Tigers topics to mull over during the holiday

Detroit Tigers

The Hot Stove season has been rather cool so far aside from new manager A.J. Hinch’s hire and a somewhat new coaching staff. But there are still some things for the Tigers and fans to think about as Thanksgiving nears and the non-tender date looms next week:
1) Why did

The Hot Stove season has been rather cool so far aside from new manager A.J. Hinch’s hire and a somewhat new coaching staff. But there are still some things for the Tigers and fans to think about as Thanksgiving nears and the non-tender date looms next week:

1) Why did the Tigers protect Alex Lange on the 40-man roster?
Lange doesn’t rank on MLB Pipeline’s Tigers Top 30 Prospects list, and the former Cubs first-round Draft pick moved to the bullpen as soon as the Tigers acquired him in the Nick Castellanos trade July 31, 2019. Yet it wasn’t a surprise when Detroit added him to the 40-man roster on Friday to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

There’s a reason for that, and it might have been hinted by Hinch’s recent comments on bullpen construction.

“One thing I’ve told everybody: I believe in multiple innings,” Hinch said. “I believe in guys getting up and down a couple times. And especially now, assuming the three-batter rule is in effect moving forward, it’s important for you to be able to get through pitch counts and growing pitch counts, or the matchups that happen when I can leave you in a game.”

Offseason checklist: Tigers’ needs, moves

Lange found a role as a multi-innings reliever at Double-A Erie down the stretch in 2019, backing up Detroit’s top starting prospects. He then worked out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League, with 13 strikeouts over 9 2/3 innings in eight appearances. He said in his brief Summer Camp appearance that he likes pitching out of the bullpen and the way his fastball plays in that role.

“I think it fits my style. It fits my personality,” Lange said then. “I’ve always been a competitor, and I enjoy pitching late in the game.”

Especially in 2021, when teams will be trying to safely stretch starting pitchers’ workloads from a 60-game season to 162 games, multi-innings relievers have value. The Tigers think Lange has the chance to be a good one, maybe as soon as next season.

2) What did the Tigers’ 40-man roster moves say about arbitration?
In recent years, Major League teams have used the 40-man roster deadline as a jump-start on non-tenders, releasing arbitration-eligible players who don’t fit into the picture for next season. The Rays did this with outfielder Hunter Renfroe, opening a spot for another prospect. The Tigers didn’t go this route despite nine arbitration-eligible players and some relief prospects who could’ve been protected, such as Nolan Blackwood. That could indicate an interest in keeping all of them, or at least to see if they can negotiate before the Dec. 2 non-tender deadline. At least it suggests none of them are purely bad fits on the roster.

Predicting Tigers’ 2021 Opening Day roster

Arbitration-eligible Tigers include Matthew Boyd, Jeimer Candelario, Jose Cisnero, Buck Farmer, Michael Fulmer, Niko Goodrum, Joe Jiménez, JaCoby Jones and Daniel Norris.

3) Will the Tigers make a move in the Rule 5 Draft?
The Tigers have been productive in the Rule 5 Draft in three of the past four years, getting lefty reliever Daniel Stumpf (2016), outfielder Victor Reyes (’17) and projected swingman Rony Garcia (’19).

In those cases, the Tigers had scouts who had seen the players in the Minor Leagues that season and could recommend a pick. When this year’s Rule 5 Draft takes place Dec. 10, no team will have that information, since there was no Minor League season. The best teams can hope for is having seen players in Spring Training back in March, or in Summer Camp in July, or more recently in instructional league — for teams that allowed other scouts to have access — or winter ball. They can also use data that was shared from alternate training sites. That could make an unpredictable process a bit tougher.

That likely won’t stop teams from making picks. The opportunity to acquire prospects for $100,000 and evaluate them in Spring Training is too good for some teams to pass up. It just means mistakes are more likely, as some evaluators suggested. But will the Tigers, who would have the third pick, be active? Well, they need to open a 40-man roster spot, something that could take place if they non-tender anybody next week. Even though they’ll have less information to work off of, it would still be a surprise if the Tigers don’t use the Rule 5 Draft to at least look at a prospect.

4) Would the Tigers be better off signing a first baseman sooner than later?
My colleague Jon Paul Morosi reported on Thursday that free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz is unlikely to sign a new contract until there’s clarity on whether MLB will have a universal DH in 2021 like it did in ’20. Such a move by the league would need to be collectively bargained with the MLB Players Association. Cruz has played exclusively at DH the past two seasons, but such a change would also benefit some free-agent first basemen, expanding their market to more National League teams who have that position filled.

The Tigers signed C.J. Cron as a free agent on Dec. 21, 2019. At the time, Detroit was one of the few teams with a clear opening at the position. But if there’s any chance of NL teams using a DH again — this time with enough notice to make offseason deals for it — would Detroit be better off signing a first baseman before the potential competition? One reason to wait would be to see how Cron’s rehab goes in preparation for Spring Training. Another reason to wait until at least December is the aforementioned non-tender date.

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

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