Just because the calendar still reads 2019 does not mean we cannot begin to speculate about 2020. Yes, spring training is still a few months out. But with the Detroit Tigers announcing a pair of signings on Saturday and a relative lack of roster turnover from their league-worst offense in 2019, their everyday lineup has started to round into shape.
Obviously, things are still subject to change. Someone can get hurt in spring training. More signings can be made (Yasiel Puig, please) and trades are possible, if not probable.
As of now, here is what we could perhaps see out of the Tigers lineup come
April late March. If you are reading this after Opening Day 2020: first, how is the future? Second, do not make fun of us for not predicting that one signing that changed this. Or please commend us if we are spot on. Unlike you, I am not from the future.
JaCoby Jones/Victor Reyes, CF
After an extremely slow start in 2019, JaCoby Jones became one of the few bearable hitters in the Tigers lineup, hitting .271/.344/.844 from May 24 until going down for the season on Aug. 8. Though he only stole seven bases in 2019, he is one of the few speed threats expected to be in the everyday lineup, making his placement in the lead-off spot a sensible (or at least expected) one. Reyes, on the other hand, had a better-than-expected season at the plate almost exclusively as a lead-off hitter. His .310 batting average at the top of the lineup was fueled by a .400 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), but he has earned himself another season in Detroit nonetheless.
Niko Goodrum, SS
It is becoming more and more conventional for teams to insert their best hitter into the two-hole. While the bar was extremely low last year, Goodrum was the most reliable hitter in Detroit’s lineup, earning himself a spot at the top of the lineup to start 2020. Now that he appears to be entrenched in the starting shortstop role, his consistency in the field could lead to more consistency at the plate. He hit .273/.341/.822 between the start of July and the end of his season, Aug. 23, with a handful of stolen bases.
Miguel Cabrera, DH
If his name were anything but Miguel Cabrera, he would probably not be hitting third in 2020. However, Cabrera will likely be at the top of the lineup based on prior merit alone. That said, he was not particularly terrible in 2019, finishing with a respectable .282 batting average and unspectacular-yet-passable 96 OPS+. The main issue? His power was almost nonexistent, with only 33 extra base hits in 549 plate appearances. Perhaps a full off-season in preparation to be a full-time DH will help the big man regain some of his former glory, but it is fair to assume the soon-to-be 37-year-old won’t be contributing nearly enough to get the Tigers anywhere in 2020.
CJ Cron, 1B
One of the newest Tigers, Cron signed with Detroit one a one-year pact on Saturday. He figures to step in and become one of the best hitters in the entire lineup. Cron has a consistent track record of producing well, albeit not incredibly, at the plate. His past two seasons saw him hit 30 and 25 home runs with the Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins, respectively, both of which would have led the Tigers by a wide margin. Cron figures to be a candidate to move up in the lineup if (or when) Cabrera misses time or fails to produce.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B
The other former-Twin-turned-Tiger also signed on Saturday and should become a top producer in the 2020 lineup. Schoop’s spot in the lineup is admittedly hard to project. He could fit in anywhere between second and fifth, and would probably fit the role, making him a potentially valuable asset. He too brings newfound power to a team that needs it, hitting 23 bombs in Minnesota last season. If Detroit gets super lucky, Schoop may even tap into his 2017 All-Star skills that played out in Baltimore, where he hit 32 home runs with 105 RBI and a 124 OPS+.
Christin Stewart, LF
On the whole, Stewart’s 2019 was disappointing. He graded out with -1.2 fWAR as his defense was as bad as advertised. Worse, the potentially potent bat did not quite pan out — yet. His raw power was evident at times, and it did translate to 10 home runs in 104 games, but a step forward will be required. Barring an outfield signing, Stewart’s spot will not be threatened early on, but he could see his playing time deteriorate if his bat continues to lag.
Jeimer Candelario, 3B
Speaking of waning playing time, Candelario wildly disappointed last season and even spent time in the minor leagues due to his inability to produce offensively. His glove kept him afloat at 0.3 fWAR, but if he does not improve upon his 70 OPS+, he could quickly see his playing time disappear. That said, he should get the first crack at the full-time third base job.
Austin Romine/Grayson Greiner C
As is the case for most teams, catcher will be a split position between Miguel Cabrera’s best friend, the newly signed Austin Romine — brother of Detroit legend Andrew Romine — and incumbent Grayson Greiner. Neither is particularly impressive at the plate, though Romine hit .281/.310/.748 with a 97 OPS+ in 72 games with the New York Yankees last season.
Travis Demeritte, RF
If any spot changes between now and March 26, right field is the odds-on favorite to get the makeover. Demeritte is the youngest player in this hypothetical lineup and was not impressive after coming to Detroit as part of the July 2019 trade that sent Shane Greene to Atlanta. The right fielder struck out in a third of his plate appearances and performed below replacement level both at the plate and in right field.