Detroit Tigers fans have sat quietly by these past few months as the offseason has reluctantly unraveled with little activity from their hometown team. Odd, considering the Tigers were one of the first teams to make a noteworthy move when they offloaded Cameron Maybin for a AA-reliever. This appeared to be the first move in what was sure to be a long line of ‘sells’ pulled off by GM Al Avila. And then….
Well, Alex Avila is back via a move that is only not fully annoying due to the obvious team need and correspondingly low contract. So, yeah, nothing.
By all accounts and indications, the Tigers will be waging war in 2017 with a nearly identical roster as they featured a year ago, minus a capable centerfielder.
The most optimistic of Tigers fans will note how close the Tigers were to a wild card last year despite a rash of injuries and the prolonged slump of Justin Upton. With just a little good fortune in the health department, why can’t the Tigers contend in ’17?
Aside from the obvious answer of ‘the Cleveland Indians are REALLY good’, the argument is logical, except for one fatal and under-discussed flaw.
Think back to all of those injuries in 2016. Had you been simply told the Tigers would have been snake-bitten by the injury bug you would’ve wisely guessed the likely culprits as Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and others from an aging core.
And you would’ve been very wrong.
In fact, it was the Tigers’ young players that got dinged up and missed significant chunks of playing time. Consider the games played from these guys one year ago:
- Cameron Maybin – 94
- JD Martinez – 120
- Nick Castellanos – 110
- Jose Iglesias – 137
- James McCann – 105
- Jordan Zimmermann – 18 starts
- Daniel Norris – 13 starts
Shane Greene also missed time, as did then promising reliever Drew VerHagen. What this group of players all represent is quite simply the younger core of the Tigers.
It seems highly unlikely that this group of talent will be so unlucky yet again in ’17. They’re bound to stay on the field at a higher rate. But here’s the scary part – what is even more unlikely is that the wrinkly nucleus of stars on the Tigers actually stays healthy again.
Heading into every season it seems as though the battle cry is “If only Miggy, JV and VMart can stay healthy…”
Well, fully healthy or not, Victor (now 38 years old) appeared in 154 games. Miggy (34 in April) managed 158. Justin Verlander (turns 34 next month) made all of his starts. Francisco Rodriguez (35) took the ball every time it was asked of him. Ian Kinsler (34) put in another healthy season after an injury-riddled beginning to his career.
If you’re willing to bet that the young guys will stay on the field at a greater rate this year then you’d be wise to double down that the five veterans mentioned above will have some issues at some point during the season.
To make matters worse, ESPN’s Keith Law just ranked the Tigers as having the #24 farm system in all of baseball. This is the unfortunate byproduct of the offseason market not allowing Al Avila to sell.
Should the Tigers get hit hard by injury there will be no reinforcements from the minor leagues worth mentioning other than the hopes of a JaCoby Jones uprising and the likely emergence of reliever Joe Jimenez. That’s it, my friends.
No team in baseball needs a vacant trainer’s room more than the Tigers. Perhaps the old guys can pull it off one more time and the young bucks can not only stay on the field, but also take the next step in their development. It’s possible. It’s just not extremely likely.
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