By Michael Wong
Lakeland, Fla.--The Detroit Tigers tried in vain to win a World Series for the recently late owner of the franchise Mike Illitch but unfortunately were not able to do so despite having some of the more productive players at their various positions in the game. They return a star-sudden team again for 2017 but the vibe is that the Tigers are ready to tear it down and start over by shedding some of their aging but still very good star players. So as always let's get to the most pertinent fantasy baseball issues concerning the club.
1. I guess Miguel Cabrera is not done being a fantasy baseball MVP bat is he? Not so much as Cabrera was as good as ever in 2016 which did reverse a trend of two below expectation seasons in 2014 and 2015. Having good health played a key role in Cabrera batting a scorching .316 with 38 home runs and 108 RBI. Clearly Cabrera's batting eye is as good as ever, along with the potent power. Still you have to keep in mind that Cabrera will be turning 34 in April and guys with his body type usually don't age well at all. Perhaps telling is the 17.1 K/9 that Cabrera had last season was the second time in three years he hit that mark and was his highest since 2008 outside of that number. Still draft Cabrera as a late first round pick but the risk is growing.
2. Like with Cabrera, Justin Verlander did the pitching comeback equivalent as his slugging first base teammate? Yeah that one was a shocker as it looked like Verlander's arm was shot after years of very heavy inning usage resulted in a sky-high 4.54 ERA and a pathetic 6.95 K/9 rate. Whether he was pitching through injury or not, Verlander came back with a 3.38 ERA in 2015 and then a Cy Young-worthy campaign in 2016 with a 3.04 mark. Even more impressive was the fact Verlander posted the second-highest K/9 rate of his career at 10.04 which resulted in 254 strikeouts. A tremendous season no doubt but count us as detractors as Verlander is 34 and still has that ridiculous mileage on his arm. Plus Verlander's 1.19 HR/9 rate was by far a career-worst and his .255 BABIP was one of the luckiest marks in the majors. Consider that Verlander's XFIP ERA was 3.78 and one gets the correct notion Verlander was not as good as his surface numbers indicated last season. Big on name brand, Verlander will likely be a bit overpriced this season and thus one you might want to think twice about drafting.
3. Speaking of pitches, what can Michael Fulmer do as an encore to his 2016 Rookie of the Year performance? After a very rough start his first few major league outings, Fulmer was simply unhittable for a large chunk of the summer as he went on to pitch to a splendid 3.06 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. No doubt terrific numbers but the sophomore slump is in play here as Fulmer was a bit lucky in gaining the numbers he did last season. For one thing, Fulmer's .268 BABIP was very lucky and his FIP ERA of 3.76 and XFIP ERA of 3.95 tell a different story about his ability. Also keep in mind Fulmer is not a strikeout pitcher as shown by his 7.47 K/9 rate as a rookie. When his luck regresses this season and without having the strikeouts to overcome this to a degree, Fulmer could be a decent bust.
4. Is is time to stop expecting greatness out of Justin Upton? While a very good player, we are not going to see Justin Upton the superstar first round pick. The guy is as streaky a hitter as you can get in the majors leagues, seemingly alternating one horrid month with a scorching one. By the end of the season, Upton usually has his 25 home runs and 90 runs and RBI but he is losing steam as a base runner (just 9 steals last season) and his average has become very nasty (.251 and .246 the last two years). Again a very solid outfielder 2 but Upton is never going to be the star many predicted he would be.
5. Is Francisco Rodriguez on borrowed time as a closer? There are only a few closers we wouldn't touch more than Rodriguez as he continues to leak velocity and now is allowing a ton of home runs. In fact it seems like almost a given Rodriguez will be replaced out of the ninth inning given his age and vastly declining stuff and so a long look needs to be given to Bruce Rodon and Alex Wilson. Rodon has the fireballing stuff but awful control, while you can say the opposite of Wilson. Whichever way you look at this situation, the closing setup in Detroit is looking scary to say the least.