Detroit Tigers Feeling the Pressure to Succeed in 2017

Aug 3, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) warms up before the second inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 3, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (32) warms up before the second inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers pitchers and catchers are down to single-digit days before they officially have to report on February 13. A handful of Tigers have already made the trek to Lakeland, Florida to begin the longest season in professional sports.

Detroit Tigers pitchers like Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer are already throwing in the warmth and sunshine at Tigertown in Central Florida.

Their early arrival is a sure sign of dedication and the will to win. It is also a potential sign that they are feeling pressure as two of the best pitchers in the game. What other Tigers should be feeling pressure as the team gets ready for a season that could make or break the team?

After finishing in a disappointing, but still surprising second place in the AL Central, the Tigers still have some of the best players in the game. The fact that they have not won a title for their generous owner continues to be problematic. The pressure is on for serious success; if the team cannot dominate, it will most likely look much younger and less expensive in 2018.

Let’s take a look at the Tigers who should be feeling the most pressure as they face the cusp of the 2017 season.

MLB: Winter Meetings

Brad Ausmus has to be under the most pressure of all.

As he enters his fourth season as manager, his future could (and should) be determined on the success of the team. In his previous three years, he has managed the team to the top of the Central, the bottom of the Central, and to second place in the Central. The team has yet to win a playoff game with Ausmus at the helm.

When the first-time manager was hired to lead the team in 2014, he had one of the best offenses and pitching rotations in the game. But, he could not get the team beyond the Division Series in 2014. And, he still has a top 10 offense and two of the best pitchers in the game as he enters 2017. The players like him, but the fans are torn on his ability to lead the team.

Most experts were predicting that he would not be with the Tigers after the 2016 season; but, in early October he was given the contract extension. But, the Tigers front office also added another coach to the bench: Lloyd McClendon.

With McClendon – who appears to be a constant darling with the front office – acting as the Tigers hitting coach, the pressure is truly on Ausmus to succeed. Even though McClendon has more managerial experience than Ausmus, his record is worse. Ausmus is currently sitting at a winning percentage of .517 and McClendon has a career percentage of .451. Still, there is no doubt that McClendon is there to show Ausmus that the Illitchs mean business in the form of wins.

It’s got to be a strange feeling to know that your future replacement is sitting right next to you in the dugout – every. single. day.

Aug 16, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers right fielder <a rel=

Justin Upton has a guaranteed contract with the Tigers and he holds all the cards. No one has the role of the daily center fielder. So, the outfielder who has to be feeling the most pressure is J.D. Martinez.

He is the one outfielder who would be the easiest to trade due the excellence he has shown while wearing the Old English D.

The Tigers will be paying Martinez $11.75 million in 2017 and they are also eager to get that dollar amount off of the books. But, during the Winter Caravan in mid-January, Martinez had words for fans and the front office: “I love Detroit. They gave me the opportunity when no other team did, and for that I’m grateful. I would love to stay here my whole career.”

His story has become legendary in Detroit. He was unwanted after a handful of seasons with the Houston Astros and the Tigers snapped him up for a song after the Astros released him. Meanwhile, Martinez was tweaking his swing, modeling it on Miguel Cabrera – his soon-to-be teammate. The tweaks worked as Martinez hit home run after home run in Toledo and was quickly called up to play in Detroit.

If the Tigers are not contending at the trade deadline, fans should expect that Martinez will be one of the first players to go. At $11.75 million, he is affordable for other teams who could benefit from his big bat and competitive attitude. If he truly does want to stay in Detroit, he will have to take on a massive leadership role and treat every at-bat as if his future depends on it. His pressure isn’t on whether or not he will play in 2018; it is where he will play.on whether or not he will play in 2018; it is where he will play.

Detroit Tigers

Aug 6, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) and shortstop Jose Iglesias (1) celebrate after the game against the New York Mets at Comerica Park. Detroit won 5-6. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The pressure is not on Miguel Cabrera – he’ll draw crowds and a big paycheck anywhere. Nick Castellanos shouldn’t be feeling much either. This leaves Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias.

Of the two middle infielders, Iglesias has the most to lose as pressure mounts from the inside and the outside.

Just a few short years ago, Iglesias was one of the hottest young shortstops in the game. He was an exciting player to watch in comparison to the aging and tired shortstops around the league. Now, he’s got competition from hotshots like Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell, and Corey Seager. On the latest top 10 MLB shortstops, Iglesias does not even rate.

His defense is still smoking hot, but the trouble is his bat. After an impressive All-Star season in 2015, Iglesias only managed a slash of .255/.306/.366 with an OPS of .643. He did finish the season with 1.8 WAR, which was his highest so far.

But, young(er) shortstops are all the rage right now and even though Iglesias is only 27, he has two young shortstops breathing down his neck. JaCoby Jones and Dixon Machado would both like his job. While neither have had the hits and runs that Iglesias has, the Tigers have announced that they want to reduce payroll. Iglesias does not have an outrageous contract, but at $4.5 million for 2017, he will make much more than Jones or Machado. And, soon, Iglesias will want even more as he approaches free agency in 2019.

If Iglesias wants to stay in Detroit, he needs to play like he is hungry and under 24. If his latest Instagram post is any sign that he understands the pressure, then I don’t know what is:

Don’t let the color of the shoes fool you! 😂 #hardwork #blessed

A video posted by Jose Iglesias (@joseiglesias_ss) on Feb 2, 2017 at 6:02pm PST

Detroit Tigers

Aug 4, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (27) pitches in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Only a few pieces of the rotation seem set: Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer appear to be the locks for the first and second spots. The rest is uncertain.

Of course, they have the pressure to lead the team, and the rest of the potential starters do, too. Jordan Zimmermann has the pressure to live up to size of his contract. Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez have the pressure to show that they can still throw an effective pitch. Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris are under pressure to make the rotation.

Of the rotational pitchers, Jordan Zimmermann has the most pressure. No one is expecting much from Sanchez or Pelfrey. And, the young pitchers still have room for growth. Zimmermann does not. He has to pitch and pitch well. His contract is big for 2017: $18 million. And, it just gets bigger for the three years that follow. When he was signed in the pre-2016 off-season, he was expected to be an ace. He started off that way, then practically disappeared.

In reality, Zimmermann does have a guaranteed contract with a team that was suckered into signing him for several years. That should be a low-pressure situation, but as a professional athlete, Zimmermann has to be feeling the heat. Tigers fans are not known for being kind to players who underperform and they are expecting great things from him. His pressure is to perform for the fans who buy tickets, jerseys, and concessions.

And, as much as Tigers fans can be ruthless to underperforming players, they can also be incredibly thankful – especially for a big comeback story. His incredible start to 2016 showed what he can do when he’s feeling good. Fans would like to see more of that in 2017.

Aug 28, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Bruce Rondon (43) pitches in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 28, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Bruce Rondon (43) pitches in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers bullpen has been one of unpredictability. As the 2017 season closes in, one thing is certain – there are many men vying for a spot in the pen.

A few pitchers are sure to be shoe-ins for the squad: Francisco Rodriguez, Shane Greene, Alex Wilson, Justin Wilson, and Bruce Rondon. Of these pitchers, the one who has to be feeling the most stress is Bruce Rondon.

Rondon has been a controversial player who has received chance after chance to succeed. In 2015, it seemed like he might not see his way back to Detroit. But, in 2016, he was one of the most reliable relief pitchers in the pen. Now, the pressure is on.

The team and the front office know what he can do. It is clear that he is the heir-apparent to Francisco Rodriguez’s position as the closer. But, can he do it. With K-Rod expected to be used as trade bait at the deadline, Rondon’s role could begin as soon as July. He finished the 2016 season with an impressive 2.97 ERA and an even more impressive 0.963 WHIP. Can he do it again? And even better?

If the Aroldis Chapman contract is any sign, teams will pay big for a solid closer. Despite his average fastball velocity dropping over the past three years, he is still averaging 97 MPH. And, he does hit speeds of 100 MPH when he wants to.

At 25 years of age, Rondon has his whole career ahead of him and that career could pay off big. The pressure is on.

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