5 Biggest Takeaways from the Detroit Tigers’ 2017 season

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MLB: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays
Apr 20, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA;Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) reacts after he stuck out during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Most people would believe that when a team finishes more than 30 games under .500 in a season, there is not much to be taken away from the year overall. By and large, that is the case.

For the Detroit Tigers this season, however, that is contrary to the normal mentality of “What’s there to take away? They stink… that’sd it.” As the team turns to a multi-year rebuild, we reflect on the biggest storylines from the 2017 season.

BAD OMEN FOR MIGGY? OR A FREE PASS?

Oct 2, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) bats against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the biggest reason for Detroit’s lack of success in 2017 is the lack of production from super slugger Miguel Cabrera. The 2-time American League MVP and former Triple Crown winner put together by far the worst offensive numbers of his career this season. And despite battling multiple injuries since March, Cabrera managed to play in 130 games for Detroit.

Cabrera has long been the one guy teams point to when they say “as he goes, the team goes.” Now 34 years old, his best years may be behind him. But is this season a bad omen? Or do we give the big fella a free pass?

He was shut down for the season roughly a week ago after it was revealed he had multiple herniated disks in his back. Cabrera had been dealing with back troubles since the World Baseball Classic, and they lingered throughout the season. It’s safe to assume that Cabrera’s head has not been 100 percent focused on baseball with the ongoing dilemma in his native country of Venezuela.

It’s hard to project what Cabrera will do come next season, assuming he is and stays healthy. One may be more inclined to give him a free pass for this season. Few players if any drop-off from a year prior in the manner Cabrera did this season simply due to age. But the injuries have to be a concern moving forward.

NICKY C IS THE GUY MOVING FORWARD

This is one that piggy-backs with our first takeaway. With Cabrera not getting any younger and the Tigers going through a rebuilding phase, the team needs a new middle-of-the-order bat to revolve around.

Jul 7, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos (9) hits a solo home run against the Toronto Blue Jays in the fourth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

That guy can and perhaps should be one Nicholas Castellanos.

The 25-year-old in his fourth full season this year put up career-highs in many offensive numbers, eclipsing the 100-RBI plateau along the way. He really finished strong down the stretch, hitting over .360 with an OPS north of 1.000 in the month of September. Castellanos hit either third or fourth in the batting order, some of which was due to the changing roster in the slew of trades, but no doubt Nick earned that based on production alone.

I think many fans forget Castellanos is only 25, and how heralded he was for his hitting ability. This season, fans got to see a good indication of how dangerous he can be in the middle of the order. Now it’s just a matter of sustaining that for years to come.

Obviously, the transition to right field is going to be a work in progress. One cannot expect him to figure it out right away and turn into a Gold Glove defender. That’s a project that will take time and no better time than during a rebuild.

NOW HIRING: PITCHERS NEEDED FOR 2018

This is a point that can make one believe that this rebuild may take a year or two longer than some are hoping for.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Boston Red Sox
Jul 27, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) walks off the mound during the third inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Sort through the team pitching statistics for the 2017 Major League Baseball season and you will find the Detroit Tigers at or near the bottom in every major category (Go ahead, see for yourself). Can’t win if you can’t pitch. And it’s just not in the bullpen anymore.

For those who watched the Tigers in September, you’d know that a laundry list of pitchers started making their case for next season, either for a spot in the rotation or the bullpen. Outside of Michael Fulmer, Shane Greene and Alex Wilson, the rest of the pitching staff is entirely up for grabs, if you ask me.

Yes, that includes lefties Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris. It’s not so much that their respective spots with the Tigers are in jeopardy, but after both regressed some this season, they need to turn it around in 2018 and show they are for real.

Hell, one could argue that Jordan Zimmermann is not guaranteed a spot for Opening Day. Sure, the Tigers are financially-obligated to the 31-year-old, but he has progressively gotten worse since Detroit signed him.

Expect the team to make some low- to mid-level pitching signings this offseason but for guys like Chad Bell, Warwick Saupold, Drew VerHagen, Buck Farmer, Myles Jaye, Artie Lewicki, Jairo Labourt, Joe Jimenez, and others… let the auditions begin.

ROLE PLAYERS STATE THEIR CASE FOR 2018

You know the old “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” adage? That came to fruition for the Tigers in a positive fashion this year, getting some key quality contributions from guys you wouldn’t necessarily rely on throughout the year.

Two guys who stick out right away are catcher John Hicks and outfielder Alex Presley.

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Detroit Tigers
Feb 25, 2017; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers Alex Presley (14) rounds third base as he heads home on an inside the park home run for a fielding error by Houston Astros right fielder Ramon Laureano in the seventh inning of a baseball game during spring training at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Hicks, who the Tigers claimed off waivers from the Minnesota Twins in 2016 and played in just one game last year with Detroit. This season, Hicks was the biggest beneficiary of whenever the Tigers had injuries to guys like Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez, and more so after the team traded catcher Alex Avila to the Cubs. The 28-year-old Hicks, who had just 34 official at-bats entering the year, hit a very solid .266/.326/.439 in 173 ABs (60 games) with Detroit.

Presley, 32, is the very definition of a journeyman outfielder. Detroit re-upped with Presley on a minor league deal last December to give the team some outfield depth at Triple-A Toledo. However, due to the team’s fluctuating outfield and declining success, Presley earned major playing time, particularly down the stretch and he did not disappoint. Presley in 70 games (241 ABs) put together one of his better offensive seasons as a big leaguer, posting new career-highs in batting average (.314) and on-base percentage (.354). One move the team will be focusing on closely this offseason is finding a fourth outfielder for 2018. They won’t have to look far, should they want to continue a relationship with Presley.

We could even make an argument that the trash/treasure saying could apply to other guys, infielder Jeimer Candelario and lefty Daniel Stumpf. The former was previously a blocked prospect in the Cubs system and is now penciled to be an everyday third baseman for the Tigers. The latter was let go by Detroit in spring training (via the Rule 5 Draft rules), but elected free agency before signing back with the Tigers. He now has a good shot to solidify a bullpen spot in 2018.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

This is more of a general message for fans of the Detroit Tigers nationwide. It’s time to breathe and relax and let the rebuild happen.

There’s no nice way to really put it, the Tigers are going to struggle moving forward. If the last two months were any indication of what it could be like, then buckle up. But guess what, that’s okay. It needed to be done and general manager Al Avila put the plan into motion this season.

It’s going to be hard to properly project how long before the Tigers can consider themselves a playoff-caliber team in the American League. A lot of it is going to fall on how the pitching shapes out. A lot of unproven guys will be getting their chances while the organization’s top-level pitching prospects are still a year, if not more, away from being big league ready.

As far as offensively and position players go, I think this team can hold their own. Detroit is obviously putting an emphasis on players who can utilize the whole field and use their legs to generate offense. Defensively, with the youth movement comes more athleticism, which should bode well for being a defensively-sound team.

But these rebuilds often take time. Just ask the Chicago Cubs or Houston Astros, or even the Philadelphia Phillies. Here’s a good rule of thumb. The team will go into next season with diminished expectations as a club, as means of figuring out who fits into their long-term plans. Fans of the Tigers need to exercise that same patience moving forward as well.

Trust the process.