters his 27-year-old season, he could flash his best power season yet, in both home runs and RBI. That still means just 16-18 homers and 65-75 RBI, but he has to improve his 21-percent K-rate, which was one of the Tigers' worst last season. He's still a top-40 outfielder entering 2014, worth a pick near Round 10.
The rest of the lineup should benefit by having a table-setter like Kinsler atop the order, although, they also lose Fielder as a big bat bringing them in.
Torii Hunter should see a few more RBI chances, if Kinsler gets to second base more often than Jackson, as expected. But he'll turn 39 years old, so it's tough to upgrade him above more than a top-50 outfielder in most formats.
You can't move Miguel Cabrera up much more in fantasy owners minds, but any change in the lineup has more of a chance at hurting his already other-worldly status. He's not falling farther than second overall in any draft, however.
Is Victor Martinez going back behind the plate a good thing or a bad thing? Ausmus has already asked designated hitter Victor Martinez to pick up the "tools of ignorance" once again, and squat behind the plate for some games this season. That change alone affects Martinez's fantasy value considerably, as he rejoins the catcher position, joining Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer as .300-hitting catchers. Alex Avila, of course, will lose a few at-bats with this news, although, he could also see some DH at-bats.
Before you get worried about V-Mart returning behind the plate at 35 years old, remember that Ausmus caught over 110 games in 2007, when he was 37 years old, and he worked as a backup catcher through 2010, when he was 41. Plus, Martinez will still work as Avila's backup, rather than the other way around.
In Cabrera's first season after a lost year with a knee injury, he proved healthy, playing in 159 games and posted a career-high 605 at-bats. He'll likely drop back to the 525-550 mark this season, but 80-plus RBI are still expected.
Considering the Tigers need Martinez's bat in the lineup, he won't come near 80 games behind the plate. But once he gets to five games, he shoots up the catcher rankings and falls somewhere in the second half of the top 10.
Can the rotation repeat its 2013 efforts, now that they have a good bullpen? The bullpen is without question improved from a season ago, as several pitchers got their chances in the ninth inning in 2013. Eight different relievers blew a save for the Tigers last season, and six different guys blew two or more!
While the bullpen was shaky, realize that this pitching staff still allowed just 624 runs in 2013. That was the lowest runs allowed for the franchise in a non-strike-shortened year, dating all the way back to 1972. (Mickey Lolich threw 23 complete games that season, but the Tigers lost in the ALCS of that year, also.)
With Nathan shutting things down in the ninth, Bruce Rondon can work on the eighth, without the worries of being thrown into the fire as a rookie closer, like he was a season ago. The addition of Chamberlain -- and departure of Fister -- also allows the team to move Drew Smyly into the rotation.
It's tough to see this rotation getting better, but another very good season should be expected, with less uncertainty in the final innings.
Jose Iglesias, SS -- Iglesias entered 2013 as a much-heralded shortstop prospect in the Red Sox organization, but he wound up in a three-team deadline deal that brought Jake Peavy to Boston. He's a demon defensively that actually hit above his head, finishing with a .303 average in 350 rookie at-bats.
He'll be left for the final rounds of many mixed-league Rotisserie drafts this season, but the added emphasis on speed in this Tigers lineup could help Iglesias become a very nice value pick late. Is it unreasonable to think he would post a .280 batting average, 75 runs scored, eight homers, 60 RBI and 15 steals? That's a step above Erick Aybar, with potential to be much better if he can improve his patience.
Anibal Sanchez, SP -- Sanchez put up stellar numbers in his first season with the Tigers, being one of just four pitchers to notch 200 strikeouts, with 14 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA (joining Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Adam Wainwright). That's three Cy Young winners -- and Sanchez!
But it's time to put Sanchez's season into perspective a bit, as his ADP has reached up into Rounds 7 and 8. That's SP1/SP2 status for a pitcher that has never reached 200 innings in a season, and has only eclipsed 175 strikeouts in a season twice in his nine-year career.
Sanchez will likely put up quality numbers again, but AL hitters will have had a full season to figure him out.
Rajai Davis also gets a few "Bust Candidate" votes here, as there's no way he comes close to the 45 steals he had a season ago -- not on a team that ran a total of 55 times in 2013. While they'll certainly try to swipe more bags than last season, with Davis and Kinsler on board. But Davis is still in a platoon situation with Andy Dirks in left field.
Drew Smyly, SP -- With a 2.37 ERA and over a strikeout per inning out of the bullpen for the Tigers last season, Smyly enters 2014 with a rotation spot his for the taking. The lefty served the team very well as a reliever, but his ability as a starter could be even better. In 18 starts during his rookie season of 2012, Smyly struck out 88 batters in 95 innings, with a 4-3 record, 3.79 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. With this offense and an improved bullpen behind him, he has a chance for double-digit wins, sub-4.00 ERA and 180 strikeouts. He won't pass Sanchez is fantasy usability, but it's not crazy to think he'll blow past Rick Porcello.
AL-Only Guys to Know
Rick Porcello, SP -- While he might duplicate his season a year ago (13-8, 142 K, 4.32 ERA, 1.28 WHIP), it's tough to rely too much on a guy that has two seasons in the past three with WHIPs above 1.40. He regularly churns through 175 innings a season, however, so he makes for a good AL-only laborer. He allowed more than five earned runs in a game just four times last season.
Nick Castellanos, OF -- The rookie is an excellent hitting prospect that should get a look in the later rounds of mixed leagues, too. But he might struggle early, as he takes over at third base for Miguel Cabrera, who moves over to man first base. (This should be a defensive boon for the pitching staff, as well, with a left side of the infield that has Castellanos and Iglesias shagging grounders.)