Another season is upon us, so with the 2017 campaign ready to be kicked off, this week's Roundtable asks: What are your predictions for the 2017 Detroit Tigers?
Paul Wezner, Executive Editor
I am very torn on how this season is going to play out. On one hand, I see a lot of reasons for optimism - a mostly, healthy and despite aging still productive core of players. A number of younger players that appear poised for breakout seasons. A manager that has made significant strides in both his clubhouse management and his in-game decision making, and an expiring contract to boot.
On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons to think this season could be in shambles by midseason. The average age of their ace, closer and three most productive hitters is approaching 35 years of age. Of the rotation, only two have ever pitched a full season before, and one of those pitchers (Jordan Zimmermann) had a disastrous 2016 season. The bullpen is littered with question marks with a number of inconsistent performances and poor springs adding to that concern. And that's building off a team whose ERA finished 20th in baseball last year.
So, which way will it shake out? I'm feeling optimistic that 2017 is going to be an enjoyable season for Tigers fans. While injuries are always a concern and this team doesn't have the depth to overcome it, the Tigers are due a little good fortune when it comes to injuries. And while the youth is noteworthy, it's also talented, as the Tigers trio of young starters could prove to be above average in the league across the board. Add that to a division in which three teams are going to be in rebuilding mode, and I see the Tigers making a run to winning 89 games, finishing 2nd in the AL Central and snagging one of the two AL Wild Card spots.
Mark Anderson, Director of Scouting
It seems as though every year I'm torn between my fandom and my pragmatic side when I have to look at how the Tigers will perform, and this year doesn't appear any different. On the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers have the look of a team that should finish in the upper third to the top ten in all of baseball. A backbone of Miguel Cabrera, JD Martinez (once back from the DL), Victor Martinez, Justin Upton, and Ian Kinsler is a dangerous -- if aging -- crop of hitters capable of beating opponents in any number of ways. Combine that with the potential for another legitimate step forward for Nicholas Castellanos, and you have a potentially dominant offensive side of the ball. That's all said without addressing the potential for a surprise performance from JaCoby Jones in center field, which would only further add to the intrigue. At the plate, the Tigers are a championship level club without adding anything throughout the year.
All told, between a championship-caliber offense, high-quality albeit young starting rotation, and a bullpen that carries the same inherent variability as every other club, along with another year of development for manager Brad Ausmus, the Tigers should be a team that contends for a playoff spot yet again in 2017. If I can go so far as to add in the intangible impact of "playing for Mr. Illitch," then this looks like a team poised to get back to the playoffs and try to make a run before the core of this roster is another year older. Look for the Tigers to finish the campaign with an 89-73 record and a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, where anything can happen.
On the bump, the starting rotation looks a strong as any Tiger rotations in recent years, even with Jordan Zimmermann struggling throughout the spring. Justin Verlander is the veteran anchor to a young rotation that will have ups and downs but has the upside to be lethal for stretches this season. On top of that, Anibal Sanchez looked like a rejuvenated pitcher his last few spring outings, giving hope that there may be some support behind that initial five before the club has to dig into the uninspiring likes of Buck Farmer, Warwick Saupold, or Chad Bell. The bullpen carries the typical question marks, but should have enough to get by as the Tigers sort out roles and wait for youngsters like Joe Jimenez or Angel Nesbitt to solidify their candidacy in Toledo. It's easy to be skeptical of the pitching staff, but with the departures of arms like Mike Pelfrey and Mark Lowe, there seems to be a glimmer of hope for more consistency and a greater likelihood that the best arms remain on the roster rather than the arms owed the most money.
Chris Brown, Staff Writer
On the surface, the 2017 Tigers look an awful lot like the 2016 Tigers. They traded away their primary center fielder, and they did some roster shuffling by cutting Mike Pelfrey and Mark Lowe, and sending Anibal Sanchez to the bullpen, but there weren't any big free agent signings, and the team's key players remain the same. I expect the starting pitching will be slightly better than last year. It will be hard for Justin Verlander to duplicate his 2016 numbers, but there's no reason to expect a big regression, and any drop off should be more than offset by a healthy Jordan Zimmermann and full seasons from Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, and Matthew Boyd.
I expect the offense to take a slight step back from last year's squad that put up the 4th best wRC+ in baseball. Nick Castellanos looks poised for a breakout and it will help to have him all season, hopefully Justin Upton can keep his slumps to a few weeks rather than four months, and J.D. Martinez figures to at least match his numbers from 2016. But it seems unlikely the Tigers will get a repeat of the health and production they got from Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Ian Kinsler last year. And that brings us to the bullpen, which once again looks to be a huge issue. There are good arms back there, and competent middle relievers, but Justin Wilson, Shane Greene, and Bruce Rondon just haven't proven to be consistent or reliable as setup men, and Francisco Rodriguez is pretty average. It all adds up to be another decent team that shows flashes of dominance and ineptitude in equal measure, and finishes second in the AL Central with an 85-77 record.