Where every Tiger fits going into 2022

Detroit Tigers
DETROIT — The Tigers did some back-patting and hand-shaking at their season-ending press conference for a year of much-needed progress. But they also made it clear that the expectations are going up for next season after a 30-win improvement from 2019 to 2021 (with a shortened 23-35 season in between).

“I think seeing this thirst for winning in this rebirth or doing things that a winning culture does, obviously lends itself to look towards .500 and above. That’s the next plateau,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Now, that doesn’t mean we have to spend an entire year and that has to be our only accomplishment next year. I think we have to set our bar extremely high. You should set out every year to make the playoffs …

“The amount of progress is really dictated on what the players can absorb, what the players do. I was very pleased with the progress in all sorts of different areas. And so, how high that could get, or how good that could get, or how much we could fast-forward it, is really dependent on how the players respond.”

It’s one thing to talk about raising the bar. Now the Tigers have to figure out how to get there, and who on their current team can help make the jump.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the major contributors for the Tigers last season and their potential fit for the future:

C/OF Eric Haase (five seasons of club control): The Detroit area native has carved a role on his hometown team after slugging 22 home runs with a 104 OPS+ this season. However, the Tigers would rather not wear him down as the everyday catcher after watching him behind the plate in an extended stint following Jake Rogers’ injury.

C Jake Rogers (five seasons of club control): Unfortunately, 2022 looks like a lost season already for Rogers, who’s expected to spend most of the year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

C Dustin Garneau (first-year arbitration eligible): The Tigers could try to bring back Garneau as a non-roster invite following an impressive stretch run. But if Detroit adds a more established catcher to share duties with Eric Haase, Garneau could be the odd man out.

DH/1B Miguel Cabrera (signed through 2023): The 3,000-hit club awaits for Cabrera, possibly around his 39th birthday next April. With two more seasons on his contract, he remains the heart of the Tigers, and his 75 RBIs show he can remain a productive player at the DH slot.

3B Jeimer Candelario (second-year arbitration eligible): For all the rotating Hinch did around the infield, Candelario was the constant at the hot corner, and looks like a potential long-term fixture. He led the American League in doubles, led the Tigers in Wins Above Replacement, and is just entering his prime years as his 28th birthday awaits. For those reasons, he could be the Tigers’ next contract extension candidate.

IF Harold Castro (possible first-year arbitration eligible): Castro is neither a stat compiler nor a budding youngster, but his ability to provide clutch at-bats and reliable play at a plethora of positions has won over Hinch. The stakes are higher now that Castro is expected to be a Super Two arbitration player, but his role as a left-handed hitter off the bench seems secure.

IF/OF Willi Castro (five seasons of club control): Now that the Tigers know the younger Castro isn’t their answer at shortstop, he likely fits as a superutility player along the lines of Niko Goodrum. But he needs to hit better than he did in 2021.

IF Niko Goodrum (second-year arbitration eligible): With the Tigers looking for an upgrade at shortstop and deep in utility players, it’s difficult to find a fit for Goodrum, who turns 30 in February. He was plus-4 in Outs Above Average at shortstop but minus-8 in Defensive Runs Saved.

2B/3B Isaac Paredes (five seasons of club control): The Tigers love Paredes’ disciplined approach at the plate but hope to see more power and run production as he matures. He’s still young, with his 23rd birthday in February, and could win a utility spot next year.

SS Zack Short (six seasons of club control): There’s standout defense and sneaky offensive power with Short, but with a 32-percent strikeout rate, he needs to make more consistent contact at the plate to escape the Detroit-Toledo shuttle and find a more reliable big league role.

Akil Baddoo (five seasons of club control): General manager Al Avila said at season’s end that they’re likely set with their outfield without any major additions. That says a lot about Baddoo, whose graduation from Rule 5 pick to regular player reflected steady growth and smart, athletic play well beyond his experience level. His 2.1 bWAR ranked fifth on the team and was the highest by a Tigers rookie position player since Austin Jackson in 2010.

Daz Cameron (six seasons of club control): Stuck on the Detroit-Toledo shuttle for most of the season, Cameron needs to make a push and translate his flashes of brilliance into more consistent play to find a more stable spot in Detroit’s outfield.

Robbie Grossman (signed through 2022): Detroit’s two-year, $10 million contract with Grossman last winter looks like a shrewd signing following a 23-homer, 20-steal, 116 OPS+ season. He’ll have an everyday corner spot next year.

Derek Hill (six seasons of club control): If Hill can stay healthy and continue his offensive maturation, he has a chance to become Comerica Park’s next great center fielder, following in the footsteps of Austin Jackson and Curtis Granderson. But given Hill’s aggressive outfield play, injuries have been a regular concern since the Tigers drafted him in 2014.

Victor Reyes (first-year arbitration eligible): His .325 average and .864 OPS in the second half bolstered his case for a spot in next year’s outfield. Reyes is probably a fourth outfielder in the long term, but his defensive versatility and dynamic offense continue to earn him longer looks.

LHP Tyler Alexander (four seasons of club control): Like Brad Peacock was an unsung hero for Hinch in Houston, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen for years, Alexander has found a similar role for Hinch in Detroit. He could compete for a rotation spot next spring, or he could be a valued lefty in the bullpen.

LHP Matthew Boyd (fourth-year arbitration eligible): The Tigers face a tough decision this offseason with Boyd, who’s expected to miss at least the start of the season following surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his arm. Avila has suggested they’ll try to work something out ahead of the non-tender deadline at the start of December.

RHP Matt Manning (six seasons of club control): Much like the Tigers tried to use starting depth to push Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal this past Spring Training, they could do the same with Manning next year. But ultimately, the former first-round pick is part of Detroit’s rotation core.

RHP Casey Mize (five seasons of club control): The restrictions should be off Mize next year for the first time in his pro career, allowing him to push towards a workhorse role in Detroit’s rotation. He has work to do to raise his strikeout rate and make his splitter an effective swing-and-miss pitch again. Still, it would not be a shock to see him start on Opening Day in Seattle, or the home opener a week later at Comerica Park.

RHP Wily Peralta (free agent): The Tigers benefitted greatly from Peralta’s career revival this year and need a veteran arm or two for the rotation next year. Now Peralta will benefit as he hits the free-agent market again with a stronger resume. Whether Detroit would guarantee him a rotation spot and a big league deal is an intriguing question.

LHP Tarik Skubal (five seasons of club control): Like Mize, Skubal has some offseason improvements to make to approach his front-line starter potential, notably with his change of speeds and overall command. Also like Mize, Skubal is a key to the Tigers’ effort to contend, and he shouldn’t have innings restrictions holding him back.

RHP Spencer Turnbull (first-year arbitration eligible): If Turnbull pitches at all for the Tigers next year following Tommy John surgery this past summer, it would likely be at season’s end to get him reacclimated to game action ahead of a rebound year in 2023.

RHP José Ureña (free agent): For the first time in five years, the Tigers are expected to look for an established starter on the market. That likely rules out a return for Ureña, who had a very good stretch early in the season but otherwise battled inconsistency and injuries before ending the season in the bullpen.

RHP José Cisnero (second-year arbitration eligible): The hard-throwing setup man is a seemingly ancient 32-year-old in an otherwise young bullpen. He’s coming off a career-high 67 appearances, and has earned a place as a veteran in Hinch’s late-inning bullpen mix.

RHP Jason Foley (six seasons of club control): The former undrafted signing, who made 11 appearances this year, could be the next reliever to graduate from Detroit’s farm system into the bullpen mix if he can shore up his command and improve his secondary pitches to complement his high-90s fastball.

RHP Michael Fulmer (fourth-year arbitration eligible): Though injuries have left the Tigers seeking starting pitching depth, Fulmer’s future remains in the bullpen after reviving his career as a late-inning reliever. He’s on track for free agency next winter.

RHP Kyle Funkhouser (five seasons before free agency): The Tigers might watch Funkhouser’s workload next year after he seemed to wear down near season’s end, but he’s an integral part of their late-inning relief corps. He actually finished one win shy of the team lead.

RHP Bryan Garcia (four seasons before free agency): Finding the form that made Garcia a high-rising relief prospect a few years ago could be the next challenge for Tigers pitching coaches. At the very least, his Minor League options make him a depth option who could bounce between Detroit and Toledo.

LHP Derek Holland (free agent): The full-season numbers hide an outstanding stretch run for Holland, who allowed a lone run on eight hits in 14 innings over his final 11 appearances. With Alexander and Gregory Soto as the only returning lefty relievers, Detroit could explore bringing him back on another non-roster invite.

RHP Joe Jiménez (second-year arbitration eligible): The Statcast metrics, including a .167 expected batting average, suggest Jiménez was a much better pitcher than his results, building a case for keeping the 26-year-old. He still has a Minor League option, but he’s eligible for arbitration, which could lead the Tigers to non-tender him or seek a Minor League deal.

LHP Ian Krol (second-year arbitration eligible): The Tigers got a bit of a look at Krol as a middle-inning lefty but more often used him to fill innings in lopsided games. Detroit could try to bring the 30-year-old back as a non-roster invite, which is how he came to Tigers camp last Spring Training.

RHP Alex Lange (six seasons of club control): What Funkhouser did for Detroit’s bullpen in 2021, Lange could do next year, except that Lange’s strong finish in a late-season audition – including a 1.45 ERA and .550 OPS over his final 17 appearances — means he wouldn’t be emerging from seemingly nowhere.

LHP Gregory Soto (four seasons of club control): Hinch finally anointed Soto as Detroit’s closer at his season-ending media session after resisting the title all year. However, Hinch will continue to use Soto in some non-traditional closing spots depending on the opposing lineup and situation.

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