How Detroit Tigers think third baseman Jeimer Candelario fits into the future

Detroit Free Press

BALTIMORE — Marcus Semien, who signed a one-year, $18 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays this past offseason, entered Thursday pacing the American League with 33 doubles, immediately followed by three players with 31 two-baggers.

Two of them suit up daily for the Boston Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez.

The other?

Detroit Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who is hitting .276 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs over 106 games.

“It’s always good to contribute,” Candelario said Tuesday. “If I’m hitting doubles, if I’m producing, it’s always good for my team. I’m tied with those guys, big names, but I have to keep working hard. Trying to help my team win is what it’s all about.”

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The Tigers are putting the pieces together for the future, starting with infielder Jonathan Schoop’s two-year, $15 million contract extension, which could keep him in Detroit through the 2023 season. The agreement with Schoop — which includes an opt-out after 2022 — happened Saturday, just four days after owner Christopher Ilitch declared he might spend more money in free agency in pursuit of postseason contention.

Ahead of Thursday’s series finale with the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, the Tigers (56-60) are one game behind second-place Cleveland in the American League Central. Despite being 11½ back of the first-place Chicago White Sox and 10 games out of a wild-card spot, manager AJ Hinch has posted three consecutive winning months.

Detroit is 47-36 since May 8 and 16-9 since the All-Star break.

“I think the fans should be really excited for the Tigers,” Candelario said. “We are putting in a lot of work to get some wins for the fans. We’re going to have some really good games, and we’re going to contribute all the time to help the team win.”

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Under team control through 2024, Candelario is making $2.85 million this season, but he will enter his second and third years of arbitration eligibility over the next two winters. He could cost around $5-7 million for each of the next two seasons. (It’s a price the Tigers are seemingly OK with, considering they didn’t ship him away at the July 30 trade deadline.)

“Jeimer is a part of this,” Hinch said Tuesday. “There’s no threat of him leaving because we have team control over him. He’s got to go through the arbitration process like every player at this point of his career, but I think the consistency that Jeimer has brought is noteworthy. The fact that he’s a switch-hitter, the fact that he’s been able to mature and grow in this organization is all in his favor.

“Again, we try to leave the business side to the business side, and wherever their careers take them, but I know on the field, he’s been productive for us coming off a very productive season last season. That’s a good sign, when guys can produce a couple years in a row.”

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Back in 2019, Candelario didn’t seem to fit into the future.

He bounced back and forth between the Tigers and Triple-A Toledo, finishing with a .203 batting average in 94 MLB games two years after the Tigers acquired him from the Chicago Cubs — along with infielder Isaac Paredes — for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson at the 2017 trade deadline.

Much has changed since then.

“If I do my job, I know I’ll be part of the Tigers’ future,” Candelario said. “I want to concentrate on contributing. If I contribute and do my job, everything is going to take care of itself.”

What Candelario is accomplishing in 2021 is a continuation of his revival last season, in which he hit .297 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 52 games. In Tuesday’s 9-4 win over the Orioles, Candelario hit a 337-foot home run to right field, marking his first long ball since July 24. He recorded his latest double in Wednesday’s 5-2 victory.

“I didn’t know he had that many doubles,” Schoop said Wednesday. “He’s going to give you his all. He’s going to give you everything he’s got. I’m proud of Jeimer. Good ballplayer. He shows up every day, does his thing and tries to be better every time he steps in the box and on the field.”

MORE ABOUT CANDY: How Miguel Cabrera’s mentorship helped Jeimer Candelario become consistent

But Candelario’s lack of consistent over-the-fence power doesn’t matter to the Tigers.

Not when his gap-to-gap power has delivered 31 doubles.

“I think it should tell everybody to leave his power alone,” Hinch said. “He’s been very consistent for us, and he’s a really good hitter. That is enough. He doesn’t have to chase homers or anything other than being a productive major league hitter, and he’s proven to be that.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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