Rebuilding begins in earnest for 98-loss Tigers
By NOAH TRISTER
DETROIT (AP) The bottom finally fell out for the Detroit Tigers this season.
After years of spending lavishly and chasing a World Series title, the Tigers are now firmly in a rebuilding mode after finishing tied for the worst record in baseball. Detroit was always prepared to reduce payroll after this season, and the team's performance in 2017 started that process a little early.
"We didn't accomplish what we set out to accomplish," catcher James McCann said. "It's bitter in a sense that guys you've been teammates with for the last two, three years get traded away and you start a rebuilding process. But it's sweet in the sense that you get to hit a reset button. It's sweet in a sense that there's hopefully a light at the end of the tunnel."
It may be a while before the Tigers reach it. They traded outfielders J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton as well as franchise ace Justin Verlander, who was sent to Houston at the end of August. After trading the star right-hander, Detroit went 6-24 down the stretch and finished 64-98. The Tigers were so bad at the end of the season that they fell all the way into the top pick in next year's draft, which could certainly help the rebuilding effort to come.
Detroit will have a new manager next year. Brad Ausmus will not be back after four seasons, but there were no signs of animosity when his departure was announced last month or after Sunday's season-ending loss at Minnesota.
"I think the guys went about their business the right way. They were always here doing their work, played through some injuries," Ausmus said. "We had a bunch of guys who, until the end of this year, went to the post on a regular basis and never stopped playing hard, even when you're down seven runs in the ninth inning or even when you're out of the pennant race."
Here are a few issues to watch for the Tigers going forward:
Miguel Cabrera's huge contract extends through at least 2023, so this past season was concerning for the Tigers. He hit a career-worst .249 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs. It was the first time since 2008 that Cabrera hit under .313. An MRI late in the season revealed two herniated disks in his back.
In addition to the moves the Tigers already made this year, they can also save money by declining a team option on right-hander Anibal Sanchez (3-7, 6.41 ERA). Ian Kinsler also has a team option, and that will be an interesting decision. He's been a productive second baseman and can provide veteran leadership, but this wasn't a great year for him (.236 average, 22 home runs, 52 RBIs).
Michael Fulmer, the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year, had surgery on his elbow but is supposed to be medically cleared by spring training. His long-term health is crucial for a team that needs as much young talent as possible. Daniel Norris, acquired two years ago in a trade for David Price, went 5-8 with a 5.31 ERA this year. Matthew Boyd, also acquired in that trade, went 6-11 with a 5.27 ERA, although he came within one out of a no-hitter in September.
Designated hitter Victor Martinez underwent a surgical procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat. He has one year left on his contract and hit .255 with 10 homers this season. It's hard to say what the Tigers can expect from him in 2018.
Jeimer Candelario, acquired from the Chicago Cubs in a July trade , hit .330 in 27 games for Detroit. Right-hander Franklin Perez, acquired in the deal for Verlander , was ranked as the game's No. 32 prospect by Baseball America in July, although at 19, he was still pitching at Double-A this year.
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
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Updated October 2, 2017