Detroit News predictions: When will Tigers return to playoffs?

The Detroit News
Matt Manning

Lynn Henning, Chris McCosky, John Niyo, Tony Paul and Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News predict how long it will take before the Detroit Tigers return to the playoffs.

LYNN HENNING

This, for me, is a two-part question: If we’re talking playoffs meaning as a simple wild-card qualifier, you can sneak into the playoffs at some point, perhaps, in the next six to eight years. That sounds like a long time. But in baseball terms, it really isn’t. Not for a team in Detroit’s situation. But if we’re discussing a true October championship contender, a division winner, I don’t see it happening for more like 10 years. Rebuilding a baseball team generally takes time. A lot of time.

It doesn’t mean there will be a bad product on the field in the interim. I don’t see any 100-loss seasons on the horizon.

But to get the simultaneous arrival of young position talent and pitchers that you need in great volume at concurrent times, I expect this process will be something closer to a decade-long program, particularly given that the White Sox will be in position to dominate for a long time because of the talent they’ve been able to amass in the past 12 months.

CHRIS McCOSKY

I am the wrong guy to ask this question. Baseball, the way I watch it and love it, isn’t built on actuarial tables. It’s a simple game comprised of difficult tasks and it requires a unique set of skills and a rare toughness of both body and mind.

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So, to project how kids in their late teens and early 20s are going to develop and over the next five to 10 years – well, who really knows? The beauty is not the forecast but the journey.

Personally, I am in the “prospects are suspects” camp. I prefer proven over promise. Unranked, non-hyped players will emerge and can’t-miss kids will fail.

Jeimer Candelario

The Tigers are probably going to lose a lot of games in 2018 and 2019. But by 2020, when Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander have or are about to take curtain calls, some new excitement could start to build.

For that to happen that quickly, some of the highly-respected pitchers in the system (Alex Faedo, Kyle Funkhouser, Beau Burrows, Matt Manning, Bryan Garcia and others), will have to be who the Tigers are counting on them to be.

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Good pitching will shorten the gap between awful and fun to watch.

The question of when they will be legitimate contenders – presuming the pitching is strong enough to entice Al Avila and Christopher Ilitch to get back into the free-agent game to land some sluggers – that’s probably not going to happen until 2023 or so.

JOHN NIYO

Predicting the Tigers’ future isn’t easy when there’s no clear plan at the moment. How far will they go in the trade market? Will Justin Verlander be dealt between now and next August? What about Ian Kinsler? And Justin Upton? The trade-deadline return this summer wasn’t much — that was true across the league, really — but it was a start, with a possible 2018 lineup regular in Jeimer Candelario and a couple 18-year-old talents in Jose King and Isaac Paredes coming back in deals for J.D. Martinez and Justin Wilson.

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Here’s the problem, though: The Tigers’ strength over the last decade was its veteran core. And it came at a cost: a farm system that has consistently ranked as one of the league’s leanest, thanks to a combination of win-now transactions and spotty drafting. So while the good news is division rival Kansas City may be headed for a fall, the reality is the Tigers, who do have some good young arms in the pipeline, are well behind the White Sox and Twins in rebuilding and no immediate threat to the Indians.

In the meantime, barring trades or an Upton opt-out, the Tigers are locked into paying more than $120 million next season for five players, and two of them – Jordan Zimmermann and Victor Martinez – are playing at below-replacement level. So unless ownership is prepared to continue with a top-five MLB payroll – think $180-million plus – it could be 4-5 years before the Tigers are ready to seriously contend with a revamped roster.

TONY PAUL

The Tigers, with a lowering payroll and a renewed focus on player development, are several years from returning to the playoffs. That said, anybody who fears this franchise is about to enter the Dark Ages akin to what it went through in the 1990s and early 2000s, here’s a message for you: Calm down.

Nick Castellanos

There’s still a solid young core here, with Michael Fulmer, Nick Castellanos, James McCann, Shane Greene, Dixon Machado, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, etc., and by all accounts, the top-tier pitching in the minor leagues has the potential to be outstanding, led by the likes of Beau Burrows, Matt Manning, Kyle Funkhouser and Alex Faedo.

The position-player side of things on the farm — aside from Christin Stewart and Mike Gerber — was limited, which is why Al Avila went hard after a bundle of those types in trading J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson and Al Avila. And later — August? This offseason? — Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler and maybe even Justin Upton could net even more.

This rebuild was inevitable, and will have its pains. But it’s necessary, and won’t take forever to right the ship. There’s a focused vision in play here, and don’t be surprised if the AL Central is theirs again by 2020.

BOB WOJNOWSKI

In extreme cases, rebuilds can take years and years. More commonly, teams add and subtract and pop in and out of relevance. The Tigers fall somewhere in the middle, with enough young pitching talent to pull them back into contention in three years.

The timetable depends primarily on four pitchers: Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, Matthew Boyd, Joe Jimenez. Fulmer should be an indispensable ace, and Norris and Boyd must become dependable rotation guys. Jimenez will be next up on the Tigers’ dizzying closer merry-go-round.

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If one of their three prime pitching prospects – Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Beau Burrows – makes a leap, the Tigers could rise ahead of schedule. Pitching must bridge the gap while the infield prospects acquired in trade develop.

The regular lineup will have modest pop – led by Justin Upton if he stays, and Miguel Cabrera if he can rebound – but not a lot more. The other wildcard: Can newcomer Jeimer Candelario make a quick impact, perhaps even pushing Nick Castellanos from 3B to another position?

GM Al Avila has launched a steady restocking of youth, speed and defense. It will take time, unless the pitching bears fruit sooner. Estimated playoff return: 2020.