The Tigers of 2017 are pretty much a rollover from their 2016 team that came just short of making the postseason. Starting pitching is going to be very important, which starts with their two Most Valuable Players of last year, Verlander and American League Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer. JV could have easily won the Cy Young Award last season, as he finished with 16 wins, 9 losses, a 3.04 earned run average, 254 strikeouts in just under 228 innings pitched and a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) of just 1.001. Fulmer went 11-7, 3.06 to go along with his 132 Ks in 159 IP. Cabrera had a typical season (.316 batting average, 38 home runs, 118 runs batted in, 188 hits, .956 on base plus slugging), but due to the fact that he is 33 years old is not looked at the same way he was two or three years ago. The Martinez "brothers" (no relation) combined to hit 49 home runs last season and JD and Victor hit .306 and .289, respectively. JD is questionable for the start of this season though and was limited to 120 games last year due to injury.
The Tigers starting pitching this season can be much better than it was in 2016. In addition to Verlander and Fulmer, the Tigers are hoping to bring back a healthy Jordan Zimmermann, who is entering the second season of a five year, $110 million contract. J- Zimm was limited to just 18 starts last year, but prior to that had amassed five straight high quality seasons, the last four of which put him among the best pitchers in the National League. That being said, it is amazing how quickly he is forgotten about and how good a pre-2016 Zimmermann would look on a staff that already has Verlander and Fulmer. Left hander Daniel Norris made 17 starts in the minor leagues last season and pitched to a combined 4.50 ERA. The 23 year- old made 13 starts with the Tigers and pitched to a 3.38 ERA, finishing with 71 strikeouts in just over 69 IP. As good as the Tigers look in the first four spots of their rotation, they look equally bad in their internal search for a fifth starter. Mike Pelfrey struggled last season to an ERA of over 5 in 22 starts. Anibal Sanchez looks completely shot after posting an ERA of 5.87 in just over 153 innings pitched. Left hander Matt Boyd might be a good fit as could right hander Shane Greene. Boyd made 18 starts last season for Detroit and Greene made just three, though the latter pitched in a total of 50 games.
The Tigers bullpen will be led by the seemingly ageless Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod, now 35, had 44 saves last season to go along with his 1.131 WHIP and 3.24 ERA as he looks to build on his 430 career saves. This is a pitcher who consistently produces but gets no where near the credit he deserves. The Tigers had a big problem over the past couple of seasons shutting the door down in the ninth inning and K-Rod, despite what little has been said about it, got the job done in 2016. Left hander Justin Wilson has seen his strikeouts per 9 innings pitched increase over each of the past four seasons, but was hurt by the long ball (6 in just under 59 innings or just under one home run per 9 IP). He also gave up more hits than innings pitched for the first time in his four full big league seasons. Right hander Alex Wilson was their best non- K-Rod reliever last season and hope is Bruce Rondon has finally fixed himself mentally. Both pitchers pitched to a sub three ERA last season, though Wilson's is a product of 62 games pitched. Left handers Kyle Ryan and Blane Hardy should be part of the bullpen, and hope is that right hander Mark Lowe can bounce back after one of the worst statistical seasons a reliever can have (7.11 ERA in 54 games, just over 49 IP, 39 earned runs, 57 hits, 21 walks, 12 HR allowed).
Clearly one of the most underrated players in all of baseball is Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler. Kinsler hit .288 with 28 HR and 83 RBI to go along with 117 runs scored, 178 hits and a .831 OPS. The other part of the 2015-16 off season was outfielder Justin Upton, who hit 31 home runs last season despite hitting .246 and striking out 179 times. Third baseman Nick Castellanos hit .285, 18, 58 in just 110 games while shortstop Jose Iglesias hit just .255 in 137 games. Catcher James McCann hit 12 HR in 105 games and is joined once again by long time Tigers catcher Alex Avila, who is back after a season on the south side of Chicago. Center field will be interesting as Mikie Mahtook was acquired from Tampa Bay in January. He will likely platoon with Tyler Collins, though I feel Collins is clearly the better overall player. Perhaps Mahtook is better on defense, but either way, I think the Tigers should look for an upgrade. The Tigers opening day lineup should be: Kinsler 2B, Castellanos 3B, Cabrera 1B, Martinez DH, Martinez RF, Upton LF, McCann C, Iglesias SS, Collins/ Mahtook CF. Andrew Romine, who himself has gotten some looks in center field, is joined by Stephen Moya and Dixon Machado as top options off the bench for the 1935, 1945, 1968, and 1984 World Series Champions.
Down the road, center field may belong to JaCoby Jones, acquired a couple years ago in the trade that sent Joakim Soria to the Pittsburgh Pirates. A former infielder has gotten comfortable in the outfield, after moving there from the infield. Left hand hitting outfielder Christian Stewart hit 30 home runs last season in the minor leagues and should be ready for a 2017 September call up. The Tigers have focused on top tier starting pitching in the past two years of the draft, taking Beau Burrows with their first round pick in 2015 (22), left hander Tyler Alexander with their second round pick (65) and following that up with the selection of right hander Matt Manning with the 9th pick of the 2016 first round. The Tigers may have their catcher of their future in Arcicent Perez, who is almost perfect as a defensive catcher. Detroit hopes that Perez can continue to improve on his offense and last season was a good start, as he hit over .300 for the West Michigan Whitecaps.
The comparison of the 2017 Tigers to the 2013 Phillies is a real one. I like the fact that the Phillies give the worst case scenario as an example. If the Tigers are going to lose 89 games like the 2013 Phillies did, they will need to get a 6.82 ERA from Verlander for the season. In addition, Cabrera will hit .266 with 11 home runs in just 80 games. If that happens, manager Brad Ausmus will probably lose his job like Charlie Manuel did. The Tigers have a lot going for them, but it will not be easy. They will have to compete hard with the likes of the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals, the former coming off of an American League Pennant and the latter the prior season's World Series Champion. The Tigers over/ under number is 85.5, just under their win total from 2016. I have the Tigers winning the AL Central with a 90-72 record.