What exactly is in store for the Detroit Tigers in 2018? Hell, nobody really knows, but there seems to be a general guestimation that they “won't be very good” this season, which is very possible.
Still, there are some guys spread throughout what will eventually make up the Opening Day 25-man roster that could dictate a perhaps better-than-expected outcome for the 2018 campaign. One could argue they are the most important pieces to the amount of success the Tigers will garner.
So for you more-optimistic-than-normal faithful out there, here are five bold predictions for you to put in your pipe and smoke and ponder over — i.e., something to get excited about.
By many, if not all accounts, Tigers' first baseman Miguel Cabrera had the worst offensive season of his career in 2017, setting all sorts of career-lows across the board. It was quite painful at times to watch the big fella struggle in the 130 games he managed to participate in.
Cabrera did not make it through the end of last season after the team shut him down, following a reveal of multiple herniated disks in Cabrera's back, which had bothered him going way back to the World Baseball Classic in March. Miggy also battled nagging groin injuries throughout the season, so one could feasibly say he was never right from the get-go.
That could bode well for a noticeably-slimmer Miguel Cabrera in 2018. In fact, pencil this big cat in for a .300/30/100 season — .300+ BA, 30 bombs, 100 ribeye steak sandwiches. We have no real reason to believe he cannot get back to that mark (assuming he stays healthy). And, rarely if ever, do we see players fall off a cliff after one season and say “age” is the issue. Miggy missed an average of 7-8 games per year from 2004-16, and much of that is heightened due to missing 43 games in 2015 when he finished with his fourth batting title.
Don't be surprised if Miguel Cabrera returns to the art of hitting that has graced Tigers' fans for more than a decade.
FULMER A CY YOUNG CONTENDER?
The main focus of this transition era for the Tigers as a franchise is this movement of young and largely (or in some cases, completely) unproven talent spread throughout the organization. The majority of the success they have in the 3-5 years down the road will hinge on the success of these prospects.
One youngster who figures to be a part of the fold is Michael Fulmer, assuming he remains a Tiger long-term. While his name has been afloat on offseason trade waters, the Tigers are not openly dangling their ace for potential buyers.
And why should they? He could very well be the next ‘Justin Verlander' for the franchise moving forward. Fulmer is entering his age-25 season and already has a 2016 AL Rookie of the Year trophy in his hardware case. He also finished top-10 in AL Cy Young voting that season. A 3.45 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 51 career starts are not too shabby for a guy still “figuring things out.”
Fulmer, however, did take marginal steps backward last season, partially due to some nagging injuries of his own that ended his year prematurely. It's reasonable to expect Detroit to be careful with him in 2018, but as long as he makes it through 162 games unscathed, look for the “Fulm Piece” to be in Cy Young talks at season's end. More specifically, slot him for no worse than a top-5 finish in the voting.
MORE TRADES COMING?
The Tigers jump-started their rebuild last season with a wave of trades in July and August that brought in some young talent with major potential. Even those within the organization fully understand the situation they are in and are committed to it, which is important if you ask me.
It's that very understanding that allows for the Tigers to continue exploring any and all routes to further accelerate the rebuild. So don't be stunned if multiple players are shipped out mid-season, assuming said players are playing up to the standards of potential suitors.
Two guys to immediately look at are pitcher Mike Fiers and outfielder Leonys Martín, two veterans Detroit signed to one-year fliers this winter. Both Fiers and Martín are not only guys to help plug up immediate needs for the Tigers in 2018, but they're also ideal candidates for other teams to inquire on when the trade winds are blowing. Contenders are always looking for an extra arm, extra bat or defender off the bench, some veteran presence, etc.
Shortstop Jose Iglesias could finish the season with another club as well, as he is under contract with Detroit through the end of this season. Iglesias is an above-average two-way player that would instantly shore up any bottom of a batting lineup.
In terms of players with longer commitments contractually, two players we've mentioned already — Cabrera and Fulmer — could even be considered assets, for the right suitor and return package; Cabrera is arguably the most impossible player to trade right now for countless reasons.
ZIMM RETURNS TO FORM?
It's been a tough go for starter Jordan Zimmermann in his first two seasons with the Tigers. After inking a five-year deal in November of 2015 as a free agent, the largest deal of a disastrous first offseason for then-new Tigers GM Al Avila, Zimmermann has mustered a 5.60 ERA in 48 games (47 starts) with Detroit. This comes after compiling a 3.32 ERA in 178 starts with the Washington Nationals from 2009-15.
What the hell happened? Well, Zimmermann has been no stranger to the medical report, having dealt with neck, hamstring and latissimus issues in his two seasons. And it's reasonable to expect some marginal dip in production switching to the more hitter-friendly American League.
Even still, the Tigers, their fans, and probably Zimmermann himself expected better than what he has put out, even when you consider the viable reasons for a decline. Not to mention, Detroit has 74 million reasons to expect more from the 31-year-old… that being every dollar he's owed through 2020.
This very well could be the boldest on the list so buckle up… jot Zimmermann, tabbed as the team's Opening Day starter, down for an ERA somewhere between a 4.00 and 4.50. That's basically the definition of a major league quality start, give or take an out or run yielded. Just don't get shelled anymore, please.
BETTER THAN EXPECTED FINISH?
This goes back to our opener on how there is a seemingly widespread perception of the Tigers finishing at or near the basement of the American League again, perhaps in all of baseball. And hey, we know what's going on here. That is to be expected with rebuilds.
Having said all of that… have you seen the Central Division lately? Woof. It's going to be a race to the bottom in the eyes of many.
The Indians figure to pace the division once again, with the Twins presumably finishing second and flirting with a repeat trip to the playoffs. The rest of the Central? Good luck. The Tigers were as many games under .500 against the Indians (6-13) as they were against the rest of the division (25-32). Maybe not against Cleveland, but there are games to be made up there to make things interesting.
Kansas City is expected by many to perform just as bad, if not worse, as Detroit this year. And no team revamped their entire farm system more, in about a year's span, than the White Sox, but their prized pieces aren't guaranteed to progress right away either. So it's certainly not a foregone conclusion for the Tigers to finish last in the division.
Obviously, a shopping list of things has to happen for Detroit to even sniff being a playoff contender of ANY kind. But could we see this team finish with fewer than 90 losses? It's possible. And considering how putrid they were to finish 2017, that'd be a huge step forward.
Yours truly will peg them for a 75-87 record. Nothing to write home about but hey, better than triple digits in the loss column.