Detroit Tigers set opening day roster

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Logan Kensing, shown during a spring training game, made the Detroit Tigers opening day roster, beating out Lendy Castillo for a spot in an overhauled bullpen suffering from a slew of injuries. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

After a couple unexciting roster battles and a few health-related setbacks, the Detroit Tigers have 25 men ready to open the regular season Tuesday night against the Miami Marlins. Read on for the rundown.

Lineup:

Ian Kinsler RH 2B
Justin Upton RH LF
Miguel Cabrera RH 1B
Victor Martinez SH DH
J.D. Martinez RH RF
Nick Castellanos RH 3B
James McCann RH C
Jose Iglesias RH SS
Anthony Gose LH CF

This won’t be the lineup Tuesday, with the Tigers traveling to a National League park. Cameron Maybin in center field should also see plenty of starts upon recovery from a fractured left wrist. But this is likely close to an everyday configuration, barring more injuries.

Last year’s opening day lineup included Rajai Davis leading off (though platoon partner Gose ended up starting more games), Yoenis Cespedes at No. 6, and Alex Avila batting eighth (though McCann soon took over primary catching duties). Cespedes has been replaced by Upton, and in Davis’ absence, Maybin will share time with Gose.

Bench:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia SH C
Andrew Romine SH IF
Tyler Collins LH OF
Mike Aviles RH UT

Maybin will likely push Collins off the roster in a few weeks.

Last year’s group predominantly consisted of some combination of Davis, Romine, Avila, Collins, Jefry Marte, Dixon Machado, Bryan Holaday, Hernan Perez, and Josh Wilson. Detroit looks to have improved its bench significantly.

Rotation:

Justin Verlander RHP
Jordan Zimmermann RHP
Anibal Sanchez RHP
Mike Pelfrey RHP
Shane Greene RHP

The race to be fifth starter was saturated with competitors after frontrunner Daniel Norris’ spine fracture but ended up being pretty anticlimactic. Matt Boyd and Buck Farmer were in the running late in spring training, but the Tigers determined the former needed more seasoning and the latter was needed in the bullpen. Greene could move to a relief role once Norris completes his injury rehabilitation process.

Last year’s rotation included David Price and Alfredo Simon, who general manager Al Avila has replaced with Zimmermann and Pelfrey. Verlander and Sanchez are back and hoping to produce healthier and more consistent seasons. Greene, Boyd, Norris, and Farmer each started games last season, while Kyle Lobstein, Randy Wolf, and Kyle Ryan completed the fifth starter contingent. Lobstein and Wolf are out now, but midseason trade acquisition and consensus top prospect Michael Fulmer adds some depth.

Bullpen:

Francisco Rodriguez RHP
Mark Lowe RHP
Justin Wilson LHP
Drew VerHagen RHP
Kyle Ryan LHP
Buck Farmer RHP
Logan Kensing RHP

No one from last year’s opening day bullpen remains, and only Rodriguez, Lowe, and Wilson were considered locks at the start of spring training. Shoulder issues for Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy, the best relievers in Detroit last year, guaranteed a spot for VerHagen, another 2015 success story. Lendy Castillo, Bruce Rondon, and Bobby Parnell were in the mix, but initial longshots Ryan, Farmer, and Kensing (a non-roster invitee) earned the final three spots. It might not seem like an exciting group, but when Alex Wilson and Hardy are ready and Norris displaces Greene, this group could look a lot different. And say what you will about Rondon, but he and Parnell have high upside and await opportunities to prove themselves.

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Al Avila has more chances to tweak Detroit Tigers roster

By signing outfielder Justin Upton to a six-year deal worth $132.75 million, owner Mike Ilitch and general manager Al Avila gave the Detroit Tigers offense “more than a tweak.” Upton fills the last glaring hole on a team that last year finished more than 20 games behind the American League Central Division champions. But the move also increased the flexibility Avila has to fine-tune his club’s recalibrated roster even further.

As things stand, the Tigers have clear frontrunners to start at every position except center field, where Cameron Maybin and Anthony Gose likely will split the workload. That means 10 position players are relative locks heading into spring training, leaving three spots on the bench—assuming Detroit sticks with a traditional construction. To compete for those places, the Tigers have eight players on their 40-man roster.

Chicago White Sox v Detroit Tigers
Detroit Tigers catcher Bryan Holaday throws a ball during the first game of a September doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Two are catchers. Conventional wisdom says Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be the backup on opening day. He has played in 538 major league games over the past five years, while Bryan Holaday has just 282 career plate appearances. Holaday, like starter James McCann and most of Detroit’s lineup, bats right-handed, while Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter with power and has limited experience as a first baseman in case the club gets into a pinch. That leaves no room for Holaday, who would be an asset for the Toledo Mud Hens but is out of minor league options and would thus need to clear waivers to get there. Expect the Tigers to hold onto him for a bit, as 30-year-old catchers like Saltalamacchia can be susceptible to injuries. But if Holaday impresses in Lakeland, it could be worthwhile for Avila to shop him to other teams.

Three more in the mix are infielders—Mike Aviles, Andrew Romine, and Dixon Machado—at least one of whom Detroit will need to carry. And the other three are outfielders: Tyler Collins, Steven Moya, and Wynton Bernard. Bernard, Moya, and Machado are prospects who would have to light Grapefruit League competition absolutely on fire to earn a place in the big leagues. That leaves Aviles, Romine, and Collins for the final two roster spots. Collins, despite his promising left-handed bat, is the only one of that trio who has minor league options and the only one who really only plays one position—one the Tigers just spent more than an eighth of a billion dollars filling.

Detroit Tigers v Texas Rangers
Tyler Collins hits a two-run single for the Detroit Tigers during a game in September against the Texas Rangers. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Since he has options and would not need to clear waivers to go to the minor leagues, Collins’ situation has an extra layer of complexity. Detroit could simply hold on to him and let him play in Toledo for a third season. But this is a guy who played two years in college and has amassed 2,514 plate appearances as a professional, including 1,999 in the minors. (Check out this article that demonstrates decreased MLB production when a college player gets more than 2,500 plate appearances at the MiLB level.) He played fairly well in significant playing time for the Tigers last season after they traded Yoenis Cespedes and was expected to play an equally large role this year.

Collins might not be more than a fourth outfielder, but his potential will never be realized if he doesn’t find a spot in the major leagues—and fast. Detroit likely cannot offer him that spot, so it might be mutually beneficial for Avila to send him somewhere with a more spacious outfield. The first-year general manager has said he would “still like to have more depth in pitching.” One argument for holding onto Collins is the injury history of Victor Martinez, who would leave a huge hole in the lineup if he misses significant time again. But in that case, the Tigers could still turn to Moya or even Dean Green.

Holaday and Collins would not bring back anything overly impressive on the trade market, but they are both redundant pieces on Detroit’s roster and could enjoy much better opportunities elsewhere.