DETROIT – Baseball season is a special time in Detroit.
It’s late March. We’re finally seeing the sun for the first time in months, and that means the Tigers will soon be back at Comerica Park. They’re starting on the road this season, but that doesn’t take away from the excitement of Opening Day.
As for the actual team, well, we really don’t know what to expect.
Remember this time last year, when there was some actual buzz surrounding the Tigers? They had just signed Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez, traded for Austin Meadows, and called up Spencer Torkelson. Then Baez won the opener on a walk-off -- it was awesome.
We all know how it went from there. Rodriguez ghosted the team to deal with personal matters. Meadows battled injuries and mental health struggles. Baez led the league in both errors and swings at pitches two feet out of the zone.
Detroit ended up with 96 losses. It was deflating. Fans in this state waited so patiently for some decent baseball while ownership put off investing in the on-field profit. Then, when it finally looked like the team would be interesting, everything that could possibly go wrong went horribly, terribly wrong.
Now, Tigers fans look around the league and see all this star power and feel completely left out. There’s no Julio Rodriguez, or Juan Soto, or Bo Bichette, or Tim Anderson, or Jose Ramirez, or Adley Rutschman, or Corbin Carroll in this lineup. There’s no Spencer Strider, or Jacob deGrom, or Shohei Ohtani in the rotation.
In an era with more exciting players than ever, the Tigers are the MLB embodiment of Squidward watching SpongeBob and Patrick play out his window.
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It’s frustrating because a rebuild that started in 2015 should have yielded some progress by now.
Since their last playoff appearance, the Tigers have drafted Beau Burrows (bust), Matt Manning (doesn’t look good), Alex Faedo (doesn’t look good), Casey Mize (out for the season), Riley Greene (there’s hope), Spencer Torkelson (off to a tough start), Jackson Jobe (injured), and Jace Jung in the first round.
Not one of those first-round picks have given the Tigers a productive MLB season. On top of that, the only two significant free-agent signings of that entire nine-year span struggled in 2022.
It’s hard to imagine the Tigers having worse luck this year. Not only will Rodriguez, Meadows, and Greene hopefully play full seasons, but Spencer Turnbull is back from Tommy John surgery. There’s no way Baez and Jonathan Schoop can be as bad as they were, and Meadows should be a huge upgrade in the heart of the order.
But is there any hope at all that the Tigers could compete for a playoff spot, or even flirt with a .500 record?
Hope springs eternal at the start of every baseball season, and this version of the Detroit Tigers is no exception. Humor me a moment and consider this 99th percentile outcome if absolutely everything goes right:
- Baez adjusts to playing in the AL and gets back close to his 2021 production, which saw him hit 31 home runs and steal 18 bases while batting .265.
- Meadows puts a difficult 2022 season behind him and finds the power stroke that allowed him to hit 60 combined homers between 2021 and 2019, his only two full seasons of MLB action.
- Schoop gets back to hitting 20 homers, something he’s done in every single full season of his career since 2016, except for 2022. Heck, he hit .278 with 22 homers just one year ago in 2021.
- Greene builds on a strong rookie season and an excellent spring training.
- Torkelson finds his footing, just like he did at every stop in the minor leagues, and becomes the 25-homer, .350 OBP hitter the Tigers envisioned.
- Eric Haase maintains his home run pace from the past two seasons, but this time as the No. 1 catcher.
- Turnbull picks up where he left off before Tommy John surgery -- he had a 2.88 ERA and 2.95 FIP through the first 50 innings of 2021, including a no-hitter.
- Rodriguez returns to being the solid middle of the rotation guy he’s been his entire career (besides 2022).
Individually, none of those scenarios seems impossible, or even all that unlikely. If they all happened, the Tigers would probably be a competitive ball club.
But we know that’s not how baseball usually works. There are always twists and turns during a 162-game season, and the Tigers don’t seem well equipped to handle them.
Scott Harris deserves time to implement his philosophy and get the right players into the organization, but that doesn’t make today any easier for Tigers fans. There’s always going to be hope because it’s Day 1 of 162. But deep down, we all know it’s probably going to be another long summer.