It’s that time again: time to hand out end-of-the-season grades to members of the Detroit Tigers. Tell me where you agree/disagree in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.
Ian KINSLER, A-
Kinsler is a key cog on the Tigers, and in many ways how he goes, so goes the team. In 2016 he had his best season as a Tiger and one that ranks among the top five or so ever by a Detroit second baseman.
Cameron MAYBIN, B+
I’m trying not to mark players down for injuries, but if they are reckless injuries, then the player needs to be downgraded for that. Maybin was officially on the disabled list only once, but he also sat for several other stretches due to nagging injuries here and there, some of his own doing because of his inability to stay healthy on the base paths. Still, he had a very good season and he was a spark plug. The team had a 52-37 record with Maybin in the starting lineup, and only 34-38 when he was out.
Miguel CABRERA, A-
Miggy didn’t have his greatest season and he wasn’t as consistent as we’ve come to expect (his power was slow to start in April and he struggled a bit in the month of June), but once he came back from the All-Star break, he was one of the best players in the game. And I say player because Cabrera showed us how good he can be in the field in 2016 and several times on the base paths he displayed his uncanny instincts. He’s the best base runner on the team. He had a fantastic second-half and tried his best to get the team to the postseason, but he couldn’t do it all by himself.
Victor MARTINEZ, B-
Victor struggled in July and slowed down as the season wore on, but he still did what he needed to do as a DH and he delivered some clutch homers, including pinch-hit homers in the first two games of the season. He also stayed healthy, appearing in 150+ games for the third time in five seasons as a Tiger. It’s not likely that Martinez will be as effective at the plate in the final two years of his big contract, but even if he slips by 10% he’ll still be one of the better designated hitters in the game.
JD MARTINEZ, B-
The broken elbow kept him out for about a month, but he did come back with flare, slugging a pinch-hit, go-ahead home run off Chris Sale of the White Sox in August. He has one more year left on his contract before he can hit the free agent market. The Tigers would be wise to ink him to a long-term deal before spring training, he’ll only be 29 on opening day.
Nick CASTELLANOS, B+
Was well on his way to a breakout season before suffering a broken hand in early August. If that hadn’t happened you could have penciled him in for 25-30 homers and 80-90 RBIs. He’s also made some progress as a third baseman. How much did Detroit miss him? After he went out, the Tigers got zero home runs from their third basemen. Ouch. His future is bright and he’ll have some All-Star seasons. Castellanos turns 25 in spring training.
Justin UPTON, C+
We were told he was streaky, and boy was that scouting report correct. Ultimately what the Tigers got from JUp was three bad months, one okay month, one good month, and one outstanding month. It so happens the outstanding month came in September and the good month came in July, so he gets good marks for timing. If we’re being honest, without Upton’s hot final month, the Tigers wouldn’t have even climbed into the wild card race. He has an excellent chance at being named Player of the Month for September. He was better than advertised in left defensively and he also has good instincts for the game. Don’t expect him to be “steady,” but if you can handle the bad times he will delight you with the good times.
James McCANN, C-
His .270 on-base percentage ranked last among starting AL catchers, and his .360 slugging and .630 OPS were near the bottom in all of baseball among players at his position. Is he good enough behind the plate to make up for his anemic offense? Well…partially. He has a great arm and helped the Tigers be the fourth-most difficult team to steal against in 2016. For that, I put him at a C minus. If McCann is going to help the Tiger in the long run with his bat, he should break down his swing completely and become a more of a contact hitter. His long, looping swing is made for strikeouts.
Jose IGLESIAS, B-
Iglesias showed me a lot in 2016. He played more disciplined in the field, positioned himself better and performed like a Gold Glover. At the plate at least he makes contact, takes every at-bat seriously, and can run well. He’ll take some flack for not sliding into second on that line drive double play in the final game of the season, and rightfully so. He still has a few mental lapses at times. But his glove is so good, he gets a good mark for the ’16 season.
Andrew ROMINE, C+
When Martinez and Castellanos went down, Romine was thrust into a regular role, something he’s not well-suited for. But the veteran did a capable job. As an emergency jack-of-all-trades bench player that every team needs nowadays, Romine is about as versatile as it gets, but his bat won’t do you any favors so his playing time should be limited. This year he had to play more, but in the future you’d rather see him play occasionally, not four-five times a week.
Jarrod SALTALAMACCHIA, D+
In the first three weeks of the season it looked like Saltalamacchia might be one of the feel-good stories of 2016 for the Tigers, And then…his bat went dead. Not sick, not mildly cold, dead. From July 1st to the end of the season, Salty hit .132 on 15 hits, four of which were homers, the other 11 being singles. He had a .237 OBP and .237 SLG from July on. That hamstrung the Tigers as it left them without a reliable bat off the bench (from the left and right side) for most of the year. I give Salty marks for being better behind the plate than we all expected, but that terrible bat (he hit .170 after his first 12 games as a Tiger and he had only six of his 12 homers after that) gets him a D+.
Erick AYBAR, Incomplete
The veteran utility player did a nice job after coming over from the Braves in a midseason deal. He ended up playing more at third and second than he probably expected because of injuries, and he did a nice job there, as well as at short. The Tigers will probably look to bring him back in 2017.
Mike AVILES, F
The Tigers played this guy in 68 games and gave him almost 200 plate appearances as their super sub for much of the season. He was dreadful. Aviles was clearly not a major league player, but Brad Ausmus and Al Avila seemed to like him, so he got to play. Finally the Tigers traded him for Aybar and the Braves quickly did what Detroit should have done — they released Aviles. He probably ranks as one of the five worst players to ever play as many as 68 games in franchise history.
Tyler COLLINS, D+
Collins had one job: to be a power bat from the left side off the bench. To be fair to him, Ausmus didn’t let him do that enough, but he still only produced two pinch-hits all season. He isn’t a great defensive outfielder, nor even a great option in center, so it remains to be seen if he’ll remain with the Tigers in the future.
Justin VERLANDER, A
This was the second or third best season of Verlander’s career, which is saying something. Now a much smarter and experienced pitcher, Verlander regained some of his velocity in 2016 and he did something he didn’t even do in his MVP season of 2011: strung together 13 straight quality starts. He was the best starting pitcher in the American League in the second half, but he probably won’t win the Cy Young because Rick Porcello’s high win count or Zach Britton’s save numbers will be too much for voters to ignore.
Michael FULMER, A-
The presumptive AL Rookie of the Year, Fulmer was brilliant for the Tigers, stepping in when they needed help in the rotation early in the season. He’s a bear of a pitcher who has #1 written all over him.
Matt BOYD, C+
The young lefty has a bright future and he pitched as well as can be expected from a pitcher with his experience in the majors. He’ll be even better next season.
Jordan ZIMMERMANN, C-
In April it looked like Zimmermann might supplant Verlander as staff ace. But after a few excellent starts, he suffered a neck injury. More injuries followed. Unfortunately, Zimmermann was rushed back and didn’t help the team making aborted starts, but it’s unclear whether the pitcher or the organization fumbled that situation.
Daniel NORRIS, B-
He started the season in Toledo but probably should have made the rotation out of spring training. Eventually he got his chance and he turned in several quality starts, some of them in September when it really mattered, including during the final weekend against the Braves with a wild card spot on the line.
Mike PELFREY, D-
The Tigers let Pelfrey make 22 starts, and he responded with five quality starts and a 5.19 ERA in those chances. In his starts, Pelfrey hardly ever gave his team a chance, allowing 206 base runners in 112 2/3 innings. Yes, really. Somehow, the Tiger offense scored enough for Pelfrey that they went 10-12 in his starts. Pelfrey was, like Mark Lowe, a terrible decision by the front office. Little more than filler, he proved to be a dud.
Anibal SANCHEZ, D-
I’ve thought for a few years that Anibal might be pitching with a dead arm. Well, I think it’s obvious know that he is simply not a very good pitcher any more. He had only six quality starts out of 26 overall starts, which placed the team in a tough spot. Detroit was 8-18 in his starts. Ausmus sent him to the bullpen in June, but Sanchez really didn’t pitch himself back into the rotation as much as he was the only option.
Francisco RODRIGUEZ, B+
For a guy who no longer has Grade A closer type stuff, KRod did an adequate job for the Tigers this season. He was 44-for-49 in save opportunities and by all accounts he was also a good influence on some of the younger pitchers in the Detroit bullpen.
Alex WILSON, B+
Everyday Alex is a bulldog who enjoyed a good season for the Tigers in 2016. He came on in the second half, when he had a 2.29 ERA. Wilson is nice to have in the bullpen because he can get both lefties and righties out.
Shane GREENE, C-
After it became apparent that he wasn’t going to be able to handle a starting role, Greene did a nice job of moving to the bullpen and earning a role as one of the 8th inning guys. He doesn’t have eye-popping stuff but Greene seems to be able to stretch his arm out so he can pitch four times a week, which is valuable.
Justin WILSON, C-
We saw why he’s been with three teams in three years: he’s just blah. He pitched okay in the first half but tired a lot after the break and wasn’t trustworthy at all as the season wore on. Probably needs to work on adding another pitch, one that he can use against lefties.
Bruce RONDON, B+
Has the best raw stuff of any pitcher in the bullpen currently. Rondon matured a lot in 2016 and he should eventually get a chance to close games.
Kyle RYAN, B
Had a nice season as the situational lefty out of the bullpen for Ausmus. He pitches to contact but he keeps the ball low so he doesn’t give up a lot of homers.
Mark LOWE, F
This guy pitched well for about four months in 2015 and suddenly teams were slobbering over him when he became a free agent. Well, not every team, but the Tigers were one of them and they signed Lowe to a two-year, $11 million contract. Lowe gave up runs in three of his first five games as the 8th inning guy, then in May he imploded. He never crawled out of the Ausmus doghouse, relegated to mopup duty.
Brad AUSMUS, C-
A lot of people don’t like Ausmus. I’m not someone who thinks managers make a huge difference on the field. The best thing they can do is stay out of the way. In today’s game, the GM builds the roster and defines roles. As a result, a manager mostly needs to manage the personnel he’s given.
Ausmus is not a great in-game manager. Too often he manages by the book, preferring to do the safe things with his bullpen, using players in set roles.
The Detroit skipper has a very unemotional attitude on the bench and insists on being low key. That approach has resulted in a subdued Tiger team that doesn’t seem to feel the urgency to win until it’s too late.
The Detroit skipper tends to stick with struggling players far too long (see Pelfrey and Sanchez).
He doesn’t like young players and he has a real hard-on for utility guys who are marginal big leaguers (see Aviles and Romine). In ’16, Ausmus had a talented kid on his bench in Steven Moya who smacked five homers in very little playing time, but preferred not to use him down the stretch even as a pinch-hitter unless he absolutely had no choice. Ditto with the pitching staff: truth be told, Brad would much rather hand the ball to a Pelfrey than to trust a young guy. The only reason Fulmer, Boyd, and Norris got a chance to shine in 2016 was because Dombrowski gave them to the Tigers as a parting gift. Because of the failures by Sanchez and Peflrey, the Tigers had no choice but to give starts to the young trio. However, Ausmus deserves credit for how he deftly handled their innings.
Toward the end of the season the thin-skinned Ausmus seemed to let the criticism get to him. Comments from Miguel Cabrera indicated that the veteran was trying to deflect criticism from his manager. After the final game of the year, Ian Kinsler gave a less than enthusiastic endorsement of Ausmus. As a team leader, it was telling that Kinsler didn’t unequivocally defend his skipper.
For his lack of imagination, his absence of energy on the bench, and his distrust of young players, Ausmus deserves a failing grade so far as a big league manager. I don’t hate him as much as most of Tiger Nation, but I’m not a big fan.
Al AVILA, D+
Last offseason was his first as the main main the Detroit front office, receiving a large vote of confidence from owner Mike Ilitch. Avila made these moves:
- Signed free agent left fielder Justin Upton
- Signed free agent starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann
- Signed free agent pitcher Mike Pelfrey
- Traded for closer Frankie Rodriguez
- Signed free agent reliever Mark Lowe
- Traded for outfielder Cameron Maybin
- Brought in free agent catcher/first baseman Jarrod Saltalamacchia
- Inked a deal with free agent utility man Mike Aviles
Four of those moves turned out poorly: Pelfrey, Lowe, Aviles, and Saltalamacchia. At least two of those signings was questionable at the time he executed them. Few people thought Pelfrey or Lowe were good pieces to add. And of course they both stunk in 2016.
KRod and Maybin worked out well, and Zimmermann was hurt for much of the ’16 season so it remains to be seen how that signing will pan out.
It’s hard to blame Upton’s down-and-up season on Avila. Upton was who we thought he was — a streaky hitter. Fortunately he did end up carrying the team for a few weeks and keeping the Tigers in the playoff race. It will take a few years to see if the Upton signing was a blast or a bust.
That’s hardly a stellar record for offseason moves, but not terrible.
The real problem I have with Avila is what he did after the season started. Here’s the moves Avila made during the season to make the Tigers better:
- Traded for Erick Aybar
That’s it. The Tigers needed a third baseman when Nick Castellanos went down, and Avila sat on his hands. Avila’s answer to the void? Casey McGehee.
When the Tigers had big holes in the rotation, Avila had little choice but to go to the three young arms that his mentor David Dombrowski acquired at the deadline last season. There are those who claim that Avila deserves credit for holding on to Fulmer, Boyd, and Norris, that not trading one or more of the young pitchers was one of his best moves. Well, that’s one way to look at it, but if not doing something is the best thing your GM does over the course of a season, he isn’t being proactive enough.
Avila opened himself up to criticism when Zimmermann was used not once, but twice in games after coming off the DL. Zim was rocked both times and and the Tigers lost both games. It was pretty obvious that Zimmermann was not healthy yet. Who made the call to use an injured pitcher in crucial games? Those two games could have been the difference in the tight playoff race.
Avila isn’t going anywhere, so he’ll have at least one more offseason to show us what kind of GM he can be. But 2016 was not a good start.