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2017 Detroit Tigers Roster Preview and Projection

With spring training underway, it’s time to once again take a look at the players that are projected to start the season on the Opening Day roster, and those that will be competing for a spot. Brad Ausmus will have some tough decisions to make as he sorts out center field, deals with pressure to keep prospects out of options, and sorts out a crowded bullpen.

Catcher/Designated Hitter

 

Locked In:

C James McCann

C Alex Avila

DH Victor Martinez

 

Good Chance:

N/A

 

Outside Shot:

C John Hicks

 

The lone big league signing this past off-season was bringing back former catcher, and son of GM Al Avila, Alex Avila. Only this time he’ll be serving as the club’s backup to starter James McCann, who had a rocky Sophomore season. McCann entered the season as the starter, but an injury in early April sidelined him for a month, and his attempts to rush back potentially hindered him further, as he posted a wOBA of .254 in the first half. Bringing back Avila provides a good platoon partner, and even though McCann will still likely see his fair share of at-bats against right-handed pitching, they should be a solid duo. Martinez returns as the locked in designated hitter (and occasional first base backup), leaving very little competition here, barring injury. If an injury were to occur, Hicks is likely the guy that would be looked to first, as a capable defender behind the dish and at first base, a member of the 40-man roster, and an owner of an .842 OPS in AAA Toledo last season.

 

Infielders:

 

Locked In:

1B Miguel Cabrera

2B Ian Kinsler

SS Jose Iglesias

3B Nick Castellanos

 

Good Chance:

IF Andrew Romine

SS Dixon Machado

 

Outside Shot:

UT JaCoby Jones

 

The team’s starting infield remains intact and barring trade or injury, will go around the diamond the same as they did in 2016 with Cabrera, Kinsler, Iglesias and Castellanos making up the very strong quartet, that combined was worth nearly 15 wins (14.7 fWAR).

 

The real questions come in at the reserve spot (or spots), where the number of positions available aren’t certain, nor are the roles. Romine has been the club’s utility man for the past three years, done so reliably, and received a one-year deal in the off-season worth almost $1 million in avoiding arbitration. It seems unlikely the Tigers would let loose a player as reliable and versatile as Romine is, given he can also pinch in at the outfield spots as well. But that brings up a question for Dixon Machado, who is now out of options, and either needs to be kept on the 25-man roster, or placed on waivers and likely lost to another team. With as strong as he is defensively it seems unlikely the Tigers will want to lose Machado, so the safe bet entering camp is that the Tigers find a way to keep him on the roster, but that does mean the club will have less flexibility either in the outfield, or in the bullpen.

 

Outfielders:

Locked In:

LF Justin Upton

RF J.D. Martinez

 

Good Chance:

OF Tyler Collins

OF Mikie Mahtook

 

Outside Shot:

OF Steven Moya

OF Anthony Gose

OF Juan Perez

OF Alex Presley

UT JaCoby Jones

 

Entering camp, there’s no debate about the corner outfield spots, which are held down by Upton and Martinez. Between the two, they combined for over 50 home runs and that was even despite Martinez missing a month and only logging 517 at-bats for the year.

 

The questions come up in figuring out who will replace Cameron Maybin in center field, and how the Tigers will do that. As many as four or five players will get a look in center, with off-season acquisition Mahtook probably the early favorite to win the job. Mahtook struggled in 2016, hitting just .195, but also battled injuries, with two disabled list stints, the most prominent of which was due to a broken hand that sidelined him for six weeks in the summer. If Mahtook is healthy and can find the offense that helped him post a .411 wOBA in 2015, he could become a weapon for the club. Even if he wins the job though, he’ll likely be complemented by a left-handed hitter, with Collins the early favorite to get that spot. His productivity has largely been that of a replacement level player for the team, but he can play all three outfield spots, is known as a hard worker, and has some pop in his bat.

 

Among the other candidates, Jones will also get a look, but in all reality likely would benefit from more seasoning in Toledo and is probably ticketed for there, unless he forces his way onto the roster. Gose is another wild card – he started 2016 in Detroit, but issues on and off the field resulted in a dramatic fall in his status. No longer on the 40-man, he can’t be considered a favorite, but he still has speed, and offers a left-handed bat that could be a platoon with Mahtook, should he emerge as the primary CF.

 

The final question in the outfield comes down to Moya, who like Machado is out of options and either needs to be kept on the 25-man roster or placed on waivers (or traded). The Tigers have invested a lot in Moya, and still believe in his power bat – but at-bats at the corner infield spots are going to be few and far between, and without a known quantity in center field, the Tigers need two players there. The club could try and keep Moya as well, but it’s unlikely they’d have room for both Machado and Moya.

 

Rotation

 

Locked In:

RHP Justin Verlander

RHP Jordan Zimmermann

RHP Michael Fulmer

 

Good Chance:

RHP Anibal Sanchez

LHP Daniel Norris

 

Outside Shot:

LHP Matt Boyd

RHP Buck Farmer

RHP Mike Pelfrey

RHP Drew VerHagen

 

The top three rotation spots are locked in, with the 2016 Cy Young runner-up, the 2016 Rookie of the Year, and the $110 million man assuming the first three slots. The three combined for nearly 10 wins (9.2 fWAR), and that’s despite Zimmermann battling injuries and only giving the Tigers 105 1/3 innings.

 

Norris is very close to a lock in the rotation, but will have to at least show the flashes that he did down the stretch in 2016 to ensure his spot there. But with a 3.38 ERA/3.93 FIP and a K/9 ratio of 9.2, the Tigers are almost assuredly going to have Norris there. And the same can be said for Sanchez, though his spot is more related to a long track record of success, and not his 2016 performance, that ended with him in the bullpen. In a contract year, the hope is that he can at least regain his 2014 form, when he posted a 3.43 ERA and 3.2 fWAR.

 

Should either Norris or Sanchez falter, Pelfrey and Boyd are the two that will be the next men up. Boyd is at an interesting cross-road, in which he’s clearly ready to face big league competition and further seasoning won’t help much, but there may only be a spot for him to pitch in long relief in Detroit, so there will be a tough decision there. Pelfrey meanwhile was easily the Tigers worst off-season signing two years ago, and the club will see if he can provide anything worthwhile.

 

 

Bullpen

 

Locked In:

RHP Francisco Rodriguez

LHP Justin Wilson

RHP Alex Wilson

RHP Bruce Rondon

RHP Shane Greene

 

 

Good Chance:

RHP Mark Lowe

RHP Mike Pelfrey

LHP Kyle Ryan

LHP Daniel Stumpf

 

Outside Shot:

RHP Buck Farmer

RHP Angel Nesbitt

LHP Matt Boyd

RHP Joe Jimenez

 

 

The Tigers bullpen went from a disaster in 2015 to mostly reliable in 2016, with a bevy of options in the late innings that the Tigers could turn to. Rodriguez returns as the club’s closer, and while he’s not as dominant as he once was, was still solid in the ninth inning for the club. The Wilsons and Greene all took turns working in the 7th and 8th innings, and while Justin Wilson might have struggled some down the stretch due to overuse, he was still arguably the Tigers best reliever for the first 4+ months of the year. Finally, the light seemed to finally come on for Rondon, who posted a sub-3 ERA and a K/9 of over 11, giving him a spot reserved for him, and making him a potential candidate to take over as the closer after Rodriguez’s contract runs out this season.

 

Locking in five guys means there’s only two other spots, problematic when you have two arms with contracts that the Tigers would seem to be unwilling to part with at least out of the gate in Lowe and Pelfrey, despite their struggles last season. Then you also have Ryan, who was the most reliable of the group as the second left-hander, and the Tigers also snagged Stumpf in the Rule 5 draft, and he could make a case to be kept. So now you’re at nine guys who all have a good argument to be held onto, only seven spots, and arms like Boyd and Jimenez haven’t even been considered. It’s a good problem to have, but there are clearly too many arms for spots in the Tigers bullpen, and so something will have to give.


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