The Detriot Tigers have been on a roller coaster last season and during the offseason. The Tigers put up the white flag as they traded David Price and Yoenis Cespedes in 2015. Before the 2016 season, the team didn't rebuild but reload with Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmermann, Francisco Rodriguez, and Cameron Maybin.
The reload has already paid off with a fast start to 2016. We talked with Rob Rogacki, a manager over at Bless You Boys to break down the Tigers:
The Tigers put up the white flag in 2015 when the team traded David Price and Yoenis Cespedes. In 2016, they added Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmermann, Francisco Rodriguez, and Cameron Maybin. What direction are the Tigers going? Avoiding a rebuild? Reloading? What do you want to see from the Tigers going forward?
After a near-decade of having a full-throttle, win-now mindset, the Tigers' decision to sell at last year's trade deadline was both refreshing and necessary. They did well in dealing Price, Cespedes, and then-closer Joakim Soria, and a solid 2015 draft helped build the foundation for restocking a barren farm system that ranked dead last in all of baseball last year.
However, signing Zimmermann and Upton to $100+ million deals during the offseason proved that this team doesn't believe in the word "rebuilding," at least under owner Mike Ilitch. The Tigers believe that last season's flop was largely due to an underachieving core, one that battled injuries throughout the year even if they didn't lose all that many days to the disabled list. Adding Upton and Zimmermann helps offset losing Cespedes and Price, but improvements from Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and even Miguel Cabrera will determine how this team fares in 2016.
Beyond that, it seems that the Tigers' organizational philosophy has changed. Former president and general manager Dave Dombrowski is out, while new GM Al Avila -- Dombrowski's former right-hand man -- is now in charge. The Tigers have finally embraced analytics under Avila, and are looking to build their roster from within once they are able to revamp their farm system. It isn't the full tear-down that the Astros did, but the philosophy appears to be similar to what has occurred in Houston.
What is biggest issue the Tigers will have to deal with this season: Aging stars? The Bullpen once again? Starting pitching holding up?
The Tigers need their aging stars to be healthy and productive if they are to return to the postseason in 2016, but I almost see that as a cop-out answer at this point. Victor Martinez looks miles better than he did at any point in 2016, and even Miguel Cabrera is driving the ball better than in 2015.
This week, my biggest concern over this team is their starting rotation. Justin Verlander looked excellent down the stretch in 2015, but has not shown the same finishing touch so far in 2016 (five no-hit innings to begin the season notwithstanding). Jordan Zimmermann has looked as advertised thus far, and Anibal Sanchez appears healthy.
However, I'm concerned about the load they are going to place on the improved-but-not-great bullpen. Zimmermann is the only starter to work into the seventh inning so far this year, and Sanchez appears to turn into sawdust once he hits 100 pitches on the nose. Shane Greene looked electric in his first start, but is coming off surgery and can't be counted on for 180 innings (or possibly even 150).
Brad Ausmus seem to be on the hot seat at the end of the 2015 season. What are your thoughts of the long-time Astros catcher as a manager?
I don't hold the same disdain for Ausmus that many of my compatriots do. I was mildly encouraged by the comments by Al Avila and some of the Tigers players towards the end of last season, as it seems like the players really respect Ausmus' leadership and clubhouse presence. He has made a mess of the bullpen during his first two years in the dugout, but it's hard to turn that pile of trash into a work of art.
This year, things seem better. Ausmus has shown some flexibility in his bullpen management, opting for shutdown lefty Justin Wilson wherever he has been needed rather than pigeon-holing him into a seventh inning role. Ausmus also gave Shane Greene a high-leverage appearance early in the season instead of simply rolling with another relief arm, a decision that paid off in the Tigers' first win of the year. Ausmus has also been using Justin Upton in the #2 spot in the lineup, a slightly unconventional move (to baseball traditionalists, at least) that makes the top of the Tigers' order as dangerous as they come.
Of course, it's easy to like your manager when you're 6-2. Ask me again after a three-game losing streak.