Even when the general manager is Dave Dombrowski, losing Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante, Doug Fister, and Prince Fielder in one offseason is a bit much. The Tigers overcame their subtractions and, led by Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, and Ian Kinsler, went on to win 90 games and a fourth consecutive American League Central division title, but they also had the worst Pythagorean win total (86) of the last four versions of this team.
At the trade deadline, the Tigers acquired David Price, almost acknowledging that Max Scherzer’s exit is inevitable. Early offseason moves like re-upping with Victor Martinez and the Devon Travis for Anthony Gose swap show that the Tigers will continue to be in win-now mode for the next few years. Before they address a few key areas of need, let’s take a look at the fantasy relevant players still under team control.
A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.
Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.
Victor Martinez – 1B
Martinez’ home run spike at age 35 is sure to give some owners pause—he hit more home runs (32) than in his last two seasons in Detroit (26)—and won’t change what the projection systems will say about him much at all, but it’d be a mistake to underestimate him. After shaking off the rust from missing all of 2012 with an ACL injury, V-Mart has been one of the best hitters in all of baseball for the last year and a half. The fact that he’s a truly great hitter with power and not just a power hitter is an important distinction and one that should continue to benefit Martinez, who’s thriving at a time in his career when most are declining.
Miguel Cabrera – 1B
A .372 TAv in 2013 (the highest in all of baseball since Albert Pujols’ .373 in 2009) showed Cabrera was at the height of his almighty powers, but injuries to his abdomen and groin slowed him considerably in September (.278/.395/.333) and the playoffs (.262/.311/.405). Offseason core muscle surgery on top of an inauspicious ending to his ’13 perhaps should’ve tipped us off that Cabrera wouldn’t quite be himself this year, but, of course, his draft day price was right up there with Mike Trout’s. Cabrera still provided a good AVG (.313) and run totals (101 runs and 109 RBI), but he hit 19 fewer home runs than in his MVP seasons. His .211 ISO was his lowest since he debuted with the Marlins in 2003 and 14 percent HR:FB rate was his lowest since 2006. Cabrera was much better in September this season (.379/.409/.709), but once again required offseason surgery—this time on his ankle. The procedure was for a bone spur, which bothered him during the season, but a stress fracture was discovered. Screws were inserted in his ankle during surgery and Cabrera will be re-evaluated in January. Cabrera still earned the sixth most of any hitter in AL-only leagues, but with him losing third base eligibility next year he’ll need to hit at least 30 home runs to be worth his lofty draft-day price.
David Price – SP
Price posted career bests in the following categories: innings (248.1), strikeout rate (26.3 percent), FIP (2.78), WHIP (1.08), and swinging-strike rate (10.5 percent). His walk rate (3.8 percent) was almost exactly as low as it was in 2013 (3.7 percent). Along with Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer, Price was a worthwhile ace investment in AL-only leagues and should be once again next year.
Ian Kinsler – 2B
Kinsler was undoubtedly a fantasy stud in 2014—only Jose Altuve earned more at second base in AL-only—and hitting in front of the Tigers middle of the order will give him a reasonable floor next year, but his overly aggressive approach at the plate and poor second half (.239/.270/.357) left a bad taste lingering. Kinsler increased his swing rate from 41 percent in 2013 to 47 percent, posted the lowest walk rate of his career (four percent), and had the lowest OBP of his career (.307). In a way, this leaves Kinsler some room for improvement as he could score many more runs than 100 if he plays everyday and is closer to his career .344 OBP next year, but after a precipitous drop in his walk rate it’s also fair to wonder what might be next to go for the 32-year-old.
Joe Nathan – CL
It’s been said that in fantasy baseball closers are a necessary evil, but Joe Nathan was necessary evil like Bane in The Dark Knight Rises this year. Detroit’s reckoning provided little outside of his five wins and 35 saves as he posted his worst ERA (4.81) and FIP (3.97) since 2011, when he was returning from Tommy John surgery. Whether Nathan can even remain the closer through next season at 40 years old is a legitimate question as he struggled mightily when pitching back-to-back days (6.08 ERA in 15 games) and his walk rate increased to 11.2 percent. Let someone else buy the Tigers’ Opening Day closer next year.
What You See Is What You Get
Rajai Davis – OF
Davis is more valuable in AL-only and deeper mixed formats because of his speed. Despite falling into more playing time than he had with the Blue Jays in 2013, Davis stole just 36 bases compared to 45 in ’13. He hit .356 with four home runs in 157 plate appearances against left-handed pitching making him an ideal platoon partner with the left-handed Anthony Gose. Assuming the Tigers acquire a regular left fielder before the season and everyone stays healthy, Davis won’t see 494 plate appearances again but his legs will still carry value in deeper leagues.
J.D. Martinez – OF
The batting average won’t be what you saw (.315) as Martinez led all of baseball in BABIP (.389) in his breakout season, but even with regression on balls in play to be expected his power simply can’t be ignored. He had a 22.7 percent line-drive rate and the eighth best ISO (.238) in the American League (min. 450 PA). Martinez hit 23 home runs and knocked in 76 in 123 games, but he didn’t start a game for the Tigers until April 22nd and didn’t hit a home run until May 19—a pinch-hit game-tying blast to center off of Indians closer Cody Allen. His profile isn’t without risk because of his 26.3 percent strikeout rate, but there’s even some upside here as more playing time could just mean more power for J.D.
Rick Porcello – SP
Porcello failed to hold his 19.3 percent strikeout rate from 2013 (15.4 percent) and still had the breakout season believers saw coming with a 3.43 ERA in a career-high 204 innings. Porcello appeared to be cooked in September when he posted a 6.20 ERA in 24.2 innings, but it was still mostly gravy as he earned $16 in AL-only leagues. Using his 3.43 ERA as a baseline going forward would be foolish, but somewhere in the 3.70-3.80 range is plausible. It seems like the Tigers drafted young Rick just yesterday, but he’s entering a contract year in 2015.
Anibal Sanchez — SP
After leading the league with a 2.57 ERA and posting an insane 27.1 percent strikeout rate in 2013, Sanchez was good when he pitched but hit the disabled list twice and only managed 21 starts this year. Despite a 2.71 FIP and career best 1.10 WHIP, Sanchez saw his ERA rise to 3.43 as his strand rate of 78.2 percent in ’13 regressed to 63.5 percent, which is the worst rate of his career. He’s one of the toughest pitchers to hit a home run against as he’s allowed 13 home runs in his last 308 innings for the Tigers (0.4 HR/9). Durability remains the primary concern in determining his value for next year.
Nick Castellanos – 3B
Castellanos hit .259/.306/.394 as a 22 year old in his rookie campaign and earned $13 in AL-only leagues, but he’s the Tigers biggest X-factor because of his American League leading 28.5 percent line drive rate. If he’s able to cut into his 24.2 percent strikeout rate or improve on his .326 BABIP next year then he should be able to hit .270 or better. Even without marked improvement, he should hit a few more home runs and be a middle-of-the-pack third baseman in mixed leagues.
Justin Verlander – SP
Preseason hype after a shutout Spring Training and postseason dominance had Verlander as one of the most expensive American League pitchers once again, making his disaster season all the more disappointing. Verlander saw his average fastball velocity dip (again) to 93.1 mph and had his worst ERA (4.54) and WHIP (1.40) since 2008 as he led the AL in earned runs. There was a steep decline in his strikeout rate from 23.5 percent in 2013 to 17.8 percent, which was also his worst since 2008. Even without increased velocity next year, his 66.8 percent strand rate, which (again) was also his worst since 2008, is due for some positive regression. That’ll help a little bit, but the clearest path to success is missing more bats and some combination of increased fastball velocity and a better curveball is necessary if Verlander’s going to be a fantasy asset next year.
Joakim Soria – RP
Before all hell broke loose, Soria was acquired to bring stability to the Tigers bullpen. Then, well, you know. Soria hit the disabled list with an oblique strain and hardly pitched like himself when he returned. Hopefully, he’s able to put the end of the season behind him as he’s the best bet to take over for Joe Nathan as the closer whenever that might happen.
Kyle Lobstein – SP
A former second -ound pick by the Rays, Lobstein excelled in the minors in 2013 as he made 28 starts with Erie and Toledo. After making 25 starts with Toldeo this year, he got a chance to fill in for the injured Anibal Sanchez down the stretch and was adequate. In six starts and one extended relief appearance, Lobstein had a 4.35 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. He was walking too many batters (8.5 percent walk rate), but he’ll miss a few bats (16.5 percent strikeout rate) and get ground balls (45.1 percent rate). It’s early in the offseason and there’s no guarantee that Lobstein will even be the fifth starter for Detroit, but if he is, he’ll have some value in deeper formats.
Anthony Gose – OF
Acquired for his defense in center field, Gose figures to be the strong side of a platoon with Rajai Davis. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Gose doesn’t offer much offensively. He’s totaled 616 plate appearances over parts of the last three seasons, failing to establish himself with Toronto. It’s perhaps unfair to judge him on those numbers alone, but he struck out 27.6 percent of the time with a .098 ISO. Gose also had 34 steals in 45 attempts with Toronto. Most of his at-bats will come against right-handed pitching and his .241/.316/.350 line against righties is somewhat passable in deep leagues if he’s stealing bases, but there’s not enough of an offensive profile for him to be targeted as a sleeper.
Alex Avila – C
Avila’s strikeouts continue to eat his batting average as a career high strikeout rate of 33 percent begat a career low .218 AVG. His patient approach at the plate is intact, but it hasn’t helped fantasy owners much recently with only 83 runs scored combined in the last two years. Avila still hits for power against right-handed pitching (.165 ISO), but his terrible average and lack of durability make him a second catcher at best.
Jose Iglesias – SS
Iglesias missed all of 2014 with stress fractures in both shins, but should be ready to go for spring training. The slick fielding shortstop needed a .356 BABIP to hit .303/.349/.386 in 2013. He’s a slap hitter with no power and not much stolen base speed.
Joel Hanrahan/Bruce Rondon – RP
Despite their Tommy John surgeries, the Tigers think highly of these two arms and both should contribute sometime next season. If there’s one thing we know about the Tigers bullpen it’s that we know nothing about the Tigers bullpen so just don’t forget about these guys because the Tigers are probably going to have to use them eventually.
Prospects for 2015
Tyler Collins – OF
Collins has spent the last two season developing 20 home run power in the minor leagues. He hit .263/.335/.423 in 526 plate appearances with a 116-to-49 K:BB ratio at Triple-A this year. If Collins were to fall into regular playing time he’d have some value for his home runs and not much else.
Steven Moya – OF
The MVP of the Eastern League, Moya put his name on the prospect map with 35 dingers this year. Unfortunately, his power comes with a ghastly 161-to-23 K:BB and major questions about his approach. Moya will likely start next season in Triple-A, but unless something drastically changes with his approach he won’t be contributing in the majors anytime soon.
Robbie Ray – SP
Ray was cannon fodder outside of two May starts against the Astros and Twins, but if he shows up to spring training throwing hard again he could win the Tigers fifth starter job. Even if he isn’t throwing hard, his top competition would likely be Lobstein unless the Tigers acquire someone else.
Buck Farmer – SP
A fifth-round pick by the Tigers in 2013, Farmer went from the Low-A Midwest League to the majors in just a few weeks. He didn’t pitch as much as Ray did for the Tigers, but the results were just as bad. Assuming he’s on the outside of the Tigers rotation at the end of spring training, a trip to the minor leagues or bullpen is likely.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now