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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Detroit Tigers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Detroit Tigers claimed the AL Central title for the third straight season, went to their third consecutve ALCS, and are just one year removed from a World Series appearance. But that didn't stop them from making two major offseason trades, signing a new closer, and hiring a new manager this offseason.

In November, the team traded first baseman Prince Fielder -- who hit .295 with 55 total home runs and 214 RBI over his two seasons with Detroit -- to the Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler (who has already said he plans to steal more bases). The move allows two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera to go back to first base, opening up a starting role at third base for top prospect Nick Castellanos.

2014 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

Two weeks after the Fielder trade, the Tigers sent starter Doug Fister to the Nationals for pitching prospect Robbie Ray, reliever Ian Krol, and utility man Stephen Lombardozzi. Ray may see a handful of starts early in the season as the team waits for ace Justin Verlander to recover from January core muscle repair surgery, while Krol should slot nicely into the bullpen. Lombardozzi bounces between spot duty in the infield and outfield. Fister's spot in the rotation will likely be taken by Drew Smyly, who went 6-0 with a 2.37 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 76 innings out of the bullpen in 2013. Smyly carried a 2.57 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 143 2/3 minor league innings (in 2011 and 2012), with all but one appearance coming as a starter.

The Tigers made one major free agent move, signing closer Joe Nathan to a two-year, $20 million deal. Nathan should solidify a bullpen that spent a good part of 2013 grasping for a solid closer. Joaquin Benoit finished the season as the leader in saves (with 24), but not before the team tried out a hard-throwing rookie (Bruce Rondon), swallowed their pride and brought back their 2012 closer (Jose Valverde, who saved nine games), and even gave a couple tries to Smyly (two saves), whose value was ultimately in long relief. Despite the tumult, the Tigers blew just 16 saves as a team, the sixth-fewest in the majors.

Detroit also made a couple quiet additions that could have an impact in 2014, signing speedy outfielder Rajai Davis to a two-year deal, and bringing on reclamation project Joba Chamberlain (3.70 ERA and 9.1 K/9 over his first five pre-Tommy John seasons, while bouncing between the rotation and bullpen) on a one-year deal.

If all the player movement wasn't enough, the Tigers replaced the retired Jim Leyland with 44-year-old Brad Ausmus, who has never managed in the major or minor leagues (but whose hiring, which Tony LaRussa consulted on, was met with near-universal praise). Essentially an unknown quantity as a manager (Will the Tigers run? Will he platoon players?), Ausmus brings a nice X-factor into what is a very similar -- yet very different -- Tigers team.

As for the holdovers, the Tigers boast the 2013 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winners in Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer. They have a young, talented outfielder in Austin Jackson and a solid corner option in Torii Hunter. Alex Avila failed to bounceback in 2013, but that great 2011 season gives owners a glimmer of hope, even though it looks more like an anomaly with every passing year. Anibal Sanchez, Drew Smyly, and Rick Porcello make for an exciting (and Fantasy-relevant) trio at the back-end of the rotation, and Justin Verlander enters this season looking to prove something after a disappointing 2013. Verlander may be delayed, however, after that surprise surgery. And even before the surgery, there were concerns about Verlander's drop in production last season, which featured a significant spike in ERA and WHIP. The silver lining? Worry over Verlander's 2013, coupled with worry over his surgery, may push his Average Draft Position to the point where he becomes an enticing Draft Day gamble with tremendous upside.

Sleeper ... Rick Porcello, starting pitcher

2014 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Ian Kinsler 2B
2. Torii Hunter RF
3. Miguel Cabrera 1B
4. Victor Martinez DH
5. Austin Jackson CF
6. Andy Dirks LF
7. Nick Castellanos 3B
8. Alex Avila C
9. Jose Iglesias SS
Bench Rajai Davis OF
Bench Stephen Lombardozzi IF/OF

Porcello put together the second-best season of his career in 2013, with a 4.32 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. His 142 strikeouts were a career-best, and his 2.1 BB/9 tied a career low. Just 25 years old, Porcello -- who already has 868 2/3 innings pitched in his career -- is just now coming into his prime pitching years. But what really makes Porcello an attractive sleeper in 2014 has very little to do with any of these factors. With the Tigers infield now featuring Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias (and Cabrera moving to first), Porcello will have a far better defense behind him. In 2013, Porcello had the second-highest groundball percentage in the majors (55.5 percent) and sported an xFIP of 3.19 (with a FIP of 3.53). In short, his strength -- inducing ground balls -- was essentially wasted by a poor defense behind him. With a new-look infield, many of those balls that got through (or were mishandled) will now be turned into outs, lowering Porcello's ERA and WHIP (while alleviating his pitch count). The downside here is that Porcello's strikeout rate may dip, as he gains confidence in his defense and relies more on groundball outs. But that should be more than equalized by an improvement in ratios, making Porcello a nice sleeper for 2014.

Rotisserie gem ... Rajai Davis, outfield

Right now, there doesn't appear to be a starting spot for Davis, who spent the last three seasons with the Blue Jays. But that's a familiar refrain for the 33-year-old, who seems to enter every season without a starting role, yet manages to steal 40-50 bases. Davis has reached the 40-steal mark four times in the last five seasons, and has 216 total steals in that span. Yet he's only seen 400 at-bats twice since 2009. Davis may see some spot starts as the right-handed half of a platoon with Andy Dirks, and could spell 38-year-old Torii Hunter from time to time. Davis will almost certainly be the next man up if any of the outfielders are injured. But this is what he does -- steal a ton of bases, even when the odds are stacked against him.

Impact prospect ... Nick Castellanos, third base

2014 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Justin Verlander RHP
2. Max Scherzer RHP
3. Anibal Sanchez RHP
4. Rick Porcello RHP
5. Drew Smyly LHP
ALT Jose Alvarez LHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Joe Nathan RHP
2. Bruce Rondon RHP
3. Phil Coke LHP
4. Ian Krol LHP
5. Joba Chamberlain RHP

Castellanos is going to play third but won't gain eligibility there in Fantasy until he plays five games (in most standard formats). The organization's top prospect, Castellanos was a first-round pick in the 2010 draft, hitting .333 in seven games for the Rookie League affiliate that season. Over the next four years, Castellanos gradually worked his way up the farm system, hitting .303 over 1,601 at-bats, with three seasons of 32 or more doubles and an average of 14 home runs over the last two seasons (he played in 134 games each season). Castellanos is a natural third baseman who was shifted to the outfield for half of 2012 and all of 2013, which may have accounted for a dip in batting average (.264 in 2012 and .276 in 2013) as he learned the new position. The move, intended to accelerate Castellanos' ascent to the majors, was scrapped after the Tigers traded Prince Fielder, which shifted Miguel Cabrera back to first and opened up third base for Castellanos. The 21-year-old righty played in 11 games with the Tigers last season, hitting .278 over 18 at-bats. While nothing is guaranteed (a rough spring training, for instance, could cause the Tigers to shift players around and give Castellanos some more minor league seasoning), it's a safe bet that he will open the season as the team's third baseman, and should contribute with a nice average, double-digit home runs, and a handful of steals.

Prospects Report

With Joe Nathan signed for two years, Bruce Rondon is back to being the closer of the future (as opposed to the closer of 2014). For all the high-profile imploding we saw in 2013, Rondon still finished the season with a 3.45 ERA and 1.36 WHIP (with a 1.23 ERA over his last 15 games). He should contribute out of the bullpen with a high strikeout rate and low ratios -- and is probably the backup closer -- giving him value in AL-only Roto formats ... Robbie Ray could see some early-season action if Justin Verlander isn't fully rehabbed from January surgery. The 22-year-old struck out 160 batters in 142 innings last season over two minor league levels (High-A and Double-A), sporting a 3.36 ERA ... Jose Alvarez made six starts for the Tigers in 2013 (to varying degrees of success), and put together a solid campaign in Triple-A (2.80 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 128 2/3 innings). There's no room for him in the rotation, especially if Ray leapfrogs him for early-season starts, but Alvarez does have one distinct advantage over Ray: he's already on the 40-man roster. Baseball America says Alvarez has the best control of all Detroit's minor-league pitchers ... James McCann probably isn't ready for the majors, but if the 23-year-old gets off to a nice start, and Avila struggles again, he could force his way to the majors.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS .

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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:54 pm ET) Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson avoided arbitration Tuesday by agreeing to a $1.225 million salary for 2015, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. He will also receive a $25,000 bonus for 350 plate appearances.

Dyson is in his first year of arbitration. He hit .269 with one home run, 24 RBI and 36 stolen bases in 120 games in 2014.


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(12:07 pm ET) Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko definitely went through a sophomore slump in 2014 after belting 23 home runs as a rookie in 2013. Although, dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot certainly didn't help his cause.

Still, Gyorko seems to indicate the injury wasn't the main reason he struggled offensively last season. He hit .210 with 10 home runs in 111 games.

"I think I maybe put a little too much pressure on myself," Gyorko said, per MLB.com. "We were struggling as a team. And I think all of us, not just myself, felt like we needed to come up with that big hit to get us going. It's hard to hit when you put that kind of pressure on yourself."

Gyorko missed nearly two months of games last season due to the foot injury, but once he returned, his numbers began to improve. He hit .260 with a .347 on-base percentage over his final 55 games. 

"He was better. I think he started making some adjustments, some mechanical, some at-bat to at-bat in terms of pitch selection," manager Bud Black said. "Before, you saw him chasing pitches up in the strike zone and also sliders away. I think that a lot of that was him wanting to be aggressive and wanting to help the team."

The Padres are expecting better results from Gyorko in 2015, especially with a revamped lineup that includes Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks.

"We saw in 2013 what Jedd can be, and I think there's more to Jedd based on 2013," Black said. "I think last year there were a lot of factors that went into his season that he expected or adjusted to, but that is something he's hopefully learned from. It's a tough game. You've got to work and stay on top of it. In that regard, I think he learned a lot."


Infield shifts have become an issue for players like Reds' Bruce
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:46 am ET) Reds outfielder Jay Bruce is not going to use infield shifts as an excuse for his low batting average, but he admits it does play a factor, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"That's definitely taken some hits away from me," Bruce said. "I don't use it as an excuse. But the bottom line is it takes hits away. You smoke a ball up the middle and you think it's a hit. But the shortstop is playing right behind second base.

"It's definitely cut down on average. You look at a player like Mark Teixiera. He was a .300, .280 hitter. You put the shift on him. He's a guy who drives the ball, pull hitter. He uses the other side of the field some. But guys like that are hitting in the .250s."

Bruce added that beating the shift is difficult. 

"Everyone's like, 'Hit a ground ball to shortstop or hit one down the line.' Like you can do whatever you want." he said. "A lot of times, pitchers pitch to the shift. And shifts are getting more sophisticated. In New York, (shortstop Derek) Jeter was playing third, in on the grass. So you can't bunt. Ideally, you want to get a hit. It's hard to do."

Reds hitting coach Don Long said eventually hitters will be taught in the minors to beat the shift.

"Not everybody's going to be the perfect hitter and be able to do everything," he said. "But I think you're going to find guys who want to have the ability to hit to both sides of the field."


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"I think we're deeper, so I don't think we're going to be so dependent on the middle of the order," Gonzalez said Monday. "People say that we lost power, but I think we just put the power in different areas of the lineup."

Some of the key acquisitions this offseason for the Dodgers have been shortstop Jimmy Rollins, catcher Yasmani Grandal and second baseman Howie Kendrick. Gonzalez is confident in the new additions to the lineup.

"They're going to battle every at-bat," Gonzalez said. "They're going to be prepared. I'm not saying that we didn't before, but I think the guys that we got are guys that are going to be tougher to game plan for. From that end, it will be a deeper lineup."


Orioles' Matt Wieters has goal of being ready by opening day
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(10:15 am ET) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who is throwing from 150 feet in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, said he is preparing to be ready by opening day.

"The rehab's going well and going how it's supposed to from all the talk I've gotten with Dr. (James) Andrews and my physical therapist down here and Richie (Bancells)," Wieters said, per MASNsports.com. "Everything's kind of moved along and we're preparing for me to be ready for opening day. We still have a good couple of months before we're there, so it's still going to be a lot of work to put into it, but that's what I'm preparing for. We're trying to get all the steps checked off before we get there.

"We'll see when I'm actually going to be able to get behind the plate and catch in games during spring training, but it's just a matter of making sure the arm has been tested enough to where when we do get into games with adrenaline and a little bit of pressure that we're ready to go."

Wieters added making sure his shoulder is also in good shape is part of the rehab process coming off elbow surgery.

"(Monday) we went out to 150 just to test it out a little bit," he said, "and everything has kind of checked out and we've had nothing really major to set back the progression."


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Manager Terry Francona agreed, saying "When he gets on base, he has to disrupt the game." Francona added, "he wants to do it really bad, he just wasn't in position to do it the last couple of years. Hopefully, those injuries are limited and he can use his legs because he's a huge part of what we do."

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