We have all heard the narrative, seen the similarities, and witnessed their performance. The 2019 Detroit Tigers are a lousy baseball team, just as the 2003 Tigers were a terrible baseball team.
2003 marked the lowest point of a decade long funk the Tigers had been experiencing, finishing with a winning percentage of .265, and a whopping 119 loses. All this losing made them one of the worst teams in the history of Major League Baseball.
The current Tigers squad, as of Sept. 10, sport a clean 100 losses coupled with a .296 winning percentage. This dismal performance comes only five years removed from a dominant four-year run as AL Central Champions, including a World Series appearance in 2012.
For many of us fans, we are itching for a return to such glory. I am here to give some optimism and perspective on this rebuild the team is currently undertaking.
A successful and timely rebuild, in my opinion, should conclude after five seasons. Since the Tigers did not commit to rebuilding until the 2016 trade deadline, we can mark the beginning of this rebuild with the 2017 season. That puts them in year three and schedules them to come out the other side in time for the start of the 2022 season.
2003 was rock bottom of a long rebuild that ended with the team finally turning it around after two more losing seasons. The magical run of 2006 did the trick and looking at the similarities between the 2003 team and this year’s team, I don’t think it will take a magical run to turn this team around. In fact, I think it’s only a matter of time, and it all starts with the pitching.
The Tigers run in 2006 was headlined by their rotation of young arms, in Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander, and two veteran southpaws, Nate Robertson, and Kenny Rogers. These four combine for 61 wins or 64% of the Tigers victories that year. Similarly to their resurgence in 2006, their run of four consecutive division titles between 2011 and 2014 saw leadership from several all-star starting pitchers including; Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, and David Price for a spell. The adage is true; pitching wins championships. It is one commodity in baseball that you can never have enough of, and fortunately for us, the Tigers minor leagues are loaded with quality pitching talent.
10 of the Tigers current top 20 prospects are pitchers, and a few of them have ace level potential. Between Matt Manning, Casey Mize, and Tarik Skubal the Tigers have three pitching prospects in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects with Mize coming in at number two overall and as the top pitching prospect in baseball.
MLB.com predicts that by 2022, we will have seen all ten of these arms in the majors at some point or that we will at least know what we have in them by then. I think it would be dangerous to expect too much out of unproven prospects. However, if one pitcher (Casey Mize anyone?), can emerge as the teams future ace. With at least two others sticking with the team as quality starters. Then depending on what the team elects to do with Michael Fulmer and Mathew Boyd, we could be looking at one of the most talented and youthful staffs in baseball. Additionally, if we consider the fact that the only contract on the Tigers books for 2022 is Miguel Cabrera’s absurd 32 million dollars. Then we can reasonably expect to see some form of talented free agent arm to have joined the staff by 2022.
Based solely on the infusion of young pitching talent we are going to witness in the next few years; I expect to see the Tigers reestablish themselves within the division. With all of this pitching talent already in the system, the Tigers are going to have to focus on building their lineup over as they wait for their arms to develop. We have showcased several young prospects this year, prospects that we can only hope will hang on to make a difference with the team long term. Jake Rogers has shown talent behind the plate but has been completely inept in the batters’ box. Harold Castro and Victor Reyes have maintained good batting averages but with little to no power.
There is not much promise on the Tigers current roster offensively and we can not just hold out hope for Riley Greene, Isaac Paredes, and Parker Meadows to all be superstars. It is going to take some focused efforts to improve what we have offensively, but that is also what I expect to see over these next two seasons. Look for these next two drafts to be hitter heavy, with all trading efforts focused on acquiring young bats close to making contributions at the major league level. Think Jeimer Candelario, but if Mathew Boyd is the trade chip you are dangling around to the rest of the league, then I would expect a more impactful return.
Given the moves that Al Avila has been making since taking over, and his dedication to this rebuild. I would look for him to finally pull the trigger on some bigger deals over these next two years. Deals that will pull the Tigers out of rebuild mode and put them in playoff contention, starting in the 2022 season.