With 104 games shaved off the schedule last year, the Detroit Tigers were shockingly competitive in a small-sample-size season, finishing 12 games under .500 and flirting with being a player in the postseason picture for most of the year. More dire predictions are prudent this year as there's simply no way their inferior talent can compete day-in, day-out for six months.
This year, as the past several have been, is about rebuilding. Job One is progressing a formidable stable of pitching talent in the minor leagues, perhaps getting some Major League experience. Job Two is seeing if any homegrown position players have interest in becoming above-replacement-level options. Because it's been almost impossible to throw a dart and hit a place in the Tigers lineup featuring a batter who would be an important building block in another team's order.
In fact, the only player who would qualify — maybe — is Jeimer Candelario, a former Chicago Cubs prospect acquired via trade who everyone has been waiting around to see take the next step. The third baseman hit .224 in 2018 and .203 in 2019, with corresponding .393 and .337 slugging figures while striking out 259 times in 238 games. Though the switch-hitter had undeniable potential, it never manifested with any regularity.
Then last year, over 52 starts, something clicked. Candelario posted a .297/.369/.503 slashie. He hit seven homers, 11 doubles, and three triples. His OPS+ nearly doubled to 135. Watching him daily, it was clear he had a more measured, professional approach. He worked counts and excelled in high-leverage situations, putting up an RISP average of .327.
His offense and defense progressed in demonstrable ways. All the tell-tale signs of an emerging breakout were there. The fear, of course, is that last year was an anomaly in so many ways. It wouldn't be surprising if Candelario regressed back to his established mean. But something tells me that last season wasn't a blip. Something tells me he may not have the highest ceiling, but his floor is about to level off to an acceptable corner infield zone.
If Candelario can hit .280 and carry an OPS of .850 while providing extra-base power, he can carry the load in the meat of the order. He can outperform Miguel Cabrera as a means of replacing him, which, ideally, could be the long-term goal as the rebuild continues apace.
This may all come off as a transparent grasping of straws and, honestly, a bit pathetic. That's sort of the point. The Tigers have been and will continue to be bad. The death of offensive weaponry has been lamentable and without any bright spots.
Finally, one may be emerging, if on a delayed schedule.
Please just let us have this one thing.