By Ashley Scoby
After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010 last year, the Tigers have plenty of work to do to get owner Mike Ilitch his elusive World Series ring.READ MORE: Meet These Two Bear Cubs Who Have Become Inseparable At The Detroit Zoo
But general manager and vice president of baseball operations Al Avila started a lot of that work this offseason. The team signed Francisco Rodriguez, Jordan Zimmermann, Cameron Maybin and Justin Upton, among others in an effort to boost outfield depth, starting rotation depth and a lagging bullpen.
The Tigers will kick off their spring training schedule at the end of February. Here are the biggest things to watch for while the team is in Florida:
The starting rotation
Pitchers who have likely cemented spots in that rotation are Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey. Daniel Norris showed a lot of production last season in limited starts (he didn’t join the Tigers until August, and then suffered an oblique injury). He seems the likeliest to lock down that fifth spot. Matt Boyd has also earned praise, and could have an opportunity in spring training to earn playing time.
Where does Bruce Rondon stand?
Rondon is a bit of an enigma. He’s shown signs of talent, yet has never been able to put it all together. Manager Brad Ausmus sent him home before the end of the 2015 season because of poor effort. Avila reported in December that Rondon was doing well during winter ball in Venezuela. But then a video surfaced online of the pitcher acting as an instigator during a benches-clearing brawl. To put the cherry on top of his offseason, Rondon came down with the Chikungunya virus , a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that can cause headaches, muscle pain and joint soreness, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Despite his up-and-down offseason, Rondon still has a chance to make the 40-man roster. The chances of it being the end of his career in Detroit could be just as high, too, though.READ MORE: Delta Wants Other Airlines To Share ‘No-Fly’ Lists To Help Stop Unruly Passengers
Anthony Gose had a decent year in centerfield last season, but he doesn’t have a firm grasp on the position in 2016. Cameron Maybin, who the Tigers traded for in November, is also primarily a centerfielder. Ausmus has talked about the possibility of playing both at the same time, putting Gose in left field. The pieces will likely be moved around a bit before the Tigers figure everything out, but the upshot is that the team has more outfield depth than anticipated, especially with the signing of Upton (who also plays left field).
In the midst of MLB winter meetings, the Tigers signed switch-hitting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia – a slight surprise, considering the organization’s widespread approval of Bryan Holaday. Holaday was expected to back up starter James McCann next season, but that backup spot will now be competitive during spring training.
Saltalamacchia batted .251 in 194 plate appearances for Arizona last year, adding eight homeruns and 23 RBI. Holaday started 15 games for Detroit last season, and batted .281 with two homeruns and 13 RBI.
Where will Justin Upton bat?
Ausmus has previously said Upton will bat either second, fifth or sixth. Watch for the Tigers to tinker around with the lineup during spring training to find the best fit for their newest high-profile addition.MORE NEWS: Veteran Needs Help With Home Repairs
Last season for the Padres, Upton batted .251 in 620 plate appearances with 81 RBI, 26 homeruns and 68 walks. He also stole 19 bases and collected 159 strikeouts.