2014 Detroit Tigers - Team Preview
In this MLB offseason, perhaps the team that has undergone the most drastic change has been the Detroit Tigers. In years past, Dave Dombrowski has looked to bolster his team through the addition big-name free agents. This year? Not as much. Through trades and smaller signings, Detroit has assembled a quicker, more athletic lineup than they’ve had in recent years. And with first-time manager Brad Ausmus pulling the strings, Detroit figures to be one of the more intriguing teams in the upcoming 2014 MLB season. What these changes mean for the Tigers – or for your fantasy team – remains to be seen. But, hey, we can always speculate, right?
2014 Detroit Tigers - Position Player Acquisitions
Ian Kinsler, 2B: In the blockbuster deal that sent Prince Fielder to Texas, Detroit acquired an athletic middle-infielder in Kinsler. Kinsler missed time due to injury in 2013, but still managed to hit 13 HR and drive in 72 RBI. His slash line of .277/.344/.413 was respectable, but certainly not awe-inspiring. Still, Kinsler figures to be a valuable asset in Detroit. His power numbers will likely stay the same or decline now that he will be playing half of his games in Detroit’s enormous Comerica Park; however, I expect to see an increase in doubles and runs scored over his 2013 numbers (31 and 85, respectively). The top of the order seems to be the best fit for Kinsler, and with Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez hitting behind him, he will have plenty of opportunities to cross home plate. If the Tigers opt to keep Austin Jackson in the leadoff spot, Kinsler could bat second (scoring lots of runs) or fifth (seeing more RBI opportunities). Either way, Kinsler’s offensive contributions are likely to be substantial.
Rajai Davis, LF: Rather than go after pricy outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, Dave Dombrowski opted to sign speedster Rajai Davis to platoon with left-handed-hitting Andy Dirks in left field. Davis’s numbers on the basepaths are ridiculous: since 2009, Davis has stolen over 40 bases all but once. Last year he swiped 45. The Tigers have desperately lacked speed in recent years, and Davis is certainly a welcome addition. Exactly how much Davis plays will depend on how productive Andy Dirks is this year and on the overall health of the outfield in general – Austin Jackson has missed time in each of the last two seasons, and Torii Hunter isn’t getting any younger. But one thing is pretty much a safe bet: if Davis plays over 100 games, he’s sure to swipe 40 bags.
Steve Lombardozzi – UTIL: I was recently talking baseball with a native of the DC area. When he discovered I was a Tigers fan, our conversation immediately turned to the trade that sent Doug Fister to Washington in exchange for Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi, and Robbie Ray. In the opinion of that particular Nats fan, Detroit won that trade big time. Krol will be a contributor out of the bullpen, and Robbie Ray is a hot prospect – but what he was most disappointed about was the loss of Lombardozzi. Nats fans like his scrappiness and his potential as a speedy switch-hitter. Lombo figures to slot into the same role that Ramon Santiago once filled, seeing time at third, short, and second when other guys could use a day of rest. However, Lombardozzi offers more production at the plate than Santiago ever did. In the grand scheme of things, though, this new acquisition isn’t likely to make a huge impact on either side of the ball.
2014 Detroit Tigers - Pitching Acquisitions
Joe Nathan, CL: It goes without saying that Joe Nathan has been one of the more dominant closers in recent memory. He’s recorded over 40 saves four times in his career, and has had over 30 four other times. He has also notched an ERA under 3.00 in all but one season since he’s been a closer. Last year’s 1.39 ERA was stellar, and the fact that he’s blown only three save opportunities in each of the last three seasons means that Nathan is still reliable late in games. Having someone slotted as the permanent closer is not a luxury the Tigers had last year. Having a permanent closer is nice; having Joe Nathan as that someone is a huge bonus. Realistic fans should not expect to see Nathan’s ERA numbers quite as low as they were last year, though a number closer to 2.00 is certainly attainable. Not only that, but since the Tigers figure to win a lot of games, Nathan will see lots of opportunities to earn himself saves. It’s not unreasonable to think that that Nathan could snag 45 or more saves on a solid Tigers team.
Joba Chamberlain, RP: The addition of Joba Chamberlain to the Tigers bullpen is a reclamation project, to say the least. Once highly touted as a prospect in the Yankees system, Chamberlain has never reached the potential that many analysts thought he would. In Detroit, Chamberlain will have a chance to start fresh and (hopefully) show that there is still some untapped potential in that powerful arm of his. Chamberlain has demonstrated his ability to get strikeouts (9.03 K/9 career), but has also been known to give up his share of runs (4.93 ERA in 2013). All the Tigers can hope for is that Chamberlain can hold the leads he’s given so that Joe Nathan gets as many opportunities in the 9th as possible.
Ian Krol, RP: Also new to the ‘pen in Detroit, Krol brings an average 93.5 MPH fastball with strikeout potential. Despite being only 22 years old, Krol seems to exhibit the command of his pitches that so many young pitchers lack: he walked only 2.63 batters per 9 innings in 32 appearances last year for Washington. Krol gives the Tigers a solid, young, left-handed arm out of the pen – something they would have missed after moving Drew Smyly to the starting rotation.
2014 Detroit Tigers - Familiar Faces in New Places
Miguel Cabrera, 1B: What is there to say about Miguel Cabrera that hasn’t already been said? This guy is the best hitter on the planet, and will continue to be in the 2014 season. The last time Miguel Cabrera played first base, he slashed .344/.448/.586 with 30 HR and 105 RBI. That was a “down year” for Cabrera. His numbers over the last two seasons (and his two MVP awards) speak for themselves. Some might be concerned about Cabrera’s offseason surgery and the fact that he is moving back to first base, but I actually see both of those things as positives. For one, Cabrera is expected to be 100% healthy by the time spring training begins; at the same time, first base is much less physically demanding than third, and Cabrera won’t have to move around quite so much on defense. As long as Cabrera shows up to camp in great physical condition, there’s really no reason he can’t duplicate what he’s done in each of his MVP campaigns. The added speed in the Tigers lineup also benefits Cabrera. More speed on the bases could mean more RBI; it could also mean that pitchers worried about the running game would be more prone to making a mistake to Cabrera. And any Tigers fan can tell you that when pitchers make mistakes with Cabby in the box, big things happen.
Drew Smyly, SP: It was only a matter of time before the decision was finally made to move Drew Smyly to the rotation permanently. Smyly made a name for himself when he started 18 games in 2012, and many fans and analysts thought he would land in the rotation during the 2013 season. Instead, he played the role of bullpen stud. His 3.19 ERA was more than respectable, and he struck out 9.59 men per 9 innings while walking only 2.01. In addition, Smyly allowed only four home runs in 76 innings of work. The question will be whether or not Smyly can readjust to a starting role. Odds are in his favor, since Smyly is a starter by nature and only became a bullpen arm out of necessity. It also doesn’t hurt that the infield defense is much improved over last year’s squad. If he remains healthy, look for Smyly – the only lefty in the starting rotation – to win anywhere from 12 to 16 games this season and to collect 150 strikeouts in the process.
Nick Castellanos, 3B: The Tigers’ top prospect finally gets his first crack at the big league squad after years of anticipation from the fanbase. He is a defensive upgrade at third over Cabrera, and has shown promise as hitter in the minors. For AAA Toledo, Castellanos slashed .276/.343/.450 with 18 HR and 76 RBI last year. He also got some ABs with the big-league team down the stretch, going 5 for 18 in a bench role. I don’t expect Castellanos to be a plus offensive player right away, but if his progression continues like it has in the farm system he could be a legitimate hitter in the next season or two.
2014 Detroit Tigers - Fantasy Perspective
If you tune in to watch the Detroit Tigers in 2014, you won’t see the team you’re used to. No longer will the team wait for the three-run homer; no longer will pitchers be plagued by sub-par infield defense. Instead, the Tigers will look to manufacture runs and be aggressive in the running game while relying on their defense to limit their opponents’ opportunities. From a fantasy perspective, owners should jump at the opportunity to snag Miguel Cabrera and Joe Nathan. Ian Kinsler and Drew Smyly are other players that could contribute nicely in larger rotisserie leagues. Rajai Davis could help out in head-to-head leagues if you’re looking to score on stolen bases. I would pass on Lombardozzi, Chamberlain, Krol, and Castellanos for the time being, but keep an eye on Castellanos: he might not be able to help you this year, but in a year or two he might be a sleeper that puts up big numbers if he plays to his potential.