Paul Wezner, Executive Editor
We've been doing these projections for the better part of a decade. Some years I've hit the nail on the head, like in 2009 when I hit the win total on the head and forecasted everything but the game 163 thriller. Unlike 2009, 2015 I was not quite as accurate, with my prediction almost the inverse of reality, predicting 91 wins for a team that ended up winning only 74. Injuries played a big role in that lack of success, and the July trade deadline deals officially waved the white flag, and likely cost the Tigers several more games down the stretch, but even then, in hindsight my optimism was maybe a bit too high.
This year, the Tigers have rebuilt their bullpen, hopefully fortified their rotation and have a lineup very similar to the one from 2015, albeit with another year of experience (or, another year of aging, depending on your perspective and the player). For a lineup that has so much of its core well above 30 years of age, it's impossible to expect no injuries, but a healthier Cabrera and a more productive Victor Martinez will go a long way toward taking the offense from middle of the pack to upper echelon, especially when you're talking about a 2-5 in the order that is as dangerous as any in baseball. On the pitching side, the addition of Jordan Zimmermann is an upgrade, but the health of Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez will remain a question mark, and the Tigers really need another starting pitcher (whether that be current fifth starter Shane Greene, or last year's star acquisition Daniel Norris) to make a leap.
Last year, just about everything went wrong for the Tigers. This year, I expect more to go right, but not everything. At its ceiling I'd see this as a club that could win near 88 or 90 games and compete for the playoffs, but realistically, not everyone will be healthy, and not all players will provide the production that is hoped for. I see the Tigers finishing at 84-78, a competitive but outside the playoffs 3rd place in the AL Central.
Mark Anderson, Director of Scouting
This is the point in every year where I pathetically attempt to predict how the Tigers season will turn out. The nature of preseason predictions is such that the variables involved make it almost impossible to foresee what will transpire, but that won't stop me from trying! The Tigers have re-shaped the back of their bullpen with three new additions, though each of the new pieces has flaws that any savvy baseball fan can identify. That bolstering of the bullpen leads to solid, fungible relief pieces like Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy, and Drew VerHagen being placed in more appropriate roles for their ability; meaning the middle innings and bridging when a starter has to depart before the seventh inning. Adding Jordan Zimmerman and Mike Pelfrey to the rotation, and having a healthy Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Shane Greene, means the Tigers should get enough out of their starters to be in most games (also buoyed by improved minor league depth with Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, and Michael Fulmer in Triple-A). The lineup is still one of the best in baseball and is only made better through the addition of left fielder Justin Upton. All of that adds up to a very talented team that I believe is being underrated a bit nationally. There are certainly risks with the roster, as several key players must defy age and recent injury concerns for this team to reach the theoretical ceiling, but they are capable of managing a break or two that don't go their way; unlike past years. At the end of the day, I think the Tigers finish with an 89-73 record and a berth in the Wild Card play-in game.
Chris Brown, Staff Writer
James Chipman, Senior Lakeland Correspondent
John Moore, Associate Scout
The 2016 Tigers are coming off a very disappointing season. They headed into 2015 as the four-time defending division champions and were seen as a favorite entering the year again in the American League Central Division. The Tigers got off to a very hot start to the year but eventually faded and ended up being sellers at the trade deadline. Shortly after the trade deadline the Tigers parted ways with General Manager Dave Dombrowski and they will start this year with Al Avila as their new GM.
On the field this year the Tigers are hoping to get some of their notable veterans back to playing like their old selves. If the Tigers are going to have any chance at competing they will need a big bounce back year from guys like Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. This Tigers team has a very good-looking offense on paper and the top of their order has the chance to be one of the best in baseball. The Tigers also made some notable additions this offseason including starter Jordan Zimmerman, closer Francisco Rodriguez, set-up man Mark Lowe and reliever Justin Wilson. Along with these additions in the bullpen the Tigers will hope to get repeat good seasons out of Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy. These bullpen pieces will definitely help out the bullpen, which has been a major weak spot for the Tigers for a number of years now. However, asking these veteran players to perform at their old-levels is a lot and many of these older players have a history with injuries. There are still just too many concerns with this team for me to confidently predict them as a playoff team. Overall I think the Tigers will improve over last year’s 74 wins and win about 81 games, which will leave the Tigers left out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
Jack Wagner, Associate Scout
Following the dismal finish to the 2015 season, the Tigers will continue to face stiff competition within their division. But with some important players returning to health and some aggressive offseason acquisitions, I believe that the Tigers are positioned to regain their place atop the division. Miguel Cabrera comes into the season without returning from a surgery for the first time in two years, which had noticeably limited his production from the plate. Justin Verlander also comes in without injury, and looks to be back to form after a stellar second half to 2015 (103 IP, 2.80 ERA, 95 K’s, .218 Average Against). Along with those two, the relative good health of Anibal Sanchez and Victor Martinez coming into the season is promising, and a key for the Tigers success in 2016.
The two big acquisitions in Jordan Zimmerman and Justin Upton will provide solid anchors in their respective sides of the field. Upton is arguably in the best position for success in his career, with all indications that he will bat 2nd in a highly potent lineup. Zimmerman should welcome the spacious outfield of Comerica Park, and should continue to be a consistent presence in the rotation throughout the year. The notable bullpen acquisitions of Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson, and Mark Lowe should help shore up some of the bullpen woes that have haunted the tigers in recent years. Rodriguez comes in off of a solid 2015, where he posted a 2.21 ERA and 38 saves with a 9.79 K/9.
There is also reason to be optimistic with Nick Castellanos. Castellanos showed improvement in the second half of 2015, posting .269/.322/.478 in 245 AB’s. That doesn't fully erase his subpar first half performance, but I believe he figured something out at the plate. Should he continue to improve and perform at his 2nd half rates, Castellanos could be primed for a breakout season.
The biggest question mark going into the season is the bullpen. With no players from the 2015 opening day bullpen returning for 2016, it was obvious that new GM Al Avila made improving the bullpen a top priority, and rightfully so. Outside of the 3 new acquisitions in Rodriguez, J. Wilson and Lowe, the later innings will be left to products of the organization. Buck Farmer, Logan Kensing, Kyle Ryan, and Drew VerHagen round out the opening day bullpen for the Tigers. Both Farmer and Ryan were starters in the minors with marginal success, and it will be interesting to see how they fare in a bullpen role. Some of these guys may not stick, with Bobby Parnell and Bruce Rondon waiting in the minors for a chance to be called up.
Given all of these factors, I believe the Tigers find themselves at the top of the division once more. They are the healthiest they have been in a few years, and the existing big time talent coupled with thoughtful offseason moves should provide for a high caliber lineup day in and day out.