What the Detroit Tigers are telling us about the future with the Robbie Grossman signing

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
| Detroit Free Press

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Some will say the Detroit Tigers spent too much for 31-year-old outfielder Robbie GrossmanThe offseason is moving slowly because of the COVID-19 pandemic; a two-year, $10 million deal could be steep.

Others will look at Grossman’s numbers and see an excellent decision made by general manager Al Avila. His career walk rate is 12.6% (last year’s league average was 9.2%), his strikeout rate is 20.9%, and his .482 slugging percentage in 2020 marked a career-high.

ANY MORE DEALS? What the Tigers should do as free agent market unfolds

But the Grossman signing has less to do with Avila’s present judgment and more to do with his future plan. The two-year agreement foreshadows two things: The Tigers are preparing to make a postseason run in 2022 and more money will be spent, even if it’s not until next winter.

The Tigers haven’t made the playoffs since 2014 and finished at the bottom of the American League Central in four of the last six years.

“Robbie is a proven major league hitter and will bring consistent, competitive at-bats to our lineup,” Avila said in a statement. “His name quickly came up when our front office began planning potential offseason additions, and all of us are looking forward to having his veteran presence both on the field and in the clubhouse.”

MORE FROM GROSSMAN: Why did he join the Tigers? AJ Hinch’s winning culture

By 2022, the Tigers will have a slew of prospects ready to contribute in the majors, including third baseman Spencer Torkelson, right-hander Casey Mize, right-hander Matt Manning, outfielder Riley Greene, lefty Tarik Skubal, infielder Isaac Paredes and catcher Jake Rogers.

And those players to the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario, Willi Castro, Gregory Soto and Bryan Garcia.

[ Al Avila won’t seek winning baseball in 2021. He seeks something bigger ]

Now toss in a marquee shortstop from next winter’s free-agent class. Fill another hole in the lineup, wherever that may be. And pick up a veteran starting pitcher to lead the young rotation. (Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, two former Tigers, will be on the market.)

If the franchise makes wise decisions, there’s no reason why manager AJ Hinch and the Tigers can’t compete for the playoffs in 2022.

“The sky is the limit,” Grossman said Wednesday. “You get some young, hungry guys who want to win, want to be there and want to get better, there’s no telling what you can do. I’m excited to be a Tiger and excited to be a part of that process. I’m excited for what’s to come.”

Where Grossman fits in

Grossman, a switch-hitter, likely won’t crush 20-plus home runs or secure the batting title. Yet he will play an important role in the lineup with his knack for getting on base.

He is the type of “Moneyball” player that every postseason team needs.

[ Tigers sign Robbie Grossman to 2-year, $10 million contract ]

Of 46 AL hitters with at least 500 games since 2016, Grossman ranks fourth in walk rate (13.2%), seventh in strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.46) and 12th in on-base percentage (.359). Last season, he had a .241 batting average, .344 OBP, eight homers, 23 RBIs, 21 walks and 38 strikeouts in 51 games for the Oakland Athletics.

Last season, the Tigers combined for a .303 on-base percentage — third-worst in MLB — and took a league-low 147 walks. In 2019, the Tigers’ .294 OBP was the worst in baseball, and their 391 walks ranked second-to-last. (They set a single-season MLB record with 1,595 strikeouts in 2019.)

“I’ve been around winning cultures,” Grossman said. “I know what that’s like, to come to the field every day and expect to win. Once we get to the point where we expect to win every single day we show up to the field, that’s all you can ask for as a major leaguer.

“I’m looking forward to bringing everything I have to Detroit. Looking forward to the future.”

Grossman is the first multi-year signing the Tigers have made since the 2015-16 offseason, when they added Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Pelfrey, Mark Lowe and Justin Upton. That’s the last time they made an earnest effort to reach the postseason.

This doesn’t mean the Tigers will compete for much in 2021, but it reinforces the idea that 2022 is the target year for the franchise to make its first postseason push since the rebuild began. Still, Avila and owner Christopher Ilitch need to spend on higher-caliber free agents. Prospects must be able to handle starting roles.

But don’t forget about Grossman, who will find ways to get on base and score runs.

“I’ve been fortunate to play for some great franchises during my career, and I couldn’t be happier to add the Tigers to that list,” Grossman said in a released statement Tuesday. “I’ve been in Detroit a number of times as a visiting player and know how passionate the city and its fans are for Tigers baseball.

“I’m very excited to get to work … and help bring winning baseball back.”

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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