Detroit Tigers: Signing George Springer should be top priority

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The Detroit Tigers need help up the middle. George Springer could be the answer.

Several weeks ago, we asked whether $105 million would be enough to get free-agent center fielder George Springer on the Detroit Tigers‘ roster. Looking at the market today,  the answer is almost certainly not.

A few weeks ago, with teams crying poor and laying off longtime employees in droves, the free-agent market looked a little more accessible than early signings make it appear today. The hoped-for garage sale prices may not be there after all.

MLB Trade Rumors ranked George Springer third on its list of top-50 free agents this offseason, projecting him to receive a five-year deal worth $125 million.

From the White Sox — shudder.

Tim Dierkes wrote of Springer:

Much like players have gotten large contracts following steroid suspensions, Springer will find plenty of interest from GMs focused on winning.  He has apologized, and will likely be embraced by fans if he moves to a new team and continues producing.  He’ll hear his boos on the road when fans return, but I don’t think the PR of the sign-stealing scandal will have a major effect on his free agent market.

MLBTR didn’t project the Tigers to sign a single one of the top free agents. Which might not seem like much of a surprise when you consider the likelihood of the Tigers competing in 2021.

Put gently?

Extremely un-.

Looking forward a year, the Tigers are still going to have a lot of holes to fill. They might have a great crop of upcoming prospects, but that’s just not enough on its own to win.

So the question arises. Should the Tigers be willing to spend a little more money now if that’s what it takes?

The best time to think about building for the future is yesterday. The second best time is today.

Why the Detroit Tigers should make signing George Springer a priority

Riley Greene is probably not the center fielder of the future.

He’s exciting. Fans are counting down until the day the team’s top outfield prospect arrives in Detroit — for good reason.

But scouts and prospect watchers don’t expect he’ll be an everyday center fielder at the big league level. He’s a corner guy. And that’s just fine.

Put Greene next to Springer in the outfield. Put them together in the middle of the order along with Spencer Torkelson. (And hope for a Miguel Cabrera reemergence … but yeah).

If Jeimer Candelario can build on the 2020 season he had (a wRC+ of 137, build off a .297/.369/.505 line) and middle infielder Willi Castro continues to come along as expected … well, now you’ve got something, don’t you?

Springer has the second-highest wRC+ among available free agents across the past two seasons at 153, as MLBTR noted.

In 2020, he had a .269/.359/.540 line — with a BABIP about 50 points below his career norms. He also struck out at the lowest rate of his career (17.1%).

Springer should continue to be in his prime as the Tigers’ window opens, and he’ll provide the veteran leadership of someone who has won the World Series and appeared repeatedly in the ALCS.

Oh, and hey, the White Sox wouldn’t get him.

Win-win, really.

It’s easy to dismiss the idea of the Detroit Tigers signing George Springer, too

For one, let’s just get it out of the way: he was among the cheating Astros and that won’t be popular with every fan out there.

He apologized for that. Let’s move on.

Second: This isn’t just a video game with some sort of “force deal” option. The Tigers are coming off /checks notes/ — OK, well, suffice it to say they were not good.

They were not good the year before either.

If a free agent’s goal is to jump onto a contending roster and spray some Champagne in late summer and again in October, the Tigers will not even receive the courtesy of a callback from his agent.

But if money talks and a little patience can be found, Detroit might not be such a bad place to land.

For one, the Tigers have the potential to have elite pitching at the top of their rotation. By 2022, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal will be entering their second full season and third year in the majors. Matt Manning will hopefully be ready for his first full year in the big leagues too.

No one doubts the arms the Tigers have in the system. They have so many top picks for the rotation in the past might have to be content to pitch out of the bullpen.

The team has signaled a desire to begin competing again in the future, too. And people around baseball seem to believe them.

While you can say recent hire for manager AJ Hinch was damaged goods following the Astros sign-stealing scandal, any thought that he was going to be sitting at home next to an unringing phone ought to be thrown away.

He, along with Alex Cora, would have been at or near the top of any team’s list of potential managers.

He came to Detroit, and got right to work hiring a strong staff too, including George Lombard of the Dodgers, who was thought to be a managerial candidate himself, as his bench coach.

You think free agents aren’t going to notice that?

Naturally, the level of that commitment remains to be seen. But clearly Ilitch and Avila said the right things to sell Hinch on why he should land in Detroit.

Doing the same with Springer could make the next few years pretty fun ones in Detroit.

They’ll have a few holes remaining, to be sure. But a signing like Springer would give them a nice lineup to complement the pitching — and that’s a winning combination.

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