DETROIT — The Tigers, coming off their best and arguably their most entertaining season in years, are set up for what could be an even more fascinating offseason.
The rebuilding project that left general manager Al Avila scouring the market for bounceback candidates and overlooked prospects on the market for the past few years is just about over. Detroit is looking for a winning record, if not more, in 2022. A 77-win season in 2021 has created excitement for a fan base ready to get behind a team on the rise. The payroll obligations that limited the team’s roster flexibility are now much lighter, creating maneuverability heading into a deep free-agent market.
Detroit’s road back to contention still has potential potholes, including pressing needs created by injuries, and a potentially slow-moving market while teams anticipate the structure of baseball’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement. But this has the chance to be the busiest, most productive Tigers offseason since at least 2015-16. Here’s a quick look at some core questions going in:
Which players are free agents? Are any of them likely to receive qualifying offers?
Starters Wily Peralta and Julio Teheran, reliever Derek Holland and swingman José Ureña are set to become free agents once the World Series ends. Though teams can present qualifying offers to free agents within five days after the end of the World Series, the Tigers will not be doing that with any of their free agents, since none of them are expected to receive the size of contract that would net the Tigers a compensation pick in return.
Which arbitration-eligible players might be non-tender candidates, and when do the Tigers have to decide whether to offer contracts?
The Tigers currently have 13 players on track for arbitration this winter, including …
It’s a long list at first glance, but it includes three players who were on Minor League contracts before being promoted last season — Garneau, Hutchison and Krol. They could be taken off the big-league roster and pursued again for Minor League contracts with Spring Training invites, though they’d also be free to sign with other teams.
Goodrum and Jiménez are non-tender candidates. Both are second-time arbitration-eligible players whose roles decreased this season and who could be supplanted by younger players.
The most interesting decision will be Boyd, the Tigers’ Opening Day starter back in April. He’s eligible for arbitration for a fourth time heading into his final season before free agency, but he’s also expected to miss at least part of next year following surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his throwing arm. It’s not as extensive of a procedure as Tommy John surgery, but the recovery timetable varies from player to player. Avila has suggested that they’ll try to work out a deal ahead of the Dec. 2 deadline to tender arbitration-eligible players a contract under MLB’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which officially expires on Dec. 1.
Which prospects need to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?
Among MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Tigers prospects, infielder Kody Clemens (No. 18) and right-handed starters Reese Olson (No. 11) and Paul Richan (No. 25) will be Rule 5 eligible unless they’re added to the 40-man roster. Unranked prospects who have a case to be rostered include right-handed starters Logan Shore, Garrett Hill and Elvin Rodriguez, and righty relievers Will Vest (who was taken by Seattle in last year’s Rule 5 Draft but was returned in the summer), Angel De Jesus and Chavez Fernander.
Does that create a roster crunch, and when does that need to be resolved?
Some tough decisions await on unranked prospects, but unless the Tigers go on a free-agent spree early in the offseason, they should have enough roster spots through non-tenders and outright assignments to avoid a crunch. Teams have until Nov. 19 to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft.
Which needs are priorities in free agency? Who might they target?
The Tigers have made no secret that they need a shortstop, a need that coincides with one of the deepest free-agent shortstop classes in recent memory led by Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Báez, Trevor Story and Marcus Semien (who played second base this past season with Toronto but has a long history at short). Correa’s age plus his ties with manager A.J. Hinch, who managed him in Houston from 2015 to 2019, make him a natural top target, but it remains to be seen if Detroit can win a bidding war for his services and still fill other needs. If not, Semien is another logical option.
Though the Tigers’ shortstop void has drawn the most attention, Detroit also is looking for two starting pitchers and a catcher. On the latter, Detroit could keep a close eye on whether the Reds pick up Tucker Barnhart’s $7.5 million option or let the 30-year-old former Gold Glove winner hit the open market.
Are there any needs more likely to be filled with a trade? Who could they deal?
The Tigers want a catcher to at least share duties with Eric Haase, if not serve as the primary starter. But like the last few offseasons, the free-agent catching market is thin and centered on either older players (Buster Posey turns 35 in March) or platoon catchers. Better options could be available via trade, but Avila said last month he’s sensitive to trading prospects to fill short-term needs.
The Tigers have shown no inclination to trade any of their coveted young pitchers, and they’re not dealing their top offensive prospects. One area where they could deal is from their glut of outfield prospects, though Riley Greene is all but off-limits.
Could the Tigers sign any other players to contract extensions after doing so with Jonathan Schoop over the summer?
The Tigers have some interest in re-signing Peralta off a strong half-season in their rotation, but he’s expected to explore the market in search of a guaranteed, possibly multi-year contract. Candelario is two years away from free agency, but entering his prime years coming off back-to-back strong seasons with a 125 OPS+ over that span. He recovered from a slow start to lead the AL in doubles this year.