Winter Report Card: Detroit Tigers
With only a few weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we're checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there's still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2013. To see the report cards already published, click here.
2013 results: 93-69 (.574), 1st place in AL Central, lost in ALCS (Hot Stove Preview)
That the Tigers would go through a transitional offseason became apparent a few days after their ALCS elimination when Jim Leyland retired after eight seasons as the club’s manager. A few weeks later, general manager David Dombrowski traded Prince Fielder, his $214-million first baseman, after only two of the nine seasons on his contract.
In their place are Brad Ausmus, entering his first year as a manager at any level, and Ian Kinsler, the three-time All-Star second baseman. The ripple effects of the latter’s arrival are that two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera can move back across the diamond from third base to first (which will help Detroit's defense) and that prospect Nick Castellanos will likely be installed as the starting third baseman.
While those moves and a full season from midseason acquisition Jose Iglesias at shortstop significantly should help the infield defense, the loss of Peralta and the offensive downgrade from Fielder to Kinsler are no small matters, even for an offense that ranked second in the AL last year with 796 runs scored. Castellanos is Detroit’s lone top-100 prospect and he has received mixed reviews from Baseball Prospectus, which says he may be more of a solid or average hitter than an impact one.
The rotation remains very strong, with arguably the game’s best 1-2-3 punch of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, though the unit’s depth took a hit with the trade of Doug Fister to Washington for less than his apparent worth. The sinker-balling Rick Porcello should fare better with the improved infield defense, and Drew Smyly, who was outstanding in relief in 2013, is expected to move into the rotation. The bullpen, however, could still use some work (see below) even after adding All-Star closer Joe Nathan.
Unfinished business: Another bullpen arm, re-allocate Fielder’s contract
Nathan is an upgrade over Joaquin Benoit, Ian Krol could replace Smyly as an effective lefthanded option and Joba Chamberlain will try to slot in for Jose Veras, but the Tigers could stand to add another dynamic arm for a bullpen that ranked 24th in ERA last season (4.01).
Also, the monetary savings from moving Fielder’s contract would best be used to fortify the current roster. The most obvious plan would be to extend Scherzer, the free-agent-to-be Cy Young winner, but could also be put toward the Cabrera extension fund.
Preliminary Grade: C+ Detroit is poised to win its fourth straight division crown, especially since neither the Indians nor Royals will take a big step forward. Dombrowski deserves a good deal of benefit of the doubt given the success of his moves the last few years, especially in the trade market, though this outwardly was a puzzling offseason. The chance to get out from under Fielder’s contract was no doubt appealing, but the Tigers don’t appear to have done enough to improve upon their recent near-misses -- three straight runs to at least the ALCS -- and will fall shy again of winning their first championship since 1984.