Detroit Tigers set Opening Day roster: Renato Nunez out, Harold Castro, Akil Baddoo in

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers have filled out their 26-man Opening Day roster with 13 pitchers and 13 position players. Getting to this point, however, came with tough conversations Saturday morning.

Manager AJ Hinch informed non-roster invitee Renato Nunez, a slugger who struggled defensively at first base, that he will not make the team. Also, former closer Joe Jimenez, a right-hander, was cut from the roster.

There were exciting conversations, too: Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo, outfielder Victor Reyes and utility player Harold Castro were told they made the roster, thus completing the 26-man squad.

“I don’t have any expectations that it would change, but I don’t know all the opportunities (on waivers) that would open up over the next couple of days that might spark an interest,” Hinch said. “It would be unlikely for us to maneuver outside of this 26 right now.”

EX-CLOSER GONE: Tigers option Joe Jimenez to Triple-A Toledo, finalizing 2021 pitching staff

PROSPECTS CUT: Tigers send prospects Isaac Paredes, Jake Rogers to Toledo

ROTATION SET: Casey Mize makes MLB starting rotation; Michael Fulmer to bullpen

Here is the 26-man roster for Opening Day:

Catchers (2): Grayson Greiner, Wilson Ramos.

Infielders (6): Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario, Harold Castro, Willi Castro, Niko Goodrum, Jonathan Schoop.

Outfielders (5): Akil Baddoo, Robbie Grossman, JaCoby Jones, Nomar Mazara, Victor Reyes.

Starters (5): Matthew Boyd, Julio Teheran, Tarik Skubal, Jose Urena, Casey Mize.

Relievers (8): Tyler Alexander, Jose Cisnero, Buck Farmer, Michael Fulmer, Bryan Garcia, Derek Holland, Daniel Norris, Gregory Soto.

Cutting Nunez

The Tigers signed Nunez to a minor-league contract this offseason with an invitation to spring training. The best way for him to make the roster was by showcasing durable defense at first base, considering designated hitter Miguel Cabrera is going to play his old position just a few times per week.

But because Nunez isn’t anything more than a first baseman and designated hitter, the Tigers would not have been able to shuffle other players — such as one of the five outfielders or catcher Wilson Ramos — into the DH spot when Cabrera handled first base.

“The versatility was going to be very important,” Hinch said. “Having Harold and Niko (Goodrum) and the five outfielders was going to be very important, and that ultimately hurt Nunez’s chances of breaking with us.”

[ Miguel Cabrera is ‘arguably best first baseman’ for Tigers. Here’s what this means ]

Hinch thinks Nunez needs more time to develop defensively at first base. He has an opt-out in his contract, but Hinch said the Tigers would “love to keep him in the organization” and that he could help the team in 2021.

“I think he could hold his own if given more reps and continuing to work that way,” Hinch said. “But the flexibility of the roster was impacted if we went that direction. … At any given time, I could see us changing our minds if he still remains in the organization. It just didn’t feel like the right thing for this team going into the season with limited flexibility.”

Offensively, there were few concerns about Nunez. The 26-year-old racked up 43 homers and 121 RBIs (and a .247 average) in 203 games over the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

That made the decision to cut him even more difficult.

“We’re turning away an offensive player that can help us,” Hinch said. “He’s a big-league player and has put up numbers and has answered the question on whether he can compete at the major-league level.

“And we said no to him.”

Making the team

As the Tigers eliminated Nunez, Castro secured a spot on the roster. Castro, 27, has already played seven positions during 125 career games over parts of three seasons. He has a career .298 batting average.

With Castro and Goodrum, the Tigers have two versatile defenders, allowing for what feels like an unlimited number of lineup configurations.

“He’s easy to like and easy to appreciate,” Hinch said. “With him and Niko moving around, the versatility of this roster is really, really good. The other part is being able to do it. He’s a solid infielder, but we need to get him more reps at first base because I can see him being utilized there a little more. He probably doesn’t get as many outfield reps, just that we have five on our active roster.

“His attitude and approach to that job has been very positive and, quite honestly, it’s why managers fall in love with him.”

[ Akil Baddoo was surprise of spring for Detroit Tigers. It’s a no brainer to keep him ]

The other big addition: Baddoo, a Rule 5 draft pick this past December from the Minnesota Twins. Despite not playing above High-A in the minor leagues, the 22-year-old burst onto the scene this spring with a .314 batting average, four homers, nine RBIs, 10 walks and 12 strikeouts.

He showed enthusiasm and confidence on the first day of camp, Hinch said, and then produced on the field.

“His job is not done yet,” Hinch said. “He did make the team, but his development is certainly not done. It shifts now from having everyday at-bats and being in the mix (in spring) to being more of a role player. … But I’m going to use him. We didn’t just put him on this roster to sit back, be the 26th guy and try to carry him for the season. We’re going to test him.”

Hinch added that he is likely to start Baddoo in the first series of the season against the Cleveland Indians, which kicks off with Opening Day on April 1, to “get those nerves out of him.”

Along with keeping Baddoo, the Tigers have officially accepted carrying five outfielders throughout the season. Of course, Baddoo could be returned to the Twins at any point.

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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