Back in the 2019-20 offseason, Candelario guided Toros del Este to the Dominican Winter League championship. He was named MVP of the league’s final postseason series with a .357 batting average and two home runs.
Because of Candelario’s performance, Toros del Este advanced to the Caribbean Series. The annual event matches up the best teams from six countries: Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Colombia. Although Candelario didn’t participate in those games, Toros del Este came out on top for the first time in franchise history.
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In October, Candelario was presented with his Dominican League championship ring.
But wouldn’t he like to get one in MLB?
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Candelario said Tuesday, after securing the 2021 Tiger of the Year award. “We’re working really hard. I know the guys are working really hard. It’s going to be a different team. It’s going to be even better than this year. That’s our mentality and our goal.”
Candelario doesn’t think the Tigers are far away making the postseason. Last year, in manager AJ Hinch’s first season, the team finished 77-85 and in third place of the American League Central.
He also notices the organization is making an effort to field a winning team, signified when general manager Al Avila made a trade with the Cincinnati Reds for catcher Tucker Barnhart. There’s no doubt the eight-year veteran is an upgrade for a roster that needed a defense-first catcher to lead a young pitching staff.
“We’re getting better every single day, even in the offseason,” Candelario said. “We know that we had a really good year. We don’t want to fall (back) on that, but we’re making adjustments and learning. Next year, we’ll be ready to go. We’ll come into next year even better.
“Casey Mize, (Tarik) Skubal, (Matt) Manning, Akil Baddoo and every young guy, they’re learning on the big-league field. They’re not learning in Triple-A. I’m excited that they’re learning in the big leagues, and now they know what it takes to have success.”
Now that Barnhart is in the fold, the Tigers will turn their attention to adding two starting pitchers and one shortstop. This year’s shortstop market features five star-studded players: Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story and Javier Baez.
The Tigers are considered early favorites for Correa, an elite hitter and Gold Glove-winning defender who played for Hinch in five of his seven seasons with the Houston Astros. They won the World Series together in 2017. As long as money doesn’t get in the way, a Hinch/Correa reunion in Detroit makes a lot of sense.
“I know Al is doing a really good job,” Candelario said about his general manager. “He’s going to select the pieces that we need to keep adding and compete with other teams. I know he’s going to do a really good job. There are a lot of free agents. It’s going to be special. You just got to wait and see how it’s going to be, but I know we’re going to be really good in 2022.”
Reliever removed from roster
Right-handed reliever Drew Carlton cleared waivers Tuesday and was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo, thus removing him from the 40-man roster but keeping him in the organization.
The 40-man roster is now at 39 players.
Carlton, 26, made his MLB debut in September 2021. He had a 4.91 ERA, four walks and one strikeout over 3⅔ innings in four appearances. Most of his season was spent with Triple-A Toledo. For the Mud Hens, he logged a 2.92 ERA, 10 walks and 49 strikeouts across 52⅓ innings in 33 games.
The Tigers drafted Carlton in the 32nd round in 2017 from Florida State.
Scouting Justin Verlander
The Tigers were one of at least 15 teams at free agent Justin Verlander‘s showcase Monday in Florida, a source with knowledge of the situation told the Free Press. Verlander underwent Tommy John surgery in late September 2020.
The throwing session was held at Cressey Performance Center in Jupiter, operated by New York Yankees director of health and performance Eric Cressey. Verlander reached 94-97 mph, according to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman.
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Verlander received the $18.4 million qualifying offer from the Astros, and he has until Nov. 17 to accept or decline, but if he wants a multiyear deal, he’s going to need to test the market. Either way, Astros general manager James Click is interested in re-signing Verlander.
“From everything I’ve seen, from everything that I’ve heard, he is completely healthy,” Click told reporters at the GM meetings in Carlsbad, California. “If he is and if we can find a way to bring him back to Houston, it would be tremendous.”
Despite the scouting trip to Florida, the Tigers remain highly unlikely to land Verlander — who wants to pitch until he is 45 years old — at this point in his career. If the 38-year-old declines the Astros’ qualifying offer, he is expected to seek more money than the Tigers are willing to offer, especially when they consider his age and health, as well as the state of their building process.
Verlander pitched 2,511 innings over 380 starts with the Tigers from 2005-17, logging a 183-114 record, 3.49 ERA and 2,373 strikeouts. He won the AL Rookie of the Year (2006), Cy Young (2011) and MVP (2011) awards, along with making World Series appearances in 2006 and 2012.
In Houston, Verlander won his first World Series in 2017 and second Cy Young Award in 2019 with Hinch — now the Tigers’ manager — at the helm. He has a 43-15 record with a 2.45 ERA in 477 innings across 74 starts in his career with the Astros.
The latest in pitching
Roughly two months ago, the Tigers began a progressive surge within their organization, promoting Sam Menzin and Jay Sartori to assistant general manager roles. Less than one month later, Ryan Garko replaced Dave Littlefield as the director of player development.
Then, Garko made his moves.
After hiring Gabe Ribas as the director of pitching, the Tigers added a pair of pitching coordinators in late October for the minor leagues.
Steve Smith is set to oversee Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. He resigned from his job as Tennessee Tech’s baseball coach after one season. Stephanos Stroop, who Ribas brought with him from the Los Angeles Dodgers, gets to handle the remaining affiliates in the farm system.
Beyond connecting with their new players, Ribas, Smith and Stroop have developed offseason programming for the pitchers to prepare for 2022.
Smith, 60, coached at Baylor for most of his career, serving as the head coach from 1995-2015. He then worked as an assistant at Santa Clara University in 2017 before becoming the volunteer assistant and pitching coach at Auburn, where he aided Mize’s development.
The Tigers drafted Mize with the No. 1 overall pick in 2018. He just completed his rookie season in the big leagues, posting a 3.71 ERA with 41 walks and 118 strikeouts over a team-high 150⅓ innings and 30 starts.
Stroop, 34, has spent the past three seasons with the Dodgers.
He worked as the pitching coach for the Arizona Complex League Dodgers in 2019, Low-A Great Lakes in 2020 and Low-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2021. (Before the 2021 season, the Low-A and High-A affiliates switched levels.)
He was an assistant coach for George Washington University (2012-14). Stroop then transitioned into scouting as an associate scout for the Washington Nationals (2014) and Atlanta Braves (2014-16) but he went back to the dugout as the pitching coach for St. Petersburg College (2016-17) and Southern University (2017-18).