Evaluating the opposition: The 2015 Detroit Tigers
Despite a disappointing end and uncertainty, the Tigers look alright for 2015
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 Price, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello. Plus, their depth is not entirely barren thanks to young pitchers like left-handers Robbie Ray, Kyle Lobstein, Kyle 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 Suarez, Andrew Romine, Hernan 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 Davis, Steven Moya, Don Kelly, Andy 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 Nathan, Al 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.
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