Playing Pepper 2017: Detroit Tigers

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Detroit Tigers
86-75, second in AL Central
Last year’s Pepper

(Editor’s Note: If you are able to alphabetize your Major League Baseball teams, you know that Detroit doesn’t come immediately after Cleveland.  However, our Colorado blogger needed a little extra time, so I’m going to (hopefully) just swap those two and get back in line with Houston on Monday.)

There’s been a lot of success over the past decade or so in the Motor City.  The Tigers have found themselves in the World Series twice (2006, 2012) and been in the playoffs or at least contention a number of times.  However, they’ve been unable to completely break through and take the crown, even with some highly talented (and highly paid) players on the roster.  The AL Central looks like it’s getting a bit softer, so what does that mean for the team from the Motor City?

To solve that problem, we’ve got three of Detroit’s finest to answer the Pepper questions this year.  You probably remember Jennifer and Kristen from past years and Neil joins the group to broaden the horizons even more.  Their information is below and their insights follow!

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
Kristen Bentley Motor City Bengals kris10bentley
Neil Weinberg New English D NeilWeinberg44
Jennifer Cosey Old English D VivaTigres

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

MCB: The Tigers did not make many moves in the offseason. They traded Cameron Maybin for a minor league pitcher. They re-signed Alex Avila, but as a backup catcher. They also signed Mikie Mahtook who will battle with Tyler Collins and JaCoby Jones for CF. Otherwise, the team stayed together, which is a good thing – hopefully. I wish they would’ve signed a more established CFer, but the Tigers are looking to cut payroll in the next few years.

NED: I don’t think it was a particularly good offseason for the Tigers, but they were in a pretty tough spot. Their only major addition was signing former-Tiger Alex Avila to split time at catcher. They signed a lot of minor league free agents, which is a strategy I strongly support, but they really didn’t do much to move themselves more firmly into contention. It’s hard to fault them too much, however, because there simply weren’t a ton of great options for them.There wasn’t a great catcher or center fielder on the market and they didn’t have a ton of extra money to spend. I would have been interested in Dexter Fowler given the contract he received, but most of the good and available players were cornermen and the Tigers are set at LF, RF, DH, and 1B. 

OED: This was a very blasé offseason for the Tigers. They traded Cameron Maybin to the Angels, and are now left with a four-way competition for CF in Tyler Collins, Anthony Gose, JaCoby Jones, and Mikie Mahtook. Yawn. The Tigers warned of a payroll shed prior to the beginning of the offseason, but players such as Ian Kinsler and JD Martinez, who were prime candidates to be traded, are thankfully still with the club. The Tigers did not make any offseason acquisitions that constitute a significant upgrade. Hopes for making the postseason will rest on staying extremely healthy, and having a number of unlikely players over-achieve.

C70: If there’s a misconception about the Tigers, what is it and why is it wrong?

MCB: The misconception is that the team is old. Yes, there are some veterans on the team, but much of the team is actually under 30 – or just turning 30 in 2017.

NED: The things you hear about the Tigers are generally true. It’s an organization that has generally favored a stars and scrubs model. Their core is getting older and at some point they’re going to need to take a couple years off to restock. I think the only misconception might be that they’re locked into a lot of terrible contracts forever. Sure, Cabrera and Verlander are going to be overpaid in the near future, but if Upton opts out after 2017 and Verlander’s 2020 option doesn’t kick in, you’re really not looking at some unreasonable situation. They will need to rebuild at some point, but whenever that moment comes, they won’t be in worse shape than any generic team that needs to start over.

OED: I think a couple of the major conceptions about the Tigers are spot on: they are slow on the base-paths, and the bullpen has been a major weakness over the past few seasons. Mark Lowe pitched so poorly last season that I considered it a major victory if he didn’t give up a home run in an outing. The Tigers hit into more double plays per game than 22 other teams. Ugly.

C70: Is there hope that the club will get more out of Justin Upton or is his 2016 line about what to expect going forward?

MCB: Yes. Justin Upton finished the season on a high note, hitting numerous home runs. He seemed comfortable at TigerFest and the fans seemed happy to see him. When someone is comfortable at the job, they often perform better – so now that Upton knows the team and the fans, he will be better. Upton’s turn around happened after he had his chat with David Ortiz last year – whatever Big Papi said seemed to make a big difference and it is safe to say those words are still sticking around in Upton’s head.

NED: Yeah, I would bet on a better line for Upton in 2017. Upton’s a streaky player and he had a bad stretch to start 2016, but from May 15 forward he had a 125 wRC+. In other words, from that point forward he was essentially the Justin Upton the Tigers were expecting. He was just so bad in April that the final numbers didn’t look great. 

OED: Justin Upton’s 2016 was a tale of two seasons. His first half was a miserable train-wreck of a slump, while he went on some torrid tears in the second half. I am expecting a better overall season from Upton, while knowing he can be a streaky hitter.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

MCB: James McCann on offense. He is incredibly physically fit and his bat is due to get hot.

NED: I don’t know if unheralded is the right word because everyone knows who he is, but Ian Kinsler’s overall value to the team is right up there with Cabrera, Martinez, Verlander, etc. You just don’t hear as much about him because he has an all-around game rather than one or two elite tools.

OED: Joe Jimenez is a young relief pitcher to keep an eye on. He will surely begin the season in the minors, but may contribute this season at the big-league level. Catcher James McCann was impressed with Jimenez’ change up and demeanor in his first spring bullpen.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

MCB: It’s going to be tough with the upgrades to the Indians. If the Tigers can stay healthy, they should finish 1st or 2nd. I’m going to predict 90 wins.

NED: I’m just starting to get into my season preview series, which always ends with me wrestling with this question in late March. At the moment, I think they’ll wind up in the same place they did last year. Around 85 wins, with Cleveland finishing them off in the division in mid-September.

OED: Many sighs. I despise predictions. They are so often exercises in futility. I frequently appear foolish after making them. I predicted that James McCann would have a good sophomore season at the plate last year. Hahahahahaha. If I must commit, I will say that the team will finish with a record of 87-75, second in the division.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Tiger and why?

MCB: My all-time favorite Tiger is Alan Trammell – I loved watching him play back in the 80s. I also got a chance to sit in on an interview with him and he is one incredibly kind man. He really believes in the Tigers and seems at home working with the young players. On the current team – I’m a Justin Verlander and Ian Kinsler fan. I love the attitude that JV brings to the team. When JV is on the mound, you know the show is going to be good. And Kinsler is absolutely ageless. He plays like he’s still trying to make the team. When he literally rubbed dirt on his injury, he showed how much he truly loves to be out there. These two guys are tough and they push themselves every time they are on the diamond.

NED: Tough question. The all-time greats were before my time. I was just becoming baseball-conscious at the very end of Alan Trammell’s career, so I obviously missed Kaline too. Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez were great. I also have a strong affinity for utility players, so I was always a big Brandon Inge and Don Kelly guy, but I’ll say Max Scherzer. Not only was Scherzer great for the Tigers, but it was a real joy to watch him grow into an ace. When the Tigers traded for him, he was really raw and all over the place and by the time he left he was one of the five best pitchers in the league. He’s also a cerebral and introspective kind of person, which I appreciate. I’m really happy for the success he’s had since leaving.

OED: This is a very difficult question to answer. My first favorite was Kirk Gibson, with whom I fell in love in 1983. His blast off Gossage in the ’84 Series cemented forever his place in my personal baseball Hall. Gibson’s fiery temperament didn’t always endear himself to fans personally, but his clutch hitting never failed to bring them back around. He will always be my Tiger.

Magglio Ordoñez is the other player that inspires particular devotion. Watching him hit brought pure joy to the baseball lover. His 2007 season was breath-taking. Batting .363, Magglio won the batting title, and came in second in MVP voting to Alex Rodriguez. I remember watching the last game of the season (on the road in Chicago), and the Venezuelan announcers’ feed was piped into the Tigers broadcast. It was glorious hearing them call “linia!” for several base hits. Of course, the iconic blast in the 2006 ALCS will forever reign in Tigers fans’ hearts. Magglio, too, will always be my Tiger.

My thanks to all that participated in this, giving us a little idea of what’s going on around the Tigers!

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Last updated: 10/06/2022