Tigers Retool, Ready to Contend in 2014
The Indians will have their hands full this year in the AL Central. The Tigers look to be contenders once again. The Royals should be in the mix as well after a sensational 2013 season. Even the Twins and White Sox, despite their flaws and current rebuilds, should prove to be a tough opponent on most nights.
With that in mind, I reached out to the editors of the other AL Central team sites here on the Fansided network and asked them some tough questions about their respective teams. I figured, what better way to gauge how well the Indians might do this year than to do a little research on their primary competitors. I asked each of them a series of questions hoping for some honest and insightful answers. I can’t thank each of them enough for their time.
In part one, we previewed the Kansas City Royals. In part two, we went up north with the Minnesota Twins. Part three was all about the White Sox. Finally, we have come full circle and will take on the Tigers here in part four. In order to accomplish this feat, I reached out to Matt Snyder, editor of Motor City Bengals, to get his take on where the Tigers stand heading into 2014. You can follow Matt on Twitter @snyder_matthew.
- Manager: Brad Ausmus
- 2013 Record: 93-69, first in AL Central
- Key Losses: 1B Prince Fielder, RHP Doug Fister, SS Jhonny Peralta, SS Ramon Santiago, RHP Jose Veras, RHP Jeremy Bonderman, RHP Joaquin Benoit, 2B Omar Infante, RHP Octavio Dotel
- Key Additions: 2B Ian Kinsler, OF Rajai Davis, RHP Joe Nathan, RHP Joba Chamberlain, IF Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Ian Krol , LHP Robbie Ray
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH
- Torii Hunter, RF
- Alex Avila, C
- Rajai Davis, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Jose Iglesias, SS *injured*
Projected Starting Rotation:
- Joe Nathan, RHP
Prospect Likely to Make a Difference
- Nick Castellanos, 3B *Projected to be on Opening Day Roster*
Wahoo’s on First: We might as well just get started with the one question that everyone probably wants an answer to. The Prince Fielder/Ian Kinsler trade. Did you like it? Did you hate it? Most importantly, do you think it makes the Tigers better?
Matt Snyder: I like this trade for the financial flexibility it will give the team down the road. I don’t think they’re necessarily any worse for it this year, but they’ll now have some money to spend in two-to-three years when Fielder would have been prohibitively expensive (and probably well into his decline years).
I think, given Detroit’s situation with Miguel Cabrera — that he really should be playing first base — and their need for a second baseman, they were able to swap assets such that they have a more balanced team that’s really no better or worse than they were a season ago.
Wahoo’s on First: People like to argue how important closers really are in the grand scheme of things. Regardless, the Tigers got one of the best in the business in Joe Nathan. Did you like this signing?
Matt Snyder: I did like the signing. I’m not one to clamor for high-dollar contracts for relievers, but Joe Nathan has shown that he can be a basically a 2-WAR player out of the bullpen. So, in that sense, I don’t dislike the contract at all (and I always like when they can get a team option on the end as they did in this case). The Tigers really needed bullpen help (probably still do), but at least now they shouldn’t have to worry about the ninth inning. Whether or not Bruce Rondon, Joba Chamberlain, and Al Alburquerque can handle the seventh and eighth innings is another question.
Wahoo’s on First: What are a couple of storylines for the Tigers that you’ll be paying attention to throughout spring training?
Matt Snyder: Top prospect Nick Castellanos is slated to take over at third base, but he only has 18 big league plate appearances to his name. Fans will be interested to see how he performs (and transitions back to the hot corner after a year and a half in left field).
As I mentioned above, the bullpen is still a big question mark (particularly setup). It will be interesting to see if Joba Chamberlain can return to any sort of form, and what Bruce Rondon will do in his second year in the big leagues. Detroit would seem to need one of these two to step up to claim the eighth inning job.
Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander both had core muscle repair surgery this offseason (Cabrera was famously hampered in October, and Verlander suffered an offseason workout injury), so fans will be watching them with a bit of concern. They’ve both reported to camp without discomfort and have been able to fully participate, so it looks like a non-issue for now, but a non-trivial setback for either one would be potentially devastating.
Wahoo’s on First: Brad Ausmus is replacing a legend in Jim Leyland. How did you feel about the hire and do you think Ausmus has what it takes to lead a team that’s been on the verge of a title for a few years now?
Matt Snyder: Ausmus has presented himself very well to the media, so I think most fans are very excited to see him manage the club. I’m sure there will be growing pains, but much of the coaching staff has returned (namely bench coach Gene Lamont and pitching coach Jeff Jones), so the clubhouse culture needn’t see a radical shift. Ausmus seems to be aware that he’s in control of a team of veterans, and he does’t appear to be taking a heavy-handed approach.
I’m not sure how many of the “new school” ideas will be implemented under Ausmus, but he seems to be at least more open to some newer lines of thought than the much older Jim Leyland was. It’s hard to know if Ausmus “has what it takes”, but the Tigers have a bunch of really good players and they’re going to win a lot of games regardless (probably, hopefully).
Wahoo’s on First: What are your expectations for the Tigers for 2014?
Matt Snyder: I think the Tigers expectations are to win the division and threaten to go to the World Series. It feels like they might have a window sliding closed here with Max Scherzer due to hit free agency at the end of the season and Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera not getting any younger.
Personally, though, I try to limit my expectations for deep runs in the postseason due to the heavy hand of random variation, but I think the club should challenge the 90-win mark and put themselves into the playoffs. If that happens, I’ll be satisfied, even if the ending feels disappointing in the moment (as it did in 2013). The Tigers have never made the playoffs in four-straight seasons (something they have a chance to do this year), so Tigers fans need to realize how special this group has been.
Wahoo’s on First: As someone who follows a another team in the AL Central, what do you make of the Indians heading into 2014?
Matt Snyder: My impression is that they were a little bit lucky to win 92 games last year (both in terms of Pythagorean record and breakout players unlikely to repeat), and it doesn’t feel (to me) like they’ve gotten better in the offseason (particularly in losing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir). If you twisted my arm into making a prediction, I’d say that they’ll be battling Kansas City for second place with 85 (or so) wins.
That being said, an 85 win projection means that 90 wins is in range, so it wouldn’t be altogether shocking if they give Detroit another run for their money (the potential of Danny Salazar frightens me). Baseball is funny in that a break here or there could mean the Indians (or Royals) win the division and the Tigers stay home in October.