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Tigers lineup remains in flux after re-signing Victor Martinez

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Center field isn't the only area of concern for the 2015 Tigers.

Jason Miller

The Detroit Tigers ranked second in all of baseball with 757 runs scored in 2014. They ranked first in team batting average and wRC+, second in OPS and wOBA, and they just re-signed their best hitter to a four year contract extension. So why are we concerned about the lineup?

Because despite bringing back Victor Martinez, there are still some questions to be answered.

Even if he regresses to his pre-2014 standards, Martinez helps solidify the middle of the batting order. He and Miguel Cabrera are the best one-two punch in all of baseball. At least one of them has finished in the top five of AL MVP voting for the past six seasons. Even a hobbled Cabrera put up an .895 OPS with 109 RBI last year, and there is no reason to think that the next couple seasons will be any different.

Looking elsewhere, things are not so concrete. Ian Kinsler is a sure bet to be in the lineup if he isn't traded (a caveat that can also be applied to anyone else in this article). But his second half nosedive resulted in a .727 OPS last year, the worst of his career. He batted first or second in 156 of the 161 games he played in, but only got on base at a .307 pace. He was worth 5.4 WAR, but roughly half of that was from baserunning and defense. If his bat continues to decline, Cabrera and Martinez may see more plate appearances with the bases empty in front of them.

The outfield is another major unknown. Gone are Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter from last season's Opening Day lineup. They weren't the greatest hitters, but their replacements currently leave a lot to be desired. Rajai Davis is your starting center fielder at the moment, and he got on base at a paltry .320 clip last year. He has a career .296 on-base percentage against right-handed hitters. Right field is still a mystery. Regardless of which corner J.D. Martinez plays, the Tigers still need another corner outfielder. Steven Moya isn't ready for the big leagues and Tyler Collins is probably just a bench player.

Then there is J.D. Martinez. He broke out by hitting .315/.358/.553 with 23 home runs last season, but is that sustainable? The younger Martinez struck out in 26 percent of his plate appearances and watched nearly 20 percent of the fly balls he hit sail over the fence. The home run per fly ball ratio was well above his career norm, though not completely unreasonable for a hitter with his raw power. The .389 batting average on balls in play is probably unsustainable, though. Expect some regression from him in 2015.

The Tigers have a pair of questionable bats on the left side of the infield. One, third baseman Nick Castellanos, is expected to improve on last season's .700 OPS and 94 wRC+. The question is how much he will improve. Castellanos is expected to be one of the big hitters in the Tigers' lineup as he gets older, but will still only be 23 years old in 2015. At shortstop, the presumption is that Jose Iglesias will be the everyday starter. He is an otherworldly defensive talent, but his bat leaves a lot to be desired. Iglesias hit just .259/.306/.348 in 148 plate appearances with the Tigers in 2013 and just missed a full season's worth of at-bats in 2014. A .650 OPS next year might be considered a success for him.

Then there is everyone's favorite whipping boy: Alex Avila. The oft-maligned backstop hit .218/.327/.359 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI in 457 plate appearances last season. He showed brief glimpses of his awesome 2011 form, but isn't consistent enough to be a middle of the order threat. Avila is a good catcher who will be a bargain at $5.4 million (if the Tigers pick up his option), but expecting an improvement from him offensively as others regress would be foolhardy.

There were a lot of questions surrounding the Tigers' offense at this time last year. With Jhonny Peralta and Prince Fielder out the door, we did not know whether this team would continue to hit for power. They did for the most part, but there was still a decent drop-off in the team's counting stats from 2013 to 2014. They scored 39 fewer runs, hit 21 fewer home runs, and saw a 23-point drop in team OPS. Re-signing Victor Martinez helps keep the offense together, but with departures and declines expected elsewhere, the Tigers still have some other holes to fill before Opening Day 2015.