Section 313, Seat No. 14 – Projecting the 2018 Detroit Tigers roster

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Sep 25, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) stands on first after being walked during the third inning against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago I gave two possible scenarios for the Tigers roster in 2018. However, they were contingent on Justin Upton‘s pending decision to opt out or not. Well, by now you know he was traded, along with all the money owed to him, to the Los Angeles Angels. Part of that article was also contingent on trading or not trading Justin Verlander. And, well, let’s not bring that up; it’s still too soon.

OK….I’m good. Just had to get it out one last time.

In a matter of 12 hours, the Tigers went from a team near a $200 million payroll to one under $100M in 2018. Now, admittedly, the team does not have a lot of immediate promise, and general manager Al Avila said as much. Which, given the money they will have, is fine. Next year is all about development — getting the guys who are in Double-A to Triple-A and so forth.

If the development happens and the cards are played right with the finances, the Tigers could fill a hole in a stacked 2018-2019 Free Agent class and possibly be competing by then as well.

But we want to look at and try to project the Tigers 2018 Major League roster. And, to be up front, we will do it under the guise of both Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler being around. The club could buyout Kinsler, who has spoken his desire to remain a Tiger through the rebuild, and so we’ll assume the club will honor those wishes.

Starting Pitchers –

Aug 19, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) pitches in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With the departure of long time Ace, Justin Verlander, and the status of Michael Fulmer up in the air, the 2018 pitching staff could be very thin. It would make zero sense for them to continue to pay Anibal Sanchez, who they can buy out for $5M — that is a no brainer. The other question mark is Jordan Zimmermann, who just can’t seem to figure it out. Let’s also assume the club breaks camp with Zimmermann in its starting rotation, here’s what the rotation could look like:

  1. Michael Fulmer (assuming he’s healthy)
  2. Jordan Zimmermann
  3. Matt Boyd
  4. Buck Farmer/Daniel Norris
  5. Myles Jaye

Fulmer, Zimmermann (assuming he makes it out of camp), and Boyd are all staples. Farmer, Norris, and Jaye will have to earn a spot. We all know the struggles that Daniel Norris has had, along with Buck Farmer and it is these two that I believe will be competing for a starting spot and bullpen spot. Given the fact that we know next year isn’t going to be pretty, there is no reason to go and sign a starting pitcher before the 2018 off season. We should take the 162 games next year and basically field a season long tryout for these younger guys.

Relief Pitchers –

Oh, that bullpen. A bullpen that has been the Achilles heel of some pretty damn good teams (2013), for over two decades. Who will fill the bullpen roles in 2018?

  1. Shane Greene – closer
  2. Alex Wilson
  3. Joe Jimenez
  4. Daniel Stumpf
  5. Blaine Hardy / Kyle Ryan / Jairo Labourt
  6. Buck Farmer / Daniel Norris
  7. Warwick Saupold

Of the options in the minor leagues for bullpen guys, this is about the best we can come up with. Joe Jimenez should be able to turn things around, and once Shane Greene is flipped at the trade deadline next season, Jimenez should take over as closer, regardless of performance because again, next season doesn’t really matter.

Of the other guys, Hardy, Ryan, and Labourt will all be competing essentially for the same role in Spring Training and the other spot will be assumed by the “loser” of the Buck Farmer/Daniel Norris battle for a starting spot.

Notice the one name we left off? Bruce Rondon. Next season will finally be the season the Tigers cut ties with their hefty problem child.

Position Players –

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians
Apr 16, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (41) singles in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The pitching staff is a bit of an easier call than position players. First, because we kind of already have a good picture of what we have — unless someone knocks the doors down during Spring Training. Second, and most important, Victor Martinez creates a problem for the Tigers. Vicor is owed $18 million next season and with his recent health scares, eaves the Tigers in a bit of a pickle.

First and foremost, let me say that for Victor our biggest concern is not that he hit another baseball for our team. Our biggest concern is that he is in it for the long haul for the betterment of his family. Baseball has always been and will always be just a game, secondary to real life matters.

So, Victor, we wish you all the best.

However, given that the Tigers are going in a new direction, as made evident by their midnight deal of Verlander, they should look to trade and get what they can for Victor or release him altogether. Yes, they’ll have to pay his remaining contract, but they have the room. And, it would be better to be strapped with that cash during a season where expectations won’t be high in order to free up a lineup spot for someone younger. It’s a tough and hard truth, but it is just that — truth.

Infielders –

  1. Miguel Cabrera (1B, DH)
  2. Ian Kinsler (2B, 3B, 1B, DH)
  3. Jose Iglesias (SS)
  4. Dixon Machado (2B)
  5. Jeimer Candelario (3B, 1B)
  6. Nicholas Castellanos (1B, OF, DH)
  7. Andrew Romine (UTL)
  8. James McCann (C)
  9. John Hicks (C, 1B)

First, if the Tigers were to bring back Ian Kinsler, they should do so under the guise of a coach on the field to mentor the younger guys, meaning that Dixon Machado gets the majority of the reps at second base. Essentially, in a year where we can afford to financially, we are paying Kinsler to fill the role of big brother. We can move him around the infield to give guys off, allowing Machado to get reps at shortstop in the event Iglesias is moved at the deadline, and we allow him (Kinsler) to be true to his word to mentor the young guys.

Second, Nicholas Castellanos should never see another ground ball at third base. To put it nicely, he’s been awful this season. A move to first base or corner outfield could be just what the doctor ordered. There’s no doubt we don’t want to lose his bat in the lineup, but we cannot have him being a liability on the field. One of these moves should satisfy both.

Lastly, Jeimer Candelario should play at a minimum (barring injury) 154 games next season. He is arguably the most MLB ready prospect we acquired at the deadline and should be given every opportunity to prove himself.

Outfielders –

In the outfield is the only place where the Tigers should spend some money this offseason. And in doing so, they should look to bring back a very familiar face in Curtis Granderson. The Grandy Man is getting up there in age, and given that he could very well win a ring with the Dodgers this year, will have nothing left to prove. Bringing him in as a veteran clubhouse leader to mentor a young JaCoby Jones makes all the sense in the world.

  1. Mikie Mahtook (RF)
  2. JaCoby Jones (CF)
  3. Curtis Granderson (LF)
  4. Jason Krizan (4th outfielder)
MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers
Sep 27, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos (9) celebrates after he hits a double in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With the addition of adding Nicholas Castellanos to the fold in the outfield, the Tigers could roll with these four guys and have a decent outfield– defensively. Each of them is capable of covering the expansive ground in Comerica Park since all of them (save for Krizan) have played center field in Tigers home stadium.

Krizan could be added as an additional left handed bat, spelling guys for a day off, and basically holding a place until either Mike Gerber or Christian Stewart are ready for the Show.

Manager – 

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers
Sep 14, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (7) in the dugout prior to the game against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It is no secret that Brad Ausmus has had a very tenuous time at the helm of the Detroit Tigers. Often aloof with the media, nonchalant in the dugout, and oft times making moves that leave you scratching your head, the best move for the Tigers during this rebuild would be not retaining Ausmus.

If the Tigers are rebuilding, and it is clear they are, then they must start over with their manager. Bringing in a guy that has not created a losing atmosphere and inject life into a dead team.

The choice: Ron Washington. Wash is an older manager, but man does he get after it. He took over the Texas Rangers in 2007 and was inheriting a team that finished dead last or second to last every year prior to him since 2000. Within three years, he had them above the .500 mark and in his fourth year took them to the World Series.

Ron Washington could be the type of guy that would spark life into younger players and bring out their best. Oh, yeah, and with the new data-driven direction the Tigers are taking who better to man the ship than Billy Beane’s former third base coach? Seems like a perfect match.

Projected Opening Day Lineup –

  1. Dixon Machado (2B)
  2. Curtis Granderson (LF)
  3. Nicholas Castellanos (1B)
  4. Miguel Cabrera (DH)
  5. James McCann (C)
  6. Jeimer Candelario (3B)
  7. Mikie Mahtook (RF)
  8. JaCoby Jones (CF)
  9. Jose Iglesias (SS)

SP – Michael Fulmer