Believe it or not, real, actual baseball is right around the corner. The spring games have already started, and Opening Day is just over a month away. After a few months of watching a lukewarm stove, it’s time to catch up with what’s going on around the division. I sent some questions around to folks from our sister sites in the SB Nation network for the Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, and Cleveland Indians. They were kind enough to answer the questions, and we’ll run one team each day this week. Assume any editing mistakes are mine. And with no further ado, it’s time to pass the microphone to...
Detroit: Rob Rogacki, Manager, Bless You Boys
What players and/or storylines should we be watching on your team this spring?
The story that most national pundits will focus on this spring is one that followed the Tigers all winter. Will Nicholas Castellanos be traded before Opening Day? The Tigers have been floating Castellanos in trade talks for the last year (if not longer), but have not gotten any offers to their liking. It doesn’t seem likely that Castellanos will be moved before Opening Day, and it will be interesting to see how Castellanos responds to playing another year for a rebuilding club.
But if you ask Tigers fans which player they are watching, most will say that they are keeping close tabs on Daniel Norris. The promising left-hander is now in his mid-20s, and has only shown flashes of his potential, mostly during a strong second half in 2016. He will once again be competing for a spot in the starting rotation this spring, but has yet to take that next step as a big league starter.
What is one more player personnel move you would like to see your team make before spring training ends?
The Tigers have holes at both second base and catcher, but I think the latter is the more pressing issue. Former third round pick Grayson Greiner is the de facto starter heading into the year, with John Hicks serving as his backup. Most Tigers fans are fine with Greiner getting the lion’s share of playing time; he isn’t projected to be anything more than a career backup, but with the team expected to finish at the bottom of the AL Central, it’s worth giving him the reins to see what he is made of.
Hicks is a different story. He isn’t a great defender, and served as the team’s first baseman or designated hitter for long stretches in 2018. Worse yet, he is coming off offseason groin surgery; while it seems that he is healthy and ready to go, it makes more sense for the Tigers to add another backstop in free agency (anyone have Martin Maldonado’s number?) and plug Hicks into the 1B/DH role he spent most of his time in last year.
What’s changed over the offseason for your team? What is new and good, what is new and bad, and what is just plain different?
Many Tigers fans are frustrated with the team’s approach this offseason, in part because there isn’t really anything new to speak of. Sure, they signed Tyson Ross, Matt Moore, and Jordy Mercer to fill the holes left by departing free agents, but those names don’t really jump off the page. Ross and Moore will battle for a spot in the rotation, while Mercer will play his usual dependable, low-ceiling game at short.
If anything, the most exciting development will be Christin Stewart taking over as the team’s primary left fielder. Stewart has been labeled more of a DH type throughout his rise up the minor league ranks, but the Tigers are committed to playing him in left field for the time being. Stewart did his part to generate excitement last September, when he hit well in a handful of at-bats. He may have his gaffes in the field, but he could be one of the team’s most exciting hitters in 2019.
How was last season for you as a fan? What has been the general vibe around your team during the offseason, and how do you feel about the upcoming season?
Last season was rough for Tigers fans. The team was bad for a second consecutive season, and the team did little to change that outlook for 2019. This is life for a rebuilding club, something that Tigers fans were all too familiar with in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Call us spoiled -- we deserve it after the last decade or so -- but many fans were hoping for a bit more spending from the team this offseason. Instead, they will probably finish with 90-plus losses for the third consecutive year, and pick up another top 10 draft pick heading into 2020.
Who do you think will win the division, and why?
Is this a trick question? It’s the Indians, right?
What other question should we have asked you but didn’t?
Sadly, no. The Tigers are in the least sexy part of their rebuild -- after the top-end talent is gone, but before the top prospects arrive. They will bring up a few players here and there that Tigers fans will cheer about, but few (aside from Stewart, maybe) will generate any national buzz. The team may surprise, as any MLB club is capable of, but there’s a reason they have some of the longest World Series odds of any team in baseball.