Here was the Tigers’ roster four years ago, in 2014, when they piled into a charter jet headed for Detroit and for Opening Day against the Royals at Comerica Park.
The starting rotation was Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Anibal Sanchez and Drew Smyly.
They had Ian Kinsler at second base, with Torii Hunter, Austin Jackson, and Rajai Davis in the outfield a few weeks before a youngster named J.D. Martinez arrived. Nick Castellanos was a rookie third baseman. Andrew Romine and Eugenio Suarez were filling in at shortstop for Jose Iglesias, who was about to miss the entire year with shin issues.
The team’s catcher was Alex Avila. Its closer was Joe Nathan.
The Tigers squad that prances onto the field Thursday against the Pirates at Comerica Park has been, well, realigned.
Jordan Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd, Francisco Liriano and, for at least awhile, Daniel Norris, are the Tigers’ starters.
Their second baseman will be Dixon Machado, with Jeimer Candelario at third base, Iglesias at short, Mikie Mahtook in left, Leonys Martin in center, and Castellanos – newly relocated from third base – in right field.
Their catcher will be James McCann. Their closer is Shane Greene.
This is how radically personnel can change in the span of four years, which is why any down-the-road glimpses are difficult, if not foolhardy.
But it’s a seductive exercise, staring into baseball’s crystal ball. Especially now. The Tigers are in a ground-up rebuild and will look toward their minor-league hatcheries for pitchers and players who typically form the core of any contender’s eventual prime-time players.
To get at least a vague sense for how some future, and presumably better, Tigers teams will be assembled, begin with the support-beams for any contender, its starting rotation, which was the bulwark of those division champions and two World Series teams from 2006 through 2014.
Let’s round off our prospectus with a five-year date – 2023 – which is when a team’s re-do should be somewhere close to fruition.
POSSIBLE 2023 TIGERS ROTATION
1. Franklin Perez
2. Matt Manning
3. Beau Burrows
4. Gregory Soto
5. Alex Faedo
This is a long walk on thin ice for obvious reasons.
The chances all five will be in Detroit in five years is pure nonsense, based on health probabilities, washouts, and the likelihood of forthcoming trades.
Also consider that there’s a first overall draft pick arriving in June, which could easily be a pitcher, in which case said pitcher might very well be this team’s 2023 ace. There almost surely will be another early first-rounder in 2019. So be prepared for some major rotation retooling along the way.
But because Perez today is their most talented young arm, even if he will miss the early months of 2018 with a torn LAT muscle, he has a shot at sitting no worse than No. 2 five short years from now.
Manning is the most intriguing of the above contestants, thanks to an important distinction. He has the deepest reservoir of raw talent among this particular Fab Five. He could, if his development follows in all its projected glory, be The Man in 2023. On this proposition, don’t bet anything you can’t afford to lose. But it’s something to think about.
Every team needs a power left-hander in its stable and that man, for now, is Soto. Five years from now he will be 28 and could possibly have enough handle on the strike zone to be a serious presence.
Burrows would seem to be the safest of picks for Tigers clairvoyants. He is a right-handed bulldog, a man who stays healthy and chomps innings. He is a past No. 1 pick. He won’t be in Detroit until next season but could, five springs from now, be working on a handsome contract extension should all continue to go as it has gone since he signed out of high school three years ago.
Faedo, too, ranks as a percentage bet to be a Tigers rotation plow-horse. He was last June’s first-round pick and is sprucing up for his first full year of pro baseball, which looks as if it will begin at Single A Lakeland. It is such players and timetables that make thoughts about the future defensible.
Other prospects who might in 2023 replace any of the above: Kyle Funkhouser, Austin Sodders, Wilkel Hernandez, Gio Arriera, Elvin Rodriguez, and Dane Myers, Anthony Castro, or even Matt Hall.
POSSIBLE 2023 TIGERS BULLPEN
Relievers are more difficult to consider, given their volatility and mobility. But in the short term, if not necessarily in 2023, you can gather at least a small bucket of names to mull.
Joe Jimenez, who by 2023 should be an upcoming free agent, could conceivably be working yet as Tigers closer.
Gerson Moreno has a fierce back-end arm and might be aboard.
Bryan Garcia is now healing from Tommy John surgery, which means he won’t begin pitching until sometime in 2019. In terms of service time and his superb right arm, he sticks as a ’23 nominee for a big late-innings role.
Mark Ecker and Zac Houston must be considered. So, too, might Eduardo Jimenez, as well as Tom de Blok. Any could find their way into the mix, as could John Schreiber, to say nothing of 20 additional kids now firing away on the farm.
TIGERS POSITION POSSIBILITIES
This is where potential events turn doubly interesting, and triply difficult to base any solid guesses. But we’ll try.
We will assume, by 2023, when Miguel Cabrera is a month from his 40th birthday, that he no longer will be a national landmark at first. If he remains in Detroit, he by then will be a designated hitter.
Therefore, first base figures to be wide open in a few seasons. It makes sense that a player now unknown to the Tigers galaxy will five years from now be stationed at first. Very possibly, it will be a player netted in a trade, or through free agency. Maybe it’s one of these early draft picks the Tigers will be expending for a few years.
It could be Christin Stewart, the left-handed power-pack who for now is working as a left-fielder. What if he pulls a reverse of the Castellanos experience and moves from the outfield to a corner infield post, opposite of where Castellanos once roamed?
There could also be a move to a potentially talented and powerful left-handed hitter, Jose Quero. But that’s only going to happen if Quero alters a body that looks as if it’s moving toward Prince Fielder dimensions. Quero is 19 and has wonderful upside. But he must streamline that 6-foot frame.
This is another blindfolded stroll down Roster Street.
Dixon Machado, for now, is the Tigers’ second-sacker. He is young. But it’s unlikely he’ll be there in five years. Nor is it realistic to consider Dawel Lugo will be the long-term answer.
It could be a surprise prospect: Josh King, who was part of last summer’s trade for J.D. Martinez. Or, it’s possible that Anthony Pereira, who is 21 and who has some substance, could play his way into the scheme.
The easy pick is Isaac Paredes, now perhaps the best-hitting young prospect in the Tigers chain. One problem, and only one problem: Paredes carries too much weight for short. Unless he begins considering menu options that don’t gravitate toward carbohydrates, Paredes won’t have the mobility to work the toughest spot on a big-league infield.
It’s possible the Tigers, by then, will have their man in teenager Wenceel Perez, a lofty signing out of the Dominican Republic. He is a switch-hitter, only 18, and has batted well in the early going, which surprises no one.
Or, another to carefully inspect in 2018: Alvaro Gonzalez, who was handed $1 million last season as a 17-year-old Venezuelan, all in a bid to someday bring him to Detroit.
Do not be surprised if the draft, either this year or next, contributes a name or two for the most critical position on a big-league diamond. The Tigers need more bodies, and more talent, in the pipeline.
But if you’re a fan of promising odds, Gonzalez might be your guy.
This could be Jeimer Candelario, who might yet be wearing Tigers stripes five years after he arrived as a Tigers regular.
It could be Paredes if he doesn’t switch to a bit more fish, vegetables, and fruits at the team dining table. The issue in any move to third is that Paredes must swing a bat that supports the position. He might indeed become that brand of hitter: a powerful, run-producing machine who can handle the reduced range at third.
But that’s perhaps banking on too much good fortune.
Within the Tigers constellation, third base is one of those distant stars, fuzzy and indecipherable. Ryan Karstetter, a draft grab last June, could have a shot.
Now one sees why this Tigers rebuild is somewhere on the level of the Mackinac Bridge project of the 1950s. A lot of construction lay ahead. And the water’s getting deep as a scary 2018 arrives.
Begin with center field and with the demand last August that Daz Cameron be part of the Justin Verlander deal with Houston. The Tigers had no serious center-field prospects beyond Cameron. Derek Hill presumably is a contender there, but his bat isn’t likely to make him more than an option as a defensive fill-in, if a former first-round pick makes it to the big leagues.
Mike Gerber can play anywhere in the outfield. And he swings a respectable left-handed bat. Will he bring the offense that makes him a fixture, say, at a corner spot or in center? We’ll get a hint soon enough, since it’s a safe wager Gerber will be in Detroit at some point this season.
Stewart, Gerber, Cameron – you can make an on-paper case for those three. You might also see last year’s second-round pick, Reynaldo Rivera, resurrect after a brutal first summer and bust loose with his big body (6-foot-6) and left-handed bat to become a mid-order machine in right field.
It’s possible, also, that Cam Gibson, who continues to push his way up the farm-system’s corridors could also find a place in Detroit, even as a bench handyman.
But add outfield to a probable Tigers shopping list as they re-stock the farm and ponder moves in seasons ahead. Outfield is at the heart of a team’s offense. The Tigers need a batch of game-changing bats.
Ironically, one of big-league baseball’s toughest areas to stock USDA-certified flesh, catcher, happens to be a Tigers strong suit.
It began a decade ago when the Tigers nabbed Alex Avila and found in a fifth-round pick a future All-Star and starter. They added Bryan Holaday, who has been a backup for assorted teams. They drafted Rob Brantly and watched him become a blue chip in their trade for Anibal Sanchez.
Two more drafted catchers, Curt Casali and Kade Scivicque, were dealt to teams that found them handy in swaps with Detroit.
The Tigers drafted current starter James McCann. They have in the hopper Grayson Greiner, who might or might not prove to be big-league material, as well as hotshot prospect Sam McMillan, whom they bought away from his University of Florida scholarship.
They got skilled Jake Rogers in the Verlander deal. They also have a prodigy in 19-year-old, switch-hitting Gresuan Silverio, in whom they invested big money by international signing standards: $300,000 to pry him from the Dominican Republic.
So, this is inspiring from the Tigers’ view – that they have such pleasing inventory at a position of need – even if it makes for tough prognostication in 2018.
The Tigers will see how the catchers’ bats evolve. What seems safe to say today, as safe as it gets in plotting future rosters, is that their 2023 starter will be one of their in-house apprentices. They’ll wait and see how Rogers, Silverio, and McMillan fare, no doubt while adding more catchers along the way, which has become one of the Tigers’ healthier habits.
This would make for a good Tigers website contest. Who will be the Tigers’ designated hitter once Miguel Cabrera heads for his lavish retirement?
What we know is that any such scion will almost certainly arrive after 2023, given that Cabrera’s contract runs, minimally, through the ‘23 season. Assuming his formerly aching back and his zest for baseball cooperate, he will be swinging that blur of a bat for another six seasons.
That’s a forecast the Tigers can, of course, accept. They’ll have other positions to decide, open for bids in these coming years of reconstruction, during which Cabrera figures to be a constant.
What he and the Tigers hope is that by Opening Day, 2023, other stars will have joined him. If that’s the case, this Tigers reclamation process, now under way, might be considered a wait that was worthwhile.