This week we're going to take a look at each of the Tribe's AL Central rivals, getting help from our SB Nation cousins. Today, a Q&A with Rob Rogacki, managing editor at Bless You Boys.
The Tigers re-signed Victor Martinez this offseason, while letting Torii Hunter go; they made an effort to keep Max Scherzer, but he's gone as well. They dealt Rick Porcello to Boston for Yoenis Cespedes, upgrading their lineup but hurting their rotation. They dealt prospects away to acquire Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene, their new would-be #4 and 5 starters.
They are viewed by most as still having the most talent in the division, but that talent is also viewed as relatively vulnerable, due to age and the absence of much depth.
Do you think the roster moves the Tigers have made since the start of last season have been a net improvement for the team? How much better or worse do you think the starting rotation will be this season, as compared to 2013 or 2014?
I'm not sure how to analyze the Tigers' moves this offseason. They have been putting this thing called "defense" in our baseball and we're still trying to figure out if this is against the rules.
On a more serious note, I don't think there's any way that you can say that the Tigers' roster is better than the one that was swept out of the ALDS last October. Losing Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello is a huge blow to the rotation, even if Justin Verlander's subpar 2014 was just a fluke, and the bullpen has looked as bad as ever during spring training. The acquisition of David Price helps stop the bleeding, but this starting five is nowhere near as good as the super rotation the Tigers put out in 2013.
However, the hope is that a more balanced roster makes this a tougher team to beat in 2015. The defense has been drastically improved with the additions of Anthony Gose, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jose Iglesias, who missed the entire 2014 season due to injury. Cespedes should be a three-win improvement over Torii Hunter on defense alone, while Iglesias projects to be an upgrade both offensively and defensively over the mess at shortstop last season. Add in platoons -- platoons! -- at catcher and center field, and the Tigers have successfully joined the rest of baseball in the 21st century.
Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez have both been dealing with some ailments this spring. Are they expected to be in the lineup on Opening Day? Do you think Cabrera's down season (by his ridiculously high standards) was a hiccup or the start of his decline? Will his 2015 be better, worse, or about the same? Can Martinez possibly repeat his 2014 production? (And of equal importance, what is little Victor Jose Martinez up to these days? We miss that kid in Cleveland.)
Things were looking hairy for a little while, but both Cabrera and Martinez should be in the lineup on Opening Day. Cabrera has progressed quicker than expected after having ankle surgery in late October, and the hope is that the procedure -- which removed bone spurs and repaired a stress fracture -- helps him stay healthy throughout the entire season. It's incredible that he was able to hit .321/.379/.511 in the second half of 2014 with a stress fracture in his foot. I'm not concerned about his ability to bounce back from a down year (by his lofty standards), especially over the next few years.
Victor's 2014 season was remarkable, but even a healthy Martinez wasn't going to repeat that power surge in 2015. He had meniscus surgery in February (his third left knee surgery in three years), but has also returned to action in time for the regular season. The main concern for him will be how quickly he can get back into a rhythm at the plate. It took him nearly half a season to return to form in 2013, but the hope is that a shorter layoff will result in a shorter adjustment period.
If all else fails, Victor Jose could probably step in as the team's DH. His bat already projects to be better than either of our utility infielders', and he has a smaller strike zone. We're hoping he is faster than his dad, though.
Detroit's bullpen has been something of an Achilles heel for them during the last couple years. Have they done anything to address that? Do you expect better returns from that group in 2015?
Despite public outcries for more spending, the Tigers were never in the hunt for any of the top relief arms on the free agent market this winter. Instead, their "big splash" was picking up Joakim Soria's $7 million option. Soria is essentially a new acquisition, as he only logged 11 innings for the Tigers after coming over from Texas last July. The expectation is that he will be the team's closer at some point this season, because Joe Nathan has shown zero signs of improvement during spring training.
The rest of the bullpen will be filled with a combination of young organizational arms and low-cost free agent signings. Tom Gorzelanny has been solid as a reliever throughout his career, and he's on the payroll for $1 million. Ditto Joba Chamberlain, who was the Tigers' best reliever for the first four months of 2014. Power arms like Bruce Rondon, Angel Nesbitt, and Al Alburquerque will get as many innings as their walk rates will allow. It's definitely a "throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks" mentality, but at least there is a lot more to throw this year.
The Tigers have a lot of money invested in players on the wrong side of 30. Is there a contract that particularly concerns you? Do you think concerns about what things might look like come 2017 are well-founded or blown out of proportion?
Last week, I would have said "all of them" and pointed towards David Price's expiring contract as the most concerning one on the roster. With the prospect of having a rotation of Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in 2016, re-signing Price (or picking up a free agent this offseason) will be one of the Tigers' biggest needs next winter.
However, Verlander left his start last Friday with a "triceps cramp," and is now in jeopardy of missing the start of the season. Already coming off of a poor season many believe was caused by the offseason surgery he had in January 2014, another injury-filled season is the last thing Verlander and the Tigers needed. It's a momentary concern, but the five years and $140 million remaining on his contract seem awfully ominous right now.
Do you feel obligated to eat at Little Caesars five days a week in order to keep the money train rolling to Comerica Park?
If I had to choose between eating Little Caesars five days a week and becoming an Indians fan, I'd become an Indians fan. No offense.
Joking aside, it's easy to take owner Mike Ilitch for granted. He has spent money hand over fist in hopes of winning a World Series, and his insistence on always having star talent has made the Tigers enjoyable to watch even in the now-rare instances that they don't make the playoffs. Mr. Ilitch and GM Dave Dombrowski are the architects of a golden age of Tigers baseball, and I'm hopeful that it continues for as long as possible.
Is there anyone one the Indians you particularly admire? Anyone who particularly drives you nuts?
It feels like a cliche to say that I can't stand Nick Swisher, but I can't stand Nick Swisher. He already annoys me as an Ohio State product, and his daily broductions have worn a bit thin. Add in that he completely flopped on my fantasy team last year -- it's a deep league, ok? -- and he might be my least favorite player in baseball.
One Indians player that I wouldn't mind seeing in a Tigers uniform is Michael Brantley. It's easy to claim this after his monster 2014 season, but Brantley has always been a solid two-way contributor who has a penchant for hurting the Tigers (.331/.387/.495 in his career). I question his credentials -- where did he get that doctorate? -- but any distaste I have for him is a product of jealousy.
The Tigers are still slight favorites in the AL Central, but the margin has gotten awfully thin. What do you predict will happen in the division this season, what will the final running order be?
I agree that the margin for error in the division has gotten slimmer, but I also think that the gap between the Tigers and other teams in the division was originally much larger than the final standings of either 2013 or 2014 suggest. The tables show that the Tigers won the Central by one game each year, but a late surge by the Tribe in '13 and a white-hot month from the Royals in '14 did just as much to close the gap as underperformance by the Tigers in each year. This team is still capable of winning 88-90 games, and I think that will be enough to take the division in a close race with the Indians. I question Chicago's depth, especially in the rotation, and I think the Royals are headed for a fourth-place finish unless Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas prove the playoffs were no fluke.
A big thank you to Rob for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully, and for acknowledging that Little Caesars is not good pizza. There is consensus among all of SB Nation's AL Central managing editors that the Indians will be a contender this season, and that the division race will be closely contested. I think we're in for an exciting season around these parts.