The Detroit Tigers took a sizable step forward last season when they finished with a decent 77-85 record. It wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs (it was the seventh straight season without October baseball for the Tigers), but it gave fans something they had been missing for a while: hope.
Andy Dufresne, in The Shawshank Redemption, said it best: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
After opening the 2021 campaign with a putrid 9–24 record, Detroit played over .500 the rest of the year, going 68–61. Fans finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel, and the franchise entered the offseason with lots of holes to fill and money to spend.
Detroit signed shortstop Javier Báez to a six-year, $140 million deal, but also inked underrated reliever Andrew Chafin on a two-year pact worth $13 million. They brought in starters Eduardo Rodríguez and Michael Pineda and traded for catcher Tucker Barnhart.
It’s time to let the kids take over
Perhaps more importantly, the Tigers are ready to give two prominent prospects the key to their future: first baseman Spencer Torkelson and outfielder Riley Greene. They had already started the process in the last two years, giving important innings to their “Big Three” starting pitching prospects: Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning.
Much of the future of the franchise will depend on those five players. Torkelson hit 30 home runs across three minor league levels in 2021, and had a 129 wRC+ in Triple-A, while Greene accumulated 24 dingers and 16 stolen bases in two levels, Double-A and Triple-A.
Mize, the man of the nasty splitter, may have had a 4.71 FIP in 2021, but he did finish with a 3.71 ERA in 150.1 innings and was able to make 30 starts, setting himself up nicely for a bigger workload this year as the Tigers, they hope, will be fighting for a place in the postseason thanks to the expanded format.
Skubal’s 4.34 ERA was not particularly good, but he did miss bats at a high clip (25.9 K%) and is a breakout candidate for 2022. Manning, meanwhile, had lots of issues getting strikeouts (14.8 K%) and is more of a question mark. Spencer Turnbull is injured and Matt Boyd is off to greener pastures, so E-Rod and Pineda will complete a rotation with a nice ceiling, but not a very high floor.
The lineup will welcome back Akil Baddoo (108 wRC+, 13 homers, 18 stolen bases) and Robbie Grossman (114 wRC+, 23 HR, 20 SB) in the outfield corners. Greene could win the center field job out of camp.
Baez will bring some much-needed thump and upside to the infield. He plays a very good shortstop, and if he can keep some of the plate discipline gains he made during his time with the Mets, look out.
Miguel Cabrera is close to finished, but he can still post slightly below-average offensive production, and his role as a mentor for the young hitters could be extremely valuable if he embraces it. One would think a hitter like Torkelson has a lot to learn from a guy like Cabrera.
The reliable Jeimer Candelario, the Tigers’ fWAR leader in 2021 with 3.2, will man third base, and Jonathan Schoop is the second baseman. Barnhart and Eric Haase will form a pretty solid catching tandem.
Win Total Prediction: 84-78 (.518)
Detroit got better during the offseason, but it’s still not a surefire playoff team. They could eventually get in, but nearly every team in the division (except for the Cleveland Guardians, to be honest) is looking better this year, and the American League as a whole also got stronger.
Overall, Detroit may be able to finish above .500, which would be a highly successful outcome given everything the franchise has had to go through recently. The playoffs are looking like a more difficult objective, but while it’s not impossible, the odds are against them.
They are definitely on the right path, though, and better days are surely ahead.
Andrés Chávez loves the game of baseball and writes about it at Beyond the Box Score, Pinstripe Alley, and other sites. He is on Twitter as @andres_chavez13