The Detroit Tigers are this year's American League favorite to reach the World Series despite trading away five time all-star Prince Fielder this offseason, along with losing their coveted manager who decided to step down. Jim Leyland led his clubs to two AL pennants over the span of eight years, but went a combined 1-8 in World Series play, which left a familiar distaste in the mouths of Detroit. Now with rookie skipper Brad Ausmus in command, its World Series or bust for the Tigers.
For a team that hasn't had a taste of World Series success since the heyday of the Sparky Anderson led 1984 champions, Detroit is just about out of patience. 2014 may be one of their last cracks at triumph over the baseball world.
The trade of Prince Fielder (and $30 million) to Texas in exchange for 31 year old second baseman Ian Kinsler acted like a shock wave that traveled throughout all of Major League Baseball. Some say the loss of a middle of the order left-handed power bat is almost irreplaceable. However, the deal made sense for both parties, but Detroit especially.
The Tigers managed to dump a guy who has seven years, $168 million left on his current deal and are now able to move superstar Miguel Cabrera back to a less stressful first base. Not only that, the Tigers acquired a dynamic and affordable Ian Kinsler who will fill their hole at second. Kinsler adds balance to an already dangerous Tigers lineup along with defensive stability to a team that boasted the 6th least amount of errors committed last season.
With Fielder gone and Cabrera moving back to first, third base is currently vacant. The Tigers are excited about 21 year old prospect Nick Castellanos and expect him to take over the everyday third base job. The former first round draft pick did well over a three year span in the Tigers' farm system and had a taste of what its like in the big leagues last year.
Speaking of young infielders, Jose Iglesias, a 23-year-old shortstop from the Boston Red Sox with quite a few years of team control remaining, did well in his first stint with Detroit. Iglesias rounds out the Tigers' infield and looks to be their' shortstop of the future. His tremendous glove work and continued improvements at the plate will keep him in the lineup for years to come.
On top of the additions of Ausmus and Kinsler, Detroit landed free agent speedster Rajai Davis. Davis, 33, can start against left-handed pitchers and will platoon in the outfield with Andy Dirks. With an outfield mix already containing one of the top rising stars in Austin Jackson, along with established veteran Torii Hunter -who is coming off a career year at age 37- Detroit can only improve.
Detroit can go several different ways with their DH/1B/catcher situation. As of now, it seems like veteran Victor Martinez is a lock as the opening day designated hitter, but he can also play first and has 856 games of catching experience under his belt. Miguel Cabrera, who turns 31 in April, had successful surgery this offseason to repair what doctors are calling a "core muscle injury." Its been noted that Cabrera was dealing with a lot of pain late in the season last year and will likely play at either first base or DH, all while staying in the lineup everyday. Alex Avila will take over as the main catcher and looks for at least 300 at bats this season.
The Tigers' opening day lineup looks to be one of the most dangerous in all of baseball.
1) Ian Kinsler 2B
2) Torii Hunter RF
3) Miguel Cabrera 1B/DH
4) Victor Martinez C/DH
5) Austin Jackson CF
6) Andy Dirks LF
7) Alex Avila C
8) Nick Castellanos 3B
9) Jose Iglesias SS
What's the most terrifying thing about this Detroit Tigers team? Their starting pitching.
Max Scherzer is coming off the year of his life. He went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 214.1 innings with an astounding 0.970 WHIP and 10.1 K/9 ratio, he was the American League starting pitcher in the all-star game, and he also won an AL Cy Young. Scherzer is entering the final year of his current contract and it is unclear whether or not Detroit will sign him prior to opening day. The 29 year old righty said he will not negotiate a contract extension after the 2014 baseball season begins and it seems a deal will not be made any time soon. The bright side in all this is Scherzer remains a Tiger for one more season and has a chance to lead this power house to a World Series.
One Cy Young award winner in a pitching rotation is impressive enough, how about we add another? Justin Verlander is the clear cut ace of this Tigers' staff and apparent mainstay for years to come after he agreed to a 5 year deal with an option that totals $202 million. Verlander is coming off another great season that was somewhat overshadowed by his teammate, Max Scherzer. The former rookie of the year, six time all-star, and former MVP posted a 3.46 ERA in 34 starts while exceeding 200 innings for the 7th consecutive year. Verlander also struck out over 200 batters for the 5th consecutive season and boasted a more than impressive 2.89 K/BB ratio.
That makes two starting pitchers who can be counted on in the playoffs, lets add two more, shall we?
Anibal Sanchez opted to stay in Detroit and accepted a five-year, $80 million deal prior to the 2013 season. Sanchez proved to be extremely valuable throughout the season and down the playoff stretch, going 14-8 with a 2.57 ERA, the best of his career, to go along with his 202 strikeouts. The 30 year old made his presence known as a reliable option in the post season last year after giving up only 3 earned runs in 2 games while striking out 17.
Detroit is already tough to match pitching wise in a three game series and 25 year old Rick Porcello adds to this dominant staff. Porcello had yet another healthy season last year pitching in 32 games (29 starts) and posting a 4.32 ERA in 177 innings. Teams would love to have a guy like Porcello as their 2nd or 3rd starter, but Detroit has him as their 4th. Rounding out the Tigers' rotation is their lone lefty starter Drew Smyly. The 24 year old looks to make the jump from reliever to full time starter as he appeared in 63 games last year strictly out of the bullpen where he had success. Smyly was developed as a starter for the duration of his time in the minors, doing well throughout before being called up to the big leagues in 2012.
With a 1 through 5 looking like Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, Porcello, and Smyly, the Tigers' have to be more than confident each time one of them takes the mound. A problem the Tigers had last year was holding on to leads and closing games.
This offseason Detroit made it their mission to revamp a bullpen that cost them several big games. Joe Nathan, who had 43 saves with the Texas Rangers last season, looks to be the guy to put an end to Detroit's late inning blues. The 39 year old still has gas left in the tank after posting an ERA of 1.39 in 67 games last season. In addition, the Tigers' signed Joba Chamberlain to compete for a bullpen spot this season. Chamberlain, 28, has had his fair share of injury problems but is looking for a fresh start in Detroit to revamp his career.
After gaining a solidified closer and a starting rotation intact with two Cy Young winners for at least one more season, the Detroit Tigers are not a team to be messed with. Barring any major injuries, the Tigers look to dominate their division yet again-despite having a win differential of 1 with second place Cleveland last year-and make an inspired playoff push.
The city of Detroit deserves this baseball team. Brad Ausmus has the daunting task of leading this perennial powerhouse to a World Series title for the first time in 30 years.