Fifteen thoughts as the Tigers prepare for Thursday’s kickoff (football term in baseball season — Lions fever prevails) against the Rays at Tropicana Field:
▶ 1. What’s their 2023 record? Will go with 75-87. The forecast here is for a bad spring and a pretty good summer, owing heavily to early bullpen issues that should calm by June or so, due to new arms arriving (guys from the farm, pick-ups, deals, whatever) and the current cast calming. Hitting will get steadily better. A brutal initial schedule will turn civilized. The team envisioned last year is the one that shows up in ’23.
▶ 2. Riley Greene will be the Tigers’ All-Star. Spencer Torkelson will be the hitter he was destined to be. People talk about COVID classroom kids having been set back, developmentally. Same is true of some baseball prospects who caught COVID flush in their grooming years. Torkelson throws off the shackles in 2023.
▶ 3. The roster will look a bit different by the end of July. Parker Meadows could be aboard. Jonathan Schoop’s days are numbered, even now. Miguel Cabrera? Who knows? Plus, some mid-season deadline trades are coming, for sure. Eduardo Rodriguez, Matthew Boyd, Eric Haase. Any or all could be moving as new front-office chief Scott Harris steadily makes essential moves.
▶ 4. Jake Rogers will settle into more regular duty at catcher. He will be productive, which is why Haase could be an excellent trade chip.
▶ 5. Dan Dickerson finally gets some great full-time road-game help in Bobby Scales and Cameron Maybin. Dickerson has been dealing most nobly with realities that no play-by-play man of his distinction should endure. The Tigers will have half-solved problems there in adding Sayles and Maybin — each very sharp. Also, a strong add in bringing aboard Daniella Bruce for pre- and post-game reports.
▶ 6. Dan Petry will be used perfectly and flexibly on the Tigers telecasts. Craig Monroe has become a broadcast partner’s best friend with his experience and insight. His play-by-play partners love Monroe’s ethic, passion, and expertise (just ask them). Also, folks will like Todd Jones — a lot. He has the verve and the pitcher’s mind to be a plus.
▶ 7. The Tigers’ farm will be a parallel story to follow. At times, it’ll be more interesting than the big-league club. One deep mystery: Where are all these guys going to play? Colt Keith probably is an outfielder, since Torkelson owns first base. Keith likely won’t be a full-time option at third base or second base. Ditto for Justyn-Henry Malloy, who can’t be trusted at third. And then there’s Jace Jung, who can hit, but who won’t have the range for second. Izaac Pacheco? Get ready for Pacheco, who’s going to be a star. But, guess where his best position will be? First base, where he could be a two-way star. How the Tigers and Harris sort out this mélange of bats-first, gloves-next guys when Torkelson already is a fixture at first is one intriguing sticky wicket for Harris and Co.
▶ 8. Austin Meadows is impossible to forecast. But, based upon last year and this spring, it seems unlikely he will be even a 20-home run guy. Maybe not 15.
▶ 9. The Cabrera conundrum. What’s obvious is Cabrera blocks Meadows, as well as Kerry Carpenter, from what could be ideal roles at DH. Ownership insisted on Cabrera being retained for his Farewell Season. But, it hamstrings Harris as well as manager AJ Hinch.
▶ 10. Biggest wild card: Javier Baez. Plenty of sharp people outside, and even inside, the Tigers galaxy believe Baez will opt out of his Tigers deal at the end of 2023. Will believe it here when I see it. But, they’re adamant: He will want to play elsewhere, even with all the money owed. That’s contingent on him having a strong season, or an even stronger will to get out of Detroit and play for an immediate contender.
▶ 11. Spencer Turnbull will, by late spring, be the unquestioned Tigers ace. What a shame Tommy John surgery upended him two years ago. But, he’s back, healthy, steadily picking up steam, and soon will be dynamite. He could, conceivably, also fetch a handsome trade offer at the deadline.
▶ 12. Most intriguing non-regular: Ryan Kreidler. Good that he made the team. He plays splendid infield defense, fills in competently in the outfield, and has a right-handed bat that isn’t big on average but should be worth some homers and extra-base hits as he settles in.
▶ 13. Guy destined to return from the farm: Akil Baddoo. Tough blow, not making the Opening Day club. But, let him get regular at-bats at Toledo and hit his way back to a vital and even invaluable role if he can cut down on the strikeouts and lock in, as he did in 2021. That’s doable. He could be the gift that again gives in 2023.
▶ 14. Most interesting off-the-field theater: July’s draft. The Tigers have new bosses at the helm in Harris, Rob Metzler, and Mark Conner. New philosophies, new sets of eyes, new thinking in place in attacking the single greatest reason the Tigers haven’t won since 1984: Too little talent through the front door.
▶ 15. How many moves will Harris make in 2023? Take the over. Harris is doing what is mandated: making high-volume acquisitions, sowing seeds today that won’t reap much immediately but will pay off eventually. Consider the bullpen: It will kill the Tigers this spring. But, parting with Gregory Soto and Joe Jimenez was necessary when either position needs (the Phillies guys will be gold for Hinch) or free agency (Jimenez) necessitated trades that will hurt early but help plenty during a long haul.
So, enjoy the 2023 Tigers season. Victories will be fewer than fans desire. But, roster intrigue should flourish.