When we last saw the Detroit Tigers they were staring out at the Baltimore Orioles celebrating on the field at Comerica Park in the division series. Detroit had been swept out of the playoffs for the first time ever. For the first time ever they failed to advance to the at least the league championship round. It was a slap in the face to this current Detroit club, who had been to two world series in eight years and won four straight division titles.
It wasn’t much fun watching the Kansas City Royals — a team that Detroit dominated in the regular season and who finished in 2nd place to the Bengals — roll on to win the pennant. This offseason the team is losing ace Max Scherzer and veteran Torii Hunter is also exiting. Austin Jackson was dealt in a trade last summer, and several other smaller pieces of the team are also gone.
But while the core of this team will be one year older in 2015, the core consists of some of the best players in the game. And there are several reasons to think that 2014 was a strange season where many things went wrong. It’s not likely that will happen again, in fact the ’15 Tigers might be much better as they aim for a fifth straight division crown.
Bruce Rondon at the end of the bullpen
This is really 1 1/2 reasons, as Joakim Soria will be with the Tigers for a full season too. Rondon, in case you forgot, is a pitching King Kong with a right arm that can throw a baseball 102 miles per hour. At least he used to be able to before he went under the knife for Tommy John Surgery and missed all of 2014. Word is he’s recovering fine and will be ready for spring training. He should regain his arm strength and might actually throw harder (many pitchers who have TJ end up stronger). Rondon has the stuff to be a great closer or setup man. Joe Nathan will surely start the ’15 season as the Tigers’ closer, but if he starts off with a “dead arm” again Ol’ Joe will lose his spot quickly. Rondon will be there to step in. Soria stunk after coming to the Tigers in a controversial deal at the trade deadline this past season. He had been dominant for the Rangers before the deal and his stuff is great. For some reason he didn’t handle the move to Detroit well at all, but if he can right himself it would give the Tigers another guy who can close games if needed. The Tigers won’t “close by committee” so don’t expect them to pick and choose, one of the three (Nathan, Rondon, Soria) will emerge as the closer.
The return of José Iglesias
This time last year Tigers’s fans were dealt a blow when word came that Iglesias had stress fractures in both of his legs and would miss all of 2014. But the flashy young shortstop is going to be ready for the ’15 season and he’ll be Detroit’s starting shortstop. Eugenio Suarez has a more potent bat, but Iglesias is one of the five best defensive infielders in baseball right now. His play in the middle of the field makes the pitching staff better.
A full season of David Price
When GM Dave Dombrowski acquired Price at the trade deadline it was a bold move designed for the short term. It was a counter to several trades by the A’s, who bolstered their pitching staff. It was aimed at winning the World Series in 2014, and it gave the Tigers the last three American League Cy Young Award winners. But Dombrowski also snatched up Price with an eye toward 2015 and beyond. Fully aware that Max Scherzer was probably not going to resign in the offseason, DD got Price to fill that void for at minimum one season. It also gives the team a much needed lefty to counter the rest of the rotation. But Price might even sign an extension with the Tigers, don’t be surprised if that happens late in spring training. Detroit likes to preempt free agent flight for guys they really want by inking deals in March. Price is a little older than Scherzer but he’s a frontline starter and he likes Detroit. Regardless of whether he extends his contract to remain a Tiger past 2015, Price will be on this team on opening day and that will mean 33 starts for the Tigers by one of the best in the game. That will make this team better.
Sophomore season bump from Nick Castellanos
There’s a lot of room for growth for the young Detroit third baseman, especially with the glove. But the good news is that Castellanos had a decent rookie season and he made progress at the hot corner as the season wore on. Like most good young ballplayers, he’ll only get more comfortable as he plays more games at the big league level. His talent at the plate is unquestioned and once he gains more confidence and lays off pitches that are outside his plate coverage zone, his numbers will get better. I think he’s a 25-30 homer guy and he can also hit for a much higher average. He might not get there in 2015, but he’ll only get more consistent.
A 100% Miggy from April to October
2014 was a strange season for Miguel Cabrera. He got off to a slow start, hitting only two home runs before May. In only two months did he look like the Miggy who won back-to-back MVPs in 2012-13 (in May and in September when he hit a combined .380 with 16 homers and 52 RBI while slugging over .700). The rest of the season, Cabrera’s power was absent, his bat was a little slow, and his legs were not under him. He was a playing while still very injured from his “sports hernia.” He underwent surgery and is apparently going to come to spring training in good shape and injury-free. That means his legs will be sturdy from day one. Look for his home run power and consistency to return. Cabrera’s struggles in the summer of ’14 are the biggest reason the team failed to win the 95-100 games they probably should have. He performed bravely while hurt, but in ’15 a healthy Cabrera makes the Tigers much better.
Anibal Sanchez for 32 starts
Last season Anibal Sanchez made 21 starts for manager Brad Ausmus. But he was only really himself for about 12-13 starts, or 1/3 of a season. Sanchez has electric stuff, the type of stuff that could make him a Cy Young candidate, he’s that good. Now that he’s healthy (sense a theme in this article?), it gives the team a much better rotation on opening day as opposed to what they had from midseason on last season. I expect Sanchez to bounce back with a very strong year for the Tigers in 2015.
The maturation of Brad Ausmus
Now that he has one year at the helm under his belt, Brad Ausmus can make more of a mark as a manager in the major leagues. I think he’ll be more likely to be proactive in 2015 considering how the 2014 season ended. For example, Joe Nathan won’t have as along a leash. Also, the Detroit bench will be more diversified and talented in 2015. Gone will be Don Kelly, who served as one of the few backups in the outfield and infield and chewed up at-bats with his feeble power and long swing. Detroit is trying to get faster, more versatile, and better at all 25 roster spots. I think Ausmus is demanding that. His second year will only be better and the resources he has at his disposal will be too.