Detroit Tigers quietly returning to relevance

Aug 20, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Tigers shortstop Zack Short (59) celebrates with relief pitcher Gregory Soto (65) and left fielder Willi Castro (9) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop after a win over Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 20, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Tigers shortstop Zack Short (59) celebrates with relief pitcher Gregory Soto (65) and left fielder Willi Castro (9) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop after a win over Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

In 2017, the Detroit Tigers began a long rebuild. For the first time since then, they are showing signs of returning to contention in the near future.

Entering 2017, the Detroit Tigers were hoping to compete for a wild card spot. By the trade deadline, a full on rebuild was evident. J.D. Martinez had already been sent to Arizona, Justin Verlander’s name was swirling in rumors prior his eventual trade to Houston, and age had appeared like it was catching up to Miguel Cabrera. However, in 2021, the team is finally on the upswing after losing 98+ games from 2017-2019,  including an unbelievable 114 losses in 2019.

The 2017 trade deadlines marked a new era for the Tigers. The following roster turnover took place from July 18th to August 31st:

Acquired: Dawel Lugo, Jose King, Sergio Alcantara, Isaac Paredes, Jeimer Candelario, Grayson Long, Elvin Rodriguez, Franklin Perez, Jake Rogers, Daz Cameron

Traded: J.D. Martinez, Alex Avila, Justin Wilson, Justin Upton, Justin Verlander

More Tigers. Cabrera can see the finish line. light

Four years later, the reality is the deadline was mostly a failure for the Tigers. Of the 11 players acquired, only Jeimer Candelario has become a solid major leaguer. Lugo was the centerpiece of the Martinez deal, he is out of affiliated baseball. Long retired and Alcantara was eventually DFA’d by the Tigers and is now on the Cubs.

Perez was the most highly thought of prospect acquired for Verlander, but a series of injuries have derailed his career since being acquired, and at one point was released and re-signed by the team. He has not pitched this season as he is dealing with a shoulder injury. Paredes, still just 22, is viewed as a solid prospect and could join Candelario full time in Detroit soon.

Rogers started to break out this year before getting hurt, but while his defense behind the plate is highly regarded, there are still major questions surrounding his ability to hit high level pitching. Cameron has enjoyed success this year in AAA, but struggled in a brief stint in the majors.

So after a mostly failed tear down, how have the Tigers managed to build a solid team? Offensively, the organization has hit home runs with a lot of cheap acquisitions. Robbie Grossman has a 113 wRC+ while on a two year $10 million dollar contract. Jonathan Schoop was brought back for $4.5 million this year and was signed to an extension.

The most impressive acquisition, however, has been Akil Baddoo. Baddoo was the Tigers’ Rule V Draft pick this past year, and he has performed better this year than anyone could have imagined. In 2019, Baddoo spent the majority of the year injured in high A. In the brief time he was healthy he had a 103 wRC+. This year in the majors, he has a 109 wRC+ after not playing in 2020. Bad teams will often draft prospects who become available in Rule V and stash them in the majors before they can send them down the following year. It is very possible the Tigers had the same plan with the 23 year old Baddoo. He had other plans.

Eric Haase has also been a surprise contributor for Detroit. The 28 year old Haase was once a power hitting catching prospect with questions about his defense.  After being designated for assignment by the Indians he was acquired by the Tigers. He spent most of 2020 at the alternate site.

In May, Haase was given an opportunity due to injuries that Wilson Ramos suffered. He made the most of this opportunity. He has a 111 wRC+ and 19 home runs. Eventually, Wilson Ramos was released and Jake Rogers suffered a long term injury leaving the starting job for Haase. While it remains to be seen if he can sustain this success, he has certainly played a major role in this team over performing. They have also tried Haase out in left field, and while in a short sample size, he has held his own at the position.

On the pitching side of things, the future looks extremely bright while the present has begun to showcase why. Prior to getting hurt and undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Spencer Turnbull was enjoying a really solid season, with a 2.88 ERA and 2.95 FIP to show for it. Tarik Skubal brushed off a very rough start to the year and has produced solid numbers as well. Casey Mize and Matt Manning have each had ups and downs, but the potential of both is well known.

The bullpen has offered some intrigue as well. Former Rookie of the Year winner Michael Fulmer has finally reemerged this year, now as a reliever. Whether or not they try and make him a starter again remains to be seen, but it is really nice seeing him have success on the mound again. In addition to Fulmer, Jose Cisnero, Kyle Funkhouser, and Gregory Soto have all had solid years.

The last piece to this has been the hiring of A.J Hinch as the manager. Everyone knows what happened with Hinch in Houston, as the highly successful manager found himself in the center of one of the biggest scandals in baseball history. He was subsequently fired and suspended for the 2020 season.

Hinch wound up in a very different situation in Detroit. At the beginning of the season, ESPN had Detroit’s over/under for wins at 68. At 62 wins with 30 games left, the Tigers look like they will finish well above that number. Since his hiring, Hinch has instilled many different philosophies than those used by the previous manager Ron Gardenhire. His coaching staff has also helped greatly with some of the young players. Recently, Matt Manning praised pitching coach Chris Fetter for helping unlock more velocity with a mechanical change.

Next. Tigers planning on busy offseason. dark

The Detroit Tigers finally look like they can return to contention. They already have a solid young core in the majors, and with Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson in AAA, fans have a lot to be excited about. There are still some steps to go, but there appears to finally be light at the end of the tunnel.