Five Storylines To Keep You Interested In Your 2019 Tigers

Once again, the wins and losses won't really matter.

Will Burchfield
March 27, 2019 - 3:23 pm

© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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The Tigers open the 2019 season Thursday in Toronto, setting out on year two of an all-out rebuild. This thing was ripped down to the studs in 2017 and probably won't look structurally sound again for a couple more years. 

There are potential building blocks in place, including a few nearing the major-league level, but only so many of them will pan out. And they have to get here first. 

Until then, we'll have to find excitement in a young team that's likely to lose a lot of games. (Welcome back to 2018. Hello there, 2020.) The dominant storylines this season will have little to do with the team's actual results. There are trade rumors surrounding Nicholas Castellanos, prospects to watch on the farm and a first-ballot Hall of Famer trying to prove he's still got it. 

Here are five intrasquad battles to keep you engaged with the 2019 Tigers.

1. More Homers: Miguel Cabrera or Christin Stewart?

This is how far that first-ballot Hall of Famer has fallen in recent years. At the same time, this is how far Stewart came in 2018. The former first-round pick tied for first in home runs (23) in the Triple-A International league last seasron, and he'll open this season as the Tigers starting left fielder. If he holds down that spot for the whole year -- questions remain about his defense -- the 25-year-old has the pop to match his age in homers

Can Cabrera keep pace? The big question is his health, with the 35-year-old coming off surgery to repair a ruptured biceps. Even he if stays on the field, will he still hit for power? Remember, Cabrera put up just three homers in 38 games last season, and just 16 in 130 games the season before that. But he cleared the fences five times this spring, most on the team, and looks healthy heading into his 17th big-league season. 

The Pick: Stewart, with 22 bombs. 

2. Higher WAR: Nicholas Castellanos or Jeimer Candelario?

For the sake of discussion, let's say Castellanos remains with the Tigers throughout the season. Barring a major comeback campaign for Cabrera, you're looking at a two-way battle between Castellanos and Candelario for most wins above replacement -- essentially the team's most valuable player. They finished first and fourth, respectively, in WAR last season. For a good portion of the first half, it was Candelario leading the way. 

Castellanos is almost sure to pace the Tigers at the plate this season. He's the team's best hitter, until Cabrera proves otherwise. In the field, well, it's a different story. Candelario's no sure-fire defender himself -- not yet, at least -- but he does enough at third base to avoid dragging down his value offensively. He fell one homer shy of 20 last season when he faded in the second half, and should be better prepared this season for the 162-game grind.  

The Pick: Candelario, with 3.5 WAR. 

3. More Saves: Shane Greene or Joe Jimenez?

Greene will almost assuredly close more games in the majors this season than Jimenez, who's penciled in as Detroit's set-up man. But there's a decent chance Greene could be dealt at the trade deadline, which would leave Jimenez as the team's closer. The 24-year-old is already the Tigers' best reliever. He was their lone All-Star last season, and his 2.91 FIP indicates he pitched much better than his 4.31 ERA would suggest. 

If Jimenez continues to sparkle this season, could he supplant Greene on his own? Don't rule it out. Jimenez is far more important to the Tigers' long-term plans than Greene. It behooves the team to hand him the role he's destined for before the results really start to matter. But Ron Gardenhire, who prefers established roles in the bullpen, probably won't be inclined to make such a switch. 

The Pick: Greene, with 28 saves. 

4. First Pitcher Traded: Matt Moore or Tyson Ross? 

Like Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano last year, the Tigers signed Moore and Ross this year with the hopes of gathering another asset or two at the trade deadline. The returns weren't promising in spring training, with neither veteran looking like a viable reclamation project. (Of course, the same could have been said last spring about Fiers.) But they'll both start the season in Detroit's rotation. 

As far as trade value goes, Moore has the natural advantage as a southpaw. Ross was more recently effective in the majors, including a strong nine-game stint (mostly out of the bullpen) at the end of last season with the Cardinals. They both showed velocity in the mid-to-low 90's this spring. The Tigers likely won't fetch much on the trade market for either arm, but any return would be a welcome one. 

The Pick: Ross, for a low-tier prospect. 

5. Who Arrives First: Daz Cameron, Willi Castro or Isaac Paredes?

Like we said, a few faces of the Tigers' future aren't far away. In terms of position players, Cameron, Castro and Paredes are probably the closest to Detroit. The former has the look of an everyday center fielder. The latter two could be staples in the infield. Tigers GM Al Avila singled out Cameron this spring, noting he's "very close" to the majors. It's safe to say at least one of the three will make his big-league debut this season. 

Cameron, 22, is the best all-around player. Paredes, 20, is the best hitter. Castro, 21, put up the best numbers last season, including a .317 average over 31 games in Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. For Castro and Paredes, the quickest route to Detroit probably involves the Tigers trading Jordy Mercer and/or Josh Harrison at the trade deadline. For Cameron, who won over Gardenhire this spring, it could be as simple as starring in Toledo.

The Pick: Castro first, but Cameron for longer.