The Tigers rode spectacular seasons from American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and first baseman Miguel Cabrera to surge their way into the American League Championship Series. While the Rangers proved to be too much for an injury-riddled Tigers squad, Detroit held its own in the postseason and appeared poised to contend for a World Series berth in 2012.
Then it happened. Unexpectedly, DH Victor Martinez tore the ACL in his left knee during his offseason workouts, and he underwent surgery that will put him out of commission for the entire 2012 season. Whatever panic was felt in Motown didn't last for long, as the Tigers moved quickly to sign free agent Prince Fielder to fill the hole left by Martinez in their lineup. The Tigers helped their own cause by getting a power bat for the middle of their batting order, but they also provided Fantasy owners with a nice bonus. Not only does the acquisition of Fielder give Cabrera some protection, but it moved him off first base and back to his old position of third base. Now at the hot corner, Cabrera becomes not only the most productive player at a weaker position, but he is now arguably the most valuable player in Fantasy worthy of the top overall pick.
Other than the loss of Martinez and the addition of Fielder, not much has changed on the Tigers' roster this offseason. Verlander will be followed in the rotation once again by Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, though the team will have to replace Brad Penny as the fifth starter, as the veteran will play in Japan this year. Top prospect Jacob Turner will vie with Duane Below, Andrew Oliver and Adam Wilk for the rotation's final spot. Jose Valverde will try to follow up his season of perfection (he was 49 of 49 in save attempts) as the team's closer, and Joaquin Benoit and free agent pick-up Octavio Dotel will set him up.
Alex Avila will return as the regular catcher and Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Raburn will get the bulk of the starts in the middle infield, flanked by Cabrera and Fielder on the corners. While Austin Jackson will begin his third season as Detroit's everyday center fielder, there is likely to be a left field rotation consisting of Delmon Young (who will also get starts as the designated hitter), Andy Dirks, Don Kelly and Raburn. Magglio Ordonez is gone, ending his long run in right field, which finally gives Brennan Boesch the opportunity to settle into a stable role as his replacement.
The Tigers probably didn't need to spring for a nine-year, $214 million contract on Fielder to win the American League Central this year, but it will certainly help their chances in the postseason. They clearly have the offense to compete deep into the postseason, but they will need Verlander, Fister and Valverde to maintain their 2011 form if they are to win their first World Series since 1984.
Sleeper...Delmon Young, OF
Young slumbered for much of the 2011 season, but an August trade from the Twins to the Tigers provided a much-needed boost. After slugging just .357 in Minnesota, Young compiled a .458 slugging percentage after arriving in Detroit. The improvement doesn't appear to be coincidental. Young, like most hitters, struggled to hit for power at Target Field, blasting just seven long balls there since it opened in 2010. Comerica Park, on the other hand, is a decent home run park for right-handed hitters, and seven of his eight homers for the Tigers last year came at home. Owners should look for improved power numbers from Young this year, and with him hitting behind Cabrera and Fielder, his RBI total should get a jolt as well.
Bust...Doug Fister, SP
Fister pitched like a second ace for the Tigers after arriving via trade from Seattle in late July, going 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. Fister has always had the reputation of being a control artist, but he took his strike zone mastery up a notch, walking a grand total of five batters in 70 1/3 innings with Detroit. Few Fantasy owners would expect Fister to repeat that extreme performance, but there is another reason to diminish expectations even further. Part of Fister's 2011 success was based upon holding batters to a .188 batting average on ground balls. The Tigers' infield defense overall should leave something to be desired, so Fister's WHIP will rise upward, even without a significant increase in walks. Owners may look to Fister as a No. 4 starter in mixed leagues, but in reality he may perform more like a low-end No. 5 SP or waiver wire option.
2012 impact prospect...Jacob Turner, SP
Turner made his major league debut last July when he was recalled to make a spot start, and he made two addtional starts in September. He didn't look ready for the majors in his initial appearances, but the work he did at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo suggests that he's not far off. The Tigers go into spring training without a fifth starter, and Turner is the leading contender. Even if he doesn't break camp with the team, it is almost a lock that Turner will join the Tigers at some point in 2012. While he could experience more growing pains, his high ceiling will make him worth a gamble in AL-only drafts this spring. Better yet, if he has some inital success, Turner could become popular very quickly in mixed league formats.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Austin Jackson||CF||1||Justin Verlander||RH|
|2||Brennan Boesch||RF||2||Doug Fister||RH|
|3||Miguel Cabrera||3B||3||Max Scherzer||RH|
|4||Prince Fielder||1B||4||Rick Porcello||RH|
|5||Delmon Young||DH||5||Jacob Turner||RH|
|6||Alex Avila||C||Alt||Duane Below||LH|
|7||Jhonny Peralta||SS|| |
|8||Andy Dirks||LF||CL||Jose Valverde||RH|
|9||Ryan Raburn||2B||SU||Joaquin Benoit||RH|
|Top bench options||RP||Octavio Dotel||RH|
|R||Ramon Santiago||IF||RP||Phil Coke||LH|
|R||Don Kelly||3B/OF||RP||Collin Balester||RH|
|Whether on opening day or later in the year, Turner should find a place in Detroit's rotation. The control artist is a worthy target in AL-only leagues.|
|Could join the Tigers sometime in 2012, though it would most likely be as a reliever. Could rack up Ks in a bullpen role.|
|3||Nick Castellanos||20||3B||Class A||Class A|
|Showed doubles power in his first full season in the minors. Now we have to see if he can maintain a high average while growing his home run power.|
|The southpaw doesn't throw especially hard, but he dominated hitters at Double-A. Barring a serious downturn, Smyly should reach the majors in 2012.|
|Below fared respectably in his first exposure to the majors last year. Has a legitimate shot at the fifth starter's job this spring.|
|Best of the rest: Andrew Oliver, SP; Brenny Paulino, SP; Rob Brantly, C; Alex Burgos, SP; James McCann, C; Avisail Garcia, OF; Ryan Strieby, 1B; Adam Wilk, RP; Jay Voss, SP; Tyler Collins, OF; Brian Flynn, SP; Aaron Westlake, 1B; Eugenio Suarez, SS; Tyler Gibson, OF; Daniel Fields, OF; Kyle Ryan, SP; Bruce Rondon, RP.|
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