2016 did not quite end up how the Detroit Tigers and their fans had hoped. With a Wild Card spot in play, the Tigers fell on their faces down the stretch and ended up watching the MLB Playoffs from home.

Shortly after the season ended, general manager Al Avila announced that manager Brad Ausmus would be returning in 2017 and that the team could look very different from what it did in 2016. In fact, the way Avila made it sound, just about anyone on the roster was tradable, including Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, and the great Miguel Cabrera.

That was in October.

Fast forward to the present and the game plan seems to have changed drastically. Other than dealing Cameron Maybin for a minor league pitcher, and acquiring CF Mike Mahtook, the Tigers roster has had very little change.

Manager Brad Ausmus revealed that it is not in his plans to put Justin Upton in the No. 2 spot in the lineup when the season begins. So, who will bat No. 2? Will J.D. Martinez slide up and hit before Miguel Cabrera? That also sounds unlikely as J.D. prefers to hit in the middle of the lineup. Will Ausmus decide to give Nicholas Castellanos (yes that is what he will go by now) a shot despite his high strikeout rate?

What about the starting rotation? Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez have struggled so far in Spring Training, opening the door for Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd to fill the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the rotation.

Up Next: Projected Opening Day Lineup

1. Tigers Projected Opening Day Lineup

  1. Ian Kinsler 2B
  2. Nicolas Castellanos 3B
  3. Miguel Cabrera 1B
  4. Victor Martinez DH
  5. J.D. Martinez RF
  6. Justin Upton LF
  7. Mikie Mahtook/Tyler Collins CF
  8. James McCann C
  9. Jose Iglesias SS

Bench: 

  1. Tyler Collins/Mikie Mahtook (OF)
  2. Andrew Romine (Util)
  3. Alex Avila (C)

Personally, I would have liked to see Cameron Maybin back for one more season, but Al Avila jumped the gun, essentially creating a hole in the lineup. Look for the Tigers to run out Mikie Mahtook against left-handed pitchers and Tyler Collins against right-handed pitchers to start off the season.

Up Next: Projected Starting Rotation

2. Tigers Projected Starting Rotation

  1. Justin Verlander (RHP)
  2. Michael Fulmer (RHP)
  3. Jordan Zimmermann (RHP)
  4. Daniel Norris (LHP)
  5. Matt Boyd (LHP)

Let’s face it, the 2017 starting rotation for the Detroit Tigers is pretty much solidified with the exception of the No. 5 spot. Ideally, Anibal Sanchez would have come out and dominated in Spring Training, allowing the Tigers to put him in the No. 5 spot over Matt Boyd or Mike Pelfrey, but it seems like his best days are behind him. Boyd, who is only 25-years-old, made 18 starts for the Tigers in 2016 and could be poised to have a breakout season for the Tigers in 2017. Look for Pelfrey to be released prior to the start of the regular season.

In addition, do not be surprised at all if Avila decides to release Mark Lowe, as he has not lived up to expectations. If that is the case, look for Shane Greene to get the nod in his place.

Up Next: Projected Opening Day Bullpen

3. Tigers Projected Opening Day Bullpen

  1. Francisco Rodriguez (RHP) (CP)
  2. Alex Wilson (RHP)
  3. Justin Wilson (LHP)
  4. Bruce Rondon (RHP)
  5. Mark Lowe (RHP)
  6. Kyle Ryan (LHP)
  7. Daniel Stumpf (LHP)
  8. Anibal Sanchez (RHP)

Bringing back Francisco Rodriquez was one of the most important moves that Al Avila will make this offseason. Sure, he is not a “lights out” flame thrower, but he is reliable. My hope is that Bruce Rondon really breaks out this season and becomes the Tigers closer beginning in 2018. Look for the Tigers to opt to start Anibal Sanchez in the bullpen (unless he can really turn things around quick in Spring Training), as he would be a good long-relief type guy to turn to. If Sanchez were to crack the starting rotation, I think the Tigers would start Matt Boyd in Toledo, but that seems unlikely as of today.