Offseason Outlook: Detroit Tigers

MLB Trade Rumors

The Tigers made notable progress in 2020 (granted, there was nowhere to go but up after their previous campaign), but they still finished well under .500 for the fourth straight year. GM Al Avila has already hired A.J. Hinch to replace the retired Ron Gardenhire as the Tigers’ next manager. The next step is improving their roster.

Guaranteed Contracts

  • Miguel Cabrera, 1B/DH: $102MM through 2023 (including $8MM buyout for 2023)

Arbitration-Eligible Players

Note on arb-eligible players: this year’s arbitration projections are more volatile than ever, given the unprecedented revenue losses felt by clubs and the shortened 2020 schedule. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who developed our arbitration projection model, used three different methods to calculate different projection numbers. You can see the full projections and an explanation of each if you click here, but for the purposes of our Outlook series, we’ll be using Matt’s 37-percent method — extrapolating what degree of raise a player’s 2020 rate of play would have earned him in a full 162-game slate and then awarding him 37 percent of that raise.

Free Agents

Let’s start with the infield, which could see quite a shakeup this offseason. The Tigers had a couple of 20-something breakout players there in shortstop Willi Castro and third baseman/first baseman Jeimer Candelario, but it’s not clear where either will primarily line up next season.

In regards to Castro, Avila said after the season (via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com), “We feel he has the athletic ability to play anywhere in the infield.”

Although Castro had a huge offensive year at short, that doesn’t mean the Tigers will keep him there. They may instead be tempted to pursue Korean star Ha-Seong Kim, a 24-year-old whom the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes will post this offseason. According to Baseball America, Kim’s a top 100-caliber prospect, so lots of teams – including rebuilding clubs – should be after him. From Detroit’s perspective, it would seemingly make sense to bring in Kim as a Day 1 starter, either as a third baseman or shortstop. If it’s the latter, the Tigers could put Castro at the keystone, move on from free agent Jonathan Schoop and eschew the rest of the middle class of second base free agents (Kolten Wong, Cesar Hernandez and Tommy La Stella are among those names).

Candelario, meanwhile, began the year as the Tigers’ third baseman, but he shifted to first after C.J. Cron underwent season-ending knee surgery in August. Cron’s a free agent who’s near the top of a weak class for free-agent first basemen; so, rather than go back to him or try for a different veteran first baseman (Carlos Santana and Justin Smoak are also a couple of names out there), perhaps the Tigers will leave Candelario at the position. A Candelario-Castro-Kim scenario from right to left would leave the Tigers with a potential need at third, though they may simply decide to let Isaac Paredes sink or swim there or sign someone like Jake Lamb or Marwin Gonzalez to man the spot. Paredes, for his part, had a very rough debut as the Tigers’ top third baseman in 2020, but he’s still just 21 years old and not far removed from top 100 status as a prospect.

Elsewhere in the Tigers’ lineup, it’s unclear how they’ll handle catcher or assemble their outfield. They signed former Yankees catcher Austin Romine to a $4.1MM guarantee last offseason with the hope that he’d emerge as a true full-time player, but he instead endured an awful season and is once again due to reach free agency. Detroit’s other choices, Grayson Greiner and Eric Haase, also produced next to nothing at the plate, while Jake Rogers still hasn’t established himself at the MLB level.

Avila said last month he’d like offensive help behind the plate, but he seemed to suggest he’d rather rely on the eventual emergence of Rogers. It’s unknown, then, whether the Tigers will seek veteran help at the position in the offseason. If they do, the Tigers probably won’t be be in on the two best free-agent catchers available, J.T. Realmuto and ex-Tiger James McCann. However, the GM’s son, former Tiger Alex Avila, as well as Yadier Molina, Jason Castro, Mike Zunino, Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki, Robinson Chirinos and Tyler Flowers are available as Band-Aids if the team wants to bridge the gap to Rogers in free agency. Gary Sanchez could also end up in free agency or as an attainable trade target if the Yankees decide to move on from him.

The Tigers are probably content with two-thirds of their outfield with center fielder JaCoby Jones and corner man Victor Reyes. The other spot may be up for grabs, though, as Christin Stewart didn’t hit in either of the previous two seasons, they can’t count on Niko Goodrum as a regular, and Daz Cameron hasn’t shown he’s ready for a full-time major league role. MLBTR predicts the club will supplement its outfield with a Jurickson Profar signing, but Joc Pederson, Robbie Grossman, Kevin Pillar and Adam Eaton are among others it could spend on for short-term help.

Turning to the pitching side, the Tigers seem to have three-fifths of next year’s rotation set with Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull and Michael Fulmer. But Turnbull was the only member of the trio who performed well in 2020. Boyd looked like a breakout candidate as recently as the first half of 2019, but his production has fallen off a cliff since then. The Tigers will soon have to make a decision on whether to retain Boyd, as Anthony Franco of MLBTR explained last weekend. Like Boyd, Fulmer has shown flashes in the past, but he’s coming off a rough return from Tommy John surgery.

Beyond Boyd, Turnbull and Fulmer, the Tigers do have some rather promising young hurlers in Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo – four of their top prospects. Mize and Skuball debuted in the majors in 2020, though they had trouble keeping runs off the board in their first taste of MLB action.

Any of Mize, Skubal, Manning or Faedo could factor into the Tigers’ rotation next year, but it seems they’ll look to take some pressure off by adding at least one veteran this offseason. They’ve already shown interest in free agent Taijuan Walker, who could be a reasonably priced acquisition on a one- or tw0-year deal. Former Tiger Rick Porcello, Garrett Richards, Martin Perez and Mike Minor might also be among potential targets for the team.

Moving to the bullpen, the Tigers look to be mostly set with what they have. Daniel Norris blossomed in a relief role in 2020, while Jose Cisnero also turned in encouraging results. Bryan Garcia, Gregory Soto, Buck Farmer and Tyler Alexander also probably aren’t going anywhere, though there’s at least room for improvement over John Schreiber and Joe Jimenez (the latter looks like a non-tender candidate). That’s not to say the Tigers will shop near the top of the market for relief help, but with the wealth of veteran bullpen options looking for deals, they should be able to improve their late-game outlook in free agency.

The Tigers have had their share of aggressive offseasons in the past, but they have been relatively quiet of late during their rebuild. Once again, the Tigers probably won’t be that active this winter. That said, with some legitimate talent in or near the majors and a rising farm system led by last year’s No. 1 overall pick, first baseman Spencer Torkelson, Detroit’s time is coming.

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