Detroit Tigers' best-case and worst-case scenarios for 2024 season

Mar 4, 2024; Lakeland, Florida, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson (20) walks to
Mar 4, 2024; Lakeland, Florida, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson (20) walks to / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers won 78 games in 2023, their closest facsimile to a .500 season since 2016. As a result, and given the mediocre nature of the AL Central, Tiger fans are flushed with anticipation this spring. 

The Twins, Guardians, White Sox and Royals may not be intimidating, but then again, neither are the 2024 Tigers. In his second season as the team’s general manager, Scott Harris largely played it conservative, bringing in a selection of veterans with checkered track records.

Detroit Tigers' 2024 Best-Case Scenario

Harris and the Tigers are placing their hope for improvement on three offseason acquisitions, none of them headliners. Kent Maeda and Jack Flaherty came in via free agency to flesh out a rotation that, in the past year, lost its ace, Eduardo Rodríguez, as well as Michael Lorenzen. Meanwhile, outfielder Mark Canha came over from the Brewers in exchange for a prospect.

Between them, Flaherty and Maeda will cost the Tigers $28 million in 2024, and if they can live up to their tabs, then the Tigers might have something. The most reliable rotation returnee, Tarik Skubal, was 7-3 with a 2.80 ERA in 15 starts last season, but he missed the first half of the season while recovering from injuries that cost him the final two months of 2022.

Both Flaherty and Maeda, however, need to return to the form of days of yore in order to be useful. Maeda missed all or parts of the last three seasons and pitched to a 4.43 ERA when he did work. Flaherty is coming off an 8-9, 4.99 ERA season split between the Cardinals and Orioles.

Offensively, the Tigers need a re-do beyond the scope of Canha, a 35-year-old who hit his standard .262 for the Mets and Brewers. That re-do ought to begin with their best-paid player, Javier Baez. Signed for $98 million through 2027, Baez hasn’t shown any portion of the flair and excitement he once brought to the Cubs.

Last year, he hit .222 with a disastrous .593 OPS, playing to a 62 OPS+. For those not conversant in SABRmetric language, a 62 identifies you as just six-tenths as good as the average major leaguer, who scores out at 100. Put in more succinct terms, Baez was awful. The Tigers need that 62 to become 162 – or at least 125 – in 2024.

If Flaherty, Maeda, Canha and Baez turn out to be contributors, they’ll join a nucleus of talent that includes Skubal, DH Kerry Carpenter, outfielders Riley Greene and Parker Meadows, closer Tyler Holton, and perhaps even first baseman Spencer Torkelson.

The first pick in the 2020 draft, Torkelson has shown signs of living up to projections. Last year, his power game came around, producing 31 homers, 94 RBI and a .758 OPS. Now he needs to upgrade his contact. Torkelson fanned 171 times last season, batting just .233. Any serious consideration of the Tigers as a postseason threat begins with Torkelson fleshing out his offensive game.  

Detroit Tigers' 2024 Worst-Case Scenario

For the Tigers, the list of things that could go wrong in 2024 is lengthy. The odds of either Maeda or Flaherty, much less both of them, returning to the form of five seasons ago are long. If they flop, then the Tigers are really leaning on Casey Mize, trying to come back from Tommy John surgery, and Matt Manning, a system product who hasn’t seemed to be able to stay healthy through his first three seasons.

Tigers manager A.J. Hinch is overseeing a spring competition at second base between the incumbent, Andy Ibañez, and rookie Colt Keith. That tells you something about Detroit’s offense, which was third from the bottom in runs scored per game in 2023, because Ibañez led the offense in WAR last year, albeit at only +2.0.

The Tigers generated just 4.08 runs per game last season, well off the 4.62 major league average. Granted, the AL Central may be baseball’s weakest division, but if Baez, Torkelson, Canha, Ibañez, Keith or newcomer Gio Urshela can’t spur a drastic improvement in that number, it’s difficult to see the Tigers making any kind of serious run.

Most realistic scenario for 2024 Detroit Tigers

Baez, Greene, Torkelson, Keith, Carpenter, Holton and Skubal are all projectible as stars. But only Greene, Carpenter, Holton and Skubel made strides in that direction in 2023, and that’s not good enough. 

To make a serious run, even in a weak division, Baez, Torkelson and whoever plays second base need to upgrade their contributions, and Flaherty and Maeda need to pitch like they're kids again.

That’s a lot to hope for…probably too much. Unless their AL Central competition collectively falls flat and 81 wins becomes a contending number, Tigers fans are living on an uncomfortable portion of hope.

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