It was an interesting offseason for the Tigers to say the least. They added a couple of players, and lost some. But after getting the swept out of the Wild Card round by the Baltimore Orioles, there were a lot of questions around this organization. Amidst all these questions, did they really have an offseason that one could say they took a step forward? It’s an issue worth analyzing.
It’s fitting to look first at what areas the Tigers either lost players or didn’t improve. The highest profile pitcher of the entire offseason (outside of John Lester) signed with the Washington Nationals. Many Tigers fans remember this player well as Max Scherzer. The man, that along with Rick Porcello, really held up the Tigers rotation this past season when Justin Verlander and the rest of the starters were struggling. Then one must add in the fact that he won a Cy Young for Detroit and was one of the three-headed monster of AL Cy Young winners including Verlander and David Price that led this team into the playoffs last season. Losing him is a pretty big deal.
Then there’s that area that Tigers fans don’t want to think about. The area that has single-handedly cursed this organization for years. The bullpen has costed the Tigers in the World Series, in the playoffs, and even in important games during the regular season. Good and in some cases great relievers, like Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria, have seemingly gone to Detroit to lose their edge. The larger enigma is that Detroit is by far a pitcher’s park. In any case, the bullpen is a low of this offseason because it hasn’t been upgraded at all. While David Robertson probably wasn’t in the picture for the Tigers to go get, certainly the Chicago White Sox picking him up isn’t a good thing for the Tigers. When push comes to shove, the Tigers didn’t even look to upgrade this bullpen in any way this offseason which spells doom for this upcoming season.
While he was getting older in age, the loss of Torii Hunter will most certainly affect the Tigers in some capacity. He may not be an over .325 hitter with 25 homers and 100 RBI’s at this point in this career, but he was a leader on and off the field for this organization. He had a gold-glove caliber fielding ability along with a fairly consistent .286 batting average, something that Detroit really needed when they were struggling to score runs this past year at crucial times. His loss will be felt as he heads back home to the Twins.
The positives may have been few and far between for the Detroit Tigers this offseason, but there are a couple to key in on. The Tigers needed some hitting help and they did get some. The trade for Rick Porcello to get Yoenis Cespedes from the Boston Red Sox is very important for the Tigers. He provides a steady and powerful bat behind Miguel Cabrera and the recently re-signed Victor Martinez. His career numbers are good; .263 batting average with 71 homers and 262 RBI’s in just 3 Major League seasons. Most of these numbers came in another pitcher’s park in Oakland so that is promising for the Tigers. The addition of Cespedes also takes pressure off of J.D. Martinez, who had an amazing year last year but it’s yet to be seen if he will become a proven and consistent power hitter. For those of you who are Tigers fans, when the name Brennan Boesch comes to mind, Tigers fans tense up a bit. He had a remarkable year back in 2011 when he hit .286 and in his three seasons in Detroit he hit 42 homers and had 175 RBI’s. But in 2012, the wheels fell off and he fell out of the Tigers organization. The Tigers must be wary of that happening to Martinez as well.
Another positive is that while the Tigers didn’t sign Max Scherzer, they also didn’t spend the enormous amounts of money it would have taken to get him back. For what he wanted, it was too big of a risk for the Tigers to go after when Max is pushing 31 years old. He has dynamite stuff, but his upside may only be for another season or two. The loss of Scherzer frees up cap space to either sign free agents or trade for some more bats or bullpen help. If the Tigers want another starter to try to fill the hole left with Scherzer gone, they do have the money to go after James Shields in free agency. Despite his struggles in this past postseason, he could be an important piece down the road if they wanted him. Talks between the Phillies and Brewers involving Jonathan Papelbon have recently surfaced. With the money they have, they could get into the sweepstakes of acquiring some bigger name players, like Papelbon, to try to figure out their bullpen and hitting issues.
All in all, the Tigers aren’t completely dead and out of the water. Yes they lost Scherzer. Yes the teams in their division are making strides to catch up to them. The Royals (even without Shields) have a solid all around team. The Indians and Twins are steadily getting better. The White Sox with Abreu, adding in David Robertson and Adam LaRoche are improving. When you look at all these teams though, the Tigers still have the most consistent core of players. It’s going to take some better performances from Verlander and Price. It’s going to take Anibal Sanchez making another step towards becoming an elite pitcher. It’s going to take the re-emergence of Miguel Cabrera who is coming off a “down” year for his standards. It’s going to take Jose Iglesias coming back from injury and playing well. While this is going to be a different Tigers team from what we have seen in years past, maybe that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Detroit still has the potential to be a factor in October, hands down.