New General Manager Scott Harris has his work cut out for him as he tries to get the Detroit Tigers’ rebuild back on track after a setback in 2022. After three consecutive sub-.400 finishes, the Tigers rebounded to 77 wins in 2021, which made the possibility of a franchise upswing seem possible. Instead, though, the team struggled their way to a 66-96 finish despite throwing a lot of money at free agents Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez the previous offseason. The poor season ended up costing long-time GM Alex Avila his job last August, and while the Tigers might be better in the short-term, they probably aren’t going to be anywhere near “good” or even “okay.”
Harris is here to pick up the pieces, and needs to figure out who can help in the short-term as well as the future. He began the offseason by trading from an area of strength in his bullpen in an attempt to fortify the lineup. If they are to take a step forward, then Detroit will need players like Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson to produce. If they don’t, then this rebuild is going to take a lot longer than was previously expected.
Expectations for 2023
Early projections aren’t optimistic about the Tigers for 2023, either. Fangraphs projects them for a last place finish in the weak AL Central and gives them just a two percent chance to win the division, along with a three percent chance to make the playoffs. While success on the field and in the standings may be hard to come by, the 2023 season could be one of evaluation. Torkelson made his major league debut in 2022, but struggled, posting a 76 wRC+ in 404 plate appearances, giving him a -1.0 fWAR season that was marred by some xwOBA underperformance. A foot injury in Spring Training delayed the arrival of Greene, who was reasonably productive in 418 plate appearances, hitting at a near league-average rate, also with some bad luck mixed in. Most projection systems this offseason are bullish that both can be better than league-average at the plate and that would give Detroit a huge boost on the offensive side.
On the pitching side, the Tigers will be awaiting the return of Tarik Skubal, who underwent surgery to repair a flexor tendon last August. Additionally, former No. 1 pick Casey Mize underwent Tommy John Surgery last June. Skubal is expected to return at some point in 2023, while Mize may miss the entire season.
Overall, this looks like a team that’ll manage 66-71 wins and maybe, if they’re lucky, finish fourth instead of fifth. They have an easy division to beat up on, in theory, but will instead be the team the others in the AL Central hope to take advantage of to coast to the top of the divisional dogpile.
Projected Roster per Roster Resource:
- Riley Greene - CF
- Kerry Carpenter - DH
- Javier Baez - SS
- Austin Meadows - RF
- Jonathan Schoop - 2B
- Eric Haase - C
- Nick Maton - 3B
- Spencer Torkelson - 1B
- Akil Baddoo - LF
Jake Rogers - C
Miguel Cabrera - 1B
Tyler Nevin - INF/OF
Matt Vierling - OF/INF
Eduardo Rodriguez - LHP
Matthew Boyd - LHP
Michael Lorenzen - RHP
Matt Manning - RHP
Spencer Turnbull - RHP
Alex Lange - RHP
Jason Foley - RHP
Jose Cisnero - RHP
Will Vest - RHP
Tyler Alexander - LHP
Matt Wisler - RHP
Chasen Shreve - LHP
Mason Englert - RHP
A quick look at this projected roster shows that there is no clear strength for this team. FanGraphs projects them to receive 3.1 WAR from the center field position which is mostly a strong projection for Greene, which is probably the team’s best asset at this point. Javier Baez has a slightly better projection, but is outdone by a much stronger shortstop crop.
If you squint hard, you can see a potentially-workable outfield situation. Injuries limited Austin Meadows to just 36 games last season. Akil Baddoo crashed back to earth after a solid showing in 2021. The Tigers obtained Matt Vierling from the Phillies this offseason and he figures to see quite a bit of opportunities in the outfield as well. Overall, this roster is kind of a mess, with the hope that beyond Greene, Baez bounces back from an awful 2022, and they find something, somewhere, worth putting on the field throughout the summer.
There is a lot of uncertainty on the pitching staff where Eduardo Rodriguez is expected to front the rotation, but appeared in just 17 games last season. The Tigers added Matthew Boyd and Michael Lorenzen back to the mix with a pair of one-year deals this offseason in hopes that they can eat some innings at least until Skubal is ready to return.
However, the offense is Detroit’s biggest question mark after finishing dead last with 557 runs scored, an 81 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR in 2022. While there appears to be competition across the roster, whoever comes in and hits is likely going to see the bulk of the playing time. Catcher, second base, third base, and whatever they cobble together at DH are all horrible, close to league-worst in each case. The DH projection is especially grim under the idea that Miguel Cabrera plays there roughly every other day.
Another huge hole in this team is the bullpen. Now, the Tigers don’t need a good bullpen for any reason whatsoever, and replacement-level relievers are a dime a dozen in the MLB market, but somehow, the Tigers have below-replacement projections for some of their expected-to-be-heavily-used relievers. That’s a real problem, and hopefully the team is flexible enough to stop throwing good innings after bad should problems arise.
Reinforcements from the Farm
Here is probably the most depressing part of this writeup. The Tigers were supposed to be better at this point. Despite a multiyear rebuild, their top prospects haven’t produced at the major league level. There isn’t much help coming, either, as Keith Law recently ranked their farm system dead last in the majors. Right-hander Jackson Jobe is Detroit’s lone Top 100 prospect according to Baseball America.
Dillon Dingler exists as catching depth, while Reese Olson and Joey Wentz could step in should the rotation experience attrition due to injury or ineffectiveness, but there’s not much else there. That could be why the Tigers were so aggressive with stuffing their upper minors and bench with the league’s roster jetsam.
Braves and Tigers Matchup History
Thanks to the new balanced schedule, the Braves and Tigers will match up for a three-game series in Detroit on June 12-14. This will be the first meeting between the two clubs since 2019, when Atlanta took two of three at Truist Park. The Braves also won the series they played against them in 2016, but were swept by Detroit in 2013, one of just three three-game sweeps the team suffered that season.