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2023 AL Central Preview: Detroit Tigers

The never-ending Tigers rebuild rolls on

Seattle Mariners v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers lost 96 games in 2022. Their offseason response was to add Matthew Boyd, Michael Lorenzen, Nick Maton, and Matt Vierling while gutting the best part of their team — their bullpen — by trading away Gregory Soto and Joe Jiménez and letting Andrew Chafin depart in free agency. Their best pitcher in 2022, Tarik Skubal, is out for an indeterminate amount of time after having flexor tendon surgery.

Let’s talk about that.

2022 in review

Hi, my name is Quincy Wheeler and I was one of the people who thought I knew something about baseball and thought the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Guardians would be competing for second place in the AL Central in 2022.

Support Group Responds: Hi, Quincy.

Now in recovery from believing in the Tigers, I can take some solace in knowing that I wasn’t the only close follower of the sport who saw the makings of a decent team in the Tigers. Under new manager A.J. Hinch, they finished with a 77-85 record, going 41-40 in the second half of the season. They looked to add some promising young prospects to their roster in Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Casey Mize, and Matt Manning, trade acquisition Austin Meadows, as well as marquee free agent signings Eduardo Rodríguez and Javier Báez.

Well, Torkelson tanked, Mize and Manning meandered under a miasma of maladies, Meadows and Rodriguez had mental health and personal issues, respectively, that sadly took both out for almost the entire season, and Báez had the worst season of his professional career. The promise shown from a solid debut season for Riley Greene wasn’t nearly enough to buoy the Tigers from sinking to fourth in a lackluster division.

Detroit’s response to the disappointment of 2022 seems to indicate that they see the season as a reason to hit a slight reset on their rebuild project. They haven’t built a roster that on its surface appears likely to compete for the playoffs, so the plan appears to be to work on developing young players and accumulate some more high draft picks to load up for a run in some unnamed future year. I’m sure this approach is frustrating to Tigers fans, but, as a Guardians fan, I can’t complain.

Additions and subtractions

Key addition: SS Nick Maton
The Tigers are planning to play LGFC Phil’s brother at third base and there is some interesting upside to Maton. He put up a 135 wRC+ in limited time with the Phillies in 2023 and played good defense all over the diamond. Yes, the expected stats say he should experience some regression and a 34% strikeout rate says that’s very possible, but an interesting upside is enough to make a player a ray of sunshine when we are talking about 2023 Tigers’ offseason additions.

Other additions: SP Michael Lorenzen, SP Matthew Boyd, OF Matt Vierling

Key subtraction: RP Joe Jiménez
Jiménez had the best season of his life by far for the Tigers in 2022, putting up 1.4 fWAR with a 2.00 FIP. Detroit indicated their intent to focus on the future by capitalizing on his value and trading him to the Braves. He hasn’t looked great in spring training, for whatever that’s worth, but, in any case, the Tigers seem likely to miss his electric arm in the back of their bullpen.

Other subtractions: RP Andrew Chafin, C Tucker Barnhart, 3B Jeimer Candelario, RP Michael Fulmer,

Projected lineup

  • CF: Riley Greene
  • 3B: Nick Maton
  • SS: Javier Báez
  • RF: Austin Meadows
  • 2B: Jonathan Schoop
  • DH: Kerry Carpenter
  • 1B: Spencer Torkelson
  • LF: Akil Badoo
  • C: Jake Rogers
  • Bench: C/OF Eric Haase, 1B Miguel Cabrera, INF/OF Zack Short, OF/INF Matt Vierling
Projections via FanGraphs’ Roster Resource

It’s easy to see why the Tigers aren’t expected to be a great team in 2022 when you look at this lineup. Sure, the team can hope Torkelson rediscovers the form that made him a top prospect in baseball. There’s some reliable veteran production to be reasonably expected from Schoop, Meadows, and Báez. Vierling is a slightly above-average platoon bat against left-handed pitchers. Greene has clear potential for a breakout in his second year. It’s still hard to squint and see an above-average offense even if everything goes mostly positively for this group.

At the very least, Tigers fans should enjoy some fun farewell tour moments with Miguel Cabrera, who has been one of the best, most entertaining hitters in baseball for his career (I say this while acknowledging the years of pain he inflicted on my beloved Guardians).

Projected pitching staff

  • SP1: Eduardo Rodríguez
  • SP2: Matthew Boyd
  • SP3: Michael Lorenzen
  • SP4: Matt Manning
  • SP5: Spencer Turnbull
  • Bullpen: Alex Lange, Jason Foley, José Cisnero, Will Vest, Tyler Alexander, Garrett Hill, Chasen Shreve, Mason Englert
Projections via FanGraphs’ Roster Resource

I do think there is more interesting upside with Detroit’s rotation, but it’s fair to wonder how much to expect from a group that failed to see a single member of the starting five exceed 97 innings pitched in 2022. That seems like a recipe for injuries and there’s very little major league ready depth to help compensate for that likely occurrence. Tarik Skubal may return later in the season which could help, but, again, I have very little confidence that this group will put in a performance that could be considered above-average for major league rotations.

The bullpen is a mess, plain and simple, and Guardians fans who see their team fall behind in the early innings against Detroit should begin making popcorn to eat while enjoying some fun, late-inning comebacks.

In summary, I think this Detroit team is worse than their 2022 team, and I think the organization is happy with that. I think they’ll lose 100 games, get some young players some great experience, and enjoy some special retirement moments with Miguel Cabrera. For Tigers fans, who deserve better, hopefully it leads to a reset for better things in 2024 and beyond. For Guardians fans, hoping the supposed Tigers rebuild remains forever in failure to launch mode, things are looking pretty good for that outcome so far.

I will say, the Tigers do have two players with the name “Spencer T.” on their team, and I am sure that has to be an MLB first (I’m not looking it up, you can’t make me).