2014 Tigers Overview
Consistently fielding one of the best teams on paper, and in terms of fantasy relevance, the 2014 Detroit Tigers team will be no different. After failing to make the World Series last year, the team did make some major changes. At the very top, long-time manager Jim Leyland stepped down after 8 successful seasons with just one losing record and two world series appearances. First time manager Brad Ausmus steps in and its not yet clear what his managing style will be, but if we can be sure of one thing, it's this – Jose Valverde will not relied upon next year. That's progress!
The team retained their biggest contributors. Miguel Cabrera is under contract through 2015 and still in his prime. A third straight MVP award is certainly within the realm of possibility. On the pitching side they will bring back perhaps the best trio of starting pitchers in baseball with Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer penciled in for #1 & #2 with Anibal Sanchez the clear #3.
Outside of these stars the Tigers did make several key moves through trades and free agency. Lets take a look at the gains and losses of the offseason so far:
2014 Tigers Preview - Notable Departures
The most notable and surprising name that is no longer on the team is Prince Fielder. Just two years into a giant 9-year contract, Prince was not on any lists of “Most likely to be Traded”, but it happened. After making him one of the highest paid players in baseball, the Tigers didn't quite get the production they had hoped. In his five previous years his home run totals had ranged anywhere from 32 up to 50. Unfortunately the Tigers couldn't even get the low-end of that range. His departure left a big hole at first base, but the Tigers managed to turn that into a positive by moving weak-fielding Miguel Cabrera across the diamond. Of course that still leaves a big hole at third base, but at least the team can get some better defense. The Tigers are expected to fill that hole in-house with rookie Nick Castellanos at third.
The second major departure was Doug Fister who also left via trade. This trade was not well received by the baseball world as the Tigers failed to get much of a return for a pitcher who had become one of the more reliable players in the game. Fister is not a strikeout machine, but he had great control, rarely walking hitters and almost never giving up home runs (never more than 15 in a season!) While Doug Fister's consistency will certainly be missed the Tigers appear to be comfortable giving Drew Smyly a chance to fill that hole and if he can bring any of his success from the bullpen there shouldn't be much of a loss if any.
Also gone from the team are middle infielders Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante. It's not often that a team loses both starters in the middle of the diamond in one offseason. Both were free agents who the Tigers did not pursue. Peralta will be the bigger loss offensively. Yes, he did get suspended for PED use. That doesn't change the fact that he was one of the best hitting shortstops in the game. Peralta may have been on pace for his best season in 2013 before the suspension. He finished with 107 games played and a batting average over .300 – a first to go along with 11 home runs. Omar Infante did miss some time as well, and played a few more games with fairly similar numbers. In 118 games, Infante hit .318 with 10 HRs. The Tigers will be replacing them with Ian Kinsler and excellent fielder Jose Iglesias. Iglesias probably won't have the bat of Peralta, but he will be another big increase on defense.
2014 Tiger Preview - Pitching Role Changes
The Tigers bullpen has also gone through a fairly large transformation so far in the offseason. Joaquin Benoit ended up as the closer, but he is now in San Diego. Drew Smyly is expected to move to the rotation. Just like that you've removed the two most used pieces of this bullpen. After that, Jose Veras was acquired near the trade deadline and used heavily in the second half. He signed with the Cubs and will not be returning. This leaves a number of holes in the bullpen. Al Alburquerque, Phil Coke, and Bruce Rondon will shore up the middle innings while new addition Joe Nathan becomes the closer.
2014 Tigers Preview - Notable Additions
For all the changes, a lot of them were addressed with what was already in the Tigers system. The biggest piece coming to the Tigers is Ian Kinsler from the Prince Fielder trade. Kinsler doesn't do anything particularly great on offense, but he is above average in just about every aspect which makes him a very good second basemen. Kinsler won't have a terrible batting average, he'll hit for some power, he'll steal some bases and he'll get some walks without striking out a ton. In this lineup Kinsler should continue to play well.
The other major addition to this team comes in the bullpen. The Tigers finally have an established closer in Joe Nathan. He will be 39 this year, but he has been dominant over the past two seasons with Texas. The age shouldn't scare you off. Guys like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman have shown us that top-tier closers can pitch into their 40s before showing signs of decline. With this team's offensive firepower, Nathan should be a lock for 40+ saves. The Tigers also added Joba Chamberlain although it remains to be seen whether he can be a positive contributor to this team.
That wraps up the major changes to the Detroit Tigers. A lot of new players to look forward to! Over the coming weeks I'll be taking in-depth looks at the team's offense & pitching as well as the best prospects. Be sure to stay tuned for that!