AL Central: Detroit Tigers (96-66)
2014 finish: 1st in AL Central (90-72), out in ALDS vs. Baltimore Orioles
The Detroit Tigers had a heartbreaking finish to their 2014 season after they had acquired starting pitcher David Price in a blockbuster trade from the Tampa Bay Rays in August. The Tigers also thought they had cleaned up their bullpen situation by signing Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain before the season and Joel Hanrahan, Jim Johnson and Joakim Soria during the season but none of these moves paid off for the team that had one of the worst bullpens in the MLB and was swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS almost entirely because of bullpen pitching.
Justin Verlander had a season where he had yet to fully recover from an offseason surgery before 2014, throwing a 4.54 ERA, and the Tigers were also plagued by season ending stress fracture injuries to SS Jose Iglesias. Miguel Cabrera also played through nagging injuries the entire season and had a “down year” where he hit .313 and just 25 home runs, not typical numbers for arguably the best hitter in baseball.
In the offseason, Detroit made some more big moves in their attempt to “win now” trying to go to their second World Series in three years and get to the ALCS again for the fourth time in five years. But, Detroit also lost key pieces.
Key additions: OF Yoenis Cedpedes, RHP Alfredo Simon, RHP Shane Greene, OF Anthony Gose, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, RHP Alex Wilson.
Key losses: RHP Max Scherzer, RHP Rick Porcello, OF Torii Hunter, SS Eugenio Suarez, OF Ezequiel Carrera, UT Don Kelly.
Detroit lost veteran Torii Hunter, arguably the best locker room presence in baseball and one of the top defensive outfielders to play the game to the Minnesota Twins. Detroit also lost Max Scherzer, who won the AL Cy Young in 2013 and has been Detroit’s top pitcher the last two seasons. He won 39 games in the last two years and threw a team-leading 3.15 ERA in 2014. Scherzer wanted the biggest deal possible, and after he turned down a $144 million deal before 2014, GM Dave Dombrowski was essentially done negotiating and Scherzer went to the Nationals this offseason. Detroit also lost young future players in Eugenio Suarez and Ezequiel Carrera.
But, Detroit made some great additons. Detroit traded away Rick Porcello, who had his best MLB season last year, to the Boston Red Sox to fill a gap in the outfield in a big way with 2014 All-Star and back-t0-back Home Run Derby winner Yoenis Cespedes who has one of the best outfield arms in the MLB, adding to an already stacked Detroit lineup. Detroit also signed Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene from the Cincinnati Reds who have both been very impressive in Spring Training, who add to a Detroit lineup of two former AL Cy Young winners in Verlander and Price as well as strong right hander Anibal Sanchez who pitched a 2.57 ERA in 2013 and a respectable 3.43 in 2014.
Despite the losses of Scherzer, Porcello and Hunter, Detroit made big moves in the offseason and still have one of the top squads in the MLB. With Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez (2nd in AL MVP voting in 2014 batting .330/.380/.370 and 32 home runs) expected to be ready for opening day, the Tigers will have the best lineup in baseball this season. Detroit already has Ian Kinsler at 2B, J.D. Martinez in the outfield who broke out last season batting .315/.358/.553 and Jose Iglesias returning at SS. Rajai Davis is returning to CF after a great season and young up and comer 22-year-old Nick Castellanos will play 3B for Detroit and continue to build on what he started in 2014.
2015 team batting MVP: 1B Miguel Cabrera
2015 team pitching MVP: SP David Price
2015 key under the radar player: SP Alfredo Simon
The Tigers will win the AL Central division for the fifth straight year despite tough competition from the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, and will make a run deep into the playoffs. They’ll also win six more games than they did last season with Verlander and Price pitching better. But in the end, it will be their bullpen that holds them back from the title once again.