DETROIT – The coronavirus has obviously had a major impact on baseball, shutting down the league for at least eight weeks and casting the entire season into uncertainty. But what does it do to the Detroit Tigers’ rebuild, specifically?
From a contending standpoint, the Tigers aren’t worried about the possibility of missing out on the World Series. They weren’t going to compete for a playoff spot this season.
But losing all of 2020, or even settling for a significantly shorter season, would have its side effects.
Al Avila spent most of the offseason signing solid MLB players to short, flexible contracts. He brought Austin Romine, Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, Ivan Nova and Cameron Maybin to Detroit -- all on one-year deals.
What fans might not have considered is that in the worst-case scenario -- if baseball didn’t have a 2020 season -- we would never see those players officially take the field as Detroit Tigers.
Sure, they played in a few spring training games, but who doesn’t want to see what they could do for a full season here? The offense is sure to improve and the pitching has much more depth. If we don’t get to see that on the field it would be a bit disappointing.
Also, the Tiger would miss out on the opportunity to move some of these players at the trade deadline. Avila made a pair of moves last July and added some prospects to the system. Without a trade deadline, the Tigers miss one of the year’s best opportunities to speed up the rebuild.
It wasn’t a sure thing, but 2020 sure felt like the year we would finally start to see some of the team’s top pitching prospects break into the major leagues.
Alex Faedo, Casey Mize and Matt Manning specifically looked about ready to make the leap. At worst, they were expected to arrive sometime late in the summer.
But if there’s a severely shortened season, those prospects probably won’t get called up this year. They need time to build back up to full strength and prove themselves at Triple-A. This year could basically end up being a lost cause in their development.
For the first time in a couple of years, there’s excitement surrounding the Tigers, and it’s not because they’re a playoff contender. People have been waiting to see the prospects they hear so much about put on the Old English D.
If the season is cut way short, they might have to wait until 2021.
Michael Fulmer’s return
Michael Fulmer has been a bit of a forgotten man this spring, as the Tigers sort through an exciting mix of young and veteran pitchers.
Fulmer missed all of 2019 and isn’t expected to be ready for game action until midway through this season. That’s probably the No. 1 reason nobody is talking about the former AL Rookie of the Year.
If the season doesn’t start until July or later, though, Fulmer could be in a position to work his way onto the roster. Would he have time to build up his workload and make the starting rotation? It’s unlikely, but if he showed positive signs, the Tigers might be willing to give him Jordan Zimmermann’s spot if it’s only a half season.
One of the few positives of a shortened season would be if Fulmer gets a chance to prepare as a starter along with the rest of the staff. This next 18 months is critical for him if he wants to remain part of the team’s future.
Miguel Cabrera’s milestone chase
It’s not all that important to the team’s rebuild, but fewer games definitely hurts Miguel Cabrera’s quest to rise up some of baseball’s all-time lists.
He’s currently 30th in home runs with 477, 29th in RBI with 1,694 and 51st in hits with 2,815.
With three seasons left on his contract, Cabrera realistically could end up in the top 20 of all three categories while hitting some major milestones along the way.
He needs just 23 home runs to reach the 500 club and 185 hits to join the 2,000 club. He could also conceivably reach 2,000 RBI.
Let’s say Cabrera is a bit better than last season over the final three years of his career. Would it be a shock to see him average 20 home runs, 80 RBI and 150 hits?
At that rate, Cabrera would finish 15th all time with 557 homers, sixth all time with 2,014 RBI and 10th in hits with 3,415 (or 11th if Albert Pujols surpasses that total before retirement).
Cabrera is one of the greatest hitters in MLB history and will be remembered as a generational player for the Tigers. But fewer games in 2020 could really hurt his chances to move up these lists.
Losing the 2020 season would obviously be much worse for a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who not only have some aging players in their core -- they also ponied up for one year of Mookie Betts, and that could get washed out.
But it would still be a bit of a setback in the rebuild in terms of prospect development and trade opportunities. There are much bigger concerns than baseball when it comes to the coronavirus, but nobody wants to see an entire season go down the drain.