2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Tigers team outlook still hinges on Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander
The Tigers are getting older, but not any better. Scott White says that for all they still have to offer Fantasy owners, the end is near.
In a division full of rebuilders, the Tigers are one team still focused on the now.
That isn't to say they haven't given any thought to their future. Their modest re-tooling toward the end of their ill-fated 2015 brought in some cheap reinforcements for a rotation that was quickly becoming untenable, headlined by reigning AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer. His emergence ends a cycle of expensive No. 2 starters, from Max Scherzer to David Price to the pitcher expected to fill that role at the start of last year, Jordan Zimmermann.
And Fulmer wasn't even the biggest development for the pitching staff last year. Justin Verlander, who showed signs of coming around the year before, ended his three-year derailment with a should-have-been Cy Young season (Rick Porcello's win-loss record be darned). He and Miguel Cabrera remain the backbone of the organization, and as long as they're both in top form, the Tigers have a chance.
But it's clear the nucleus is aging. Both Verlander and Cabrera turn 34 this year and will soon enter their decline phase (they looked like they already had prior to last year). Other Fantasy mainstays like Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez are 34 and 38. Justin Upton isn't in his mid-30s yet, but he played like it last year, his late power surge only partially making up for a career-worst (close enough, anyway) strikeout rate. About the one Tigers slugger still in the prime of his career is the one they were reportedly shopping at the start of the offseason, J.D. Martinez.
Still -- omitting Victor Martinez because of his unfavorable eligibility and particularly advanced age -- that's four early-round hitters for one lineup. And Nick Castellanos, though limited by his poor plate discipline, is no slouch either, showing the potential for 20-plus homers before breaking his hand last year. It's just that the Tigers, in their continual championship-or-bust state, have no depth to fall back on if the age indeed catches up to them.
That puts them at serious risk for a teardown if the Indians pull away early.
Can the aging hitters be trusted?
It's worth noting that I wondered this same thing about Miguel Cabrera last year, and then he went and delivered his most productive season in three years. It's also worth noting that I've wondered this same thing about Ian Kinsler for five years, projecting him as a bust year after year because of escalating strikeout and chase rates, trends that continued in 2016, actually. But then when he goes and hits as many home runs as in the previous two years combined, well, who cares?
Based on my own drafting experience, though, any risk of decline is already built into these players' draft stock. Cabrera has lost as much as a round of value even after a year in which his production improved, and with all the depth at second base, Kinsler tends to slip to Round 7 or 8 even though he performed more like an early-rounder last year. Justin Upton and Victor Martinez, meanwhile, are relative afterthoughts.
There's risk with all of them, sure, but as long as you account for that risk, you should have no qualms about drafting them. So far, the going rate hasn't given me any.
Is Jordan Zimmermann redeemable?
Clearly, Zimmermann wasn't right health-wise, initially straining his groin in late May and then serving two DL stints, as well as countless partial rehab assignments, with various ailments, shoulder included, all apparently stemming from a neck issue that he was still receiving injections to treat as recently as December.
He says he's pain-free now, but self-assessments don't count for much at this point. And even if it's true, it doesn't change the fact that his velocity has declined in back-to-back seasons, the first of which wasn't marred by injuries. Seeing as he wasn't a big strikeout pitcher to begin with, it's a trend you have to wonder if he can survive.
He could bounce back fully and give Fantasy owners a nice bargain in the late rounds, but given the glut of upside pitchers in this year's player pool -- from sizzling newcomers like Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow to other bounce-back candidates like Sonny Gray and Alex Cobb -- Zimmermann isn't necessarily the one to pay up for.
Who fills out the starting rotation?
Michael Fulmer wasn't the only arm the Tigers landed in their mini teardown late in 2015. Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, both acquired from Toronto for David Price, showed promise in their rotation stints last year, with Norris compiling a 2.73 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings over his final five starts and Boyd turning in a 2.56 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 8.3 strikeouts during a stretch of 10 starts (and one relief appearance) before tiring in September.
Problem is the Tigers don't have space for either if their biggest financial commitments take precedence. Both Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey look like lost causes at this point, but both are owed big dollars in 2017 and may get one last look just to make sure there's nothing to redeem from them. It's not an ideal situation for Fantasy owners, and it keeps Norris and Boyd outside of my top 100 pitchers for 2017.
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