The KC Royals still remain the favorites in the AL Central despite rival Detroit signing outfielder Justin Upton to a six-year, $132 million deal.
Along with Upton, the Tigers also added premium free-agent pitcher Jordan Zimmerman to their roster. Yet, Detroit simply was replacing the loss of ace David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes—with inferior players.
The Tigers do not look much different than the club that finished 74-87 in 2015, 21.5 games behind the Kansas City Royals. They’ve replaced Cespedes with Upton. They’ve subbed Zimmerman for Price. And they’ve replaced closer Joakim Soria with Francisco Rodriquez. They’ve added starter Daniel Norris, whom they acquired in the July deadline deal with the Blue Jays for Price.
Overall, their rotation figures to be improved by adding inning-eater Mike Pelfrey and Norris over Shane Greene and Kyle Lobstein. Justin Verlander also figures to play a full season in 2016. But the following group isn’t anything like the Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello rotation the Tigers boasted from 2012-14:
Detroit Projected Rotation 2015 Stats [table id=50 /]
Meanwhile, the biggest change to the lineup is subbing Justin Upton for Yoenis Cespedes. The 28-year-old Upton hit .251/.336/.454 for an OPS+ of 121 (21% better than a league average hitter) with 26 home runs and 81 RBIs for the Padres last season. The 30-year-old Cespedes .291/.328/.542 for an OPS+ of 137 (37% better than league average) with 35 home runs and 105 RBIs.
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That looks like a downgrade to me, and that’s before considering defense. In 2015, Cespedes won an AL Gold Glove in left while Justin Upton is an average defender at best. Overall, Cespedes was a 6.3 bWAR player last season with Upton checking in at 4.4 bWAR. Upton has only approached Cespedes’ 6.3 bWAR total once in his career: a 6.1 bWAR season in 2011 at age 23 for Arizona.
The Tigers did add center fielder Cameron Maybin, who will presumably platoon with Anthony Gose in 2016. But, for the most part, the Tigers are bringing back the same lineup that disappointed last season.
Perhaps Victor Martinez can bounce back from a down season at age 36, or godly first baseman Miguel Cabrera can hold back the aging curve with another prime season at age 33 rather than decline. But, I don’t see how the Tigers expect to make up the 35 fewer runs that they scored in 2015 than the KC Royals now that their key pieces are a year older.
Overall, the Justin Upton signing looks like a desperation play by 86-year-old owner Mike Ilitch to stay in contention for a title. Instead, I believe Detroit’s title window has closed and Ilitch can’t accept it because he might not live to enjoy the fruits of a rebuild.