Tigers eyeing return to contention after spending big
DETROIT (AP) — After their four-year streak of AL Central titles ended with a last-place showing in 2015, the Detroit Tigers were facing the prospect of an extended decline, with several of their top players showing signs of age.
So the Tigers went out and did perhaps the only thing they could to bring themselves back into contention: They spent tens of millions of dollars to bring two of the top free agents on the market to Detroit.
Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton will be playing in Motown this year. Zimmermann signed a $110 million, five-year contract, and then Upton signed a $132.75 million, six-year deal. Now Detroit has even more star power to go along with Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Victor Martinez.
“Right now, we feel that from a defensive perspective, and pitching and hitting, we’re pretty well rounded,” general manager Al Avila said.
Last year’s disappointing season included deadline deals in which the Tigers traded David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria, but this offseason signals that ownership and the front office remain committed to trying to win a championship with this core of players. Cabrera, Martinez and Verlander all dealt with injuries last season, and all three of them are in their 30s, but Detroit is hopeful that the trio can still be very productive for at least the short-term future.
With Upton, Zimmermann, new closer Francisco Rodriguez and slugger J.D. Martinez in the fold, the Tigers will try to turn their 74-win season from 2015 into an aberration. Detroit will need a significant improvement in a division that includes World Series champion Kansas City and potential contenders in Cleveland, Minnesota and Chicago.
Here are a few things to watch when the Tigers take the field for spring training:
With Zimmermann, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and free-agent acquisition Mike Pelfrey set in the rotation, that leaves one spot left. Daniel Norris, who came to Detroit when the Tigers traded Price last season, will have a chance to become the fifth starter after being treated in the offseason for a cancerous growth on his thyroid. Shane Greene, who struggled badly while in the rotation last year, is hoping to bounce back after surgery to repair a weakened blood vessel in his right shoulder.
Cameron Maybin was traded from Atlanta to the Tigers in November, but now that Detroit has Upton as well, there’s a bit of a logjam in the outfield. With Upton in left and J.D. Martinez in right, Maybin and Anthony Gose may be left to split time in center.
Detroit entered spring training last season with Cabrera and Victor Martinez recovering from offseason operations, and Verlander ended up missing the first couple months of the regular season. The Tigers’ health looks much better heading into this season, but with so many key players in their 30s, that could always change.
Detroit gave its bullpen a much-needed overhaul this offseason, trading for closer Francisco Rodriguez and acquiring Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson as well. It will be interesting to watch hard-throwing right-hander Bruce Rondon as he tries to work his way into the mix after being sent home late last season amid concerns about his effort level.
BEHIND THE PLATE
With Alex Avila no longer on the team, 25-year-old James McCann is now Detroit’s clear No. 1 catcher. Switch-hitting backup Jarrod Saltalamacchia could also play an important role on a team without many productive hitters who can bat left-handed.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister