3 Detroit Tigers New Year's ResolutionsDecember 31, 2014
3 Detroit Tigers New Year's Resolutions
Another unsuccessful bid for a World Series title in 2014 has again prompted an offseason of introspection for the Detroit Tigers. Tweaking their talented—albeit flawed—teams has kept them highly active on the hot stove in recent years. This winter has been no different.
Here's a reminder of what’s happened so far:
- In: Yoenis Cespedes (OF), Shane Greene (SP), Alfredo Simon (SP), Alex Wilson (RP), Anthony Gose (OF), Josh Zeid (RP)
- Out: Torii Hunter (OF), Rick Porcello (SP), Eugenio Suarez (SS), Jim Johnson (RP), Jonathon Crawford (SP), Devon Travis (2B)
- Unsigned: Max Scherzer (SP), Phil Coke (RP)
What do these changes mean for Detroit?
With Porcello and probably Scherzer headed for new pastures, it appears that the team ethos of building around the game’s most dominant starting rotation has ended. The Tigers will now have to make do with Greene and Simon behind a strong top three of David Price, Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander.
The addition of Gose consolidates the theme of increased athleticism that began with the acquisitions of Ian Kinsler and Rajai Davis last year. The team has also cranked up defense with the capture of Cespedes.
If the Tigers are to get their hands on the Holy Grail, then they will need to make everything click. Fulfillment of these three New Year’s resolutions may help make this happen.
Keep Jose Iglesias Healthy
Iglesias’ injury absence for the entire 2014 season was a major blow to the Tigers. While he nursed tendinitis in both legs, the shortstop position became a revolving carousel of players, and it wasn’t pretty.
Tigers shortstops finished with the second-lowest batting average (.226) and had the second-fewest RBI (42) in the majors at the position in 2014. Defensively, it didn’t get much better.
The trio of Andrew Romine (-4), Eugenio Suarez (-5) and Alex Gonzalez (-4) all finished in negative numbers for defensive runs saved. For those unfamiliar with this stat, a score of zero indicates an average fielder.
This will not happen again in 2015.
Iglesias is arguably the hottest young shortstop in the game. Tigers’ president/general manager Dave Dombrowski spoke of his defensive prowess when he acquired him in 2013, per Matthew Mowery of The Oakland Press (h/t Al Beaton of BlessYouBoys.com): "This guy is special, defensively. Our scouting reports have him as an All-Star shortstop. Somebody that has seen him play just sent me a note and said ‘In all my years in the game, the only two defensive shortstops I’ve seen that are better are Ozzie (Smith) and (Omar) Vizquel."
The 24-year-old’s combination with Ian Kinsler in Detroit’s middle infield will be one of the highlights of the 2015 season. They will also be a superb complement to incoming ground-ball pitchers Greene and Simon.
Iglesias is no Troy Tulowitzki with the bat, but he should easily be an upgrade over last year’s contingent. His speed should enable him to swipe a base or two as well.
With Iglesias returning from multiple overuse injuries, Detroit needs to handle him carefully. The Tigers would be wise to give Romine 20-30 starts and also use him as an occasional late-game replacement. Management is the key.
Transform Anthony Gose into an Everyday Player
Four is a crowd in a baseball outfield. With two additions (Cespedes and Gose) minus one departure (Torii Hunter), the Tigers now possess a quartet of outfielders.
J.D. Martinez and Cespedes will grab a corner each, but what does Detroit do with Gose and Davis?
Dombrowski intimated how he will use the former soon after acquiring him, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press: "We think he's a guy that has a chance to be our everyday center fielder, or close to it. That's why we brought him on board."
Granted, this comment was made before Cespedes was acquired, but Gose makes sense as a starter on many levels. Detroit remains a right-hand-dominant batting lineup, and left-handed Gose would provide the team with a third lefty alongside switch-hitting Victor Martinez and Alex Avila. Slotting Gose in at leadoff hitter would also enable Kinsler to hit second where he is far more suited. As for Davis, he could start against most lefties and be used as a tactical pinch runner late in games, as well as spell the corner outfielders from time to time.
However, that being said, Gose has not yet proved that he can be an everyday player at the major league level. A low career on-base percentage (.301) will not cut it for the contending Tigers. Hitting coach Wally Joyner now has the job of transforming Detroit’s newcomer into a solid big league hitter.
Outside of the batter’s box, Gose has already proved his value. His speed will be a great asset flagging down balls in Comerica Park’s vast outfield, as well as provide a threat on the basepaths. He swiped 15 bags last year in part-time play, and his instincts should improve over time.
It is hoped that Gose will ultimately be the successor to Austin Jackson in center field. He may not slot in there permanently straight away, but that’s what they should be aiming for.
Conquer the American League Central
In recent years, even impartial fans would have penciled Detroit in early for the division crown. However, the era of domination appears to be over.
Speaking on Detroit Sports radio 105.1, Buster Olney of ESPN believes that the AL Central has become an “unbelievable powerhouse division.”
How long has it been since anybody said that? Perhaps not even since the division was created back in 1994.
Four teams have a legitimate shot at finishing on top in 2015. Kansas City and Cleveland have been snapping at Detroit’s heels the past two seasons, and now the White Sox have emerged as contenders too. Pitching appears to be the major strength of the division, and Olney seemed awestruck by its depth and quality:
My god—the pitching that’s been rolled out in this division. Over the last four years there’s been 116 votes cast for the American League CY Young award and 102 were cast to pitchers in the division: Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija didn’t get votes but he’s excellent, Jose Quintana. The Tigers group of guys—David Price, Justin Verlander, (and) if Scherzer were to come back it’d be amazing. Then you have that great Royals bullpen along with Yordano Ventura.
Yep, hitters beware.
Detroit can breathe a little easier than its rivals after improving an offense that ranked second in the majors last season. But, a thinner starting rotation must hold up, and the bullpen, which has blown the team’s chances the past two postseasons, needs to get better.
The turning of the calendar always brings new hope. Conquering one of the game’s toughest divisions may be an obvious resolution, but gaining the upper hand against its rivals—especially in an age of unbalanced schedules—will put Detroit in good stead to grab a fifth straight division title. It may also provide the ideal preparation for an overdue World Series breakthrough.
Unless otherwise stated, all stats in this article are courtesy of Fangraphs.
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