DETROIT — When the Detroit Tigers spent millions last offseason to sign Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton, it appeared they extended their window of opportunity to challenge for a championship for another couple of years.
One of those chances went by the wayside in 2016.
The Tigers were eliminated from the AL wild-card race on the final day of the season, missing the playoffs for a second straight year. It was a bitter disappointment for a team that came into 2016 with a payroll around $200 million and a roster still built around Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander — two stars who had very productive seasons but are now in their mid-30s.
“A lot of hard work for naught,” Verlander said. “You can’t say a wasted year because we battled and we gave it everything we had. … Still, all the hard work in the offseason, all the hard work during the season, and then it comes to an end on the last day. It’s tough.”
Detroit’s 86-75 record was a 12-game improvement over 2015. The Tigers have not made any announcement about the future of manager Brad Ausmus, but general manager Al Avila can keep the roster largely intact if he wants to. It’s not until after the 2017 season that Detroit could face substantial losses in free agency.
Here are a few things to know heading into the offseason:
When the Tigers acquired Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd last year in trades for Yoenis Cespedes and David Price, Detroit hoped those three could provide young, cost-controlled pitching in the seasons to come. The Tigers reaped the rewards of those deals even earlier than expected.
Fulmer went 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA in 26 starts. Norris wasn’t healthy enough to make that kind of impact, but he was 4-2 with a 3.38 ERA and averaged more than a strikeout per inning. Boyd was 6-5 with a 4.53 ERA.
Those three pitchers are perhaps the biggest reason Detroit was able to stay in the postseason race all the way until the end.
WILL BRAD BE BACK?
The Tigers are 250-234 in three seasons under Ausmus, and they’ve finished first, last and now second in the AL Central on his watch. Ausmus did not want to speculate about whether he’d be back next year.
“If Al thinks he would rather have someone else, I would respect his decision,” Ausmus said. “If Al would like me to do it, I would love to do it.”
FEAST OR FAMINE
Zimmermann and Upton, the two big free agents who joined the Tigers last offseason, went through their share of frustration. Zimmermann was 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA in April, but his season ended up being ruined by neck problems, and he finished with an ERA of 4.87.
Upton hit 31 home runs, 18 after Aug. 20.
COMING AND GOING
Detroit infielders Erick Aybar and Casey McGehee and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia can become free agents, and the Tigers have team options for next season on outfielder Cameron Maybin and closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Detroit can keep all its biggest stars for 2017, but after that, Upton and J.D. Martinez can become free agents.
The Tigers had their share of injury problems this year, but they had to be encouraged by Cabrera and Verlander, both of whom were able to stay healthy. Victor Martinez also was available to play in 154 games and hit 27 home runs after managing just 11 the previous season.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister