Nathan Grimm

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Team Roundup: Tigers

Thursday, October 5, 2017


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Detroit Tigers
2017 Record - 64-98
Last Place, AL Central
Team ERA: 5.36 (30th)
Team OPS: .748 (18th)

What Went Right

A number of guys who began the year on the Tigers' active roster had strong seasons. J.D. Martinez became a bona fide star, hitting .303/.376/.690 with 45 homers in just 119 games. Justin Upton showed he's still got five-category tools, finishing with 35 homers, 109 RBI and 100 runs, while tacking on 14 steals. On the pitching side, Justin Verlander continued his late-career dominance, posting a 3.36 ERA and 219 strikeouts in 206 innings. Michael Fulmer started strong but stumbled late before season-ending surgery, finishing with a 3.83 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 25 starts. Nicholas Castellanos finally took a meaningful step forward, hitting .272 with an .811 OPS, 26 homers and 101 RBI. Youngster Jeimer Candelario, not one of those on the team's roster at the season's outset, showed a ton of promise in a late-season cameo.

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What Went Wrong

What went wrong is, most of those players listed above who began the season on the Tigers' active roster didn't finished the season as such. The team was in such poor shape leading up to the trade deadline that Tigers general manager Al Avila shipped Martinez to Arizona, then swung post-non-waiver deals with the Astros and Angels for Verlander and Upton, respectively. Fulmer underwent surgery on his right elbow in early September. All-everything hitter Miguel Cabrera was mortal in his age 34 season, batting .249/.329/.399 in 130 games. But the biggest issue continues to be pitching, both starting and relieving, with the team owning an MLB-worst 5.36 ERA. The issues led to the dismissal of manager Brad Ausmus immediately following the season.

Fantasy Slants

**What do we do with Miguel Cabrera at this point? After his power sagged in 2015 some were ready to write him off, only to watch him hit 38 homers in 2016. This year was another level of bad, though, ranking as easily the worst full-season effort of his major league career. Add in the fact that he continues to get closer to 40 than 30, and some will write him off as washed up. A closer look at his numbers, though, shows that his batting average was more a result of poor luck than anything else -- his .292 BABIP, well below his .344 career mark, was in spite of healthy hard contact and line drive rates -- and while he struck out more, his swinging strike percentage wasn't noticeably higher than recent years. The savvy drafter will bet on talent and positive regression, hopefully at a discount, next spring.

**It seems like we've been waiting years for the Nicholas Castellanos breakout -- because we have. But he's still just 25 years old, having made his MLB debut at 21 and playing his first full season as a 22-year-old. There's a case to be made that last year, in which he hit .285/.331/.496 in 110 games, was his true breakout, but the 26 homers and 101 RBI this year make it feel more like an arrival. Interestingly, Castellanos also gained outfield eligibility to go along with the usual third base designation after he moved to right field late in the year following Jeimer Candelario's arrival. His final numbers feel like a decent expectation moving forward, perhaps with slightly fewer RBI and a slightly higher batting average, but the fact that he's going to play the entire 2018 season as a 26-year-old offers hope for more.

**The aforementioned Candelario wasn't even the highest-rated prospect the Cubs traded at the deadline -- Eloy Jimenez, a nearly consensus top-10 prospect in baseball last season, headlined the package the club sent to the White Sox for Jose Quintana -- but he sure performed like a future star in a late-season cameo. After a September promotion, the 23-year-old hit .326/.404/.467 in 26 games. He hit a less convincing .265/.343/.484 with 15 homers across 110 games at Triple-A, and it's important to temper expectations despite a good audition. Still, Candelario will likely open the season as the team's everyday third baseman and will be worth a late-round flier as an upside play.

**Once upon a time Shane Greene was a popular sleeper pick as a starting pitcher, but Greene now resides in the bullpen and may have found a permanent home there. Following the departure of closer Justin Wilson, it was Greene who got the call in the ninth inning, and he responded with nine saves after August 1. The 28-year-old posted a 2.66 ERA with more strikeouts (73) than innings pitched (67 2/3) in his first full year as a reliever, and with the Tigers unlikely to make a splash in the reliever market this winter, he should enter spring as the man to beat for save chances. Even on a team with as bleak an outlook as the 2018 Tigers, that's worth something.

**Michael Fulmer was lights-out in the season's first half, going 9-6 with a 3.19 ERA and making his first trip to the All-Star Game, and it's worth wondering how much of his second-half struggles were related to a right elbow injury that eventually required season-ending surgery. On that front, the good news is that the procedure, something called ulnar transposition surgery, has only a 3-4 month recovery period, theoretically clearing the way for Fulmer to be ready by the start of spring training; the bad news is, human beings don't always follow a script, and we're talking about a pitcher coming off surgery on his pitching elbow. Because of that, there will be inherent risk in taking the 24-year-old in drafts next March, but also probably a slight discount as well. It will be worth monitoring the buzz this winter and next spring to decide whether the juice is worth the squeeze.

Key Free Agents: None

Team Needs: Pitching. Starting pitching. Relief pitching. Greene might occupy the highest-leverage role in the bullpen, but the club needs some sturdy arms to bridge the gap to him. In the rotation, the team needs at least two, but maybe as many as four, starters behind Fulmer. An outfield bat, and possibly an upgrade at designated hitter, would be nice, but the offense likely won't be the reason the team struggles in 2018. Same as it ever was.



Nathan Grimm is a baseball writer for Rotoworld. He can also be found on Twitter (@Nate_Grimm).
Email :Nathan Grimm



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