Way, way back pre-coronavirus, the honchos of the SB Nation AL Central blogs got together for a roundtable to discuss the season. As we never published any of them at South Side Sox before the season was shut down, this week we’ll roll them out, so you can get reacquainted with the teams that you will be so tired of seeing by season’s end. (Forty of 60 games, yikes!) Keep in mind, of course, that these were written before the season was delayed, and some team (and life) details have changed in the intervening months.
Today we stay east, to the Detroit Tigers. Manager of Bless You Boys, Rob Rogacki, drops the knowledge.
1. What’s changed for your team over the offseason?
If you take the thousand-foot view, not much has changed for the Tigers over the past offseason. They are still mired in a rebuild, and still won’t be very good in 2020. Their top prospects are a bit closer to the major leagues now, and we should finally see some of their top arms in Detroit at some point this year. However, they still don’t have much in the way of impact talent on the other side of the ball in their system. They will be better this year (courtesy of a couple of former Twins!) but it will still be a long season for us Tigers fans.
1a. Any noteworthy free agents or trades, new coaches or front office people? How will these changes impact your team in 2020?
As I hinted above, the Tigers went out and addressed one of their biggest needs this offseason by signing a pair of former Twins: Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron. The two combined for 48 home runs, or roughly one-third of the Tigers’ team total for the entire 2019 season. The two will add some much-needed thump to the Tigers lineup, and upgrade a right side of the infield that ranked dead-last in baseball last year.
However, the biggest upgrade may come behind the plate, where Austin Romine takes over as the starter. Yes, I know how this sounds, but the Tigers were so bad behind the plate last year that even a career backup like Romine represents a massive upgrade. Tigers catchers were nearly four wins below replacement level last year, so even a modest season from Romine is an upgrade.
1b. What guys got traded away, walked as free agents, or retired that will impact your team in 2020, and what will that impact be?
The few losses the Tigers suffered this offseason will not hurt them in 2020, and might even help them improve. Second baseman Josh Harrison missed most of the 2019 season, and still managed to be worth -0.6 WAR in just 36 games. Tyson Ross and Gordon Beckham were replacement-level players who were just in the way of younger players by season’s end. Edwin Jackson was on the team at one point.
The only real loss came last July when the Tigers traded Nicholas Castellanos to the Cubs. While there was some debate around the fanbase whether this was a right move — Castellanos was reportedly interested in an extension heading into last year, but never got a contract offer — the Tigers will need to find a way to replace his offensive production this year.
2. What players that we haven’t heard of will we want to know about going into 2020? Guys with bigger roles, prospects that might be called up, or breakout candidates?
If you paid any attention to the Tigers last year — first of all, why? — then most of the names here will look familiar. Former Twins prospect Niko Goodrum is probably the best bet to serve as a breakout candidate, if only because he finally has a defensive home to open the season. He was the Tigers’ most consistent player last year, and defensive metrics have liked his work at shortstop much better than in the outfield. Former Rule 5 pick Victor Reyes was also a nice surprise last year, with 1.6 WAR in 69 games.
But the names to follow will all likely start the year in the farm system. Barring injury, top prospects Casey Mize and Matt Manning should reach the majors this season, and 2019 breakout prospect Tarik Skubal won’t be far behind. Catcher Jake Rogers and infielder Willi Castro looked lost at the plate in their first taste of major league action last summer, and outfielder Christin Stewart should also take a step forward.
3. What are the general feelings of your fan base going into 2020: optimism, pessimism, a little of both?
There is still plenty of apathy to be found around the Tigers fanbase, but those of us still paying close attention are hopeful that the team will at least be a little more watchable in 2020. From the added thump to the lineup — Cron, Schoop, and Romine are all huge upgrades over complete black holes — to the plethora of arms that should debut this year, there are several more reasons to pay attention to the Tigers in 2020, even if they still lose a ton of games.
4. Who is your pick to win the AL Central, and why?
Even though the White Sox did everything they could to vault themselves into contention this year, the Twins win the division in a walk. Cleveland has once again failed to do anything of note (besides trade Corey Kluber — remember that?), and their 93-win season from 2019 was buoyed by an 18-1 record (!) against the Tigers. If that series comes back to the middle even a bit, the Tribe will struggle to keep pace with a Minnesota club that made some savvy moves themselves this offseason.
5. What else should our readers know about your team?
Well, they’re certainly a team. The Tigers will look similar to last year’s club, but will hopefully provide a bit more resistance to their AL Central foes (and everyone else). The team that starts the year in Detroit will look wildly different from where they end up in August and September, which should make things more interesting for Tigers fans and opponents alike.
And hey, maybe they won’t finish in last place this year!
I keep tooting my own horn like a jagoff, but there was a nice comment from Bless You Boys when they ran our White Sox preview: