Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been taking a look back at the 2013 Tigers and looking forward to the 2014 version of the team. We’ve taken a look at the rotation, bullpen, infield, and outfield – and somehow Avila and Holaday ended up not finding a home within any of those posts (Happy Birthday, Alex!). Let’s now take a look at the team as the sum of its parts.
They’re Going To Be Different
Five critical pieces of last year’s team are gone and Smyly is in an entirely different role. Peralta, Infante, Fielder, Fister, and Benoit will all wear different uniforms in 2014, which means a number of key positions will feature new players. New doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse, but it does mean that the style of play is going to change a good deal. And that’s before you consider that the manager and a good portion of the coaching staff is different, as well.
They’re Going To Play Better Defense
You can never predict baseball, but it’s safe to say that an infield consisting of Castellanos, Iglesias, Kinsler, and Cabrera will be better than one that included Cabrera, Peralta, Infante, and Fielder. How much better is up for debate but earlier this offseason, I estimated the difference being somewhere between one and six wins. That seems like a big range, but the lower bound is an improvement, so it’s going to be a feature of the team. You don’t have Fielder and Cabrera playing at spots at which they were among the very worst in the league. You’ve gone from a pretty good shortstop to a great one, and you’ve made a lateral move at second.
They’re Probably Going To Run More
Rajai Davis alone is going to double the team’s SB totals, but Kinsler runs the bases a little bit, and basic addition by subtraction will help by getting Fielder off the basepaths. Guys like Jackson, Dirks, and Iglesias might also be turned loose on the bases by the new coaching staff, but that remains to be seen.
They’re Probably Going To Hit Less
The Tigers traded offense for speed and defense this offseason, there’s no question. Fielder to Castellanos is a step down. Peratla to Iglesias is a step down. The differences aren’t huge, but if you had to bet, you’d bet on the 2014 Tigers being worse at the plate than the 2013 Tigers. We’re talking about a win or two worse due to Fielder’s down season, but that might end up being an important win.
The Rotation Will Be Worse
This one is cheating because it was pretty much impossible for it to get better. The 2013 Tigers were one of the best couple of rotations in baseball history, so even if they kept the band together, it wasn’t going to measure up. That said, trading down from Fister to Smyly, in addition to the natural regression, leaves the Tigers at least two wins worse in 2014, but probably something closer to four or five wins worse. That’s still amazing, but it’s worse.
The Bullpen Didn’t Really Get Better
The words “Joe Nathan” inspire confidence, but Benoit was a very good reliever last season. You lose Smyly for Krol, which is a downgrade. You gamble on Joba, who has stuff but hasn’t been effective in a very long time, and then you go to battle with Rondon, Al-Al, Coke, and Putkonen – all of whom you had last year. Coke should be better and Rondon could make a leap, but even if you squint, this is the same quality bullpen at a higher price.
They’re Still Going To Be Good
The opening sections make this sound like a doom and gloom post, but it isn’t. The Tigers were a great team in 2013. They won 93 games, but that includes completely phoning it in during the last five days of the season, having a completely injured Cabrera for the last six or so weeks, and some general underperformance of their peripherals due to some extremely weird management decisions that would be hard to repeat (Read: Valverde). The Tigers were a true talent 96-97 win team last year that won 93. This year, they’re probably a 90-91 true talent team that could win anywhere from 86 to 96 games. There are always elements of luck and fortune, but the Tigers are the best team in their division pretty comfortably. The Royals are better this year, the Indians are probably worse, and those other two teams don’t even register.
The Tigers stumbled through this offseason after the Fielder deal, but they were working from such a position of strength that it’s probably not going to matter as far as the regular season goes. There’s plenty left to happen before Spring Training and real baseball, but as the offseason winds down, the Tigers are a weaker version of a really strong team. That’s not satisfying relative to what they could have been, but it’s still not something over which to lose your head. They’re going to be good, but we’re past the point of good being a novelty. This is going to be a transition year for the Tigers, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad one.