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Mailbag: Who is the Tigers' biggest threat in the AL Central?

Who should the Tigers look out for in the AL Central this year? What will the batting order look like? Do we have any prospects left? These questions and more in this week's mailbag!

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Last week was a big one for the Tigers, so it comes as no surprise that we had a flood of questions for this week's mailbag. A lot of them were answered in our immediate analysis of the two trades on Thursday, but there were several more that unfortunately got left on the cutting room floor. Remember, you can send us more questions on Facebook, on Twitter, or via email at!

I think that the Chicago White Sox are still another move or two -- or another year or two -- away from being a legitimate threat in the AL Central. They replaced the abysmal Adam Dunn/Paul Konerko pairing with Adam LaRoche, upgraded their bullpen and outfield with a couple of high profile signings, and traded some scraps for a year of Jeff Samardzija. Those are all nice moves, but this is a team that won 73 games last season with a pythagorean win expectancy of just 71 wins. There's a lot of ground to make up, here. The rest of their bullpen is still abysmal, there are still holes at multiple positions, and the rotation falls off a cliff after Jose Quintana in the #3 spot.

Like others, I think that the Cleveland Indians will be the Tigers' biggest threat in 2015. They have a deeper rotation, a better bullpen -- they actually led the division with a 3.12 ERA last year -- and their offense is even deeper after the acquisition of Brandon Moss. If Carlos Carrasco's improvements from 2014 are legitimate, they might have a deeper 1-4 on their starting staff than either the Tigers or White Sox. Their defense should be much better, as both Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are easy 20 run improvements defensively over Asdrubal Cabrera. Plus, the Tigers just don't play well in Cleveland. An early season sweep at Progressive Field is a yearly tradition, so don't be surprised when it happens again in 2015.

I think that the Tigers could use more bullpen arms, but I don't know if I would ever look at a team and say "Yeah, they have enough." Even the Kansas City Royals are an injury or two away from patching together their bullpen with guys who shouldn't be handling high leverage situations.

I do like how the Tigers have handled the bullpen so far this offseason. Other than picking up Joakim Soria's option (which was a no-brainer), they have made a couple of nice pick-ups in Josh Zeid and Alex Wilson. I would like to see them add one or two more players like this, particularly if they have the team control that these guys do. They did the same thing with Al Alburquerque a few years back, and he was the best reliever on the team in 2014.

While many people want the Tigers to go out and get a big name -- I wouldn't say no to Sergio Romo -- Dave Dombrowski's comments about the team needing its current players to step up were necessary. This club can't afford to spend $30 million or more on its bullpen, and getting some contributions out of players that have been developed in their own system are necessary. Guys like Ian Krol, Blaine Hardy, and Luke Putkonen eventually need to start shouldering a greater load if the Tigers are going to be successful.

We're going to have some lineup analysis up on the site in the next couple days, so I'll keep this short (and won't reveal an actual lineup). I would imagine that one of the four or five big bats in the lineup -- Nick Castellanos potentially being the fifth -- will hit second, at least against right-handed pitchers. Having Rajai Davis lead off with Ian Kinsler batting second against lefties makes sense, but there isn't anyone good enough against right-handed pitching to adequately fill that spot in front of Cabrera. If Cabrera even bats third, that is. Scrutinizing Brad Ausmus' lineup construction could become its own sport in 2015.

This is an interesting question, and one that illustrates just how loaded the starting staffs are in this division. For this question, I'm going to leave age and salary concerns aside. Let's assume that this "draft" is for 2015 alone, particularly because I'm not going to actually rate guys. In no particular order, here are the pitchers I would take ahead of Santana: David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, Jose Quintana, Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, and Phil Hughes.

You could throw names like Trevor May and Carlos Carrasco into the mix, but I actually like the Santana signing for the Twins. I think that the four year, $55 million contract is ridiculous, but the idea of Santana pitching in Minnesota is a little scary. He had a lot of success pitching in a big ballpark with the Kansas City Royals in 2012, and Target Field is particularly stingy against left-handed hitters. The Twins' outfield defense is nowhere near as good as the Royals' was in 2013, but Aaron Hicks will have plenty to do if he's their full-time center fielder.

Santana is going to throw 200 innings, he strikes out a decent number of hitters, and can be pretty dominant if the ball isn't flying out of the park. I think he will have a good year in 2015.

The last couple years have all but drained any last ounce of value out of an already barren Tigers farm system. Between graduations (Nick Castellanos, Bruce Rondon) and trades (everyone else), there is very little big league upside left in the minor leagues. Outfielder Derek Hill fills Devon Travis' role as the Tigers' top prospect, although just about everyone outside of Baseball America's offices already had hill above Travis before he was traded. Hill has excellent speed and is already considered one of the best defensive players in the system despite topping out in the New York-Penn League in 2014.

Jonathon Crawford had the highest upside of any arm in the Tigers' system after Robbie Ray was traded, but his 2014 performance and inability to develop a third pitch signaled that he is probably heading for bullpen duty. Reds fans are excited that Crawford could eventually replace Aroldis Chapman when he leaves via free agency, but Tigers fans were expecting a bit more out of the former first round pick before he was traded. There isn't an arm quite like his left in the low minors, but guys like Joe Jimenez and Spencer Turnbull have the fastball velocity that the Tigers want to see out of their relievers. Jimenez, in particular, spent 2014 working out of the bullpen, so he may be fast-tracked to the big leagues in the next few seasons. He's still only 19 years old, though.

If you're looking for a Domingo Leyba replacement, Javier Betancourt is your guy, though his bat-first profile fits closer to the Travis mold. Betancourt spent 2014 at Single-A West Michigan, where he hit .269/.307/.344 in 612 plate appearances. The .651 OPS in A ball isn't particularly sexy, but the 19 year old Betancourt was playing against guys two to three years older than him. He spent most of his time at second base, but played a bit more shortstop after Willy Adames was traded at the end of July. I'd be surprised if the Tigers move him up to Lakeland next year given his young age.


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