Just being able to write about the Detroit Tigers and any sort of realistic shot at making the playoffs is so refreshing, when such thoughts have been non existent for the past five years, basically since former owner Mike Ilitch passed away. But here we are, with the much heralded prospects arriving in the major leagues and the team actually spending money on payroll once again. Have they done enough to bring post season baseball back to Detroit?
We’ll break down the competition in the American League, including the new players, free agent signings and departures, trades and new rules. But first, a look at the home team. Where they were and what they’ve done to improve.
The Detroit Tigers
After hiring AJ Hinch and a new coaching staff, the Tigers spent a year on the field sorting through the inventory of prospects and suspects, plugging a few holes in the lineup with bona fide major league players in Robbie Grossman and Jonathan Schoop. Of the home developed group, Jeimer Candelario and Rule 5 acquisition Akil Baddoo figure to hold starting jobs into the 2022 season, while others are vying for reserve roles and several one time prospects didn’t make the cut.
The date of May 8 stands out as a turning point, both because the team went 68-61 after that point, and because a great purge then began that would shape the roster for the next few years. Players like Jacoby Jones and veterans Nomar Mazara and Wilson Ramos were cut. Others such as Victor Reyes and Joe Jimenez were demoted and brought back up in lesser, more productive roles later in the season. And, when Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull went on the injured list, the core group of young pitching stars Casey Mize, Tarkik Skubal and Matt Manning were given the reins to lead the pitching staff. For better or worse, the future had arrived in Detroit.
Shortly after the season’s end, Niko Goodrum was replaced by Javier Baez. Two time gold glove catcher Tucker Barnhart was installed to guide the young pitching staff, and Eduardo Rodriguez signed to lead the rotation. Together, that’s $41.5 million in salaries, with another $11.5 million added to the pitching staff in the spring for Michael Pineda and Andrew Chafin.
Most importantly, the Tigers plugged some of the biggest holes on a roster that had the third worst defense in the league with minus -35 defensive runs saved. Those numbers include -15 runs at shortstop, -8 at second base, and -14 at catcher.
Still, to become relevant, the Tigers hopes continue to rest on continued improvement of the home grown talent on the mound, and in top rookie stars Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene.
We don’t need to add any more about the potential of this dynamic duo, other than to state the obvious. The success of the Tigers hinges on how well their young home grown stars perform, on the mound and in the lineup. Almost all the clubs’ eggs are in their basket. Oh, and the club posted a minus -10 DRS at first base and a combined -30 in the outfield in 2021. Yeesh!
The expanded playoff format adds one team in each league to the post season schedule, which could benefit a rising team like the Tigers. But even with expanded playoffs and even using the most generous date of May 8, spanning the final 129 games of the season, the club ranked 8th in the league. That’s four games behind the Boston Red Sox and the Seattle Mariners, seven games behind the Toronto Blue Jays, and eight games behind the New York Yankees and division winning Chicago White Sox. There is ground to be made up.
The other contenders in the American League haven’t exactly been sitting around all winter whistling dixie. Here is a look at the off season moves of the American League’s contenders:
Chicago White Sox
Added: Kendall Graveman is a big addition to the bullpen at $24 million for three years.
Subtracted: Starting pitcher Carlos Rodon and second baseman Caesar Hernandez left via free agency, leaving two spots unfilled.
Returning: The Sox surprisingly picked up reliever Craig Kimbrel’s $16 million option, and the remainder of the 2021 first place roster returns, including one more year of Jose Abreu and young stars like Yoan Moancada, Tim Anderson and Luis Robert.
Summary: The pale hose haven’t added as much as the Tigers have, but then- they didn’t need to. They’re still heavy favorites to win the AL Central.
Added: Eleven minor league players called up in November.
Subtracted: Catcher Roberto Perez left as a free agent.
Returning: A solid pitching rotation led by Shane Bieber, Cal Quantrill, Zach Plesac and Adam Civale, and a reliable closer in Emmanuel Clase. They resigned reliever Bryan Shaw, and Jose Ramirez returns at the hot corner as one of the game’s premier stars.
Summary: The Cleveland team is more interested in making money than winning. They have holes in both outfield corners and at first base. Their rotation will keep them relevant, but their payroll will keep them out of contention unless multiple young players break out offensively. Even if they’re hanging around .500, Jose Ramirez seems bound to be traded away at some point. The pitching staff remains tough, but ownership will do nothing to help them win this year.
Added- the surprise signing of the off season, superstar shortstop Carlos Correa will pair with Jorge Polanco to form a dynamic infield. Mitch Garver was traded to the Texas Rangers for Isiaih Kiner Falefa, who was then flipped to the Yankees with Josh Donaldson for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela. The Twins have lost a lot of pitching, but did deal for a good veteran with experience pitching in launching pad parks in Sonny Gray.
Net additions: Correa, Sanchez, Urshela, Sonny Gray, Dylan Bundy.
Subtracted: Josh Donaldson, Mitch Garver, Michael Pineda, Andrelton Simmons, Alex Colome, and Jose Berrios was traded in 2021. Kenta Maeda is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Returning: Byron Buxton got a $100 million extension.
Summary: the Twins lost 89 games in 2021, and they are without their three best starting pitchers in Jose Berrios (traded in July), Kenta Maeda (TJ surgery) and Michael Pineda (signed with Detroit). They hope that Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan can hold the rotation together. Not likely. Carlos Correa is a big get, but their “contender” status remains overblown.
Added: Signed FA pitcher Zack Greinke. Traded for P Amir Garrett. Prospects Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez should join the lineup in 2022, while pitchers Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Jon Heasley were promoted in 2021. Subtracted: Jesse Hahn, Ervin Santana, Greg Holland, Wade Davis via free agency.
Returning: 2B Whit Merrifield, Nicky Lopez, Salvador Perez, Andrew Benintendi.
Summary: The Royals have the No 5 system in MLB, and they’re starting to arrive in the show. Still, a lot will have to go right with the pitching staff for them to be a threat in the division. They have some intriguing young pitching talent developing beyond Brady Singer, and will add a potential ROY candidate in Bobby Witt Jr., but for now, an offseason adding Greinke and Garrett isn’t terribly compelling.
Boston Red Sox
Added: Trevor Story was signed to play second base with Bogaerts at SS and Devers at 3B. SP’s Rich Hill now age 42, James Paxton who is recovering from TJ surgery, OF Jackie Bradley Jr returns. Top prospect first baseman Triston Casas should debut soon.
Subtracted: SP Eduardo Rodriguez, deadline addition Kyle Schwarber left via free agency.
Summary: Boston held off the Jays for a playoff spot in 2021, but even with an extra post season berth available in 2022, they’ve been outworked by Toronto while the Yankees have held their own in the off season. Story is a quality addition and the club should be in the mix for the AL East title as well as the three wild card spots. This is another pitching staff that is wildly variable. If the Red Sox finished well out of it in the East, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all, but if they get a run of good health they’ll be in the conversation come September.
New York Yankees
Additions: Anthony Rizzo was acquired at the trade deadline and signed as a free agent. Isaiah Kiner-Falefa, Ben Rortevert and Josh Donaldson were acquired in the trade with Minnesota for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela.
Subtracted: Brett Gardner, Darren O’Day and Corey Kluber left as free agents, plus the aforementioned trade with the Twins.
Returning: The Yankees are focused on extending Aaron Judge, who will be very expensive. Giancarlo Stanton, Gerrit Cole, Gleyber Torres, Joey Gallo and Rizzo are coming back. The Bombers are looking for a bounce back season from DJ LeMahieu.
Summary: It’s now been 13 seasons since the Yankees won a World Series. The roster features a boat load of star players, and they continue to squeak into the playoffs but come up short in the post season. Still, you can probably fill in one of those playoff lines for them.
Toronto Blue Jays
Added: Jose Berrios was acquired in July and signed to a seven year, $131 million extension. Kevin Gausman signed for five years, $110 million.
Yimi Garcia two years, $11 million is a major addition to the bullpen. Yusei Kikuchi signed for three years, $35 million.
Matt Chapman was acquired from the Oakland A’s latest fire sale. Andrew Vasquez, LHP, ran out of time with the Dodgers and signed with the Jays as a free agent.
Subtracted: Cy Young winner Robbie Ray signed with Seattle
Infielder Marcus Semien, who smacked 45 home runs in 2021, signed with the Texas Rangers. Left handed starter Steven Matz left to sign with St Louis. Grichuck traded to Colorado.
Returning: Let’s see. Vlad Guererro Jr, Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, George Springer, Lourdes Gurriel Jr,
Randall Grichuk, Hyun Jin Ryu, Alex Manoah, and Berrios. How’s that?
Summary: The Jays were maybe the hottest team in MLB when the 2021 season ended, but fell just short of a playoff spot. They’ll be favorites to land a spot, if not the division title in 2022.
Additions: RHP Corey Kluber, 1 year/$8 million; LHP Brooks Raley, 2 years/$10 million
Subtractions: SP Chris Archer, RP Collin McHugh, DH Nelson Cruz, SP Michael Wacha, RP Brent Honeywell, 2B Joey Wendle
Returning: Wander Franco signed an 11 year, $182 million extension
Summary: The Rays didn’t lose anyone who was critical to their success in 2021, so they should be back in good shape for another playoff run. The question is whether their rivals have done enough to catch and overtake them. Standing pat could be a risky play in a division with four solid contenders. However, the Rays still have an outstanding farm system and always manage to find quality help along the way.
Additions: SP Jordan Lyles signed for one year, $7 million, Rougned Odor signed for the major league minimum, and catcher Robinson Chirinos for $900K.
Subtractions: Matt Harvey, C Pedro Severino
Returning: The same roster that finished with the worst record in the game last year is back for an encore. Cedric Mullins could use some help out there.
Summary: This should be the year that No 1 overall prospect, catcher Adley Rutschman appears in the show, although an injury will spare the team the embarrassment of manipulating his service time. The Orioles finishing last in the AL East might be the safest bet in the game in 2022.
Additions: Justin Verlander returns from TJ surgery on a two year, $50 million contract. Hector Neris signed a two year, $17 million contract.
Subtractions: Correa, deadline acquisitions Kendall Graveman and Yimi Garcia.
Returning: The rest of the AL West division champions roster.
Summary- despite the loss of Carlos Correa, the Stros are heavy favorites to repeat as champions of the AL West.
Additions: Cy Young winner Robbie Ray, 2B/ OF Adam Frazier,
Acquired LF Jesse Winker and 3B Eugenio Suarez from Cincinnati for RHP Justin Dunn, CF Jake Fraley, LHP Brandon Williamson and Player To Be Named Later. Subtractions: Fraley, Kyle Seager retired.
Subtractions: RP’s Joe Smith and Sean Doolittle, SP Yisei Kikuchi, and LHP James Paxton left as free agents.
Summary: The Mariners won 90 games in 2021, just two behind the Boston Red Sox for the fifth and final playoff spot, and one behind the sixth place Toronto Blue Jays. Seattle’s off season moves are as potent as any AL contender and they should be right in the mix for a post season berth in 2022. The addition of Robbie Ray should finally give them the frontline starter they’ve lacked since King Felix’s heyday. They also have an elite hitting prospect in Julio Rodriguez who will make an impact sometime this summer if things go as planned.
Additions: SP Noah Syndergaard, SP Michael Lorenzen, RP Aaron Loup, RP Archie Bradley, Inf Matt Duffy.
Subtractions: SP Alex Cobb, RP Steve Cishek, OF Phil Gosselin, OF Juan Lagares, SP Dylan Bundy, RP AJ Ramos
Returning: Closer Rasiel Iglesias was resigned as a free agent. MVP Shohei Ohtani, All Star 1B Jared Walsh. Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Justin Upton as well as Ohtani the pitcher are expected to return healthy for the season.
Summary: The Angels finished the season with the same record as the Tigers. They don’t appear to have adequately addressed their pitching needs, but just getting Trout, Rendon, and Upton back healthy should give them a big boost. They’re in the playoff conversation for sure, but a long history of failing to get the pitching right doesn’t give us a lot of confidence. If Syndergaard is right they should be a problem in the West at least.
Additions: SS Corey Seager, 2B Marcus Semien, SP Jon Gray, OF Cole Calhoun
C Mitch Garver was acquired in a trade for SS Kiner- FalefaSubtractions: IF Brock Holt, SP Jordan Lyles, OF Charlie Culberson
Returning; ROY Adolis Garcia, Nick Solek,
SP Kyle Gibson
Summary: The Rangers made the biggest splash before the lockout by signing both Semien and Seager to mega deals, but their team had so many holes that they still have a long way to go.
Summary- what’s the point in writing about a team that refuses to pay any of their players just as they start to earn a decent salary? They’ll be sold off in parts all season long, with starter Frankie Montas remaining the key piece. Reliever Lou Trivino will also draw offers if he puts together a strong first half. Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Chris Bassitt have been traded, and they’re not done. They’re not trying to win this season.