Will Jeimer Candelario become ‘the whole package’ for Detroit Tigers? He says so

Detroit Free Press

Jeimer Candelario is ready to take the next step in his career.

The 27-year-old evolved into an established MLB player in 2021, continuing his breakthrough from the shortened 2020 season. He has given the Detroit Tigers consistency on offense and defense over the past two years, with a .278 batting average in 201 of a possible 220 games.

But Candelario enters the offseason searching for more. He knows the Tigers are on the verge of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2014, and he will be the starting third baseman on next year’s team. All things considered, Candelario is looking to provide All-Star-caliber results in 2022.

“I want to be the whole package,” Candelario said Oct. 1 in Chicago. “I want to be able hit .300. I want to be able to hit gap-to-gap doubles. I don’t only want to hit home runs. I want to be the whole package. I want to be able to contribute for my team by getting on base, fielding the routine ground balls, making good diving plays and running the bases the right way. I want to be the whole package. Anything I can do to help my team, defensively and offensively, I will do my best.

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Candelario played 149 games this season, hitting .271 with 16 home runs, 67 RBIs, 65 walks and 135 strikeouts. His .351 on-base percentage ranked second on the team, just below Robbie Grossman’s .357 OBP, and he led the Tigers with 61 extra-base hits.

A switch-hitter, Candelario hit .270 against right-handed pitchers and .273 against lefties.

“Power comes in a lot of different ways,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Sept. 30. “Majestic homers are certainly part of that. But the guy who can consistently impact the ball and gets extra-base hits is probably under-appreciated in this era because of the love of the long ball. But not by managers. I think guys that end up in scoring position after they swing the bat, whether guys are on base or guys aren’t, are pretty valuable.”

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He also tied for first place in MLB with 42 doubles. Bryce Harper (2015 National League MVP), J.D. Martinez (four-time All-Star) and Whit Merrifield (two-time All-Star) joined him at the top of the leaderboard.

Candelario finished the year with a 119 wRC+, the ninth-best among third basemen this season and better than St. Louis Cardinals six-time All-Star Nolan Arenado. Over the past two seasons, there were 24 third basemen with at least 600 plate appearances: Candelario ranked seventh with a 123 wRC+. (The league average is adjusted to 100 wRC+.)

“He doesn’t get near the love that he should,” Hinch said. “Mostly, it’s because he’s understated, pretty quiet. But he plays every day. He has a plan of attack. … To me, he knows himself. He knows what he’s hunting. He doesn’t usually miss. He’s competitive and knows the strike zone. There’s nothing that he doesn’t do well. He’s pretty good at just about every part of the offensive approach and the bat-to-ball skills.”

Candelario added: “My work is paying off. You work really hard for something, and when you get that, you feel really good. But you still want to go for more. That’s what I feel like right now. My work this year was pretty awesome, but next year, it will be even better.”

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If the Tigers don’t offer Candelario an extension, they’ll tender him a contract through the salary arbitration process and bring him back to Detroit. (Players with at least three years, but less than six, of MLB service time are eligible for arbitration.) He is arbitration-eligible for the next two seasons before reaching free agency in fall 2023.

Last winter, the Tigers tendered Candelario a contract and avoided an arbitrating hearing by agreeing to a $2.85 million deal for 2021. This time around, he is expected to snag roughly $6 million for the 2022 season.

For the substantial raise, Candelario has himself to thank.

“I think you want to add all the time in your job,” Candelario said. “I want to get better. If I hit .300, I want to hit .320 the next year. I don’t want to lie down. I want to get better every single day. I’ve always been a good hitter. You got some ups and downs that help you get better, but I knew in me that I could be that guy. Right now, I’m just going to keep walking to the next level.”

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The fact that Candelario is even talking about a .300 batting average is somewhat astonishing, considering where he was in 2019. Demoted three times to Triple-A Toledo because of his offensive struggles, he hit just .203 with a .306 on-base percentage in 94 games. He then beat out Dawel Lugo for the job at third base entering the 2020 campaign, and the rest is history.

Nowadays, Candelario is the player the Tigers expected him to be when they acquired him from the Chicago Cubs in a 2017 trade.

“I kept faith in God,” Candelario said. “I know that he’s got a process. You got to trust the process and work really hard to establish yourself in the big leagues. That’s what we’re doing right now. It’s a competition every single day. There are a lot of people (in the minor leagues) and from other teams that want to be in your position.”

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With six MLB seasons of experience, Candelario has established himself as a mainstay at baseball’s highest level. He has 1,993 plate appearances, a .246 batting average and a .334 on-base percentage in 482 career games.

But Candelario’s quest to become a guy for the playoff-hungry Tigers is only beginning.

“It is the foundation,” Candelario said. “I’m getting there. I got to keep learning. I got to keep getting on base like I’m doing and keep growing. I had a good year this year, but next year, I want more. I’m not going to sit down and lie on my back. I want to come next year and do even better.”

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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