What Detroit Tigers must keep in mind, and what they should do, as free agent market unfolds

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Tigers pounced in a historically slow MLB offseason Tuesday by signing outfielder Robbie Grossman to a two-year, $10 million contract. 

This winter, the top free agents remain unsigned. Many second- and third-tier players are waiting for higher-regarded players to set the market. Besides the activity of the San Diego Padres, there isn’t much to discuss. Trade talks are mute, too.

Before Christmas, the Tigers added righty Jose Urena on a one-year, $3.25 million deal. Yet they may have started a chain reaction when they settled on Grossman. The 31-year-old is expected to be the Opening Day left fielder.

“Hopefully, it jumpstarts the market a bit,” one scout said.

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If that’s the case, here are the scenarios the Tigers must keep in mind at four positions, plus realistic free-agent options:

Starting pitcher

Scenario 1: Spencer Turnbull, Matthew Boyd, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Jose Urena (with help from Michael Fulmer, Matt Manning, Franklin Perez and long relievers Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander).

Scenario 2: The Tigers sign another free-agent starter on a one- or two-year contract. This gives rotation flexibility, aiding Turnbull, Boyd, Mize, Skubal, Urena, Fulmer, Manning, Perez, Norris and Alexander through the expected inning limits.

Free agents available: Taijuan Walker, Corey Kluber, Rick Porcello, Carlos Rodon, Garrett Richards, Julio Teheran, among others.

My pick: Scenario 2. 

Reason: The Tigers are going to protect Mize, Skubal and Manning in 2021, so they’ll need as many arms as possible. Signing Walker to a two-year deal makes sense, as he would help with inning limits this season and accelerate the squad toward the postseason in 2022. Kluber is an interesting bounce-back candidate, but he shouldn’t get more than a one-year contract. And don’t count out Porcello (a Tiger from 2009-14).

First base/DH

Scenario 1: Miguel Cabrera (DH, 1B), Jeimer Candelario (3B, 1B, DH) and Isaac Paredes (3B, DH) split time between first base, third base and designated hitter. Everyone gets to play.

Scenario 2: The Tigers sign a free-agent first baseman. Cabrera is the full-time designated hitter (against his requests), Candelario is the full-time third baseman and Paredes is relegated to a reserve role.

Free agents available: C.J. Cron, Mitch Moreland, Logan Morrison, Jedd Gyorko.

My pick: Scenario 1.

Reason: If the Tigers are going to add a first baseman, it’s probably going to be a reunion with Cron. Still, that position isn’t the team’s top priority. The first scenario will provide clarity about the future in a year where the Tigers won’t be postseason threats.

Catcher

Scenario 1: Jake Rogers (starter), Grayson Greiner (backup) and Dustin Garneau (reserve). The concern is Rogers’ offense could crumble early, leaving a lackluster bat in the lineup. Greiner is a career .194 hitter.

Scenario 2: The Tigers sign a free-agent catcher with the intention of giving him the starting job, leaving Rogers and Greiner to compete for the backup role. The Tigers would have a greater chance of success, especially on offense, but it’s seemingly a short-term fix.

Free agents available: Alex Avila, Jason Castro, Robinson Chirinos, Austin Romine, Yadier Molina, Tyler Flowers.

My pick: Scenario 1. 

Reason: Like the first base scenario, the Tigers need to know what they have at catcher in 2022 and beyond. The only way to figure that out is to give Rogers the keys, for better or for worse. There’s a chance he fails to produce offensively, but at least the organization will then confidently deem him as the backup. Right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Solving the question comes with letting him play now that he is ready.

Middle infield

Scenario 1: Willi Castro (SS, 2B) and Niko Goodrum (utility). It’s too soon to call Paredes an option at second base, but he could make the transition in 2021. This situation also gives the Tigers a chance to test Castro at both positions after he struggled defensively at shortstop last season. Sergio Alcantara and Zack Short won’t have a problem getting reps, either.

Scenario 2: The Tigers sign a free-agent second baseman or shortstop on a one-year contract. Castro is stuck to a single position, and Goodrum becomes a bench player rather than a utility starter. Also, there won’t be as much flexibility to test Paredes and Alcantara.

Free agents available: Jonathan Schoop, Enrique Hernandez, Jason Kipnis, Freddy Galvis, Jonathan Villar, Tommy La Stella.

My pick: Scenario 2.

Reason: While the Tigers can get by without an infield addition, they should consider finding someone on a low-cost, one-year deal. Many fans want them to re-sign Schoop, but he is probably seeking a two-year contract with a contender. Of course, the Tigers could pay him for two years, but that will only limit their options next winter when the free-agent market for shortstops is rich.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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