Get to know 5 new Tigers 

Could big-name signings fill team’s missing pieces?

click to enlarge Justin Upton

Photo by Mark Cunningham/Detroit Tigers

Justin Upton

Free agency has been good to Detroit Tigers fans over the last 11 years. The team has been willing to spend, and spend big, and general managers haven't been afraid to pull the trigger on a trade or big-name signing.

All of this makes the Tigers the perennial contenders. While a couple of the years, 2008 and 2015 most notably, ended in disappointment, there was still the excitement of competitiveness heading into the season. Not many teams have the honor of being considered contenders year after year for more than a decade.

This year is no different for the Tigers. With the addition of two heavyweight free agents, plus a flurry of trades and signings to revamp the bullpen, the Tigers are once again in place to compete not only for the AL Central title, but for the elusive World Series crown. It's time to take a look at five of the new faces that will be donning the Old English "D" in 2016, and what they bring to the table for a team with expectations as high as any.

Jordan Zimmermann

2015 team: Washington Nationals

Position: Starting pitcher

Experience: Seven years

Age: 29

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

Acquired: Free agency

Zimmermann has spent his major-league career as a pitcher for the Washington Nationals. He was well on his way to success in 2009 when he injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery. He returned strong from the injury and, after a short rehab pitching stint in the minors, returned as part of the Nationals' starting rotation in 2010. His career highlights include All-Star selections in 2013 and 2014, as well as a career ERA of 3.32 with 903 strikeouts. He signed a five-year, $110 million contract with the Detroit Tigers in November. Despite his ERA jumping by a run in 2015, the Tigers' new pitcher still posts above-average numbers in most categories. At 29, the Tigers are expecting Zimmermann to be a key part of the starting rotation this year and beyond.

Justin Upton

2015 team: San Diego Padres

Position: Outfield

Experience: Nine years

Age: 28

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

Acquired: Free agency

Drafted first overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2005, Upton has played his entire career in the National League (six years in Arizona, two years with the Atlanta Braves, one year with the San Diego Padres). Upton's career batting average is .271, and he's hit 190 home runs to go with 616 RBIs. He signed one of the biggest contracts in free agency this year, a six-year, $132.75 million deal. Known for hitting moonshot home runs, Upton will likely hold down the No. 2 spot in the Tigers' batting order, and will start in left field on Opening Day. Strikeouts can be a cause for concern with Upton, who struck out 159 times in 620 PA in 2015. The high rate could be attributed to pressure to do all of the work on his previous teams. With the lineup he'll have behind him in Detroit, Upton may be inclined to take more pitches, resulting in more walks.

Francisco Rodriguez

2015 team: Milwaukee Brewers

Position: Closer

Experience: 14 years

Age: 34

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

Acquired: Via trade from Milwaukee

With many fans calling for changes to the Detroit bullpen after a disastrous 2015, new General Manager Al Avila made bold changes. In a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez was cemented as Detroit's new closer. The six-time All-Star has a career stat line of 2.69 ERA, 386 saves, and 1,067 strikeouts. He is a former world champion with the Anaheim Angels in 2002, and holds the MLB single-season saves record, with 62 in 2008. Rodriguez has a bit of a reputation as a hothead and has been involved in some altercations both on and off the field, though this doesn't affect the value he will have for the Tigers. Expectations are high for improved performance from the bullpen in 2016, and a lot of that pressure falls upon Rodriguez.

Justin Wilson

2015 team: New York Yankees

Position: Relief pitcher

Experience: Four years

Age: 28

Throws: Left

Acquired: Via trade from New York Yankees

Acquired via trade from the Yankees in the offseason, Wilson gives the bullpen a solid left-handed late innings option. Likely to be a seventh- or eighth-inning setup man, Wilson finished last season with a 3.10 ERA. Averaging almost a strikeout per inning for his career (193 Ks in 199 1/3 innings), he's pitched no less than 60 innings in each of the last three seasons. While he does allow a few more walks (20 walks in 61 innings last season), Wilson's strikeout ability offsets his slightly higher walk rate. He figures to be a situational setup man, along with Mark Lowe (right- handed) depending on who the opposing team sends to the plate.

Mike Pelfrey

2015 team: Minnesota Twins

Position: Starting pitcher

Experience: 10 years

Age: 32

Throws: Right

Acquired: Free agency

Projected to be the No. 4 or No. 5 starter in the rotation, Pelfrey signed a two-year, $16 million contract with Detroit in the offseason. A sinker-baller by trade, Pelfrey's ground ball to fly ball ratio, 1.08 in 2015, should play out quite well in front of the Tigers' stellar infield defenders. His career 4.52 ERA is high, but he's shown an ability to eat innings. He pitched 164 2/3 innings last year in Minnesota, finishing with a 4.26 ERA. As is normal with sinkerball pitchers, he only struck out 86 batters last season. Despite similarities in pitching styles, Pelfrey figures to fare better in a home park that slightly favors the pitcher. His ability to keep the ball on the ground should help to improve on his 2015 home-run percentage (the percentage of plate appearances in which a home run was hit) of 2.9 percent.

Other new players not mentioned here, most notably Cameron Maybin and Mark Lowe, could be key at Comerica Park. Both players look to make a big impact for the Tigers this season, whether with Maybin providing bench depth and an opportunity to steal a bag when needed, or Lowe setting up Rodriguez to close out games.

The importance of both players can't be understated. Bench and pitching depth were two of the Tigers' downfalls in 2015, and the team made a point of addressing the issue before Opening Day.

With so many new faces, Tigers fans need to start practicing their names, because they're ones we'll be hearing over and over this year.

More by Brett D’Angelo

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