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The 2018 Tigers will be bad, but not as bad as the 2003 team

Relax, these Tigers aren’t that bad.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

With the Winter Meetings now finished, the Detroit Tigers’ 2018 roster is now looking more clear. After the departure of Ian Kinsler, the last of the likely trade candidates is gone, and what is left will largely be the team seeing the majority of the time on the field next year.

What does it look like? Well…not so good. Outside of a hopefully resurgent year from Miguel Cabrera and a steadily brilliant season from Michael Fulmer, there’s not much else to get excited about. The rest of the team will be, at best, solid B-tier regulars, the kind of players a good team uses to fill their glaring holes and complement their stable of star players. The Tigers will be relying on these types to play everyday while hoping to get league average production out of their numerous holes.

With this kid of grim outlook, one might be included to think this could be the worst Tigers team they have ever seen, bringing back painful memories of 2003. However, time has a way of healing wounds, and making one forget just how truly awful 2003 was.

The 2018 Tigers will be bad, but they will be far from 2003 bad.

The 2003 Tigers were cold husk of a major league ball club, recently gutted by the arrival of new general manager Dave Dombrowski. Nearly every piece of attractive talent was traded off and the raw building blocks of the next contender were thrust into everyday action. Show of hands: how many people remember a player named Warren Morris, let alone that he played 97 games for the Tigers at second base and had the 2nd highest fWAR on the team among hitters? Anyone? Yeah, neither did I.

The lone highlight of the team was designated hitter Dimitri Young. With 1.9 fWAR to his name, he was the closest thing to a major league hitter on the team. No other regular hitter surpassed 1.0 fWAR. On the pitching side, the rotation was “led” by Nate Cornejo who posted a team-best 1.6 fWAR, followed by a 20-year-old Jeremy Bonderman and his 1.3 fWAR.

In total, the nine regular starters on offense and five-man rotation totaled a measly 6.9 fWAR. Miguel Cabrera put up more than that by himself in 2013 (7.5 fWAR), while Justin Verlander posted 7.7 fWAR in 2009 and nearly matched this total in 2012 (6.8 fWAR). Let that sink in. Fourteen people could not combine to be better than one person at their peak.

Let’s compare the two teams

2003 Tigers vs. 2018 Tigers

Position Player fWAR Position Player fWAR
Position Player fWAR Position Player fWAR
C Brandon Inge 0.6 C James McCann 1.9
1B Carlos Pena 0.6 1B Miguel Cabrera 2.6
2B Warren Morris 0.9 2B Dixon Machado 1.2
SS Ramon Santiago -1.3 SS Jose Iglesias 1.9
3B Eric Munson -0.2 3B Jeimer Candelario 1.4
LF Craig Monroe 0.6 LF Mikie Mahtook 1.2
RF Bobby Higginson -0.2 RF Leonys Martin 0.5
CF Alex Sanchez 0.0 CF JaCoby Jones 0.0
DH Dmitri Young 1.9 DH Nicholas Castellanos 1.4
SP Nate Cornejo 1.6 SP Michael Fulmer 2.8
SP Mike Maroth 0.4 SP Jordan Zimmermann 0.9
SP Jeremy Bonderman 1.3 SP Daniel Norris 1.5
SP Adam Bernero 0.5 SP Mike Fiers 1.1
SP Gary Knotts 0.2 SP Matt Boyd 0.8
Total - 6.9 Total - 19.2

Using Steamer projections for 2018, the Tigers are projected to put up a combined 19.2 fWAR. This assumes Victor Martinez doesn’t play as a regular* and they roll with Dixon Machado at second base, and JaCoby Jones in center. They will probably add a couple veterans or stopgaps for cheap later this winter, but those additions will be hard-pressed to make a significant impact on these numbers.

*Martinez will probably play, but is currently not medically cleared to resume baseball activities (to our knowledge).

This next year will be rough. The year after will be rough. The Tigers may struggle to win 60 games. But as their roster looks now, its nowhere near as bad as the 119-loss 2003 team. Not even close.