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Monday, February 17, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Detroit Tigers

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Detroit Tigers
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2014 Overview:
Roar! The Tigers have owned the AL Central division for the past three years, averaging 92 wins and playing deep into the ALCS in each season. Also in two out of the last three years, the Tigers have provided both the league’s MVP and Cy Young award winner, a testament to the extraordinary talent they’ve been able to put on the field. Also in two out of the last three years, the Tigers have provided both the league’s MVP and Cy Young award winner, a testament to the extraordinary talent they’ve been able to put on the field. Only the surprising Red Sox juggernaut was able to stop them from a second straight pennant.

Winter Grade: B-
Coming: Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis, Joe Nathan
Going: Prince Fielder, Doug Fister, Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante, Joaquin Benoit Every three or four years we are reminded that the Tigers don’t quite have the payroll flexibility of the largest market teams (Yankees, Phillies, etc). After several years of signing high-profile free agents, Detroit spent the winter re-tooling and attempting to find some payroll flexibility while still remaining the team to beat in the Central. Trading Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler is a deceptively good move, as Kinsler’s defense makes up for some of the difference in power, while allowing Miguel Cabrera to move back to first base. However, the Doug Fister trade was rightfully panned, as Dave Dombrowski didn’t get enough in return for the mid-rotation stalwart, possibly because he was myopically focused on specific players in the return.

Wild Card(s): Alex Avila was a down-ballot MVP candidate three years, but injuries and poor performances have made him more of an afterthought. Still just 27, a repeat of his 2011 season would be huge, especially now that Prince Fielder’s absence leaves a big hole in the lineup.

Key Contract Years: Max Scherzer, Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez. Does Detroit have the financial wherewithal to keep Scherzer, even if he repeats his Cy Young season? The latter two aren’t as significant, and might be playing year-to-year after their contracts are up.

Rookies:
Nick Castellanos will play third base for Detroit this year, and offers batting-title upside eventually. He cut down on his strikeouts in AAA last year and should have an immediate impact, even if he’s not a star. He played in the outfield last year so he’ll have to spend spring training re-learning his old position. On the pitching side, last year’s ‘closer of the future’, Bruce Rondon, still hasn’t lost his rookie status or his fastball, with a solid debut in 30 games last year (3.45 ERA, 9.3 K/9). The Tigers are very high on lefty starter Robbie Ray, who they acquired from the Nationals for Doug Fister.

Key Questions:
How will defensive whiz Jose Iglesias fare in his sophomore season?
He hit like a star for Boston, tailed off considerably with Detroit (.259/.306/.348), and may always see his value rise and fall on empty batting averages.
How much offense can they expect from left field, currently expected to be some kind of Rajai Davis/Andy Dirks platoon?
Does Miguel Cabrera have protection in this lineup? Does he need it?

Farm System Overview: YELLOW (average) 
After Castellanos, Detroit has nobody with star upside. Last year was the first year since 2009 that they had a first-round draft pick (they took rhp Jonathan Crawford), although they’ve spent first-round money on guys like Castellanos before. However, they have some interesting middle infield depth and enough pitching to use in trades or reinforcements going forward.

2014 Prognosis: Strong Contenders
Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez give Detroit an unbeatable 1-3 punch in the rotation, and it’s entirely possible that the offense lost from losing Peralta and Fielder will be compensated by their new and improved defensive alignment in the infield. They could still use another power threat, but if it becomes an issue they have the means to acquire a bat midseason.

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