The Detroit Tigers have become a perennial powerhouse in the American League in the last few years, winning their division four years in a row and repeatedly making deep playoff runs. They have done this thanks to a deep starting rotation and a powerful lineup.
However, it looks like they might not have either as the start of Spring Training approaches. The most recent bad news to hit the Tigers’ camp is that Victor Martinez has a torn meniscus in his left knee and will miss at least 6-8 weeks.
Martinez had arguably his best season in 2014, hitting .335 with 32 home runs, 103 RBIs and a league-leading .974 OPS. His uncanny ability to draw walks and get on base resulted in an outstanding 70:42 walk-to-strikeout rate, almost unparalleled territory as most hitters are sacrificing strikeouts and batting average for power.
His outstanding season netted him a 4-year, $68 million contract.
Unfortunately, that was one of the few moves that the front office made this offseason, and the absence of Martinez adds yet another question to the already spotty roster.
Miguel Cabrera had ankle surgery in late October, and Chris McCosky of The Detroit News reported that it is still unclear whether or not the two-time MVP will be ready for the start of Spring Training. Even if he is healthy, a bit of uncertainty remains regarding whether or not he can return to his usual stellar self.
The Tigers did acquire outfield slugger Yoenis Cespedes from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for starter Rick Porcello, and while Cespedes should provide some power in the middle of the order, it can't be forgotten that he hasn't hit above .270 since his rookie year in 2012, and he doesn't get on base that often either.
The rest of the lineup is filled with question marks as well. J.D. Martinez had a nice year in 2014, but he cooled off down the stretch, and it isn't hard to believe he may return to being the underperforming outfielder that the Astros released before the start of last season.
Third baseman Nick Castellanos wasn't too impressive last year, and he is not in a position to carry any type of significant burden on his back.
Jose Iglesias will return at shortstop after missing all of last season with a shin injury. And while Iglesias is an exciting young player with phenomenal range at short, it is unknown whether or not he can be even a league-average hitter.
Center fielder Anthony Gose possesses game-breaking speed, but, unfortunately, he cannot steal first base. Gose hit only .226 with nearly nonexistent power in 2014, and he hasn't shown any signs of improvement in that regard in his three-year career.
The lone bright spot of the order might be Ian Kinsler, who has entrenched his name in the conversation of the best second basemen in the game. Kinsler hit .275 with 17 home runs and 92 RBIs in his first season in Detroit. However, there are risks with even him. He accumulated those numbers hitting in front of Cabrera and the two productive Martinez sluggers. If those guys have off years, which wouldn't be a huge surprise considering their age and injury history, Kinsler may struggle to replicate his 2014 numbers.
The pitching staff is similarly questionable. They have David Price to anchor the starting rotation, but after him it is not nearly as deep as it has been in years past.
Anibal Sanchez is a ultra-consistent pitcher when healthy, but he logged only 126 innings last year due to injury. At least, though, the Tigers then had Max Scherzer. With Scherzer now with the Washington Nationals, the cupboard is pretty bare after Price and Sanchez.
Justin Verlander is no longer the ace he once was. Verlander's ERA was 4.54 last year, and the only pitcher the Tigers added this offseason was Alfredo Simon. While Simon did have a mini-breakout season last year, he struggled in the second half of the season and will have a hard time matching last year's 3.44 ERA.
Even worse, it is not like the team can expect an influx of young talent to come to the Big League club any time soon. The Tigers have the worst farm system in the league, and it is not close. In other words, the future does not look good in Detroit.
Ultimately, the Tigers need way too much to go right to even have a chance to compete in 2015. They need Cabrera to return from ankle surgery and have an MVP-caliber season. They need Victor Martinez to overcome a second surgery on his left knee and be the stud he was last year. They need J.D. Martinez to follow up last year's breakout campaign with another strong season. They need Sanchez to play an injury-free season, Verlander to return to Cy Young status, and the bullpen to hold a lead every once in a while.
It's way, way too much to expect, and there is little chance the Tigers make the playoffs. The Kansas City Royals will come into 2015 with confidence after their run to the World Series, and the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians both improved this offseason. Detroit is losing its grasp on the A.L. Central, and the Tigers could easily miss the playoffs this year.
It is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.