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Evaluating the opposition: The 2015 Detroit Tigers

Despite a disappointing end and uncertainty, the Tigers look alright for 2015

Evaluating the opposition: The 2015 Detroit Tigers
Max Scherzer (Photo;
October 18, 2014
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The Detroit Tigers were eliminated from the playoffs for the fourth straight year without a championship, as one of the clearest teams in win-now mode fell short yet again.

Now, with starting pitcher Max Scherzer and designated hitter Victor Martinez headed for free agency and the Kansas City Royals playing deep into the playoffs, there seems to be a train of thought emerging that the Tigers' window is closing.

Such an event would be welcome news for Cleveland, but it does not seem true.

Even without Scherzer and Martinez, a look at Detroit's 2015 roster as is reveals a pretty good team.

The starting rotation is still in great shape, with a top-four of David PriceAnibal SanchezJustin Verlander, and Rick Porcello. Plus, their depth is not entirely barren thanks to young pitchers like left-handers Robbie RayKyle LobsteinKyle Ryan, and right-hander Buck Farmer.

All together, even losing Scherzer, that rotation projects as easily above-average and trending toward pretty great.

Their infield is also well off, with Miguel Cabrera at first, Ian Kinsler at second, and Alex Avila behind the plate. Third base is also not a real hole, since even though Nick Castellanos struggled in his first full major league season, the former top prospect is still quite young (2015 will be his age-23 season) and should improve as he gets more experience (he only had 1770 minor league plate appearances, which comes out to under three full seasons).

No one knows what to expect out of Jose Iglesias after the shortstop missed all of 2014 with stress fractures in both legs, but even with replacement level production from him (or some combination of Iglesias, Eugenio SuarezAndrew RomineHernan Perez, and Danny Worth), the Tigers should have an above-average infield to go with their rotation.

While their outfield is not as star-studded as their infield or rotation, things still look decent for the Tigers. J.D. Martinez should be able to maintain at least a decent amount of his 2014 breakout, giving Detroit one above-average outfielder.

Though the other two slots do not have any glamorous names attached due to Torii Hunter entering free agency, the Tigers are still in decent shape. Hunter was not all that good in 2014 thanks to his declining defense, making his potential departure nothing Detroit has to worry about.

Filling the two non-Martinez outfield spots with a combination of Rajai DavisSteven MoyaDon KellyAndy Dirks, and Tyler Collins should to produce adequate value in the outfield, and while that is not above-average like in the rotation and infield, the overall picture is still pretty good.

Finally, while the bullpen is a constant problem for Detroit, the situation is not entirely dire looking ahead to 2015. Exercising Joakim Soria's $7 million option will give Detroit a good reliever, which combined with Joe NathanAl Alburquerque, and four other replacement level relievers will be serviceable.

Plus, giving the Tigers "four replacement level relievers" to fill out their bullpen could easily undersell the potential for that unit. Bullpen pieces can come out nowhere -- one of our latest examples is Hunter Strickland with the Giants -- and 2015 could easily be the year Detroit gets the benefit of a few Scott Atchison-type minor signings that finally stabilizes their bullpen.

But even without any contribution from their bullpen, the Tigers as laid out here project for roughly 83 wins. That is not the dominant Detroit from years past, but still a team that will be in playoff contention.

But what about offseason upgrades?

Of course, those 83 wins are just based on what Detroit has under contract already for 2015. If we have learned anything about the Tigers, It is that they are a team trying to win right now, the future be damned. Their owner, Mike Ilitch, has shown a willingness to spend big in order to achieve that goal; why would this offseason be any different?

Scherzer turned down a six year, $144 million contract before the 2014 season started. What if they bring the right-hander back on a deal paying him around $25 million in 2015?

Plus, we have already heard Detroit wants Victor Martinez back. Instead of finding a new designated hitter, what if the Tigers pay Martinez around $15 million next year?

Those contracts would probably put Detroit slightly over the luxury tax line, but it would not be all that much more than the team spent in 2014 (and the organization could move some contracts around/non-tender some bench pieces to adjust their ultimate payroll).

But most importantly for a team all-in on winning right now, bringing Scherzer and Martinez back would bump that win total projection up to roughly 91 wins, one more than Detroit had last year.

There is plenty of room for error in that projection, but that roster definitely looks retooled for 2015. Whether it is on Scherzer and Martinez as outlined above or on other free agent/trade targets,  I would expect Detroit to be aggressive this offseason and still be quite good next season.

Where does this leave Cleveland?

No one can clinch a division in the offseason, but the Tigers can still be very competitive (if not the favorite) in 2015. Nothing right now points to a team in completely imminent danger.

Cleveland can still win the division, but in order to get there, the organization will need to catch up to Detroit as opposed to hoping the Tigers fall back to Earth. The AL Central could get a new champion for the first time since 2010, but the current one should still be in the hunt.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

November 12, 2014 - 3:59 PM EST
@Walter, who do they have left to trade?
October 19, 2014 - 12:56 PM EDT
The Tigers are in a precarious situation. It would not be wise to invest $200 million in Scherzer, whose arms seems ready to blow with each violent delivery. Unfortunately, the loss of a guy who went 39-8 in 2013-14 drops them to a .500 team. Moreover, the potential loss of V-Mart guts the middle of the order and takes away Miggy's protection, turning the Tigers from one of the best offensive teams to a merely average one. A good rotation + an average offense + a disastrous bullpen = a team that would scramble for 70-some wins. HOWEVER, Ilitch and Dombrowki don't want to see the franchise plummet into mediocrity. Doing so would lead to a huge drop-off in attendance, TV revenue, and the value of the franchise, costing the team hundreds of millions of dollars in the long run. Plus, Ilitch still wants to win it all. The Tigers will likely let Scherzer go and make a strong pitch for Martinez. By spring training, expect them to add one front-line starting pitcher to replace Scherzer, a potent middle-of-the order hitter (if they don't sign Victor), a new closer, and a reliable set-up guy. Oh, and as for Avila? Last year, he struck out 151 times in 225 at-bats when he had two strikes on him, and the rest of the time, it seemed, he grounded right into the shift. He's a tough guy and a very good defensive catcher, but he's killing the team offensively. Let's hope James McCann develops soon.
October 19, 2014 - 10:29 AM EDT
Don't be surprised if the Tigers go after in a trade for either Samardzjia or Kazmir this off season to replace Scherzer.
ViC Venom
October 19, 2014 - 5:20 AM EDT
I cant wait until the Tigers dont even make the playoffs, not even the bogus ass play-in game between the 2 wild cards. All of their tub of lard fans will be gorging themselves with Little Caesars shitty pizza.
Sam Palazzolo
October 18, 2014 - 10:59 PM EDT
Are we all FREAKIN BLIND or what?? The Tigers have so many holes it's pathetic! Lets start with the bullpen...Joe Nathan?? REALLY.. Was anyone watching the same games on tv that I was. You want him back as our closer?PLEASE< PLEASE get rid of him or make him the 8th inning set-up even though he would fuk that up too!!!!! Phil Coke,Jobe Chamberlain,....ship them to the minors or cut them!! INFIELD...our only strength provided Jose Iglesias comes back. Really no bench power to help out though!! OUTFIELD...your kidding?? Maybe Martinez and that is very iffy at that. Not sure he is the answer. Tori Hunter,Raja Davis and who ever else we tried out there should be cut or traded or in Hunters case, PLEASE test free agency...part time player at best at this stage of his career! We need alot of help in the outfield...and this brings me to our catcher...A major league baseball player that can't learn to hit to left field? REALLY...just because his Dad is high up in the org. he is a back up catcher at best!! Where is the production out of this position...Haven't seen it in years......Swings at pitches and not a threat to opposing pithers at all!! Time we make the change and quit worrying about hurting his Dad's feelings. Starting pitching is pretty good even though I would like to see a new 4th starter. We will miss Drew Smyly...Wish the Tampa Rays would have taken Max instead. Good riddance to him....WHY WHY did we trade Doug Fister??WHY??? UGH!! This brings us the Brad Assmus...Will you QUIT trying to be so god dam loyal to players who clearly are not doing there freakin jobs!! Aka Joe Nathan, Jobe Chamberlain, Phil Coke,Tori Hunter and the list goes on!!! Your a freakin manager...ACT like one and be prepared to hurt some egos when there not performing!! What idiot keeps going to the same person who blows more saves than days I have missed from work in the last 20 years!! REALLY come on. Me I would have shipped hiss ass to the minors. You had your chance when he flipped off a fan but you being so loyal swept it under the rug!! Why would you let a rookie in herman perez pinch hit for Romine when you had the tying run at second. Another great call!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We were the weakest team entering the playoffs and BOY did it show!! No bullpen,no hitting,lousy managing,no bench.....We need lots of changes and yes we have so many,many holes to fill!!
October 18, 2014 - 9:56 PM EDT
I think the Tigers are a team that has the potential, indeed, to have a precipitous fall from grace. I agree with the analysis that the new contract for Miguel Cabrera may be the worst signing in recent memory from a long-term team viability point of view. He looked heavy, stiff, at times slow with his bat, and was strikeout-able during clutch situations last season. The effect of losing Scherzer and Martinez cannot be underestimated as both kept the Tigers afloat when Cabrera and Verlander struggled. The wildcard is the Tigers' ownership which clearly does not view bottom line profitability as the be all-end all in making contractual decisions. In fact, it appears that they will spend whatever they deem necessary to stay on-top. Therefore, I see the Tigers spending as much personal ownership money they think needed for free agents like Shields, Miller, etc.
Nick S
October 18, 2014 - 9:49 PM EDT
Tigers have a 162 million payroll and a arson squad for a bullpen. Taken out in the first round and their farm system is rated last. The Tigers answer to bad farm system is , no instructional team this fall. In Feb. 2015 bring in camp what little prospects they have. Ps. the owner wife owns the casino in Detriot. Keep smoking those mexican camels Jim!
October 18, 2014 - 4:54 PM EDT
with their base payroll and 80 something owner i am not sure they have any flexibility to use to be where they were in 2014. Max and v mart and the bat of tory hunter are big losses and if not signed and with verlnder miggie et al they have big payroll and price will be over 20 million in arbitiration. so that puts them in a difficult position even with a payroll north of 150 million. There is just so much money to spend and not sure they have the latitude to resign v-mart and max either or both. dombrowsky is a river boat gambler which is ironic cause of how ilitch makes a good portion of his money is thru a casino, but this is not that great of a free agent market this off season. so dont count the tigers as division titlist this soon.

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