Tigers 2014: Looking Forward By Going Back


Tigers

New manager Brad Ausmus goes over the art of catching with Victor Martinez

I have been in a state of confusion and anxiety about the Tigers since the third of November. When Moonwalk Leyland retired, I was saddened, because he is one of the greatest managers ever. The naming of former Tigers catcher Brad Ausmus as the new manager, whose only prior managing experience was a dismal Israeli team in the World Baseball Classic, sent my brain spiraling. Double-D’s moves since then have just made it more confusing:

November 3: The Tigers name Brad Ausmus as the new manager, Gene Lamont as bench coach

November 6: More coaching announcements from the Tigers: Jeff Jones as pitching coach, Dave Clark as third base coach and outfield instructor

November 18: Yet more coaching changes from the Tigers front office: Omar Vizquel as first base, infield, and baserunning coach, Mick Billmeyer as bullpen coach, Wally Joyner as hitting coach,  and Matt Martin as defensive coordinator

November 20: The Tigers traded Prince Fielder and cash to Texas for Ian Kinsler, shocking the State of Michigan

November 21: The Tigers agreed to a one year, non-guaranteed deal with Phil Coke

November 25: The Tigers named Darnell Coles as assistant hitting coach, so once again, he replaces Tom Brookens in a Tigers uniform

December 3: Another shocking trade as the Tigers traded Doug Fister to Washington for Robbie Ray, Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi, and also agreed to a one year deal with Don Kelly

December 4: The Tigers finally start showing signs of life, signing closer Joe Nathan to a 2 year, $20 million contract

December 11: Double-D signs outfielder Rajai Davis to a 2 year, $10 million contract, boosting the outfield a bit

December 13: More bullpen relief for the Tigers as they signed pitcher Joba Chamberlain to a one year, $2.5 million contract

January 8: The Tigers agreed to a one year, $1.65 million contract with Jose Iglesias, keeping him for one more year

What Did the Tigers Miss?

Arbitration was avoided with Al Alburquerque, Alex Avila, Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, Rick Porcello, and Max Scherzer. However, a few key things were missed or passed up:

Tigers

Max Scherzer will not continue contract talks after the start of the season

1)      Signing Max Scherzer to a new deal. I want to believe the money is set aside to extend Miggy’s deal ending in 2015, or to get a new bat to replace the loss of the threat Fielder provided, but nothing is going on there. Scherzer just announced that if the Tigers and his agent Scott Boras do not reach a deal by the close of Spring Training, he will not discuss a deal during the season.

2)      Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese ace, would have been a great replacement for trading Doug Fister, but if Double-D wanted him, it wasn’t made public, and the Tigers were not along the final six teams in the chase of Tanaka.

3)      Robinson Cano was rumored to have visited Detroit, but balking at any deal with him leaves a bat void in the lineup. It appears the Tigers are banking on their top prospect Nick Castellanos, who is expected to be the Tigers everyday third baseman, to be a threat. Miggy lost his protection he had with Fielder in the lineup. In 2012, there was Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta following Fielder, so you could not afford to walk Miggy. Last season, there was Fielder and V-Mart. That nice dual-protection does not exist, unless Castellanos or another player has a breakout season, and even by the time that player is feared, over half the season will be done.

What Do the Tigers Have To Gain?

Tigers

Nick Castellanos looks to be the starting third baseman this season

Looking ahead, there are some improvements. The entire Tigers infield has upgraded defensively, with Miggy moving back to first base, Ian Kinsler replacing Omar Infante at second, Iglesias replacing Peralta at shortstop, and Castellanos taking over at third. The outfield is now Rajai Davis in left, Austin Jackson in center, and Torii Hunter in right, which is a decent hitting and fielding outfield.

On the downside, as of now, the Tigers rotation consists of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, and Drew Smyly replacing Doug Fister, if you could call that “replacing” Fister. I did not agree with that deal at all. I understood the advantages to trading away Fielder, by clearing up room for Scherzer or Cano or Tanaka, but nothing happened.

Tigers

Robbie Ray, acquired in the Fister trade, might not be ready for the 25-man roster

Robbie Ray is a non-roster invitee to Lakeland, but I expect to see him bounce over to the minor league camp after a quick look. He was the big prize return in the Fister trade, but he is not quite ready yet for the big show.Expect to see him possibly when the rosters expand to 40, or in 2015.

Tigers

Duane Below throws in Lakeland

The other big non-roster invitee is Duane Below, who comes from Britton, MI, and has pitched for the Tigers before, before heading to the Marlins. He went to Korea after two games with the Marlins last season, but has returned to try to break back in with the Tigers.

Tigers

Justin Verlander looks good after offseason core surgery

Verlander and Cabrera both say they are feeling good and stronger since their core muscle surgeries in the offseason. That is a scary prospect, with a possible return of Verlander to his 2011 and 2012 form, and Cabrera attempting to become the first player to win three straight AL MVP awards. Remember, Miggy has AVERAGED a .338 batting average, with 44 home runs and 138 RBIs over the last two years. He has led the league in batting average the last three seasons, and narrowly missed a second straight Triple Crown last year, mainly due to the injury which is now repaired and he says he “feels stronger” from.

Tigers

If Miggy is truly stronger, he won’t just flatten the ball, he will blow it apart.

Swami’s Season Outlook

Okay, I know, pitchers and catchers just now reported, but the Grapefruit League games start February 27th at Joker Merchant Stadium when the Braves come to Lakeland. That is just under two weeks away, with the Tigers playing an exhibition game against the Florida Southern College Moccasins on the 25th. Most of the Tigers players are already in Lakeland; Justin Verlander has been there for over a week, catching an Orlando Magic game with Kate Upton last week.

How will the Tigers do? Well, I expect the 25-man roster to look something like this:

Pitchers: Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, Porcello, Smyly, Nathan, Alburquerque, Putkonen, Chamberlain, Rondon, Coke

Catchers: Avila, Holaday

Infielders: Cabrera, Kinsler, Iglesias, Castellanos, Lombardozzi, Worth

Outfielders: Davis, Jackson, Hunter, Dirks, Kelly

DH: Martinez

Will the Tigers finish at the top of the AL Central again? Maybe. The Royals made some big upgrades, and the Indians are still a threat.

PRE-SPRING TRAINING PREDICTION: 88-74, First in AL Central.

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