One of the things the Tigers and GM Dave Dombrowski have prided themselves in is having a deep starting pitching staff. The trade for LHP David Price (15-12, 3.26, 34 starts) added to a strength the team already had. However, the free agent loss of RHP Max Scherzer (18-5, 3.15) to the Washington Nationals and the trade of RHP Rick Porcello (15-13, 3.43) to the Boston Red Sox (in the Cespedes deal) takes away some of the thunder the rotation had. The Tigers did add RHP Alfredo Simon (15-10, 3.44) from the Reds and RHP Shane Greene (5-4, 3.78, 14 starts) from the Yankees. Though both should be effective, it is certainly a step back from what can be expected from Scherzer and Porcello.
When I am thinking about the Detroit Tigers not being in the playoffs for the first time since 2010, I am thinking about the Achilles Heal that gave the team fits last year- the bullpen. I think the signing of LHP Tom Gorzelanny (0.86 ERA in 23 games for Brewers last season) is clearly an upgrade over Phil Coke. Outside of that, I see the same old cast that continuously could not come through in a big spot last year. The Tigers will need RHP Joe Nathan (5-4, 4.81, 35 saves) to recover from his worst MLB season and RHP Joakim Soria (2-4, 3.25, 18 saves for Texas and Detroit) to be healthy all season. RHP Joba Chamberlain (2-5, 3.57, 69 games) was up and down and Al Alburquerque (4-1, 2.51, 72 games)- though his numbers looked great, was not used in the 8th or 9th innings. A more prominent role for Alburquerque has been earned and perhaps he will get it this season, even if it comes at the expense of Nathan or Soria. Bruce Rondon comes back from Tommy John surgery and LHP Ian Krol is looking to improve on his 4.96 ERA last year. RHP Joel Hanrahan, signed last year with the hopes he can contribute this year, was released this week after it was announced that he will have his second TJ operation costing him the 2015 season.
Price leads the starting staff and I would expect a big bounce back season from RHP Justin Verlander (15-12, 4.54, 32 starts). Verlander was playing hurt last season and it seems he is fully recovered from his 2014 ailments. The Tigers should also expect a little more from RHP Anibal Sanchez (8-5, 3.43, 21 starts), who will be needed if this rotation wants to match up with the Tigers starters of the past. Simon and Greene will round out the rotation but I do have some questions about Simon backing up his 2014 when he hadn't pitched a full season as a starter before. Greene, who looked good with the Yankees, has to deal with teams seeing him for the second and third times. Though the upside of this group is there, I still see more questions than we have had in a long time.
The Tigers have the ability to outscore any team in the AL Central and most teams in the American League. Switch hitting DH Victor Martinez (.335, 32, 103, .974 OPS) outperformed one time triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera (.312, 24, 109, 52 2Bs). Cabrera himself was battling injuries last year. The logic behind taking Cabrera off the hot corner made sense, especially when it opened up the opportunity for Miguel to DH and Martinez to play 1B. Perhaps a healthier Cabrera will be able to take advantage of the less stress on defense in 2015. Kinsler (.275, 17, 92) quietly puts up the numbers every season and is a proven leader in the clubhouse.
I have been saying for the last couple years that I though JD Martinez was going to become a quality all around offensive player. If you look at my 2012 and 2013 team previews for the Houston Astros, you would see I have been big on him before. His 2014 season (.315, 23, 76 in 123 games) looks like it came out of nowhere. I think he will continue to trend in this direction and feel his 2015 may be even better than last season. Another player who should improve in 2015 is 3B Nick Castellanos (.258, 11, 66). He is only 23 and should be able to cut down on the strikeouts and hit for a higher average as he makes his adjustments.
Iglesias is here for his defense but he did manage to hit .303 for the Red Sox and Tigers in 2013. At best, he is probably a .270-.275 hitter but his defense gives the team an upgrade over anything they put out there last season. And the .270 average is a huge upgrade as well. The acquisition of Anthony Gose is a little interesting. He reminds me of a young Michael Bourn- very good speed but may not hit for a high enough average and strikes out way too much. His 2014 season (.226, 2, 13, 15 SB in 94 games) was less than impressive. Rajai Davis (.282, 8, 51, 36 SB) is there to play against lefties and to mentor Gose, just like he did when they were in Toronto. I would be more inclined to use Davis in CF than Gose, but I think the Tigers will likely use Gose more unless he hits for a lower average than he did last season.
The Tigers have tried all off season to land a catcher. Alex Avila .218, 11, 47) has not hit in a couple of years and even his defense has digressed a little bit. There seems to be a fit with the Toronto Blue Jays having catcher Dioner Navarro available because of the signing of Russell Martin. However, a deal is not imminent. Since Gose's best attributes are his legs, I'd give him and Davis a shot at leading off. My lineup would be Gose/ Davis CF, Kinsler 2B, Cabrera 1B, Martinez DH, Cespedes LF, Martinez RF, Castellanos 3B, Avila C, Iglesias SS. Iglesias will be the second choice to lead off and expect to see backup catcher Bryan Holliday (.231, 15 RBI in 62 games) get a little more of a chance to play if a trade is not made for a catcher. JD is best suited for the 6th spot; this way he can stay under the radar, where he prospered last season.
The Tigers also lack the depth they have had on their bench over the past couple seasons. Having players like Don Kelly and Andy Dirks gave the team options in case of injury. If Gose is good, Davis makes for a very good 4th OF. The infield however, has just Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez, the latter about to turn 24 and with just 75 MLB ABs over three seasons. I would expect the Tigers to watch the waiver wire towards the end of ST and add some depth to their bench.
I would be very interested in left hand hitting OF Stephen Moya. Moya hit 35 HR last season in the minors and could get a shot to play a little bit if Victor misses some time to start the season. Buck Farmer will get the first shot to start if Greene struggles and has the makeup to be a solid starting pitcher. The same can be said about LHP Kyle Lobstein.
The Tigers will hit, but there are more concerns about their pitching than there has been in a while. As much as I think Verlander and Sanchez will be better than 2014, they will still not account for the loss of Scherzer. The bullpen may be better if Nathan has anything left and Rondon is fully healthy, but it will only max out at being average. Las Vegas has the Tigers at 84 1/2, which I think is a fair number. I am going a little under that, 82-80, 3rd place in the AL Central.