With the disappointing finish to the 2014 season, it’s time to look at what the Detroit Tigers are bringing back, and bringing in, for the 2015 season. Several key contributors are set to hit free agency, potentially leaving major voids in a powerful lineup. With a bevy of free agents on the market and a shortlist of prospects eager to try and make the 2015 roster, it’s going to be an interesting offseason for Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers’ front office.
Current 25-man roster:
- Alex Avila – After another concussion sustained in Game Three of the ALDS, the catcher’s future has been in question. As of Monday, October 6th, though, Avila has said he has no plans to hang up the cleats. He has a team option for $5.4 million for the next season. Barring a major setback, expect Avila to be behind the plate Opening Day.
- Bryan Holaday – Holaday wasn’t strong enough with the bat to warrant a secure backup position for the 2015 season. Fellow youngster James McCann will get a shot to take the job in Spring Training. Holaday can be brought back for less than $1 million, so finances aren’t a big concern here.
- Miguel Cabrera – Cabby has been hindered by bone spurs for awhile now, so getting some rest will hopefully help the best right-handed hitter on the planet get back to his astronomical numbers. He’s scheduled to make $22 million next season, and if he’s not back in the lineup in the spring I’ll cry like a girl watching “Dear John.”
- Nick Castellanos – While he didn’t have the monster rookie season that some expected, he proved to have some promise in the future. The defense needs some work, but the bat will come around. Expect him to hit around .275 this upcoming season with a little more “pop.” He’s on his rookie deal, still, so he’ll be back for cheap on the hot corner.
- Don Kelly – Donnie Deeds proved he’s a reliable asset for the Tigers still, playing almost every position and having a great on-base percentage. He’s arbitration-eligible, but I still fully expect to see him back in Detroit this next season.
- Ian Kinsler – Second half batting woes plagued Ian, but the defense stood strong. He still had a decent year overall, and should be manning second base for a few more years for the Tigers. He’s set to make $16 million this next season.
- Hernan Perez – Ahh Hernan. The young one who’s double play ball ended a last ditch effort to salvage Game Three of the ALDS. He’s still pre-arbitration and could start the season in Triple-A Toledo (again), but could challenge for a bench role as a substitute middle infielder. He’s making next to nothing, so no money worries there.
- Andrew Romine – Rocket Romine can’t hit. He’s going to have a lot of competition for that shortstop spot with Jose Iglesias expected to be ready for Spring Training and Eugenio Suarez vying for a spot as well. He’s still pre-arb, so don’t be surprised if he’s in the organization somewhere in 2015. Bright side: he’s still not Alex Gonzalez, so there’s that.
- Eugenio Suarez – Eugenio did what I expected him to do: an average job. He wasn’t good, hell, sometimes he wasn’t even average, but he showed flashes of talent. He’s pre-arb and will be challenging for a spot in Spring Training. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him by any means.
- Ezequiel Carrera – Carrera is a conundrum to me. He makes amazing plays, and butchers easy plays. Wut. He’s almost 28, though, and I think he starts the season in Triple-A Toledo if he’s brought back. He’s pre-arb as well, making him cheaper than buying a gold fish from WalMart.
- Rajai Davis – Rajai stole more bases by himself this season than the Tigers stole as a team last season. He added some speed, some decent batting, and a spark to the lineup. He’ll be back next year in some capacity for $5 million – a steal for what he did for the Tigers this season.
- Torii Hunter – This may have been Torii’s last season in the big leagues. He’s said he’s debating retirement, and he hungers for that elusive ring, but Torii’s game just wasn’t the same this season. His defense was among the least effective in the league. He’s a free-agent, but personally, I don’t think Torii will be in a Tigers’ uniform next season. #ThankYouTorii
- J.D. Martinez – J.D. saved the Tigers’ postseason hopes this season. His emergence kept the Tigers in the AL Central race and his clutch hitting propelled them to the ALDS. He’s been a diamond in the rough. He should be back in a corner next season since he’s pre-arb as well.
- Victor Martinez – Victor was the best hitter in the AL this season. He set a career high in home runs (of course in a contract year) and proved he can still hit the cover off the ball. He’s a free-agent but has expressed interest in returning to Detroit, and the Tigers want him back. Hopefully, barring an absurd offer from someone like the Angels, he’ll be back wearing the Old English “D” in 2015.
- Al Alburquerque – One of the best sliders in baseball had an up-and-down year this year, and his future is a bit up in the air. The bullpen is expected to be revamped and Al Al is arbitration eligible, so it’ll be interesting to see if DD brings back the greatest name in baseball. Expect a bit of a pay bump from his $840,000 salary this year.
- Joba Chamberlain – The Tigers took a bargain deal on Joba this season and it paid off relatively well for their investment. Yes, Yukon Cornelius had his postseason struggles, but for $2.5 million, we got a productive setup man. He’s a free-agent this season and I don’t think he or his beard will be back in Detroit.
- Phil Coke – Oh Phil. He just doesn’t seem to go away. Coke had another up and down year, but finished strong. He also (like everyone in the bullpen) had his struggles in the ALDS, but managed to drop his season ERA to less than 4, so that’s good, right? He’s a free-agent, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he came back on a cheap deal.
- Kyle Lobstein – Lobstein made a few starts for the Tigers this season and showed flashes of being a middle-of-the-rotation guy. He’s young, he’s pre-arb, and he’ll be battling for the fifth starter spot if Max Scherzer leaves. Expect him back, barring a trade.
- Joe Nathan – Nathan had his struggles with the Detroit fans this season. It was his worst year statistically since his rookie year and the fans let him know that. He did manage to pitch a great ninth inning in Game Three of the ALDS, though, offering some hope for the future. He’s due to come back on a $10 million contract year in 2015, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s bumped to the setup role next season.
- Rick Porcello – Ricky P had a career year, looking dominant at times. If Scherzer leaves, his role will expand and he’ll be relied on much more heavily. This upcoming season could be a defining year for Porcello. Expect him to make around $10 million this upcoming season.
- David Price – Coming over from Tampa Bay midseason, Price had ups and downs for the Tigers. His ALDS start showed fans why we traded a great deal to land him though. He’s solid. He’s back in Detroit next year for his last year of arbitration, which I expect will land him around $18 million. Expect him to lead this rotation next season.
- Anibal Sanchez – This guy’s a stud. He looked unhittable at times this season, until an injury derailed the last part of his season. His bullpen appearance gave Tigers fans hope for the future, though, as he looked just downright filthy. He’s sticking around this rotation for $16.8 million.
- Max Scherzer – The former Cy Young winner faces an interesting crossroads this season: leave Detroit, or stick around for a slightly lesser deal. Mad Max is filthy. He loves Detroit. Detroit loves him. I’d love to see him back, but it’s going to come down to dollars and cents, and the Yankees, Cubs, and Red Sox have a lot of dollars and cents.
- Joakim Soria – The midseason acquisition of Soria didn’t go the way the Tigers wanted it to. He was hurt soon after he arrived and never got back on track, getting smashed in the ALDS and leaving some doubt in whether his option will be picked up in 2015. He can come back for $7 million, or can be bought out for $500,000.
- Justin Verlander – #MustSeeJV returned for one more stint during his ALDS start, giving me and everyone else hope that 2015 will be a bounce back year for Verlander. He had a terrible, terrible year, but given that postseason start, I’m willing to reserve judgement for just a little while longer. He’s back leading the Tigers’ rotation for $28 million next season. Let’s hope he pitches up to it.
Potential Free Agent Pickups:
I expect the Tigers to be active in trying to solve this puzzle. With Torii, Max, and V-Mart potentially leaving, some holes remain vacant. A healthy Andy Dirks would help fill Torii’s corner outfield spot, but with an injury history like Dirks’, I’m hesitant to trust him there. If the budget is there, as much as I hate to say it, the Tigers may make a run at Nelson Cruz, but his price will be steep.
I think adding a veteran pitcher to the rotation is a possibility for that fifth spot if Max leaves. Colby Lewis, Ryan Dempster, and maybe even John Lannan could be looked at to fill that spot if the price is right. All three options had down years but have the experience and the ability to stabilize that fifth spot in the rotation. They’ll be competing with Lobstein, Robbie Ray, and Buck Farmer for that fifth spot, though.
The bullpen will look completely different next season. Bruce Rondon will (hopefully) be returning following Tommy John surgery this season, bringing an arm for the back end of games. Notable names the Tigers could be looking at on the market could be former Tiger Jason Grilli, former Giants closer Sergio Romo, and the man who killed the Tigers this ALDS, Andrew Miller. Expect a few signings as they try to find some combination that isn’t a tire fire.
The Tigers have almost twice the payroll of any other team in the AL Central, so expect them to enter the season as favorites regardless of some moves. The threat of having Verlander, Price and Sanchez in the rotation and Miggy in the lineup make this team dangerous, no matter what. I think DD will make some good baseball moves and have this team competing for another playoff run in 2015.