Tigers hope new faces help them return to postseason

Upton, Zimmermann, K-Rod among additions for Detroit

February 10th, 2016

DETROIT -- The Tigers head to Spring Training with more prominent new faces than they've brought in over any offseason since 2009, the year after their previous last-place finish. GM Al Avila was part of that offseason, serving as then-general manager Dave Dombrowski's top assistant. This offseason was different.

With a heavy payroll and a difficult economy, the big names acquired that 2008-09 offseason were Edwin Jackson, Gerald Laird, Brandon Lyon and Adam Everett, all brought in on short-term deals. This offseason, the names range from All-Stars like Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmermann and Francisco Rodriguez, to role players Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

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At least nine spots on Detroit's 25-man roster are expected to be filled with players who weren't on the team at the end of last season. Others will arrive at Spring Training as non-roster invitees with an opportunity to add to the total.

UT Mike Aviles: The Tigers signed Aviles before Christmas with the idea of using him in a superutility role. Upton's signing a few weeks later rendered Aviles' outfield versatility less important, but he has a chance to provide some infield versatility and veteran savvy off the bench, something the Tigers lacked last year without Don Kelly.

RP Mark Lowe: After just 18 Major League appearances in 2013-14 combined, Lowe proved in 2015 he not only belonged in the big leagues, but in a prominent setup role. His fastball gained velocity, his slider gained bite and Lowe gained nastiness. He'll take over right-handed setup duties in Detroit's bullpen.

OF John Mayberry Jr.: The Tigers were looking at Upton and Yoenis Cespedes when they signed Mayberry, represented by Cespedes' agent, as a non-roster invitee. He faces a struggle to make the club as an extra outfielder with Upton in left field, but he'll be reunited with Tigers hitting coach Wally Joyner, who was on staff with the Phillies during Mayberry's last full season there.

OF Cameron Maybin: Another Tigers outfield acquisition before Upton arrived, Maybin rejoins his original club, where he was Detroit's top draft pick in 2005. What once looked like a full-time job for him in center field is now likely a platoon with Anthony Gose, but it's also a chance for Maybin to give his career another bump after a rebound season in 2015 with Atlanta.

SP Mike Pelfrey: The Tigers filled an opening at the back end of their rotation by signing Pelfrey to a two-year, $16 million contract, banking on the FIP and comeback potential of a pitcher they once eyed with their top pick in the 2005 Draft. He'll be two years removed from arm issues that limited him to five games in 2014, and will have time to prove himself while Detroit's pitching prospects develop.

RP Francisco Rodriguez: The Tigers have had ample opportunity to acquire K-Rod over the years, before finally doing so this offseason, becoming Avila's first major acquisition as general manager, from Milwaukee. He's no longer a power-throwing closer, but his changeup is nasty enough to convince the Tigers to buy into his contract season. He'll be the Tigers' seventh closer since 2013.

C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Lost amidst the flurry of December pitching deals, Detroit signed the switch-hitting backstop to a low-risk one-year deal to back up and complement James McCann. He'll have to show in camp that he can still hit to beat out homegrown Bryan Holaday, though.

OF Nate Schierholtz: A few years ago, Schierholtz was a rumored Tigers target as a versatile left-handed hitter. He has struggled since then, but he has a chance to jump-start his career at age 32, returning from Japan as a non-roster invitee.

LF Justin Upton: So much for that left-field battle in Spring Training. Once owner Mike Ilitch boosted the team's payroll to sign Upton to a six-year contract with a two-year opt-out, Detroit's lineup gained a major offensive threat. For the first time in his career, he won't be the star, but another piece in a well-balanced lineup.

RP Justin Wilson: Though Avila was praised for signing Upton and Zimmermann, his best move arguably was to pry Wilson from the Yankees for two mid-level prospects, giving Detroit its best power lefty reliever in years. He'll handle lefty setup duties, complementing the right-handed Lowe.

SP Jordan Zimmermann: The Tigers regrouped from losing Max Scherzer and David Price over the last two seasons by signing Zimmermann to a five-year, $110 million deal, providing a long-term answer behind Justin Verlander in the rotation. He'll spend camp preparing for his first season in the American League.