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With solid core, Tigers eye deep run in '17

Verlander, young hurlers poised to lead talented Detroit team
October 4, 2016

DETROIT -- As the Tigers smarted from their disappointing loss on Sunday, Ian Kinsler's mind was already turning to what could've been done differently."We have some time to think about it and figure out what we need to do next year to stop that from happening, to be more of

DETROIT -- As the Tigers smarted from their disappointing loss on Sunday, Ian Kinsler's mind was already turning to what could've been done differently.
"We have some time to think about it and figure out what we need to do next year to stop that from happening, to be more of a consistent team," Kinsler said. "Right now I don't have an answer for you. …
"We have a lot of talent in this room, and we have a lot of young talent. We're going to be fine. We have some time for next year, and we need to figure out how to get better. We're not a playoff team right now, so we need to figure out how to get better."
Verlander, Miggy powered late-season surge
The Tigers have a history of responding to end-of-season disappointment with offseason bolstering. The last time they finished second to the Indians in the AL Central, they traded for Miguel Cabrera. When they missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010, they signed Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit. Last year, new GM Al Avila signed Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton, and he swung a handful of other deals.
This year, there might not be much maneuvering to do. Nearly all the Tigers' heavy payroll remains locked in for next season, save for contract options on Cameron Maybin and Francisco Rodríguez. And with Detroit already into luxury tax territory, adding to that is virtually out of the question. If anything, the bigger suspense is whether Avila might have to reduce payroll to avoid another tax bill.
The reality is that the Tigers set up their roster last offseason to contend for two years. J.D. Martinez, Kinsler and a handful of others are up for free agency next winter. Unless the Tigers try to take advantage of a thin free-agent market and trade veterans in an effort to get younger, the group they have will be intact for one more run, leaving it up to manager Brad Ausmus to figure out how to get more out of it.
Arbitration eligible: SS José Iglesias, RP Justin Wilson, IF Andrew Romine, 3B Nick Castellanos, RP Alex Wilson, RP Bruce Rondón.
Free agents: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, IF Erick Aybar
Contract options: OF Maybin ( $9 million club option or $1 million buyout), RP Rodriguez ($6 million club option or $2 million buyout)
Rotation: The Tigers contended this season with three young starters in their rotation, none of them with a full big league season. The experience Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd gained this year should benefit them in 2017, giving Detroit a young foundation behind Justin Verlander and what they hope is a healthy Zimmermann. If that's the starting five, the Tigers will have to figure out what to do with Mike Pelfrey and Aníbal Sánchez, both under contract for next year at $24.8 million combined.

Bullpen: The Tigers made a bullpen makeover their priority last offseason and got mixed results out of it. Their biggest addition could be internal with the rise of No. 5 prospect Joe Jimenez, but Avila faces an interesting decision on Rodriguez, whose contract option is affordable at $6 million if they want to stick with the 34-year-old. Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson, Shane Greene and Rondon provide the ingredients for a setup corps.
Catcher: James McCann had a fallback season offensively after a strong rookie campaign, but the Tigers see him as a long-term solution behind the plate with his defensive skills and game-calling. That said, they'll want a left-handed batter or a switch-hitter to complement him and start against tough right-handed pitchers, with Saltalamacchia up for free agency.

First base: Cabrera had his peaks and valleys this year, but his second half showed why he remains one of baseball's most feared hitters. He also quietly put up his best ultimate zone rating at first base (4.5) since 2009, though his negative-6 defensive runs saved was his worst rating at first base since 2008. He's entrenched at first until Victor Martinez's days at DH are over.
Second base: Kinsler continues to defy Father Time at age 34, putting up the fourth-highest WAR among Major League second basemen while tying Dustin Pedroia for the lead in DRS. His .831 OPS was his highest since 2011. He's in the last year of his contract, which combined with his production, could garner interest on the trade market if the Tigers take a step back on payroll. If Detroit intends to contend, however, Kinsler is the heart of the team.

Shortstop: The "meat and potatoes" defense Ausmus emphasized with Iglesias, making the routine plays as well as the flashy ones, paid off handsomely with an 11.1 UZR that ranked sixth among Major League shortstops. He also led the league with a .991 fielding percentage, and he was the toughest batter to strike out in the American League. Iglesias has found his niche as a player as he nears his 27th birthday, and he has a role in Detroit for the foreseeable future, even with Dixon Machado looming as a capable understudy.
Third base: Castellanos' third full season was his breakout, vaulting him from frustrating youngster to key cog in the Tigers' lineup. As his mentors age around him, Castellanos has a chance to become the fulcrum in the lineup if he continues to develop over the next couple years and furthers his opposite-field hitting for a bump in batting average. He's eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, which will further bump the Tigers' payroll.

Outfield: At its peak, the trio of J.D. Martinez, Maybin and Upton was a formidable offensive outfield, combining Maybin's all-around speed with the raw power of the other two. But injuries to Maybin and Martinez, combined with a rough first half for Upton, didn't give Detroit's outfield a chance to blossom until the last month of the season. The Tigers hold a $9 million option on Maybin for next season, and while another season close to his 2016 production would be worth it, the club has to decide if it can afford it.
Designated hitter: Victor Martinez's 2016 season was a middle ground between his MVP runner-up campaign of 2014 and his injury-fueled struggles of 2015. In fact, his .826 OPS fell almost midway in between his 2014 and '15 totals. He was a borderline All-Star in the first half before his nagging knee hampered him down the stretch. Those health-related ups and downs will likely continue into '17, the third season on his four-year contract at an $18 million salary. Still, as Martinez approaches age 38, he remains critical to Detroit's lineup balance.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.