AL Central Preview: Detroit Tigers
In 2015, the Detroit Tigers four season streak of division championships ended as the team finished with a 74-87 record, good for last place in the AL Central division. Although the Tigers finished in last place for the first time since the 2005 season, they were able to bolster their roster in the offseason and could contend for a division championship in 2016.
The Tigers relentless pursuit of a World Series championship looks to continue after they were able to sign pitcher Jordan Zimmerman, and outfielder Justin Upton in the offseason. With an aggressive owner in Mike Illitch, the Tigers were able to sign Zimmerman to a five-year, $110 million contract. The Tigers signed Upton to a six-year, $132 million contract with an opt-out after the 2017 season.
With the Tigers investing many years in Zimmerman and Upton, this team will hope to contend for a number of seasons and are clearly not looking to rebuild anytime soon. However, question marks still remain on this team and the back end of their starting rotation doesn’t look to be set in stone during spring training. In order to stay competitive in 2016, the Tigers will need healthy seasons from all-star Miguel Cabrera, and pitcher Anibal Sanchez.
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Cabrera appeared in 119 games for the Tigers in 2015, due mostly to missing six weeks because of a calf injury. This was the lowest amount of games Cabrera played in since his rookie season in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Through 119 games, he posted a slash line of .338/.440/.534 with 18 home runs and 74 RBI. Cabrera has entered spring training healthy and will undoubtedly keep the Tigers offense strong for 2016. The Tigers ranked 10th in the American League in total offense in 2015.
The Tigers won’t need to rely solely on Cabrera this season as outfielder J.D. Martinez is coming off of an all-star season in 2015, and will be joined by Upton. J.D. Martinez hit .282 with 38 home runs and 102 RBI in 158 games. Upton hit .251 with 26 home runs and 81 RBI in his lone season with the San Diego Padres in 2015. Although Upton was an all-star in 2015, he won’t be relied upon by the Tigers to be their most important offensive threat.
Upton will join a lineup that also features Victor Martinez. Martinez played in 120 games last season for the Tigers, but battled injuries and hit .245 with 11 home runs and 64 RBI. If the Tigers are to stay competitive in what appears to be a close AL Central division, they will need Martinez to repeat his 2014 all-star season when he hit .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBI.
With the corner outfield spots assigned to Upton and Martinez, the Tigers will need to find a suitable replacement for newly-acquired Cameron Maybin as he will miss 4-6 weeks because of a broken left wrist. The Tigers will most likely start Anthony Goose in center field while Maybin is injured. The Tigers infield along with Cabrera at first base will consist of shortstop Jose Iglias, second baseman Ian Kinsler and third baseman Nick Castellanos. Iglias and Kinsler should keep the Tigers offense balanced throughout the season. Iglias is coming off an all-star campaign in 2015 as he hit .300 with 23 stolen bases and was solid defensively with a .977 fielding percentage in 119 games at shortstop.
Kinsler hit .296 with 11 home runs an 73 RBI in 154 games for the Tigers. The 33-year old second baseman has been a solid contributor since joining the Tigers in 2014. Castellanos was once a highly-regarded prospect for the Tigers, but he hasn’t met most expectations offensively. The 24-year old third basemen will enter his third full season with the Tigers and is coming off a season in which he hit .255 with 15 home runs and 73 RBI, but was prone to strikeouts as he amassed a career-high total of 152 in 2015.
Even though the Tigers offense appears to be strong, its pitching will need a huge improvement from last season when they ranked 28th in MLB in total pitching. The Detroit Tigers 2016 season will hinge on their pitching, and will need a lot to go right for them health wise to contend in what should be a wide open AL Central in 2016.