2019 Detroit Tigers Season Preview: Can Miguel Cabrera return to form?

Editor’s note: Baseball is back and Yahoo Sports is previewing all 30 teams over the next month. This year’s previews will focus on fantasy and reality, as our MLB news staff and our fantasy baseball crew come together to assess each team before opening day. Next up, the Detroit Tigers.

If the Detroit Tigers of 2019 feel familiar, it’s because we’ve seen this story before. Quite a few times actually. It’s the Philadelphia Phillies of a few years ago.

It’s the once-great team now saddled with big contracts for aging players that doesn’t really have a chance to compete in its division ... but also hasn’t gone into a full-on tear down so it can rebuild.

The Tigers lost 98 games last year, and the prospects don’t seem particularly more hopeful this year. They have Miguel Cabrera back, and his bat will help, but after that? There’s not a ton to get excited about.

Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is a future Hall of Famer, but is he still able to be a major contributor when healthy? (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is a future Hall of Famer, but is he still able to be a major contributor when healthy? (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Same can be said from the fantasy side of things, where the Tigers certainly have enough warm bodies to field a team every day, but you’ll likely need to look elsewhere for your late-found fantasy flyer.

The most interesting player, from both the fantasy side and the real baseball side, remains Cabrera — which is fine, he’s earned that — but it’s also a pretty good indication that the Tigers haven’t hit the exciting part of the rebuild yet. - Mike Oz

Detroit Tigers’ offseason grade

If the Tigers were a contender, their 2019 offseason might be better. Their additions weren’t huge, but they brought in a couple notable veterans and two high-upside reclamation project pitchers. If they were a monster team looking for a cheap missing piece, maybe we’d be praising the additions of Matt Moore, Tyson Ross, Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison.

They’re fine. They’ll have the Tigers field a better team in 2019 with a few more recognizable names than they would have otherwise. Heck, they could turn into trade chips come summer. But they’re not going to turn the Tigers into anything special in the AL Central.

Our grade: C- — it’s good that they brought on some big-league talent, but it’s nothing that will make them a contender in 2019. - Mike Oz

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Tigers’ projected lineup and pitching staff

The Detroit Tigers' projected lineup for 2019. (Amber Matsumoto / Yahoo Sports)
The Detroit Tigers' projected lineup for 2019. (Amber Matsumoto / Yahoo Sports)

Who will be Detroit’s fantasy breakout?

If you're looking for sleeper-ish players for a standard mixed fantasy league ... well, you should probably not look to Detroit's roster. I'm not about to give you a hard sell on any of these dudes. JaCoby Jones has legit power/speed combo appeal, but his average is likely to be dreadful. Christin Stewart has 20-homer potential, but he has no speed and he hit .262 in the minors. Neither of these guys are recommended. And yet I felt obligated to give you names, so there you go. -Andy Behrens

[Positional Rankings: Top 300 Overall | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | P ]

What is the Tigers’ biggest fantasy question?

Miguel Cabrera turns 36 in April, he's coming off a significant injury (preceded by a disappointing season) and the Tigers owe him a zillion dollars over the next five years. So all other questions regarding this team seem unimportant when compared to the big one: Can Miggy reclaim his status as an elite hitter? He doesn't necessarily have to return to 2016 levels, but he certainly can't cough up another 2017-ish performance. He's had nice at-bats early in the spring and his Yahoo ADP is dirt cheap (164.0), so he carries almost no risk for fantasy owners. We shouldn't need to tell you that Cabrera is a fine lottery ticket; he's one of the greatest hitters of his era. -Andy Behrens

Tigers prospect to watch

The only Tigers prospect to be listed on Baseball Prospectus Top 101 is pitcher Casey Mize. The 21-year-old was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, so he's not going to sniff the majors this season.

The Tigers aren't exactly a young team, but Christin Stewart is worth watching. The 25-year-old showed off a strong batting eye in his brief taste of the majors. Relievers are rarely exciting, but 24-year-old Joe Jimenez did make the All-Star team last year. - Chris Cwik

Things that MUST go right for Detroit

1. Miguel Cabrera stays healthy: Keeping Cabrera on the field will be a key if Detroit hopes to improve on back-to-back 98-loss seasons. The 35-year-old future Hall of Famer missed 32 games in 2017 while dealing with groin and back issues. In 2018, he played in just 38 games after suffering a season-ending biceps tear on June 12. It's possible Cabrera's body won't cooperate, but if he has anything left in the tank then his presence will likely be a big boost.

2. Healthy and consistent rotation: Unlike most rebuilding MLB teams, the Tigers have the potential for a strong starting rotation. Just like all rebuilding teams though, their success will depend on consistency and health. Returnees Jordan Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris have all had their share of successes and setbacks. As have new additions Matt Moore and Tyson Ross. Which way their respective scales tip in 2019 will determine Detroit's upside.

3. Prospects take a step forward: At this point next year we likely won't be talking about how many games the Tigers won in 2019. We will, however, be talking about how close many of their top prospects are to the majors. Prospects like last year's No. 1 overall pick, Casey Mize, and the quickly developing Matt Manning. They hold the key to the Tigers’ future, and though we won't see much of them their development needs to continue in a positive direction. - Mark Townsend

If this team had a walk-up song, what would it be?

Detroit, as you know, is a blue-collar city with a bit of an underdog ethos. “Losing Out,” by Detroit rappers Black Milk and Royce Da 5’9” is one of those don’t-sleep-on-our-city songs that makes the case Detroit is better than you think.

They’re not, but they *could* be talking about the Tigers, of whom not much is expected in 2019. On the flip side, the song is called “Losing Out,” which also sounds pretty indicative of the team’s 2019 prospects. - Mike Oz

More 2019 MLB Previews From Yahoo Sports

Baltimore | Miami | Kansas City | Detroit | Texas | Toronto | San Diego

Chicago (AL) | Minnesota | San Francisco | Pittsburgh | Arizona | Seattle

Cincinnati | Los Angeles (AL) | Oakland | Tampa Bay | Colorado | Cleveland

New York (NL) | St. Louis | Atlanta | Philadelphia | Milwaukee | Chicago

Washington | Los Angeles (NL) | Houston | New York (AL) | Boston