Yes, just as the daffodils and tulips and chives are popping up, the Tigers have come north and are playing baseball again. A couple of weeks in and there haven't been nearly the rainouts as last year, but one snow-out in Minnesota!
Being a Tigers fan has been painful the last few years, especially during the tail end of the Brad Ausmus human tranquilizer era. But I feel like the hiring of Ron Gardenhire last year was the beginning of the turnaround for the Tigers. He brings emotion, intensity, baseball knowledge, willingness to innovate, and the necessary prior success to gain the respect of the players. I really like him and I like what he's doing on this team that is very young and inexperienced. I hope he's still around when it's winning time again. He's been through a lot since being fired at Minnesota.
Which brings me to the players. An interesting bunch to be sure and if Gardy has anything to say about it they'll be competitive even though it's likely they'll finish with more than 90 losses again.
Unfortunately, they have already lost one of their pitching mainstays - Michael Fulmer - for the year to "Tommy John" surgery. Probably won't see him again until next year around the All-Star break. It also adds to the concerns that he is injury prone and will never be be a 30+ starts and 200+ innings pitcher they hoped he would be. We'll see what happens there.
Speaking of oft-injured pitchers, Daniel Norris is back for another try. After coming over from Toronto in the David Price trade as the prime part of the deal, he has had nothing but health issues. This will be a key year for his career, as he needs to show he can both stay healthy and pitch consistently. Came north as a long-reliever, but almost immediately got put in the rotation due to a knee injury to free agent Matt Moore, who will be rehabbing to see if he can avoid surgery to repair a meniscus issue. The Tigers are hoping he can be another Mike Fiers that can be flipped for prospects at the trade deadline. This puts a big question mark on that possibility.
The other free-agent pitcher, Tyson Ross, has been OK: 1-2, 3.50 ERA, 1.28 WHIP. He's getting nearly 6 million dollars this year, so he needs to do well, not just OK
So the other Starters:
Jordan Zimmerman - highest paid pitcher has really been a bust so far for the Tigers. He is another one who just can't stay healthy. Here's hoping this is his year to rebound, like Justin Verlander did a couple of years ago after some rough seasons health-wise. Because we're likely stuck with him this year and next.
Matthew Boyd - the real gem of the David Price deal, he has been the steadiest pitcher the Tigers have had over the last couple of seasons. Really coming into his own now. Keep going Matthew! You'll be beloved here like Verlander if you do.
Spencer Turnbull - promising rookie who has all the tools. Hopefully he'll keep his head above water and grow into what the Tigers hope is a solid starter for years to come.
Shane Greene has been lights out so far, setting some save records already. Gardenhire is concerned about overusing him early and he should be. Tigers need to score some runs so they aren't in the save situation every game, and Joe Jiminez needs to find some more consistency to spell Greene once in a while.
Joe Jiminez. Frustrating is the word to describe him. Can be lights out one day, then give up three runs the next. He is young still - only his second full season. But he needs to find the consistency that will keep him employed in Detroit for a long time.
Blaine Hardy. What a great story. DFA'd last year and cleared waivers, which meant nobody wanted him. Went back to Toledo and found himself, then got called up and was one of the most consistent pitchers on the team, while handling several roles along the way, including starter when they were short there. You've got to pull for a guy like that, and he's putting up good numbers so far. Keep it up, Blaine!
Farmer, Alcantera, Stumpf, and Garrett round out the bullpen. Alcantera needs to be consistent - he's got the stuff to make it. Stumpf has done well so far but doesn't have much of a track record. Garrett is a Rule 5 pickup that has some promise, and will be put in positions where he can learn without damaging the team too much. VerHagen was doing well until an injury in spring training set him back, so data on him yet.
Position Players - Miguel Cabrera is back, but right now is just a singles hitter. Hopefully as the weather warms up so does he, otherwise it will be like watching the decline of Victor Martinez. Supposedly he is hitting the ball hard, just doesn't have anything to show for it. Given his history and the serious injury he's coming back from, he deserves some benefit of the doubt. He'll see a reduced role at 1B as Gardenhire tries to keep him fresh and healthy for an entire season. That will be his first in about 3 years of that happens.
We imported the Pittsburgh Pirates middle infield from last year - Josh Harrison at 2B and Jordy Mercer at SS - and by all accounts they are doing well, Except of course that Harrison pulled a quad in flipping Minnesota and is on the DL for a while. Harrison will be intriguing on both offense and defense, and has already made some big plays. Mercer is a good glove with a moderately good bat. Not the defensive whiz of his predecessor, but a little better stick, so we'll see what happens there.
On the other corner Jeimer Candelario is back for his second full season with the Tigers. Like most younger players he is looking for more consistency at the plate, but has played 3B pretty well. Hit the wall last year as most rookies do, and struggled at the plate. Look for him to improve there this year. There are 3B prospects coming up so if he wants to keep his job he definitely needs to improve.
The outfield has been brutal so far this year. JaCoby Jones hurt his shoulder making a diving catch late in spring training and was just activated this past Friday. Center field play has suffered, as Jones is top-notch out there. Mikie Mahtook didn't play well there and was batting .000 for the year, which got him DFA'd. I think he cleared waivers but honestly, this was two years in a row he started out badly at the plate, so I don't see him staying around, as there are some prospects coming along that the Tigers will want to invest more playing time in.
Christin Stewart is the new left fielder. Has a lot of potential and the Tigers are going to let him play and see what he's got. Already has a Grand Slam, but it is his rookie year so you don't expect him to be lights out for the whole year. This is where Mahtook's struggles hurt the team. If he hits even a little he's a guy you can plug in there and he will play a good left field to give the kid a break now and then if he hits a little slump. Not sure what the plan is there now.
Nick Castellanos is still here, despite being on the trading block the last two years. Is still learning to be an outfielder but by all accounts has improved even from last year. A proven major league hitter, of which the Tigers have all too few. Personally I hope he stays around and gets to be a part of the next playoff contender here in Detroit. He's put up with a lot of criticism over the years because the Tigers didn't put him in the best position to be successful defensively and I would like to see him have some success after settling in and finding his niche.
Catchers - Greyson Greiner is the rookie starter who by all accounts is a good receiver, caller of games, and has a strong, accurate arm. If he hits, he stays. If not, Jake Rogers is coming on in the minors.
John Hicks returns after missing last season with injury - he will share time with Cabrera at first and Greiner behind the plate. Good spot for him to be - should see a lot of him this year.
Spare Parts - Niko Goodrum returns to his super-utility role after spending much of last year at 2B. He is off to a great start, and will play most of the positions on the field at some point this season. Gardenhire really likes him, and he seems to be a spark plug.
Gordon Beckham, against all odds, made the team as a backup infielder. Has struggled since his rookie year with the White Sox and has bounced around a lot the last few years. Veteran guy, won't see a lot of time on the field this year, although is the likely fill-in for Harrison while he is on the DL.
Dustin Peterson - called up when JaCoby Jones went down, has only played a little, so not much to go on here. Lost favor in Atlanta and was put on waivers, where the Tigers promptly snached him up. Apparently had a good reputation in the minors, which was why it was surprising to find him on waivers, but there it is. Will likely spend most of his season at Toledo once Jones and Castellanos are back on the lineup.
So there you have it - my "expert" once-a-year analysis of the Detroit Tigers. Sorry I missed it last year.