According to just about everyone who analyzes, watches, or has heard of baseball, the Detroit Tigers are going to be very, very bad in 2018. Sadly, I’m not here to tell you that all of those people are wrong. This roster is... not great.
However, just because the team isn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot, that doesn’t mean that this season has no upside. In fact, because there are no expectations and plenty of players who have yet to live up to their potential in Detroit, there’s tons of room for upside.
What could go right?
The best case scenario for the Tigers still sees them sitting on the outside of the playoffs. At the end of the day the organization is in rebuilding mode, and even if the Tigers play decent ball for most of the year, prospects will (hopefully) not be dealt away in favor of quick fixes for a chance at the wild card spot. Still, the Tigers have some intriguing pieces on the roster, and in a perfect world all of these pieces will prove their worth to the organization as either long-term solutions or trade chips come July.
Daniel Norris sticks out like a sore thumb on the roster, and not because of his unorthodox tendencies off the field. Norris was a true bluechip prospect when acquired from the Blue Jays in 2015, and has yet to cash in on his potential. Norris has missed significant time due to injury in every season he’s been with the Tigers, and that has hampered his development. Staying healthy is the biggest factor for Norris, because if he can develop consistency from being on the mound, his mid-90s fastball and wipeout curveball could fit him squarely behind Michael Fulmer at the top of the rotation for years to come.
Another best case scenario for the Tigers would be the reemergence of Jordan Zimmermann. Whether you like it or not, he still has three years remaining on his contract and no team is going to be calling to acquire him at this point. Even at the most dominant moments of his career, Zimmermann never had a high octane fastball that could blow away hitters. Command has always been his bread and butter, but with neck issues hampering him over the past two seasons, he’s been a glorified pitching machine. While this spring hasn’t been too encouraging for his resurgence (Ron Gardenhire seems to think it has been), a successful Zimmermann would be huge for the Tigers going forward.
The biggest name on the roster who needs a great year for the sake of the future of the organization is none other than Miguel Cabrera. To put Miggy’s career numbers in here would be a waste of everyone’s time. You know how unbelievably great he is when healthy; the whole league knows it. Watching Cabrera last year was downright depressing. Thankfully this spring he looks like the Miggy of old. He’s laughing all over the field, he’s lost some weight, and he’s driving the ball with authority. Cabrera is under contract until 2023, and hopefully the Tigers will be back to competing by then. A healthy 2018 would go a long way in quelling fears for his future.
Who else is important?
Other best-case scenarios for the Tigers would be quality seasons from Matthew Boyd and Joe Jimenez. Boyd has shown flashes of being a solid back end starter and Jimenez has the makeup to be a dominant piece in the bullpen. Development from Jeimer Candelario and JaCoby Jones would be welcome sights, too. Candelario finished 2017 on a tear, and Jones has the versatility to be a super-utility player. Big first halves from Shane Greene and Jose Iglesias could also go a long way for the future of the Tigers. While neither figure to be longterm solutions for the organization, their trade values could help to bring back players who will contribute to the next contender.
While the team as a whole isn’t going to set the world on fire, there are plenty of intriguing players who will make the Tigers worth watching. Maybe none of these best case scenarios will come true. That would certainly be a bummer and most likely push the next competitive window farther down the line. However, any of these best case scenarios coming to fruition could go a long way in shaping the next great Tigers team.