A look at the 2016 Detroit Tigers opening day roster

Clockwise from top left: J.D. Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, Francisco Rodriguez, and Justin Upton.

Clockwise from top left: J.D. Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Francisco Rodriguez, and Justin Verlander.

It’s time to play ball and the Detroit Tigers have cut their roster down to the 25-man limit for opening day of the 2016 season. What will this season bring?

Here’s my look at the 25 players on the opening day roster and what you might expect from them in the upcoming baseball season.

Detroit Tigers Pitching Staff

The Tigers have twelve pitchers on their roster to start the 2016 season.

Justin VERLANDER, starting pitcher

This will be Verlander’s 11th season on the opening day roster for the Tigers and on Tuesday night in Miami he’ll make his eighth opening day start, breaking a tie with Mickey Lolich. Only Jack Morris (11) and Wabash George Mullin (10) started more. JV has a good chance to break that record. But we’re more interested in his 33-34 starts this year, not just the one to start the schedule. Will we get the Verlander of 2009-12 or the JV of the last two-and-half years? Since the 2013 All-Star break Verlander has a 24-26 record, has gone on the disabled list for the first time in his career, and has posted 7.0 K per nine innings as opposed to 9.2 K9 the previous four-plus years. Is this a sign of a career decline or was it, as he suggests, a case of poor mechanics and an arm injury? JV claims he’s healthy now and as strong as he’s been since 2012, and his performance over his last 14 starts last season (2.27 ERA, 91/20 K to BB ration in 99 1/3 IP) supports his claim.

The Tigers will take a healthy Verlander and 15-19 wins with a 3-3.50 ERA and be very happy about it. I say here that JV will get his 15-19 wins in 2016 and reassert himself as the ace of this rotation. The lineup is good enough to give him support, he’s learned to be more of a pitcher, and he also has a good defense behind him too.

At some point in May probably, Verlander will record his 2,000 strikeout and he’s going to pass Dizzy Trout (161 wins) for seventh on the all-time franchise list. With several years left on his “lifetime contract” with the Tigers, Verlander is concerned now with two things and two things only: 1) winning the championship that will fill the only missing piece of his great career, and 2) establishing his mark as the best right-handed starting pitcher in Detroit history.

Anibal SANCHEZ, starting pitcher

Who the hell is this guy? He can show you no-hit stuff and fan 15 in a game and then he can look like a Triple-A pitcher. Sanchez had a terrible start to the 2015 season, seemed to settle down a little in June and July, but then he was miserable again before the team shut him down in August with a sore shoulder. The talented righty is getting paid too much money to make 22-29 starts a season, which is what he’s done since coming to Motown in a midseason trade in 2012.

At one point in 2013, Sanchez was every bit as dominant as Max Scherzer and Verlander. He flirted with a no-hitter against the Red Sox in the ALCS that fall. But since then he’s 18-15 with a 4.29 ERA in 46 starts. It’s hard telling what to expect from him. You have to wonder if it’s a conditioning issue. Sanchez has appeared a little “thick” around the midsection at times during his career, and while he does get fired up on the mound when things are going well, does he have the passion to work hard between starts and during the offseason to come back from injury and make himself into a great pitcher? He can be a great pitcher, his stuff is that good.

I’m not optimistic about Sanchez in ’16, which is discouraging because he could be the key to the rotation. When he’s on, opposing lineups hate facing him. But he’s more wildly unpredictable than Donald Trump on the campaign trail. If he makes 25-30 starts and keeps his ERA under 4.00, that should be considered a plus.

Jordan ZIMMERMANN, starting pitcher

Tiger fans are going to like Zimmermann (let’s just call him JZimm to save keystrokes). Since entering the Nats rotation full-time in 2011, the righthander has made every start and posted a 3.14 ERA. As opposed to JV and Sanchez, JZimm is not a power pitcher, he’s more of a “make them miss” guy. He is a workhorse too, he can go seven or eight innings and help your bullpen out.

Expect JZimm’s ERA to shoot up a bit now that he’s the DH league, but I also think he’ll benefit from being an unknown to a lot of hitters in the AL. Pencil him in for 15+ wins and a good season as the #2 behind Verlander.

Mike PELFREY, starting pitcher

Like Alfredo Simon last season, Pelfrey is filler in this rotation. He’s there to eat some innings. Brad Ausmus will hope that the Detroit offense has some big games when Pelfrey is on the mound, because the righty is one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball. You see, there are really bad starting pitchers, but they usually lose their job. Pelfrey is really no better than a replacement-level starter at this point in his career. Last season he managed a 4.26 ERA, which was about league average, but he surrenders a lot of hits (435 in 360 2/3 IP his last four seasons), so Detroit’s defense will be busy behind him. The large expanses of Comerica may help him, but Pelfrey is a groundball pitcher. That leads to the only positive about Pelfrey: he rarely gives up the longball. He gave up only 11 taters last season when he was with the Twins.

Pelfrey has had some arm issues, missing significant time in 2012 and 2014 with shoulder and elbow problems. He’s not a hard thrower (he pitches to contact), but that has to be a bit of a concern. However, since he’s really a pretty bad starter, if he does go down the Tigers are not going to lose anything by plugging in a healthy Daniel Norris or Matt Boyd or anyone else for that matter.

It’s hard to say a healthy season would be a positive from Pelfrey because he’s probably going to get rocked for a lot of hits and runs, but if he does make 30 starts and Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler can grab some of those groundballs before they get through for hits, maybe this guy can be useful in 2016. But don’t count on it. He’s the worst regular member of the rotation that Detroit has employed since the Bengals tried to convince us that Brad Penny was worthy of being in the major leagues.

Shane GREENE, starting pitcher

Last April, Greene was the feel-good story on this team when he came out firing: going 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA in his first three starts for the Tigers. Then, in his next three starts the tall righthander crashed to earth: 0-2 and 16.36 ERA. Ouch.

He’s just 27 years old and has only made 30 starts in the major leagues, so there’s hope that Greene might round himself into a more consistent rotation member. But then again, think about that: he’s 27 and has made more than 125 appearances in the minor leagues. If he was going to be a good starter in the big leagues he’d probably already shown that. As it is, he’s probably little more than a placeholder until Norris, Boyd, or top prospect Micheal Fulmer is ready.

I don’t expect Greene will be in the Detroit rotation by June. He’ll either have been relegated to the bullpen or pitched his way back to Toledo. A best case scenario for Greene would be if he puts together a stretch like he had for the Yankees in 2014 when he went 3.78 in 14 starts for them. But it’s clear that the Bombers knew what they had and that’s why they traded Greene to Detroit at the 2014 winter meetings. That deal cost the Tigers Robbie Ray, a much better pitcher. That’s one of Dave Dombrowski’s rare bum deals.

Francisco RODRIGUEZ, closer

The active leader in saves, K-Rod is showing no signs of slowing down as he enters his 15th big league season. Even though Venezuelan has all that experience, he’s still only 34 as this season begins. He’s averaged more than ten K’s per nine innings over his career, and the fire is still coming out of his right arm: in the last three seasons he’s averaged 9.9 K9 in 177 games with 92 saves.

The save situations will all fall on him, and unlike other closers the Tigers have had in recent years, Rodriguez has no problem with the responsibility. He was 38-for-40 in save opportunities in 2015, and his career 86% save percentage is one of the best of all-time.

I suspect Detroit fans will be wearing K-Rod glasses fairly quickly as this fiery guy becomes a fan favorite at Comerica. Put him down for 35-45 saves, depending on how many leads this team can get to him in the ninth inning.

Mark LOWE, reliever

The Tigers really wanted this righty and they nabbed him in the free agent season. He’ll be the 8th inning “setup man” for Brad Ausmus. But understand this: Lowe has only pitched in that role for about two seasons. He’ll turn 33 this June and he’s shown that he can pitch frequently, notching 50 games in relief four times. But he’s also had some shoulder problems. He seems healthy now, and Detroit will need him to be if they want the back of their bullpen to improve. Note: Lowe is a one-inning guy, so when the Tigers are leading, get ready for the predictable procession of “seventh-inning guy” followed by Lowe and then K-Rod.

The bullpen has been a glaring weakness for far too long in Detroit. For what we might call the Dombrowski Era, it’s the one sore point and unfortunately the one issue that has cost Detroit a chance at a few titles. With Lowe and K-Rod and a few others, the bullpen appears to be well-tooled for 2016.

Buck FARMER, reliever

The Tigers are high on Farmer, a product of the farm system who is still only 25. He’ll likely share sixth inning duties with lefthanders Wilson and Ryan. He was primarily a starter in the minor leagues, and he will get a chance to pitch in that role should Greene or Pelfrey falter.

Justin WILSON, reliever

Another offseason acquisition, Wilson is a southpaw the Tigers got from the Yankees for a couple of minor leaguers last offseason. He a husky pitcher with a very good fastball that comes over the top. He averages just under a K per inning but he can be wild. When he starts issuing free passes, he might remind some people of Phil Coke. The Pirates converted Wilson into a reliever when they had him and it’s proved wise: he’s pitched 58, 70, and 74 games out of the bullpen the last three years. He’s a good pickup, he’ll probably be the go-to LOOGY (lefty who faces only one batter) for Ausmus.

Kyle RYAN, reliever

Ryan is a tall, lean lefty who can also start if needed. He’s the softest tosser in the Detroit bullpen and for that reason he’ll probably be a multi-inning guy and won’t get called upon much in strikeout situations to face left-handed batters. He could get some starts if the back end of the rotation is as bad as it could be.

Drew VERHAGEN, reliever

The next Dutch Dandy out of the Tiger farm system, VerHagen isn’t going to be as good as Verlander, but the former fourth round pick is rounding himself into a good pitcher and a prospect to keep your eyes on. He’s pitched both as a starter and reliever in the minors, but Detroit seems more comfortable developing VerHagen as a reliever for the MLB level. He’s tall and keeps the ball low in the strike zone. He’ll probably round into more of a strikeout pitcher eventually, but as of now he’s learning to command his pitches and throw strikes consistently.

Logan KENSING, reliever

The surprise of the spring, Kensing made the roster with a good showing in Florida. He’s a veteran right-hander who has 154 big league games under his belt. He’s been in several organizations and is bouncing back after suffering some injuries the last few seasons. he was out of the game completely in 2010 due to arm problems. Despite the adversity, Kensing has an above average fastball and pitches with a competitive chip on his shoulder. He will get a chance to pitch the sixth inning and be a choice when the Tigers need a strikeout against a righthanded batter. Watch out for his wildness though: he’s walked nearly five batters per nine innings in his MLB career and he also can give up a longball. Quite honestly, I think once Alex Wilson is off the disabled list, Kensing will be let loose. But you never know.

Detroit Tigers Catchers

James McCANN, starting catcher

The third-year player enters his first season as the starting catcher. That’s good news for Tiger fans who have already fallen in love with McCann’s leadership and skill at handling the pitching staff and catching duties. He’s a guy who plays well beyond his age (which is 25 as the season starts). How Sparky Anderson would have loved this guy. McCann is sound behind the dish, is adept at guiding pitchers, and has a good offesnive game that will probably improve as he gets more at-bats at the big league level.

It’s not too much to expect a .265 average with 10-15 homers out of McCann, which is more than enough from him with the stick considering his other pluses.

Jarrod SALTALAMACCHIA, catcher

Salty is a veteran catcher who is a Moneyball player. He will hit for low average and strike out some, but he can hit the longball and draw walks. With nine years of experience with five MLB clubs, he’s pretty much seen it all. At one time he was a top prospect, but his low batting average and only average defense have resulted in his moving around a bit.

Some real positives: he hits from both sides of the plate and gives the Tigers their best power-hitting option from the left side after Victor Martinez; he can also play first base when needed. He’s a useful guy who wouldn’t be a disaster at DH if Martinez needs some rest of gets injured again.

His surname is Italian and translates to “jump over” (salta) “the thicket” (la macchia). So there you go.

Detroit Tigers Infield

Miguel CABRERA, first base

Miggy hasn’t been fully healthy since August of 2013, yet he’s still won an MVP and two batting titles since then. Problems with his lower body have robbed him of his power the last two years (only 43 homers in nearly 1,200 plate appearances). The lack of a solid base hampered his ability to drive the ball out of the park to the opposite field. That’s why his doubles soared to 80 over the last two years. But now that he’s 100% physically, expect some of those two-baggers to become trots around the bases. A return to 40 homers is not unreasonable.

He has a definite shot to win his fifth batting title in 2016, which would elevate Cabrera’s already lofty status among baseball’s greatest hitters, Only nine players have won as many as five batting titles: Ty Cobb (12), Honus Wagner (8). Tony Gwynn (8), Rogers Hornsby (7), Rod Carew (7), Stan Musial (6), Ted Williams (6), Nap Lajoie (5), and Wade Boggs (5). All nine are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

My prediction for Miggy is: .345, 39 homers, 43 doubles, 133 RBIs, a batting title, a league-leading on-base percentage that’s over .450, and a third MVP award. If he gets hurt, the Tigers are sunk.

Ian KINSLER, second base

The Prince Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler trade will go down as one of the smartest deals that Dave Dombrowski made during his tenure in Detroit, and that’s saying a lot. Kinsler makes the offense go, is the best defensive second baseman the team has had since Lou Whitaker, and is a team leader.

He’ll turn 34 in June, an age when many middle infielders start to decline, but Kinsler is a great athlete and he’s in excellent shape. He has a lot of baseball left in him. Mark him down for 100 runs, 35 doubles, 15-20 homers, and a .280+ batting average. His power might start to decline, and some of his homers might soon turn into doubles, but if he is in the lineup for 150 games or more, Detroit’s offense is better for it.

Jose IGLESIAS, shortstop

There’s a lot to like about Iglesias in the field, he makes tough plays look pretty easy and he makes some acrobatic plays that are spectatcular. But too often he struggles with routine plays and he seems to lose focus in the field at times, letting himself and his effort wander. Coach Omar Vizquel has been working with the young Cuban, and I would think we’ll see improvement. Iglesias is a potential Gold Glove player at his position.

The 26-year old has twice hit .300 in the big leagues, but with practically no power and much of that high average has come from his ability to beat out more than his share of infield hits. At this point in his career he still hasn’t learned how to get a good lead off first or how to steal bases with a high level of success. As a result, he’s a below average offensive player with little prospect for getting much better. That’s ok as long as he’s picking it well in the field and he;s surrounded by a potent lineup.

In my opinion, Iglesias is an enigma who probably won;t ever be more valuable than he is right now, as a “future Gold Glove winner.” If he should get off to a good start with the bat and keep his average over .300, I think the club should consider using him in a trade to get a left-handed hitting outfield prospect or pitching help. They have Dixon Machado in the farm system and he’s just about as good as Iglesias with the glove and has more upside with his bat and feet.

Nick CASTELLANOS, third base

The 24-year old is still learning how to play third base, and he’s doing it at the major league level, so it’s not surprising when he struggles, especially with his throws and plays to his left. But he will get better.

The Tigers would be ecstatic is Castellanos continued his progression is a power hitter. In his rookie season he had 46 extra-base hits with 11 homers. In his second year he improved to 54 extra-base hits and 15 homers. If the right-hander could turn five of those doubles or triples into homers and get to 20 and inch his SLG up to about 450 or 475, that would help the bottom portion of the lineup. Cabrera and J.D. Martinez will be on base quite a few times for Castellanos, now he needs to mature and start driving them home more. It’s not out of the question for him to get 80 RBIs in that spot in the order.

Castellanos is probably two or maybe three years away from being a real consistent threat with the bat and a middle of the order hitter. But he could develop into that type of offensive player, and the Tigers should be patient with him.

Mike AVILES, utility

Detroit picked him up in the offseason to give them more versatility off their bench. The veteran “jack of all trades” is the sort of guy you have to have in modern baseball, what with the 12-man pitching staffs. Most teams can’t afford a fifth outfielder or a second backup infielder, so they employ players like Aviles who can play infield and outfield. Last season with the Indians, Aviles played six defensive positions (left, center, right, shortstop, third base, and second base). He could also DH and play first if absolutely necessary.

On the offensive side, Aviles packs a little more punch than bench-mate Romine, but not much more. He can hit a homer now and again, and he’s also a very smart baserunner. He could get you 15 stolen bases as a utility player, but if he ends up with more than 300 plate appearances (like he had last year with the Tribe) that means something has gone wrong with the Detroit lineup.

Andrew ROMINE, infield

Last year the utility infielder ended up getting too many at-bats (184), but he’s solid insurance in case Iglesias or Kinsler get nicked up. His best defensive spot is third base, but he’s also fine at shortstop. He’s not particularly good at turning the double play at second base. A switch-hitting utility infielder who can’t be a free agent until 2019, Romine will probably fill those role for a while for the Tigers.

Detroit Tigers Outfield

Justin UPTON, left field

The biggest prize of the offseason, Upton is 28 years old and in his prime. He can hit for power, average, throw, play defense, and steal bases. His batting average should go up now that he’s in a ballpark that gives him more gaps to hit to. He can be a a 20/20 man, but it will be interesting to see how much emphasis he places on power. Let’s hope he doesn’t pressure himself to be a slugger, it would be better to see him go for 30+ doubles, 7-12 triples, and 25 homers, than to have him be a free-swinger aiming for the fences.

Detroit fans will love his play in left field and his long home runs. He’s a great fit for this team and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Upton put up All-Star numbers. Look for Upton to hit close to .300 with 25-30 homers and 100 RBIs batting behind Kinsler.

Anthony GOSE, center field

He’s on this team because he has several traits this team is lacking: youth (25 years old and under team control for three more years); speed (useful on the base paths and in the large outfield at Comerica); and he’s a left-handed hitter. He’ll get most of the starts in center field until Cameron Maybin comes off the disabled list, then Gose will be the fourth outfielder and get one or two starts per week, presumably.

Age 25-26 is when a lot of ballplayers start reaching their potential or take big strides forward. Gose isn’t a high-average hitter (he never topped .286 in the minors), and he doesn’t walk enough or hit for enough power to make up for that. He’s the type of player who is in vogue right now because of the success of the Kansas City Royals: he’s fast, can play any outfield spot, and he can lay down a bunt and do some little things to help you. Unfortunately, the Detroit offense isn’t built in a way to best utilize Gose’s talents. As it is, he’s a useful outfielder.

Best case scenario for Gose would be if he starts hitting more line drive sin the gaps and adds to his double and triple totals, and/or if he adds one or two more infield hits each week and gets his on-base percentage up around .345 or .350. It would also be nice if he’s improve his success rate as a base stealer, last season he was thrown out 11 times in 34 attempts.

J.D. MARTINEZ, right field

There have been five “J.D’s” in MLB history and none of them played before 1998. That’s a bit surprising. Our Julio Daniel is writing quite a story for himself, making the All-Star team last year when he clubbed 38 home runs. Since he was plucked off the waiver wire after the Astros let him loose in spring training two years ago, Martinez has hit .296 with 61 homers and a .543 SLG for the Tigers as he’s become a popular member of the team. Last year after Miggy went out for nearly two months, J.D. was the only real power threat in the lineup.

J.D. is only 28 years old and he had a really good spring. He’s good for at least 30 homers, 30 doubles, and solid play in right field, where he’s improved and has a plus-arm.

Tyler COLLINS, outfield

Collins is the latest Detroit outfielder in the mold of Ryan Raburn and Brennan Boesch, remember them? He’s not good enough to play every day, he can’t really do much defensively, but he might run into a few pitches now and then and give you some pop. Once Cameron Maybin returns from his stint on the DL (the new Tiger outfielder was hit in his wrist by a pitch early in spring training), Collins will be sent back to the Mud Hens. The left-handed hitter is really a Triple-A ballplayer, so that’s where he belongs. Eventually, the much higher regarded Steven Moya should get the fourth outfielder role, so we’ll keep an eye on the outfield prospect as he starts the season in Toledo.

Designated Hitter


A return to form by Martinez would be a huge boon to the Detroit lineup. He’s the only every day left-handed hitter in the lineup, and in 2014 he was runner-up for MVP voting when he had a career year. But last season he suffered from leg and back injuries that resulted in his productivity taking a dive. The Tigers need VMart to return to his regular 300/370/500 self while supplying power in the middle of the lineup and protection for Miguel Cabrera.

At this point in his career, it’s unlikely Martinez will put on the catching gear very much. He might however, see some action at first base when Ausmus wants to give Miggy a rest. In games played at NL ballparks where the DH is not used though, Victor will have to come off the bench.

Martinez is the team leader among position players, helping to set a good tone in the clubhouse for younger players, especially those from Latin America. He’s a professional and he prepares himself for competition, taking great pride in being focused each time he steps to the plate. That’s why I think VMart will have a bounce-back season. He turned 37 in the offseason so his power may be diminishing, but the man can hit. Expect him to be back around his career .302 average.