2018 Record: 64-98
Third Place: AL Central
Team ERA: 4.58 (23rd in MLB)
Team OPS: .680 (27th in MLB -- Worst in AL)
What Went Right
The Tigers played extremely inspired baseball under new manager Ron Gardenhire, sitting just one game under the .500 mark at 36-37 through their first 73 games before ultimately collapsing. In the end though, they stuck to their rebuild plan, letting young players gain valuable experience at the big league level, while flipping a pair of one-year free agent signings for prospects at the trade deadline. Both Michael Fiers and Leonys Martin were very productive during their time in Motown and each netted the club a nice prospect in return, helping the overall depth of the farm system. The club was able to keep top Rule-5 pick Victor Reyes on the roster for the entire season and it looks like he may have a future at the big league level, even if it's only as a fourth outfielder. Nicholas Castellanos had a very productive year in the middle of the lineup and made at least a passable transition to becoming full-time right fielder. Niko Goodrum showed that he can be a functional utility man going forward and perhaps a useful fantasy commodity in mixed leagues. Victor Alcantara had a terrific second half and looks like he could be a nice bullpen piece heading into 2019. Jeimer Candelario showed nice power potential, blasting 19 home runs and plating 54 in his first full season. Jordan Zimmermann wasn't great, but actually functioned as an innings-eater in the rotation, making 25 starts and logging 131 1/3 innings.
What Went Wrong
Everything else. Don’t let that third place finish in the division fool you, only four teams in all of baseball lost more games than the Tigers in 2018. Miguel Cabrera was limited to just 38 games before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a ruptured biceps. Star right-hander Michael Fulmer battled injury and ineffectiveness, going 3-12 with a 4.69 ERA and killing what was once a sky-high trade value. Closer Shane Greene blew six save chances and finished with an ERA north of five. After an All-Star first half, Joe Jimenez registered a 7.78 ERA after his appearance in the Mid-Summer Classic. James McCann slashed a dreadful .220/.267/.314 and may not be tendered a contract this winter. Victor Martinez played nearly everyday and hit in the middle of the lineup despite a 35-game stretch from June 5 - July 21 where he logged a total of one extra-base hit, slashing .188/.216/.195 with six RBI over 134 plate appearances. Despite his power potential, Jeimer Candelario slashed only .224/.317/.393 and whiffed 160 times in 619 plate appearances. Daniel Norris continued his plummet from top-prospect status, registering a 5.68 ERA and 1.47 WHIP over 44 1/3 innings in his 11 appearances (eight starts).
** One of the most intriguing bats in this Tigers’ lineup heading into 2019 is 35-year-old superstar Miguel Cabrera. His draft stock is likely to vary wildly based on each owner’s risk tolerance, but if he’s fully healthy (which is a major concern) there’s sky-high upside still lurking in this right-handed bat. Before being shut down in 2018, he was slashing .299/.395/.448 and stinging the ball to all fields. I’m definitely a buyer heading into 2019, and have already secured Cabrera in one early draft at a price outside of the top-100.
** Someone is going to get save chances at the back-end of the Tigers’ bullpen in 2019, but I don’t think it’s going to be Shane Greene. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the 29-year-old right-hander wasn’t tended a contract this winter. He’s coming off a disappointing season, and an absolutely brutal second half, and is likely to get a huge raise through arbitration. Expect the Tigers, who are in cost-cutting rebuilding mode, to look for cheaper bullpen help elsewhere. Joe Jimenez looks like the leading candidate to begin the season with the ninth-inning gig.
** After clamoring for him all season, Tigers’ fans finally got a look at top outfield prospect Christin Stewart in September, and the 24-year-old didn’t disappoint. He’s a below-average defender and projects as a designated hitter down the road, but his bat looks MLB-ready. He held his own in his first exposure, slashing .267/.375/.415 with a pair of homers, 10 RBI and a 13/10 K/BB ratio in his first 72 plate appearances. Expect him to play everyday and hit near the middle of the lineup. Stewart finished the 2018 campaign with 25 long balls between the Tigers and Triple-A Toledo, after blasting 28 home runs in the minors in 2017 and 30 the year prior.
** Matt Boyd finally started to deliver on some of his promise in 2018, posting a 1.16 WHIP and 8.4 K/9 across 170 ⅓ innings. Some will glance at the 9-13 record or 4.39 ERA and write him off, but there’s talent here, especially pitching in the AL Central. Before stumbling in his last two starts, Boyd had posted a 3.09 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 68/13 K/BB ratio over 67 innings in his first 11 starts after the All-Star break. The 27-year-old will slot in nicely as a fifth or sixth starter in deeper mixed league formats.
** With another year of rebuilding on tap for the Tigers in 2019, Niko Goodrum should find himself in the lineup on a near-nightly basis again. While the batting average was middling, the 26-year-old managed to slug 16 homers and swipe 12 bases in only 492 plate appearances. If you play in a league that utilizes 10 games played to determine position eligibility, he’ll enter the 2019 season qualifying in the outfield and at all four infield spots. That type of versatility can be extremely valuable as the season progresses.
** The Tigers' top five prospects heading into the 2019 season are all hard-throwing pitchers -- right-handers Casey Mize, Beau Burrows, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo and left-hander Franklin Perez. At least a few of these guys are going to break through and crack the Tigers' rotation in 2019, with most of them possessing high strikeout potential. They're names to keep in mind in the reserve rounds of deep-roster slow drafts over the winter.
** Speaking of names to keep in mind in slow drafts, Daz Cameron is a guy who deserves a mention as well. The son of long-time big leaguer Mike Cameron, the 21-year-old climbed three minor league rungs in 2018 from High-A Lakeland to Triple-A Toledo. All told, he slashed .264/.343/.406 with eight homers and 24 stolen bases. Like his father, he has nice range in center field and a nice blend of power and speed at the plate. With little to play for in 2019, there's no real reason for the Tigers to hold him down much longer than the Super-two deadline. Expect to see him arrive in Motown before June, and hold down the starting job in center field for the remainder of the season.
Team Needs: High-quality young position players that will be ready to produce in two or three years when this team is ready to compete. The Tigers have done a nice job stockpiling their organization with high-upside arms, but are still lacking in positional prospects and are extremely thin on talent in the major league lineup.At the moment, it looks like only Cabrera, Castellanos and Jeimer Candelario have starting spots in the lineup locked up heading into 2019, with Niko Goodrum holding down a utility role. The organization needs to stay the course and continue will the rebuild effort in 2019. They’d be wise to take a few veteran fliers on one-year contracts once again after having much success with Mike Fiers and Leonys Martin last offseason. A full season from Cabrera and another year of experience for the young guns should keep the Tigers from losing 100 games in 2019, but there's no reason to think that they're going to finish on the right side of .500. The big question heading into the offseason will be what to do with Nicholas Castellanos. Entering his final year of arbitration, the club may opt to field trade offers for him this winter if it looks like they can't come to an agreement on a long-term contract extension. They also need to make a decision on catcher James McCann, who looks like a non-tender candidate after a miserable season both offensively and defensively.