The Detroit Tigers have been considered the best team in the American League for a series of seasons. If not the best, they have been named in the top two are three in the league and usually in the top five in all of MLB. Longtime manager Jim Leyland announced his retirement after the Tigers were eliminated in the ALCS last year. The Tigers tried to free up some payroll space and decided to trade All Star 1B Prince Fielder (.271, 25, 106) to the Rangers to get 2B Ian Kinsler (.277, 13, 72). They also moved the best 4th starter in all ogf MLB, trading RHP Doug Fister to the Nationals for pitchers Robbie Ray and Ian Krol and infielder Steve Lombardozzi Jr, the later shipped to Baltimore for SS Alex Gonzalez. Of course, the need to acquire Gonzalez came from the injury of starting SS Jose Iglesias, whose return for this season is uncertain. 2B Omar Infante (.318, 10, 51) left to join division rival Kansas City. They did sign OF Rajai Davis (.260, 6, 24 with 45 SB) from the Blue Jays and expect top organizational prospect Nick Castellanos to be the starting 3B this season.
The positives of the Tigers off season are the fact that the Fielder trade allows two time defending AL MVP Miguel Cabrera to move back to his more natural position of 1B. Cabrera (.348, 44, 137) has been the best player in the game over the past two seasons and getting him off 3B will aid in the team's attempt to keep him healthy and fresh. And lets be honest, this team as constructed is still as dangerous as any of the best in the game. The Tigers also brought in All Star closer Joe Nathan (6-2, 1.39, 43 saves) from Texas along with Joba Chamberlain (2-1, 4.93 in 45 games) from the Yankees. The bullpen is a little deeper and the starting rotation the team has speaks for itself, even without Fister.
Offensively, Cabrera remains the face, with DH Victor Martinez (.301, 14, 83) likely the number 4 hitter. Kinsler probably bats next with Torii Hunter (.304, 17, 84) playing RF and batting 2nd. Castellanos is a favorite for AL Rookie of the Year, as he hit .276, 18, 76 for AAA Toledo last season. A 3B, Castellanos was moved to the OF with the position blocked by Cabrera. The transition back to his natural position should be an easy one. Catcher Alex Avila (.227, 11, 47) and Gonzalez get the team to Davis, who will be a solid number 9 batter. CF Austin Jackson (.272, 12, 49) will be the leadoff batter. Don Kelly and Danny Worth join Ezequiel Carrera on the team's bench.
Having a starting rotation featuring Cy Young winner Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90, 240 Ks), Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46, 217 Ks and Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57, 202 Ks) will make the Tigers a favorite every season. Rick Porcello (13-8, 4.32, 29 starts) moves up to the number 4 spot with LHP Drew Smyly (6-0, 2.37 in 63 games, 0 starts) moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation. Smyly should make a good transition to a starter, but expect the Tigers to monitor this and possibly make a move for a SP if needed.
Nathan and Chamberlain join RHP Al Alburquerque (4-3, 4.59 in 53 games) and LHP Phil Coke (0-5, 5.40 in 49 games) trying to make an impact. LHP Ray and RHP Krol could both make the bullpen, as RHP Bruce Rondon missed the season due to Tommy John. Luke Putkonen (1-3, 3.03, 30 games), Evan Reed and Jose Ortega will round out the bullpen. Expect Krol and Ray to be the difference in whether the bullpen is among in the best in baseball or just above average. Interesting to see how Chamberlain bounces back after leaving the Bronx.
I like how the Tigers are a foregone conclusion to be as good as they have been. Because of the loss of Fielder, Castellanos has to become a top player right away. Though it is not as important, the loss of Fister will increase the expectations of Smyly as a starter. Add in the fact that the new manager has never managed at any level and I think there are some concerns for the Tigers going into this season. Brad Ausmus knows what he is doing, but the sudden success of Mike Matheny in St Louis makes leaves Ausmus with no excuse for a lack of success. That being said, it is hard to say a team that has all this talent and has been good for years will suddenly struggle. Vegas has the Tigers at 89.5 for the O/U. I am going with 86-76, 2nd place in the AL Central. The Tigers are not used to be in a pennant race. This is my bold pick for 2014. Stay tuned.