How the Tigers Season Spiraled Out of Control

Injuries. Bad free agent deals. A quiet deadline. It was a perfect storm of mediocrity for the Tigers.

TORONTO, ON - JULY 31: Javier Baez #28 of the Detroit Tigers follows his hit foul ball in the first inning of their MLB game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on July 31, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Detroit Pistons: 23-59

Detroit Red Wings: 32-40-10

Detroit Lions: 3-13-1

Detroit Tigers: 43-70

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The late nineties Red Wings, Early 2000s Pistons, Barry Sanders lead Lions, and the 80s Tigers. Detroit sports have a strong history, however, recent success has been bleak. For the first time in years, the Tigers had momentum and excitement heading into the 2022 season. After a strong finish to the 2021 season, offseason additions and blue-chip prospects had Tigers fans believing 2022 would be their first winning season since 2016.

They were wrong. At 43-70, the last place Tigers have had a disastrous season. How did a season of promise end up with the general manager getting fired in August?

Offseason Additions

Detroit entered the offseason with clear needs. Their most obvious hole was shortstop, with catcher, bullpen help, another bat, and a veteran starter rounding out the list. Proven starters and shortstops flooded the market, giving Al Avila bona fide options to choose from. He landed on Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodriguez as the highlighted free agents.

Signing Báez to a six-year, $140 million contract worried many fans. Of the higher-end shortstops available, Báez came with the most questions. So far, the contract looks like one of the worst in baseball. Báez is slashing .221/.264/.378 with 11 home runs and an 80 wRC+. The bat has struggled carrying over to the field. While Báez still makes acrobatic plays from time to time, routine plays have been a struggle as he often bobbles simple ground balls or sends the ball sailing over the firs basemen, leading the league in errors.

While the Tigers have several promising you pitchers, a veteran was needed to anchor the staff. Eduardo Rodriguez was signed after six strong years in Boston. In his first season of a five-year deal, he’s pitched 39 innings with pedestrian numbers. Rodriguez left the team without much communication leading to several questions about his future in Detroit. He’s currently working his way back, but losing most of this season is less than ideal.

In an effort to round out the roster, the Tigers made two “savvy” trades bringing in Tucker Barnhart and Austin Meadows. Barnhart’s experience and plus defense brought in an experienced leader to help develop the young pitching staff. While his defense has been above average, his 39 wRC+ has moved him to a bench player. Meadows has been limited to 147 plate appearances due to injury. Even with limited playing time, Meadows has zero home runs after hitting 27 in 2021.

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Blaming records on injuries is always a lazy move. Every team deals with injuries, but what the Tigers have experienced is nearly impossible to recover from.

Beau Brieske, Andrew Chafin, Jose Cisnero, Kyle Funkhouser, Casey Mize, Michael Pineda, Tarik Skubal, Spencer Turnbull, Jeimer Candelario, Victor Reyes, and Austin Meadows are just a few to miss time due to injury. The entire starting rotation has missed chunks of time this season. Yes, the injuries did have an impact of the Tigers record. The bigger problem is having young players miss out on valuable development and experience needed to (eventually) construct a winning team.

Injuries open opportunities for other players allowing you to develop quality depth. The issue is, a majority of the replacements do not have a future in Detroit. Injuries and underperformance resulted in another lost season making the Tigers a seller at the deadline. Well, not exactly.

Trade Deadline – Missed Opportunity

Rebuilding is nothing new to Detroit sports fans, so I will not need to go too far in-depth. Bad teams usually move veterans and expiring contracts who do not factor into the future for prospects. The issue is, those veterans need to have positive trade value. The perfect storm of under performance across the board lead to other teams looking elsewhere for deadline help.

Player 2021 wRC+2022 wRC+
Tucker Barnhart8139
Spencer TorkelsonN/A68
Jonathan Schoop10553
Javier Baez11680
Jeimer Candelario11976
Austin Meadows113100
Akil Baddoo10817
Robbie Grossman11478
Miguel Cabrera 9285
Tigers Opening Day Lineup

The Tigers had a few pitching options they could have traded such as Andrew Chafin, Joe Jimenez, and Gregory Soto, but elected to hold onto each. At the end of the day, Detroit only moved Michael Fulmer and Robbie Grossman. The market will always determine the value of players, and maybe other teams simply were not interested in what the Tigers had to offer.

After the deadline passed, the Tigers were not in a much better position for the future. Moving a couple bullpen pieces would have been nice, but the position players have not performed well enough to impact the deadline.

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The Future

On August 10th, the Tigers elected to move on from General Manager Al Avila after eight seasons. While I think this was the right move, Detroit now finds themselves in a difficult spot. A team poised to be breaking out of a rebuild is looking more like a team in need of one. Rookies Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson are not as developed as the team had hoped. The rotation did not take a step forward mostly due to injuries. Veterans and secondary pieces have not established themselves as building blocks for the future.

While all hope is not yet lost, the new general manager will have a lot of work to do. The upcoming offseason might be the most important winter in recent memory.