2019 Record: 47-114
Fifth Place, AL Central
Team ERA: 5.24 (28th in MLB)
Team OPS: .682 (29th in MLB)
What Went Right
In all honesty, not a whole lot. The rebuilding Tigers weren’t expected to compete for a spot in the postseason in 2019, but they also weren’t expected to be historically bad. Brandon Dixon emerged as a potentially useful utility piece, smacking a team-leading 15 home runs in 116 games. Harold Casto carried over the adjustments he made in winter ball, slashing a surprising .291/.305/.384 in 97 games. Victor Reyes -- who the Tigers carried all season in 2018 as a Rule-5 pick -- was extremely impressive in the second half, slashing .303/.332/.431 with three homers and eight swipes in 68 games. He could be the team’s solution as a leadoff hitter heading into the 2020 season. On the pitching side of the ledger, Shane Greene was outstanding, posting a 1.18 ERA and 0.87 WHIP while saving 22 games before a deadline deal sent him to the Braves. Matthew Boyd had a brilliant first half and punched out a career-high 238 batters on the season despite his second half swoon.
What Went Wrong
Oh, a little bit of everything, which isn’t surprising when a team loses 114 games. The main downfall of the Tigers’ 2019 season was the fact that their projected starting rotation of Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Matt Moore and Tyson Ross combined to make just 64 starts on the season. Fulmer missed the entire season while Ross and Moore were lost for the year to early-season injuries. That left a revolving door of subpar options toeing the slab for the majority of the season in front of a mediocre-at-best bullpen. It’s also laughable that in the year of the home run, the Tigers offense as a team combined to hit just 148 home runs. That was the second worst total in all of baseball, besting only the Miami Marlins. Miguel Cabrera was healthy enough to play 136 games, but a chronic knee injury sapped him of his power, hitting only 12 long balls and driving in 59 runs. The complete lack of power was a contributing factor as to why the Tigers’ offense tallied just 582 runs on the season -- far and away the lowest total in all of baseball, 33 fewer than the Marlins. In addition to not being able to score any runs, the Tigers also were terrible at preventing runs from being scored, allowing the second most runs in the American League behind only the Orioles, leading to a league-worst run differential of 333.
** Who is the real JaCoby Jones? The toolsy 27-year-old has struggled over the years to put it all together at the big league level. Finally, it appeared as though Jones had a breakthrough after making an adjustment in his swing to lower his hands in mid-May. For a 45-game stretch, he slashed a robust .309/.361/.572 with eight homers, 20 RBI and four stolen bases. As quickly as Jones appeared to gain fantasy relevancy though, a slew of injuries cut down his 2019 season -- with a fractured left wrist ultimately ending things for Jones in early August. Those glancing at his season-long numbers won’t give Jones any thought in fantasy drafts in March, but if he enters the season as the Tigers’ starting center fielder, there’s plenty of upside to be had here in the final rounds of mixed league drafts.
** Joe Jimenez wasn’t anything special during the 2019 season, but he was still the best reliever in the Tigers’ bullpen following the departure of Shane Greene. The 24-year-old hurler is a big part of the team’s future and he should enter the 2020 season as the unquestioned closer at the back end of the Tigers’ bullpen. After Greene’s departure, Jimenez converted nine of his 10 save chances while posting a 3.05 ERA and a 23/6 K/BB ratio over 17 ⅔ innings. He’s unlikely to post gaudy save totals in 2020, but job security looks relatively high here.
** What do we make of Miguel Cabrera heading into the 2020 campaign? He’ll play the majority of the 2020 season at age-37 and is coming off a year where he slashed an empty .282/.346/.398 with his 12 home runs. He battled chronic knee issues throughout the season which seemed to sap him of his power, though his elite plate discipline and control of the strike zone remained intact. Will a full and healthy offseason cure what ails him? It’s possible, though the days of him being a superstar and yearly MVP candidate are long gone. He’ll likely go off of draft boards outside the top 250 picks next March, and at that depressed price there’s a chance he could be a viable corner infield option in deeper mixed leagues.
** Is Willi Castro ready to take over as the team’s everyday shortstop and ascend to fantasy stardom? The 22-year-old -- who came to the Tigers in the deal that sent Leonys Martin to the Indians last year -- had a terrific season at Triple-A Toledo, slashing .301/.366/.467 with 11 homers, 62 RBI and 17 stolen bases in 119 games. He also struck out 110 times though, an issue that carried over to his stint with the big league club. There, he hit only .230/.284/.340 with a 34/6 K/BB ratio in 110 plate appearances. The Tigers are going to be a bad team again in 2020, so there’s no harm in seeing what they have in Castro and letting him run with the position from Day 1. If that’s the case, he could provide a nice blend of power and speed at very little cost.
** Which of the Tigers’ prized right-handed pitching prospects will arrive in Motown first? While Casey Mize -- the top overall selection from the 2018 draft -- should arrive in Detroit at some point during the 2020 season, Matt Manning is the one with nothing left to prove in the minor leagues and who should become a fixture in the Tigers’ rotation early on in the 2020 season. The 21-year-old hurler spent the entire 2019 season at Double-A Erie, where he posted a 2.56 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 148/38 K/BB ratio across 133 ⅔ innings. The likeliest bet is that he’ll begin the season at Triple-A Toledo before joining the big league club in late May or early June. He’s absolutely someone who should be on your radar in the later rounds of mixed league drafts.
Team Needs: The Tigers desperately need high-quality young position players that will be ready to produce in two years when this team is finally ready to compete once again. The Tigers have done a nice job stockpiling their organization with high-upside arms (Manning, Mize, Alex Faedo, Tarik Skubal, Beau Burrows), but are still lacking in positional prospects and are laughably thin on talent in the major league lineup. Heading into the 2020 season, most of the spots in their starting lineup are legitimately up for grabs. Cabrera will likely function as the team’s everyday designated hitter, we’re expecting Willi Castro to be the team’s starting shortstop while JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes should find their way into the outfield. That leaves plenty of spots up for grabs for competition in spring training. It’s been general manager Al Avila’s preference to hand out one-year deals to veterans in free agency (Mike Fiers, Francisco Liriano, Leonys Martin in 2018 -- Matt Moore, Tyson Ross, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer in 2019), so it’s likely that he’ll shop from the same low-cost veteran store to fill out his roster heading into 2020 with the hope that those players can be flipped for prospects prior to the trade deadline.