Detroit Tigers Face Long Odds, Roster Questions Heading Into Spring Training

The Detroit Tigers will play their first spring training game on Saturday, Feb. 25, against the Philadelphia Phillies. While that game will not count for anything, don’t tell that to players in uniform wearing the Old English D. Most of the players in camp in Lakeland will be battling for a roster spot or playing time.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook Michigan, the Tigers are +100 to win over 70.5 games in 2023. To do so will require an improvement in every phase of the game.

Detroit finished last in the American League East in 2022 with 96 losses. That type of performance resulted in the firing of their general manager, and a series of trades in the off-season to reshuffle a talent-slim 40-man roster.

Detroit Tigers season odds at Michigan sportsbooks

Oddsmakers like DraftKings Michigan price the Tigers at a long shot to win the AL Central (+2200). That means you’ll win $2,200 on a $100 winning bet if the Tigers were to hop to the top of the division. Few believe it’s possible.

Michigan sportsbooks will make Detroit a longshot to win a division title or make the playoffs. FanDuel Sportsbook MI for example, lists the Tigers at +5000 to win the American League pennant and +2000 to cop the division. But given the struggles of recent years, it seems like those odds are not as high as they could be.

It’s been seven long years since the Tigers were a contending team. The last time the franchise went to the postseason was in 2014, which marked the end of the popular Cabrera/Verlander Era, when the Tiger roster was often riddled with All-Stars, Cy Young winners, and MVP winners and candidates.

But one long rebuild later, the team seems set to embark on another. New GM and President of Baseball Operations Scott Harris is not only young, he also has little familiarity with those players on the roster who came through Detroit’s farm system. He’ll also be forced to patch together a pitching staff saddled with several pitchers coming off injury or still sidelined. The Old English D might need to be replaced with the famous Red Cross symbol if any more hurlers end up under the knife.

Many Detroit Tigers Starting Jobs up for Grabs in Spring Training

It’s been many years since so much has been so uncertain entering spring camp. The Tigers are going to hold competitions at many of their positions, including: catcher, first base, third base, left and right field.

Only these slots seems certain entering 2023: Riley Greene will play center; Jonathan Schoop will play second base and get some time at first; and Javier Baez will play short.

We also know Miguel Cabrera will probably get somewhere between 30-40% of the at-bats at designated hitter in what will be the final season of his remarkable career.

Even former No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson, who made his anticipated major league debut in 2022, will have to earn his playing time.

Who on the Tigers roster can play third?

Detroit cut loose Jeimer Candelario, leaving the team with little to turn to at third. But given the Candy Man’s deficiencies, anything would be an improvement at the hot corner. Ideally, Baez would switch to third. He had a terrible season in the field at short in 2022. But given his high salary and ego, there’s little chance he will get moved off that position.

Ryan Kreidler will battle whomever emerges as a challenger (maybe even Torkelson?). Kreidler has only 26 MLB games of experience, so he’ll be a work in progress. Just before the Tigers go north, it’s possible Harris signs a veteran castoff who gets cut by another team this spring.

Left field: Baddoo should worry

For about three weeks in 2021, the Akil Baddoo story was kind of fun. But, last season he showed why the Twins gave up on him, collecting seven (blech) extra-base hits in more than 200 plate appearances. Forty percent of his outs were by strikeout, and his defense isn’t great enough to justify hitting like a pitcher.

That means Matt Vierling, acquired from the Phillies in the Gregory Soto deal, will get every chance to win the left field job. If it’s not Vierling, it could be a non-roster invitee, or even Nick Maton, who also came to the Motor City in the Soto trade.

Maton and Vierling are both versatile, each can play at least three positions adequately. There’s a chance they could bookend Greene in the outfield. But Maton will likely end up getting a lot of starts at second too, when Schoop is moved to first. Which is likely, because …

First Base: Where Spencer Torkelson may wither on the vine

Hitting a baseball at the major league level is hard. So hard that even Ty Cobb made an out 63% of the time. It’s even harder to make contact today, and Torkelson showed how overmatched even a former college star can look in The Show.

There’s no guarantee Torkelson sows much improvement this season. That means, Schoop and probably Eric Haase will see time at first. Which means the offense will struggle to be consistent.

Tigers Pitching is Contingent on Health

For all the question marks for more than half the defensive positions, the Tigers face even more uncertainty on the mound in their starting rotation.

Eduardo Rodriguez will helm the ace position, because someone has to. Then you have Matt Manning, who was shut down last year for more than half the season due to right shoulder inflammation. Consider Spencer Turnbull, who hasn’t pitched since June of 2021 and is coming back from Tommy John surgery. He’s in the mix. Speaking of surgery, Casey Mize (yet another high draft pick) won’t be available because he’s rehabbing from Tommy John. Don’t expect to see him until 2024.

Harris welcomed Matthew Boyd back to Detroit. The former Tiger hasn’t made a start since 2021. You’ll also see Tarik Skubal in camp rehabbing from flexor tendon surgery he had last August. The team says he might be ready for opening day, but those types of injuries usually take a little longer. That’s too bad, because Skubal was Detroit’s best starter in 2022 before he suffered arm fatigue.

If the pitching rotation can be patched together, the Tigers might be able to lift above the Kansas City Royals in the division. We’ll know a lot more by late March when the final roster takes shape.

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is a writer and contributor for Michigan Sharp. He is an accomplished author, who has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He isn't far from the Michigan action, residing near Lake Michigan, where he lives with his daughters.