Miguel Cabrera (Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports)
Pitching is key in baseball, and the Detroit Tigers have two of the best starters in the game. That along with Miguel Cabrera is enough for me in 2014, but unless other players step up, their window for dominating the AL Central might be closing. While some areas of their team have been reinforced and improved upon this offseason, they do also have some other weaknesses and question marks.
Prediction: 1st Place AL Central
Additions & Subtractions:
The Tigers took the league by storm this winter, and made an interesting trade. To call it simply a baseball a trade would not be accurate, as there were many levels to the deal that sent Prince Fielder to Texas in return for Ian Kinsler. By moving Fielder, the Tigers saved $67 million in payroll. This is no small factor considering the contract Max Scherzer will likely command to go along with the one Justin Verlander currently has.
Detroit was then also able to move Miguel Cabrera from third base, where his defense left a lot to be desired, to first base where his defense will actually be an improvement over Fielder’s. Kinsler also improves the Tigers defense at second base and their team speed as well atop the batting order. The defensive improvement is vital for ground ball pitchers like Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello.
The emergence of Smyly, as well as monetary issues, allowed Detroit to deal from their surplus and move Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for some prospects.
However, the big move Detroit made, was the addition of Joe Nathan. The back end of the bullpen has been a glaring weakness for the Tigers over the last few seasons, and having Nathan gives them that proven closer that has been lacking.
Now with Nathan, the back of the bullpen actually qualifies as a strength for the first time in a few years. But as previously mentioned, the true strength of this team lies with their starting pitching. Assuming his shoulder does not limit him to start the season, Anibal Sanchez is one of the most underrated starters in the game as he often gets forgotten about behind Verlander and Scherzer. The back end of the rotation is more than serviceable as both young starters, Porcello and Smyly, look to take a step forward this season as well as benefiting from the improved defense.
The one downside to trading Fielder, is now his power production must be found elsewhere. Also with Jose Iglesias now slated to miss about half the year with shin issues, shortstop could prove to be a weakness unless a veteran like Stephen Drew is signed or a trade is made.
Castellanos replaces Cabrera at third base, and it’s time to see if the top prospect can live up to his hype. Singularly, he does not have to replace Fielder’s run production, but he can go a long way towards filling the void in the middle of the order. Also, Detroit’s success this year could hinge on whether Kinsler can reverse the decline he has been on the past few seasons.