The 2016 Detroit Tigers had hopes of returning to the playoffs after a rough finish to the 2015 season at 74-87, but they found themselves coming up just short of a spot, finishing the season at 86-75. Everything was looking great at the beginning: Nick Castellanos was having a breakout season, Jordan Zimmermann was lights out, and rookie starting pitcher Michael Fulmer came in and was nothing short of stellar. The offense was the same as years past, power-hitting and driving in a lot of runs, and the bullpen was improved — still shaky, but better nonetheless. However, along the way, they had some large obstacles to face. Injuries came over key players like Zimmermann, Castellanos, and J.D. Martinez; the offense, while productive overall, was also streaky; and finding consistency within the bullpen and the starting pitching was a struggle. Although the end result of the season was not what the team had hoped for, there is still a lot that you can take from it. Here are just a few things on the wish list for the 2017 Detroit Tigers.
1) A Shakeup in the Lineup
As I mentioned previously, the Tigers offense has been high-power and productive and has gotten them as far as the World Series. However, it has been the same offense year in and year out, so a change is in order. First off, the Tigers are not necessarily known for their vast amount of speed and good baserunning. There were plenty of times this year where another one could have been scored, or an extra 90-feet could have been taken, had they had better and faster baserunners. Part of this is due to old, tired legs, and with the subtraction of center fielder Cameron Maybin, this issue will become more apparent. A change in focus from players who can destroy a baseball to players who can get on base and keep constant flowing traffic on the bases would change things up a give this team a fresh, new look. Leaving runners stranded was an issue this past season, and a lot of that is due to reliance on the long ball.
2) Consistency Out of the Bullpen
One problem that has haunted the Tigers for years is their bullpen. Year in and year out, they bring in new guys to pitch out of the bullpen and consistency remains a problem, even with players shown to be proven veterans. In 2016, they had closer Francisco Rodriguez, who had his struggles but, overall, got the job done. Justin Wilson and Shane Greene were both solid arms coming out of the bullpen, but both still had their own struggles. Bruce Rondon was not present at the beginning of the Tigers’ season, but showed strong improvements when he was called back up late in June. With that being said, there have been many other players experiencing the same thing. Some start the season with the team, then get sent down and then called up again. There have been a few relievers who have been able to consistently keep a spot, while the rest are shuffled around the organization. Among those moving their way through the farm system is prospect Joe Jimenez. Many people were surprised that Jimenez was not brought up as a September call-up, but Al Avila, the general manager, was later quoted saying that calling up Jimenez “would not be in his best interests or in our best interests.” He mentioned that he did not want to rush him like they did Rondon. Jimenez has consistently performed well at every level of baseball he has competed at, and will be a great addition into the bullpen when the time comes. It is hard to say whether he will begin the season with the big league ball club, but I am very certain that he will be wearing a Tigers uniform at some point in the 2017 season.
3) A Healthy Team
The 2016 season was a very unfortunate one for many of the Tigers’ key players. J.D. Martinez fractured his elbow in mid-June but, while the Tigers would clearly miss having his productive bat in the lineup, they still had enough to make up for it. When Martinez finally came back in early August, he really came back with a bang with a pinch hit go-ahead home run. Then, only days after, Castellanos, who was having a breakout season, was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken hand. While these incidents were happening, Zimmermann was unable to find himself a way off the disabled list, suffering from a series of injuries. Zimmermann began the season looking like an unstoppable force, and losing him for just about the remainder of the season was a huge blow to the starting rotation. Maybin also spent his fair share of time on the disabled list, including the beginning of the season. On top of all of this, you have the older veterans like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, who suffer their normal bumps and bruises throughout the season and play hurt from time to time. If Detroit can find their way into the lineup every day instead of on the disabled list, they should have a pretty good shot of making a legitimate playoff run in the 2017 season.
4) A Center Fielder
With the trade of Maybin early this offseason, the list of potential starting center fielders is slim. Tyler Collins and JaCoby Jones are the two players in the organization who come to mind when I think of that role. Collins has more playing experience than Jones, but neither player has really done enough to judge whether they would be a good fit for the position. The most wise option would probably be to look at a trade or the free agent market. They could go for the best, but also most expensive, option in Dexter Fowler, but I believe he would ask for more than what they are willing to pay. So, they have a much more inexpensive option in Peter Bourjos, who is coming off of a decent season with the Phillies, despite a couple of injuries. Bourjos is a plus defender and can run the bases well, which would be a great addition to Detroit’s lineup.
5) Continued Improvements From Young Starters
Pitchers Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd were called up in 2016 to fill roles where there were injuries and inconsistent pitchers. Norris showed great potential throughout the 2016 season, which is what many had expected from him. Norris has shown great signs of becoming a very solid starter, and, if he continues his progression into the 2017 season, Detroit’s rotation will be in good shape. Especially if Jordan Zimmerman can bounce back off of a rough season, and Fulmer and Justin Verlander continue their success. With those four players taking up the first four spots of the rotation, there is a question mark in the fifth starter spot. There is veteran right hander Anibal Sanchez, and then there is Boyd, the young left hander. Sanchez has a clear advantage in the experience category, but his last two seasons have been so bad, it will be hard not to consider Boyd for that fifth spot. Boyd, while not lighting the world on fire with this performance, still did exactly what the Tigers needed him to do last year when he was brought up and he would be a good fit for that last spot in the rotation.