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  • A Check-In on the Detroit Tigers

    Matt Braun

    With baseball awakening from its slumber, join us on a trip through the AL Central, observing what each team has done—and still needs to do—in order to claim the division crown. 

    Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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    How did last season go?
    Terrible. After a surprisingly competent showing in 2021, the Motor City Kitties fell back into their typical post-2016 swampy waters, finding themselves stuck in a 66-win quagmire.

    It was a puzzling everything-that-could-go-wrong-did type of season. Their big free agent splashes in Eduardo Rodríguez and Javier Báez capitulated; Rodríguez battled personal issues while Báez continued his lifelong struggle with sliders off the plate. A good team could overcome those things, but when mixed with overbearing injuries to young stars and poor play by their top prospects, Detroit’s 11-win slide isn’t much of an Agatha Christie mystery. 

    Cruelly, almost any bright spot on the team comes with attached asterisks and lawyers' notes. Tarik Skubal was excellent to start the season, appearing on his way to finally grow into Young Ace territory before Flexor Tendon surgery curtly cut his year short; he will likely start 2023 recovering from surgery. Joe Jiménez figured out that you need to strike people out, not walk them, and limit homers… just to be traded to Atlanta following the season. So it goes. Eric Haase’s continued breakout might be the most notable positive for the team; he’s 30 with a poor glove.

    What did they do this off-season?
    The Tigers did what all underperforming teams do: tread water on the roster while cleaning up the muck internally. Was Al Aliva the problem? Who knows, but he’s gone, now replaced by former Giants brain man Scott Harris. Was the training staff poor? Maybe, but a clean sweep of the system will now ensure that, if injuries strike again, Detroit will at least have new people they can blame. 

    That cleansing may be wise; the Tigers once claimed a hoard of talented pitching prospects—Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Alex Faedo, among others—but one after the other has either underperformed, fell victim of an injury, or faced some combo of the two. Only the aforementioned Skubal has established himself in the majors. That’s not a pattern Detroit can afford to repeat. 

    Outside of the Jiménez deal, the Tigers’ most impactful move was sending Gregory Soto and his lethal stuff/minimal control combo to Philadelphia for a haul of fascinating players. Will Nick Maton, Matt Vierling, or Donny Sands be good? Who knows, but parting with a reliever to find the answer to that question is a worthwhile bet. They also brought back the prodigal son, Matthew Boyd, and paid $8.5 million to Michael Lorenzen to pitch a bunch of forgettable innings. 

    What should we expect in 2023?
    Perhaps it’s the madness of modern life sitting in, but the Tigers might be a compelling bounce-back team. It’s unlikely that the bats will be as historically dreadful as they were at parts in 2022, and their wall-moving project—a tasteful venture, unlike Baltimore's—should improve offense, at least a little bit. If Austin Meadows stays healthy and Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene figure out major-league pitching, the lineup could be at least passable. 

    The rotation is shakier. Mize is still on the mend after receiving Tommy John surgery, although his contributions were questionable to begin with, and Skubal just began throwing from flat ground. That leaves a strange hodge-podge of uninspiring veterans in Boyd and Lorenzon, rebound candidates in Rodríguez and Spencer Turnbull, and Manning’s impossibly low strikeout rate. It’s bizarre; this team is bizarre. They need a solid showing from their Faedos and Joey Wentzs to escape the AL Central doldrums. 

    There’s little good news on the prospect front. Keith Law wrote that “[f]rom the 2016 through 2021 drafts, their top three picks by WAR to date are Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize … and John Schreiber, signed for $6,000 in the 15th round. Their international free-agent classes have been totally unproductive. And we haven’t seen many players get better once in the system over the last decade, whether they come in as reasonably polished players or not.” Other than that, things are fine. Jackson Jobe and Jace Jung—brothers in alliteration—pepper the back-end of top 100 prospects lists (so does the other Wilmer Flores, this one a pitcher), but the depth is malnourished, and Detroit lacks the history of identifying and fixing young talent. Colt Keith and Parker Meadows are interesting, though. 

    Their future appears more unpredictable than Kansas City’s, but their upside could be legit. A.J. Hinch is a more-than-competent manager, and some elusive injury luck could spit out a team unlikely to compete for a playoff spot, but one who could flirt with .500 enough to make the effort seem worthwhile. Hopefully, Miguel Cabrera’s final season isn’t wasted on mediocrity. 

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    If nothing else, I hope Miguel Cabrera gets the send-off he deserves as he makes the rounds for his final season. He was a Twin killer once-upon-a-time, and I have to believe he'll get some sort of farewell when the Tigers visit Target Field for the final time this season August 15-16.

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    Good reflection - hard to add anything to what you wrote - they are such a disappointment that figuring out how to fix them is almost impossible.  But they definitely showed that adding a FA to a bad team does not make a better team - it just might make a worse FA.

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    The Tigers are in a frustrating position.  Not quite bad enough to tear down and start over but no help is on the horizon from their minor leagues either.  That has to be the worst part that nothing is coming from the minors.  At least KC has some good prospects coming up.  

    This makes me appreciate being a Twins fan, at least when we fall apart we can take 4 or 5 years to accumulate talent but we are at least competitive at that point.

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    1 hour ago, miracleb said:

    I'm sorry, I still watch Akil Baddoo's box scores and hope that he doesn't do very well.   Is that a bad thing?  And fortunately (for me,) he hasn't done well.......

    Not sure why you wish him ill will.  It is not his fault he was left to the rule 5 a couple of years ago.  Even if he does well, it has no effect on the Twins at this point.  Now, if you are wishing this so you can defend the choice to leave him on rule 5, I personally do not think that choice needs defending at this point.  Once in a great while a team will leave the wrong guy unprotected, but generally, they know what they are doing.  In Baddoo's situation, he was young, not played above A ball, and had a lot of holes in game.  In our organization he was ranked like 5th or 6th OF, and most likely would still be in minors for us, only making some games due to injuries from guys above. 

    Unless you can go back and point to someone you would have left off the 40 man that year for Baddoo, there is no point in complaining he was left off it. It was him or someone else.  I am sure every team wishes they could keep every player they wanted without worrying about 40 man rosters, years in organization, and service time.  But those times are gone. 

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    Detroit needs some of the exact same work that the Twins did with we made a regime change. they need better drafting, more prospects, and a serious reinvigoration of their talent pipeline. (they also need to get their investment in the international markets improved, which was much less of an issue for the Twins)

    Torkelson & Greene were almost certainly rushed to the bigs for...reasons? not sure they made a smart decision there, but maybe they ran out of bodies. but the offense was rotten for Detroit last season and there's not a lot of guys that you think are positioned to make significant leaps. they need Torkelson, Greene, and Carpenter to all take a real step forward with Haase not taking a step back, and Schoop & Baez rebounding to have a quality offense. While I think Schoop will likely be better how much is a really the question, Baez is likely to have a modest gain at best. Meadows? He's had one great season in his career. Maybe he's back to his 2021 form. Baddoo had a nice Rule 5 rookie campaign, and then got exposed.

    not impressed or excited about their pitching staff either. I like Skubal and not much else. they needed to sell off last season and restart, but they didn't have much to sell that wouldn't have been selling low. This feels like a bad team without much hope. I'd feel better as a Royals fan than a Tigers fan right now.

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