There is no doubt that the Detroit Tigers are a team that has a shot to compete in the American League Central. On a team that is loaded with superstars, they will compete if they are healthy. Despite having a payroll of over $195 million for 2017, this is a team that is entering Spring Training with some holes to fill. Below are three areas the Detroit Tigers specifically need to address this Spring.
1. The Rotation – There are seven men competing for five starting rotation spots. Three of the players are locked into their roles with Justin Verlander getting the Opening Day nod. He will be followed by Jordan Zimmerman. Third, is 2016 American League Rookie of the Year, Michael Fulmer. Behind them, Mike Pelfrey, Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris, and Matt Boyd are competing for the final two spots.
The younger players (Norris and Boyd) provided the lift the rotation needed when Pelfrey and Sanchez struggled. Their struggles landed them both in the bullpen at certain points last season. As the competition heats up in Spring Training, who will move on as the final two members of the rotation? How will the Detroit Tigers use the two odd men out?
2. The Bullpen – It’s going to once again be a major piece of the puzzle for the Tigers that they will need to figure out. This organization continues to state that they want to win. However, they do not always put together a bullpen that can progress the team to an elite level.
Bruce Rondon seemed to finally start figuring things out last season in front of Francisco Rodriguez. Rondon got sent home early in 2015 for a poor attitude. Alex Wilson continues to be Brad Ausmus’ preferred option in the bullpen. He pitched in 73 innings during the 2016 season. One of the Tigers more reliable options in 2016, the Tigers will need to find reliable options in the bullpen so that Wilson is not needed so much.
Speaking of Wilsons, the other Wilson, Justin, is looking to bounce back from a rough season in 2016. He posted a 4.14 ERA over 58 innings. He had a 4-5 record and 65 strikeouts. While there were some signs of him being a decent lefty option, most of 2016 saw Justin Wilson getting knocked around the park.
Also, with two potential starters not making the rotation, the Tigers will need to decide if either of them will go in the bullpen, or start in AAA. Last season, both Pelfrey and Sanchez spent time in the bullpen after they struggled. Will this be an option for them again in 2017?
3. Centerfield – Can the real starting center fielder for the Detroit Tigers please stand up? This is a very important position for the Tigers, but there does not seem to be a clear option. The Tigers traded for Mikie Mahtook, so starting him in center field appears to be the most likely option. In 2016, Mahtook only hit .195 over 65 games. In 2015 he only played in 41 games.
The Tigers are placing a lot of faith in a relatively unknown commodity if he does get chosen as the starting centerfielder. It will be interesting to see if he does land the role, or if he ends up needing to split it with Tyler Collins. Since the Tigers went out and traded Tampa Bay for Mahtook, it would only make sense that they did so with the intent of him having a prominent role in their outfield.
With Spring Training underway, the Tigers will work to piece together the answer to these questions. If everyone remains healthy, then they certainly have the pieces to compete in the American League Central.