Detroit Tigers Roundup: What went right/wrong? fantasy slants
2022 Record: 66-96
Fourth Place, AL Central
Team ERA: 4.05 (21st in MLB)
Team OPS: .632 (29th in MLB)
What Went Right
Miguel Cabrera reached 3,000 career hits in April, which was probably the peak of the Tigers’ season. In truth, it seems like a miracle that the Tigers avoided 100 losses, considering they boasted one of the worst offenses in memory and got a total of 63 starts from their projected five-man rotation of Eduardo Rodriguez (17 starts), Casey Mize (two starts), Tarik Skubal (21 starts), Michael Pineda (11 starts) and Matt Manning (12 starts). At least Skubal started fulfilling his potential, posting a 3.52 ERA with a much-improved home run rate before requiring surgery to repair his flexor tendon. Riley Greene came up at 21 and was solid, if rather inconsistent.
What Went Wrong
Of the 15 players to come to the plate 120 times for the Tigers this season, only Eric Haase had an OPS over .700 or an OPS+ of 100. Things were so bad that Javier Baez was both the league’s biggest punchline, on account of his big contract and horrendous start, and still easily the team’s best player; he had three more homers, 17 more RBI and 15 more runs scored than anyone else on the Tigers. The usually reliable Jonathan Schoop posted the worst on-base percentage (.239) of anyone since the Braves’ Andres Thomas in 1989 (min. 500 PA). Top prospect Spencer Torkelson slugged just .319 and spent a chunk of the summer in the minors. Akil Baddoo, who seemed so promising as a Rule 5 pick in 2021, likewise had to be optioned down. He slugged .269 in 225 PA. Austin Meadows, acquired from the Rays just before the start of the year, was limited to 36 games by vertigo, COVID-19 and an Achilles’ tendon injury.
**Báez was the only Tigers player selected in the first 100 picks of fantasy drafts this year. Next year, it’s quite possible no one will be. Báez might again be the top Tiger off the board. He was solid over the final 3 1/2 months of this year, hitting .264/.302/.448 with 14 homers and eight steals in his final 94 games. Still, the decline in his exit velocity doesn’t seem to bode very well for his future. At least he has durability working in his favor, and he should continue to bat in the heart of the order.
**Greene would seem more likely to overtake Báez in drafts if he hadn’t gone just 1-for-5 stealing bases in 93 games as a rookie. He had been 4-for-5 in 17 minor league games before getting the call. Last year, he was 16-for-17 in 124 minor league games. Still, Greene isn’t a burner -- his sprint speed was just in the 60th percentile this season -- and he’ll probably never be a particularly big steal guy. He is going to hit and he should take a step forward in all areas next year, but it still might be one more season before he’s ready to be a big-time asset in fantasy leagues. That Comerica is a tough place to homer doesn’t help. Neither does the motley crew surrounding him.
**The good news with Torkelson is that he made harder contact after returning from the minors in September than he did in the first half of the year. He also didn’t strike out overly much for a rookie, coming in at 24.5%. He should get better there in year two, and it seems likely that he’ll establish himself as at least an adequate No. 5 or No. 6 hitter in what will be his age-23 season. Again, though, one needs to go above and beyond in order to make a real fantasy impact while hitting in this Tigers lineup. Torkelson still might not be worth using in shallow leagues until 2024.
**There has been talk of the Tigers turning shortstop over to Ryan Kriedler next year and moving Báez to second base. That seems pretty ambitious, though, given that Kriedler batted .213 and had a 29% strikeout rate in Triple-A this year. He hit .178/.244/.233 in 84 plate appearances in his late-season audition. Kriedler is a strong defender, and Baez might be more valuable in the field at second, given that he’s definitely fallen off some at short. Still, it’d probably make more sense as a midseason move for Detroit. Schoop is signed for another year, and the Tigers would surely like to see him bounce back so that maybe they can fetch a prospect for him in July.
**The Tigers will be without Mize for most or all of next year after Tommy John surgery, but they should get Spencer Turnbull back from his procedure. Turnbull was solid in 11 starts in 2020 (3.97 ERA) and even better in nine starts in 2021 (2.88 ERA) before having his ligament replaced. Given that he’ll have thrown just 107 innings in three years, the Tigers might not be able to count on Turnbull for 30 starts next season. Still, he’ll provide a necessary lift. Assuming that he shows he’s healthy in spring training, he could make sense as an end-game sleeper pick.
**It was a surprise when only one Tigers reliever, free agent-to-be Michael Fulmer, was moved by the team at the trade deadline. One imagines there will be more turnover this winter. Closer Gregory Soto was very good at saving games this year (30-for-33) and pretty bad the rest of the time (11 losses). As a lefty capable of touching 100 mph on the gun, he’ll draw plenty of interest this winter. Joe Jimenez will also have suitors. The longtime former closer of the future took a big step forward last year, finishing with a 3.49 ERA and a 77/13 K/BB ratio in 57 innings. His FIP was just 2.00. Jimenez is a free agent after next season and Soto is due a nice raise in his first year of arbitration, so the Tigers might want to cash them in now. If so, it could put Alex Lange in position to take over as the team’s closer.
Chafin has a $6.5 million player option to return, if he’d like. Pineda would also be on this list, but he was let go before the season concluded.
Team Needs: The Tigers finally moved on from VP and general manager Al Avila in August, hiring Giants GM Scott Harris to replace him. There’s enough upside in the rotation that Harris could try to contend right away in the weak AL Central. Still, with Mize out for most or all of the year, Turnbull returning from Tommy John surgery and Skubal and Manning iffy after finishing the season on the shelf, the smarter play would seem to focus on 2024, when they’ll finally be out from under the Cabrera contract. In the meantime, hopefully they can add a couple of more promising young bats, perhaps by moving relievers.