Edson: Why The Tigers Have Been A Pleasant Surprise

When you look at the number of injuries the Detroit Tigers have had to endure so far in 2018, it’s hard to believe they started this week in second place in the American League Central.

This is a team that was written off for last place back in January. They’ve lost some of their best starting pitching to injuries. Their future Hall of Famer, Miguel Cabrera, just returned to the lineup after missing almost a month.

So how has this team overcome all of this adversity? Two people hold the key – General manager Al Avila and manager Ron Gardenhire.

Avila steadily built up a much deeper bench and Triple-A team than in past years. He signed free agents like Niko Goodrum, Leonys Martin, Ronny Rodriguez and Louis Coleman. He took Rule 5 draft pick Victor Reyes, knowing he would have to spend the season with the Tigers.

He handed this deeper team over to Gardenhire, who has brought stability and common sense to his job. If you watch Gardenhire in the dugout or talking to the media, you see why Avila brought him aboard. His experience not only has been invaluable, but he has the respect of the players.

He has nurtured Nicholas Castellanos into becoming an All-Star caliber player. He has been a steadying force for young players like Jeimer Candelario, Jacoby Jones, Matt Boyd, Blaine Hardy and Joe Jimenez.

Now the biggest question for Avila and Gardenhire will be which players will get traded before the end of July.

The Tigers aren’t fooling themselves or their fans. They won’t be buyers at the trade deadline.

Avila knows he made some shrewd trades last July that re-stocked a thin Tigers minor league system. He’ll be doing more of that this July.

He also knows that with the No. 1 draft pick this week of college and high school players, the Tigers can continue to add more young talent.

Tiger fans also realize that veterans like Victor Martinez and Jose Iglesias are likely in their final season with the team – Martinez for sure and Iglesias is likely to be dealt.

It’s not an easy balancing act to pull – remaining competitive while wheeling and dealing veterans. But Avila and Gardenhire have done it.

You just don’t hear the grumbling this summer that you’ve heard in the past. Part of that is because expectations were so low coming into the season.

But the other reason is that Tiger fans can now see there is hope on the horizon. And that makes summer in Michigan just a little more pleasant for baseball fans.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.