RF J.D. Martinez
Replacement On Deck: OF Steven Moya
It should come as no surprise to anyone that if the Tigers move Moya, barring receiving a corner outfielder in return, the club will give Moya a serious opportunity to win the job. Moya had a rebound season in 2016, belting 20 home runs in 409 at-bats in Toledo, and also belting five dingers for the Tigers in his big league cameo. While his defense was rough, that appeared to be more a mental block than a physical one, and scouts are optimistic his defense will be passable. The bigger question for Moya remains to be his offensive profile – when he connects with the ball, his 70-grade power will make the ball fly off the bat – but will his long swing and massive frame expose him, and prevent him from capitalizing on his power? His .255/.290/.500 triple slash line in Detroit this past year would be more than enough to hold down the spot, but that require him to keep slugging at a ridiculously high rate.
With Moya now out of options, and Martinez a good bet to be moved, it’s now or never for the Tigers to find out what they have in the 6-7 slugging outfielder.
Replacement In the Hole: OF Christin Stewart
The reigning TigsTown Ryan DeWitt Minor League Player of the Year, Stewart mashed 30 home runs between Lakeland and Erie this past season, and while like Moya he doesn’t hit for a high average, unlike Moya he is plenty patient at the plate, resulting in an OBP more than 100 points over his average. Stewart doesn’t have the arm strength or defensive prowess to take over in right field, so the club would likely have to move Justin Upton to right in the event they wanted to insert Stewart into the lineup. Only 18 months from being drafted out of Tennessee, Stewart doesn’t have extensive professional seasoning, but a power/patience bat combo could come on fast.
It’s unlikely Stewart would be ready for a big league role this spring, but his power/patience combo will always be desirable, and a hot start in the upper levels of the farm system could push the Tigers to give him a look.
DH Victor Martinez
Replacement On Deck: OF Steven Moya
If the Tigers open up their designated hitter role, and only look to fill that spot, it’s a good bet that Moya would once again get the first look, for all the reasons listed above.
Replacement In the Hole: C John Hicks
Being honest, it’s highly unlikely that the Tigers would use Hicks as an everyday DH in the event they needed one. But if you’re looking for a productive offensive player that could be close to contributing in the big leagues, Hicks is likely your guy. Across three stops last year (Erie and Toledo with the Tigers organization) he posted an .838 OPS and a .310 average, with an extra-base hit once every 10 at-bats and a walk rate of almost 7%. He’d also bring the added flexibility as serving as a backup catcher and could fill in at first base if needed.
Again, Hicks will not be called on to replace V-Mart alone if he were to depart, but Hicks is a name to watch and could be a part of a solution to replace his productivity.
2B Ian Kinsler
Replacement On Deck: SS Dixon Machado
Machado is a better fit for shortstop given his defensive prowess and limited offensive profile, but if the club were looking for a second baseman, Machado would likely be the guy. His defense while not as flashy as current starter Jose Iglesias is still very good, with above average range, glove and arm. His offensive game isn’t as strong as his defense, but he still posted a .705 OPS in Toledo last year, thanks to a strong second half. Still on the slender side, he struggles to generate much power and so his offensive profile is limited to contact with the occasional double.
Machado likely wouldn’t give the Tigers anywhere near what they’ve gotten out of Kinsler the last several years offensively, but pairing Machado up the middle with Iglesias would pose a very potent double play duo up the middle, making it difficult for any ground ball to find its way through.
Replacement In the Hole: UT JaCoby Jones
This is pending his availability, as it’s thought Jones might already be slated to compete for the center fielder job that opened up with the club’s decision to trade Cameron Maybin. However, if Jones doesn’t pan out in center, or the Tigers end up acquiring someone else to fill the void in center field, Jones could get a look at the keystone spot. He came up as a shortstop, but doesn’t have the athleticism to stick there, and that has resulted in him working around the outfield and other spots in the infield, mostly third base. But second could be a potential landing spot for him as well. Across Erie and Toledo last season (abbreviated due to his 50-game suspension for twice violating Minor League Baseball’s joint drug prevention and treatment program), he hit .257 with a .733 OPS, and an ISO of 0.15, providing some additional pop there.
If the Tigers have to fill second base, Jones presents an intriguing option as someone that should be able to handle the position defensively (albeit he likely won’t excel) but would bring some pop to a position that frequently has it, but would allow the Tigers to better replace Kinsler’s production.
1B Miguel Cabrera
Replacement On Deck: C John Hicks
If the Tigers end up moving Cabrera, the reality is that there’s not an in-house candidate that can come close to replacing him, but the open roster spot could go to Hicks if they look internally, as he has the ability play first (has limited appearances there over the years) and had a solid year offensively in 2016. Hicks could give the team versatility across catcher, first base and at DH.
Replacement In the Hole: 1B Dominic Ficociello
With Dean Green off to Japan, Ficociello is arguably the only legitimate first base prospect that played at one of the full season stops in 2016, and he hit just .248 with a .677 OPS in hitter friendly Erie this past season. Ficociello had a strong 2015 season, and was making progress with his power, but hit only 29 extra-base hits with Erie, including only five home runs, good for an ISO of 0.10. He’s still a good contact hitter, and did make strides to reign in his aggressiveness and improve his patience (10.4% walk rate), but it’s tough to feature a player at first base that is not a power threat. He is a very good defender on the infield, and has the flexibility to play elsewhere including third base and in the outfield.
The Tigers have long believed in Ficociello’s upside, dating back to high school when they drafted him and tried to sign him away from his college commitment – if that belief turns into a legit hitter either in average or power, then the Tigers could certainly give Ficociello a shot.
RHP Justin Verlander
Replacement On Deck: RHP Myles Jaye
There’s no real way to replace a Cy Young caliber ace, but if you’re talking about opening up a spot in the rotation, it’s a good bet that Jaye will be the one to get the next look. Jaye was the prospect the Tigers received, along with Bobby Wilson, when they traded Bryan Holaday to the Rangers, and excelled in the club’s farm system across Erie and Toledo, with a 3.95 ERA over 28 starts in 161 2/3 innings, and an FIP half a run lower at each stop. Jaye doesn’t possess the prototypical Tigers pitching prospect repertoire, with fastball that sits around 90 MPH. But he possesses very good command of the pitch, and works in a slider and changeup.
Jaye won’t project to be a top of the rotation pitcher, but has proven to have the durability to handle a heavy workload, and if the club needs a starting pitcher outside of its current group of pitchers, Jaye is likely the one to get the first look.
Replacement In the Hole: LHP Tyler Alexander
Alexander just finished up his first full season in the organization, dominating at High-A Lakeland before being promoted for a late season handful of starts in Erie, where he excelled as well. His 2.21 ERA at Lakeland was good enough to warrant a greater challenge against better competition, and the lefty acquitted himself well in the Eastern League, too. Alexander also doesn’t have overpowering stuff, and his fastball usually sits in the high 80’s and tops out just over 90, but like Jaye, works in solid off-speed pitches, and has outstanding command (averaged just over one walk per nine in 2016) around the strike zone.
Alexander likely needs more seasoning before being ready to face big league competition, but is a bona fide starting pitching prospect that should be ready to compete for a spot in the Detroit rotation by the beginning of 2018. If the need arises, and Alexander continues to find success early on in 2017, he could get that look even sooner.