The Flip Side: Tigers hope to expedite the rebuild

By: 
Yaneek Smith

The American League’s Central Division is winnable.
But is Detroit good enough to contend?
The Tigers went 78-84 last season and finished second in the division behind Minnesota, which is the favorite to repeat as champions.
Normally, a team as young as Detroit wouldn’t be expected to compete for a playoff spot, but the Central Division is rather weak, so anything is possible.
The best player on the team is right fielder Riley Greene, a former first-round selection who played in 99 games last season before getting hurt. In 378 at-bats, he hit .288 (.796 OPS) to go with 11 home runs and 37 RBIs. He will be moving from center field to right field to alleviate some of the pressure and strain on him.
First baseman Spencer Torkelson, a former No. 1 overall pick, made strides, hitting .233 (.758 OPS) to go with 34 doubles, 31 home runs and 94 RBIs.
Joining Torkelson on the right side of the infield is rookie 2B Colt Keith, who was signed to a six-year contract during the offseason. Last year, between AA and AAA, he hit .306 (.932 OPS) to go with 27 home runs and 101 RBIs. The Tigers have high hopes for him, hence they gave the rookie a contract.
At shortstop is Javier Baez, who is, in my opinion, one of the worst players in baseball. Last season, he hit .222 (.592 OPS) and drove in 59 runs. He’s entering his third year of a six-year contract paying him $140 million. If he doesn’t do anything in the first two months of the season, Detroit should release him, but the team apparently doesn’t understand the principle of a sunk cost. (Remember, the Tigers have to pay Baez regardless of whether or not he’s on the team.)
The third baseman is Gio Urshela, who played 62 games last year for the Angels, hitting .299 (.703 OPS).
The starting catcher is Jake Rogers, who played 107 games last year, splitting time with Eric Haase. Rogers hit .221 (.730 OPS) and had 21 home runs. Backing him up will be Carson Kelly, a veteran who has played for Arizona and St. Louis. Last season, he hit .206 (.565 OPS) in 52 games.
Joining Greene in the outfield is center fielder Parker Meadows. He played in just 37 games last year in his rookie season, but in spring training, he is hitting the cover off the ball. The 24-year-old, who is a former second-round pick, is hitting .368 (1.073 OPS) in 38 at-bats in spring training.
The left fielder will probably be Mark Canha, who played for Milwaukee last season, hitting .262 (.755 OPS). For his career, he has hit .250 (.772 OPS) with 113 home runs and 417 RBIs.
The designated hitter is going to be Kerry Carpenter, who hit .278 (.811 OPS) with 20 home runs and 64 RBIs in 118 games last season as a rookie. However, he has struggled in spring training, hitting .217 (.686 OPS) while striking out eight times in 23 at-bats.
Expect OF Akil Baddoo (.218 BA, .682 OPS, 11 HR, 34 RBIs), OF Matt Vierling (.261 BA, .717 OPS, 10 HR, 44 RBIs), INF/OF Zach McKinstry (.213 BA, .653 OPS, 9 HR, 35 RBIs) and INF Andy Ibanez (.264 BA, .745 OPS, 11 HR, 41 RBIs) will probably find a spot on the team.
On the mound, the rotation will be led by Tarik Skubal, who went 7-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 15 starts last season after returning from injury. Some baseball analysts think Skubal is going to take off this season and could be in the discussion for the Cy Young Award.
The No. 2 starter could be Matt Manning, a former first-round pick, who went 5-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 15 starts. He will be joined by former No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize, who last pitched on April 3, 2022 before hurting his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery.
It looks like Jack Flaherty, who struggled and went 8-9 with a 4.99 ERA with St. Louis and Baltimore, is going to earn a spot in the rotation. In seven seasons, he’s gone 42-34 with a 3.75 ERA.
That leaves one spot, which will probably go to Kenta Maeda. Reese Olson and Alex Faedo could be sent to the bullpen or will start the season in Toledo.
Maeda, now in his eighth season in a career that saw him pitch for the Twins and the Dodgers, went 6-8 with a 4.23 ERA in `23 in Minnesota. He signed a two-year, $24 million contract with the Tigers during the offseason.
Last year, Faedo went 2-5 with a 4.45 ERA.
In `23, Olson went 5-7 with a 3.99 ERA as a rookie.
Why the Tigers decided to let Eduardo Rodriguez (13-9, 3.30 ERA) go is beyond me. He had a very good season before leaving to sign a four-year, $80 million deal with Arizona, an offer Detroit could’ve matched or beaten.
The closer will be Alex Lange, who went 7-5 with a 3.68 ERA and had 26 saves in 32 opportunities. The setup man will be Jason Foley, who went 3-3 with a 2.61 ERA and a team-high 28 holds to go with seven saves in nine opportunities.
The rest of the bullpen will include the likes of Will Vest, who went 2-1 with a 2.98 ERA with 11 holds and two saves in 48 appearances last season. Tyler Holton, a lefty, went 3-2 with a 2.11 ERA, one save and 14 holds in `23.

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