Predicting Tigers’ 2021 Opening Day roster 

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers can go into next season with a pretty good idea of what their pitching staff will look like. They could realistically fill their rotation and bullpen in-house from players within the organization, though they’ll most likely look for depth.
Offensively, it’s a different story. Three members of Detroit’s

The Tigers can go into next season with a pretty good idea of what their pitching staff will look like. They could realistically fill their rotation and bullpen in-house from players within the organization, though they’ll most likely look for depth.

Offensively, it’s a different story. Three members of Detroit’s Opening Day lineup from last season — second baseman Jonathan Schoop, first baseman C.J. Cron and catcher Austin Romine — are now free agents. The Tigers, like last offseason, want to add run production to help support Miguel Cabrera and an otherwise young lineup. How they do that remains to be seen.

Here’s a position-by-position look at how a Tigers 26-man roster would look heading into the Hot Stove season.

Catcher (2): Grayson Greiner, Jake Rogers or free-agent signing
The Tigers signed Romine last December to bring veteran leadership behind the plate while Jake Rogers returned to Triple-A Toledo. Nearly a year later, little has changed. Rogers spent the entire shortened season at the alternate training site in Toledo, and there’s no suggestion since then that Detroit is ready to promote him. Expect another free-agent signing, maybe another attempt at a reunion with former Tiger Alex Avila, with Greiner serving as a platoon partner or a backup.

First base (1): Free-agent signing
Jeimer Candelario shifted from third base to first after Cron’s season-ending left knee injury in August. Candelario could stay at first, but if the Tigers go into the market for a corner infielder, they’ll have an easier time signing a first baseman and letting Candelario handle third. There simply aren’t that many teams looking for first basemen from year to year, which gives the Tigers more options. Cron could be one of them, depending on how his knee heals heading into next Spring Training.

Second base (2): Niko Goodrum, free-agent signing
Goodrum was a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop this year, but ended the season at second base after returning from the injured list. Goodrum is arbitration eligible and coming off an injury-shortened season with a .598 OPS, but his defensive value and leadership role in the infield should warrant him another chance. That said, if the Tigers re-sign Schoop or sign another veteran to take over at second, Goodrum could return to the super-utility role he filled in 2018-19.

Shortstop (1): Willi Castro
Now is the time for the Tigers to figure out whether Castro is their long-term answer at the position before next offseason’s shortstop-heavy free-agent market opens up. The 23-year-old switch-hitter has the potential to be the Tigers’ best run producer at short since Jhonny Peralta, evidenced by Castro’s .349 average and 150 OPS+ in 36 games this year. His defensive metrics don’t match Goodrum’s, but his marked improvement from last year to this one creates optimism that he can further improve in an everyday role.

Third base (1): Jeimer Candelario
He could plug into either infield corner, but for reasons explained above, he fits best at third. He also profiles as a middle-of-the-order hitter after leading the Tigers with an .872 OPS and a .297 average. Take away an 0-for-17 slump to start the year, and Candelario hit .327 (55-for-168) with seven homers, 29 RBIs and a .949 OPS over his final 47 games, the breakout many had been hoping for out of him ever since he arrived from the Cubs in the Alex Avila trade three years ago. Whether it’s first or third, he’s an everyday player.

Outfield (4): JaCoby Jones, Victor Reyes, Daz Cameron, Christin Stewart or free-agent signing
While so much focus goes to the infield, the Tigers have had an offensively subpar outfield since at least the Nick Castellanos trade in 2019, and maybe since the J.D. Martinez trade in ’17. They’ll probably need a free-agent signing to change that in ’21. Jones continues to show flashes of top-level production before injuries halted his progress. Reyes looks more and more like a regular if not an everyday contributor near the top of the order. Stewart continues to struggle with contact and could be on his last chance.

Designated hitter (1): Miguel Cabrera
Next season could be a historic one for Cabrera, who sits 13 home runs shy of 500 and 134 hits shy of 3,000. He’ll turn 38 next April and shows the wear and tear of so many injuries he played through in his prime, but Cabrera remains the focal point of Detroit’s lineup. He said around season’s end that he’d like to return to first base, at least part-time, but for health reasons, that’s probably not happening.

Utility (1): Harold Castro
Injuries limited Castro from following up on his breakout 2019 season aside from 54 plate appearances, but he remains a versatile left-handed hitter who can play just about anywhere. If Goodrum moves back to a utility spot, manager A.J. Hinch will have two similar players to move around the field.

Starters (5): Matthew Boyd, Michael Fulmer, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Spencer Turnbull
The Tigers are at the confluence of their last crop of young starters and their next one. Skubal and Mize had plenty of growing pains in their first big league stints, but they also showed more than enough promise to stick around. Boyd and Fulmer struggled mightily for different reasons, but are expected to stick around. The challenge for the Tigers is structural: How do they safely stretch out starters’ workloads from a 60-game season to 162 games? General manager Al Avila has long touted the importance of pitching depth, and will likely stock up on non-roster signings for insurance until prospects Matt Manning and Alex Faedo are ready to make the jump.

Relievers (8): Tyler Alexander, Jose Cisnero, Buck Farmer, Bryan Garcia, Joe Jiménez, Daniel Norris, John Schreiber, Gregory Soto
The Tigers have the makings of an impressive, versatile group here. Alexander and Norris can fill spot starts while also getting big outs in lefty-lefty situations. Soto is the kind of power lefty the Tigers haven’t had since Phil Coke’s heyday. Buck Farmer complements Soto from the right side. Garcia was quietly effective in his late-season turn at closer. Still, the Tigers face a decision on what to do with Jiménez, who hits arbitration eligibility coming off a rough season that cost him the closer’s job.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

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