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Detroit Tigers 2019: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

Detroit Tigers: Nicholas Castellanos

Detroit Tigers: Nicholas Castellanos

Four years after their last playoff appearance and 20 months after the trade of Justin Verlander signaled a new direction, the Tigers are deep in the throes of a difficult rebuild as the 2019 season approaches, having nearly halved their payroll from the free-spending days of just a couple years ago. Longtime designated hitter Victor Martinez, who retired, is the latest glory-era cornerstone to disappear into the sunset, but the Tigers are still hamstrung by the $55 million — roughly half their projected 2019 payroll — they will pay this year to untradeable veterans Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann. The meager pickups the Tigers made this winter — lefty Matt Moore, shortstop Jordy Mercer, righthander Tyson Ross — are best viewed as stopgaps or potential trade chips in July. On the heels of consecutive 98-loss seasons, this should be another tough year at Comerica Park.

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Tigers

“They’re really spinning their wheels as an organization. They sat out the deadline last summer and missed a chance to improve a weak farm system. They haven’t been able to move tradable assets like Nick Castellanos and Shane Greene, and a guy people used to want — Michael Fulmer — took a big step back last season. They should move him as soon as he shows he’s healthy and effective, because he won’t be around when they’re ready to contend. The question is: Who will? I don’t see many long-term answers at all. Jeimer Candelario is a switch-hitter with a little power, but he strikes out a lot and hit .224. Christin Stewart is worth a look in left field; he hit for power and showed a good eye in the minors. JaCoby Jones has some tools and athleticism, but there’s nothing that shows me he can hit at this level. They signed Tyson Ross and Matt Moore for the rotation, but it’s been a while since you could count on either of them, or on Jordan Zimmermann. It’s a rotation that would have looked a whole lot better five years ago.”

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Beyond the Box Score

Married to Miggy To understand the Tigers’ plight when it comes to Miguel Cabrera, consider two figures: his WAR of minus-0.2 since the start of 2017, and the $154 million they still owe him over the next five years. The Tigers have little choice but to hope Cabrera is healthier than he was in 2018, when he played in a career-low 38 games, and returns to something resembling the player he was as recently as 2016 (.316/.393/.563).

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Damaged Goods

For anyone who believes all pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery return as good as new, consider the case of Detroit’s Matt Moore. Considered the top pitching prospect in baseball in 2012 and one of the best young pitchers in the game by the end of 2013, his career has never been the same since elbow surgery in 2014. He bottomed out with a 5.99 ERA combined in 2017-18 — which is how the Tigers came to sign him at a bargain-basement rate, in hopes of a resurgence at the still relatively young age of 29.

Hamstrung GM Al Avila ruffled some feathers in Detroit when he said the Tigers’ payroll was a “burden” preventing the team from making any moves — a statement widely interpreted to mean the team would not be spending on any big-time free agents until after Zimmermann’s albatross of a contract expires in 2020. He probably could have chosen a better word, but the underlying sentiment is sound.

Up and Comer Right-handed pitching prospect Franklin Perez, the prized return from the Justin Verlander trade with Houston, gives Tigers fans one reason for optimism. He is said to be healthy again after a lat strain and shoulder inflammation cut short his 2018 season. Perez, 21, is still slated for Class A in 2019, but a full, healthy season could position him for a shot at the majors by 2020.

Local Favorites The Tigers could be looking at an influx of revenues down the road, with the expiration of their TV rights deal in 2021. The next deal is expected to be much more lucrative, given the Tigers’ healthy ratings — their local TV ratings were sixth highest in the majors as recently as 2017, despite their 98 losses that year.
Worse than expected Michael Fulmer was set for simple meniscus surgery in September, but it turned into a larger affair when Dr. James Andrews also found badly frayed cartilage, requiring further procedures that put his availability for the start of spring training in question.

Go with the Flow Ron Gardenhire, though typically viewed as an old-school manager, has indicated that he is open to the concept of using an “opener” to start games in 2019. He has also embraced defensive shifts, with the Tigers more than doubling their usage of shifts, from 478 in 2017 to 1,174 in 2018, according to the Bill James Handbook.

Projected Lineup


3B  Jeimer Candelario (S)
LF  Christin Stewart (L)
DH Miguel Cabrera (R)
RF  Nicholas Castellanos (R)
2B  Niko Goodrum (S)
1B  John Hicks (R)
SS  Jordy Mercer (R)
CF JaCoby Jones (R)
C  Grayson Greiner (R)


C    Bobby Wilson (R)
OF  Mikie Mahtook (R)
INF Ronny Rodriguez (R)
UT  Brandon Dixon (R)


RHP  Michael Fulmer
RHP  Jordan Zimmermann
LHP  Matthew Boyd
LHP  Daniel Norris
LHP  Matt Moore


RHP  Shane Greene (C)
RHP  Joe Jimenez
RHP  Buck Farmer
RHP  Tyson Ross
LHP   Blaine Hardy
LHP   Daniel Stumpf
RHP   Reed Garrett


5th AL Central