Detroit Tigers free agency: Six starting pitchers who make sense; would a reunion work?

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers constructed their rebuild around starting pitching.

Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning have already reached the big leagues, with Alex FaedoJoey Wentz and a few other prospects likely arriving in 2022. General manager Al Avila also picked up Jackson Jobe (No. 3 overall), Ty Madden (No. 32) and 10 other pitchers with their 21 draft picks in 2021.

But right now, the Tigers need an established arm.

CORREA TO DETROIT?: Meet the 8 MLB free agency candidates to fill Tigers shortstop hole

If they land one of the five elite shortstops, it’s tough to envision them also signing one of the cream-of-the-crop pitchers such as Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Robbie Ray or Kevin Gausman. Doing so would be the definition of “drunken sailor” spending, which Avila said he refuses to do this winter. That’s why, entering the offseason, these pitchers seem like better fits: Eduardo Rodriguez, Jon Gray, Carlos RodonAnthony DeSclafani and Steven Matz. If the market for Marcus Stroman slips, he would also be a candidate.

Here’s what you need to know about them:

(Note: Contract predictions via MLB Trade Rumors.)

2022 ROSTER PREDICTION 1.0: Big name could fill shortstop void, but what about starting pitching?

STAY OR GO: Evaluating each Tiger as team aims for winning record, playoffs in 2022

Age: 28.

2021 stats: 32 games (31 starts), 157⅔ innings, 4.74 ERA, 47 walks, 185 strikeouts, 19 home runs allowed, 3.32 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), 1.389 WHIP, 27.4% strikeout rate, 7.0% walk rate, 3.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

Career stats: Six years, 159 G (153 GS), 856⅔ IP, 4.16 ERA, 294 BB, 892 K, 3.83 FIP, 1.313 WHIP, 24.5% K, 8.1% BB, 14.6 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers aren’t interested in paying north of $25 million per year for a starting pitcher, but they are interested in Rodriguez, who received the $18.4 million qualifying offer, which he is expected to decline, from the Boston Red Sox. With a longer commitment, the Tigers (and other teams) should be able to get him at a favorable average annual value. In 2020, Rodriguez tested positive for COVID-19 and developed myocarditis, a heart condition. After missing the shortened season, he bounced back in 2021. He set a career high with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings and made three starts in the postseason. He also had a 3.32 FIP, the best mark of his career, despite a career-worst 4.74 ERA. What does this mean? Well, Rodriguez also had a career-worst .364 batting average on balls in play. Essentially, he was pretty unlucky last year. The 3.32 FIP removes results on balls in play and focuses solely on the pitcher’s controllable outcomes: strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs. (For comparison, Mize had a 3.71 ERA and 4.71 FIP in 2021.) All things considered, Rodriguez was a lot better than the back of his baseball card indicated. That’s why the Tigers like him, and the Red Sox want to re-sign him to a multiyear deal.

Prediction: Five years, $70 million.

Age: 30.

2021 stats: 29 GS, 149 IP, 4.59 ERA, 58 BB, 157 K, 21 HR, 4.22 FIP, 1.329 WHIP, 24.4% K, 9.0% BB, 2.3 WAR.

Career stats: Seven years, 152 G (151 GS), 829⅓ IP, 4.59 ERA, 280 BB, 849 K, 3.91 FIP, 1.338 WHIP, 23.9% K, 7.9% BB, 15.7 WAR.

The buzz: Gray finished 2021 with a 4.59 ERA, but he had a 6.69 ERA with a 12.6% strikeout rate in 2020. The Colorado Rockies shut him down that September due to right shoulder inflammation, so he only made eight starts in the shortened season. But Gray has been durable throughout his career, with 31 starts in 2018, 25 in 2019 and 29 in 2021. His strikeout numbers and velocity bounced back last year, attracting teams seeking a high-upside starting pitcher at a reasonable cost. After the Rockies decided to keep Gray at the trade deadline, they offered a three-year deal in the $35 million-$40 million range in late September, according to The Athletic. Obviously, Gray did not accept. Then, the Rockies refused to give him the $18.4 million qualifying offer. That means whatever team signs him will not be forced to give up a draft pick as compensation. Gray is a solid bang for the Tigers’ buck — that’s why they’re interested in him — and could see substantial improvements under pitching coach Chris Fetter’s guidance.

Prediction: Four years, $56 million.

GREENE’S BIG DEBUT: Tigers prospect Riley Greene knows what’s next. The question is ‘when?’

KREIDLER’S RISE: What prospect Ryan Kreidler thinks about shortstop market: ‘I’ll change my game’

Age: 28.

2021 stats: 24 GS, 132⅔ IP, 2.37 ERA, 36 BB, 185 K, 13 HR, 2.65 FIP, 0.957 WHIP, 34.6% K, 6.7% BB, 4.9 WAR.

Career stats: Seven years, 121 G (116 GS), 669⅓ IP, 3.79 ERA, 267 BB, 710 K, 3.94 FIP, 1.295 WHIP, 24.9% K, 9.4% BB, 11.9 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers got to know Rodon quite well in 2021. He re-signed with the Chicago White Sox on a one-year, $3 million deal — after the club nontendered him in December — and torched manager AJ Hinch’s squad. He posted a 2.25 ERA, five walks and 27 strikeouts in three starts against the Tigers. (Over his career, he has a 5.33 ERA in nine starts against Detroit.) Rodon tossed a no-hitter in April and made his first All-Star team last season, but he missed time in the second half of the year and saw a decrease in velocity due to shoulder fatigue. Still, the hard-throwing lefty posted a 2.31 ERA (13.0 strikeouts per nine innings) over 15 starts before the All-Star break and a 2.51 ERA  (11.5 K/9) over nine starts the rest of the way. He also underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019, so Rodon’s health is somewhat concerning; perhaps that’s why the White Sox didn’t give him the qualifying offer. For those reasons, anything more than a two-year contract may be too risky. But there’s no doubt Rodon was one of the best pitchers in baseball last year.

Prediction: One year, $25 million.

Age: 31.

2021 stats: 31 GS, 167⅔ IP, 3.17 ERA, 42 BB, 152 K, 19 HR, 3.62 FIP, 1.091 WHIP, 22.5% K, 6.2% BB, 3.0 WAR.

Career stats: Seven years, 156 G (146 GS), 824 IP, 4.06 ERA, 227 BB, 734 K, 4.12 FIP, 1.252 WHIP, 21.3% K, 6.6% BB, 11.7 WAR.

The buzz: After his career started with the Miami Marlins (2014) and Cincinnati Reds (2015-16, 2018-20), DeSclafani became a first-time free agent and signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the San Francisco Giants in December. Based on his results, including a pair of compete game shutouts, he easily outperformed his contract. The Giants didn’t give him the $18.4 million qualifying offer, which he probably would have accepted. Some teams are uncertain of his ability to repeat his dominant performance from last season. DeSclafani has made at least 20 starts — 31 in 2019 and 2021 — in each of the past five full seasons in which he has pitched. He missed the 2017 season with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament but avoided the dreaded Tommy John surgery. (DeSclafani was also limited to seven starts in the shortened 2020 season with a mild shoulder strain.) As for free agency, anything between two and four years wouldn’t be shocking. The Tigers have already shown interest in him.

Prediction: Three years, $42 million.

FIRST MOVE: By trading for Tucker Barnhart, Tigers are ‘trying to build a winning team’

WHAT TO KNOW: What will Tigers get from Tucker Barnhart? Just ask Reds’ Tyler Stephenson

Age: 30.

2021 stats: 29 GS, 150⅔ IP, 3.82 ERA, 43 BB, 144 K, 18 HR, 3.79 FIP, 1.334 WHIP, 22.3% K, 6.7% BB, 2.8 WAR.

Career stats: Seven years, 141 G (136 GS), 730⅓ IP, 4.24 ERA, 223 BB, 696 K, 4.34 FIP, 1.323 WHIP, 22.3% K, 7.1% BB, 7.9 WAR.

The buzz: Remember Aug. 22, 2021? That’s the day Tigers veteran Miguel Cabrera slugged his 500th career home run. He did so at Rogers Centre in Toronto, crushing Matz’s changeup over the wall in right-center field. And it just so happens the Tigers are now interested in getting Matz to join them. The New York Mets traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays in January, then he rebounded from a terrible 2020. In the first half of last season, Matz had a 4.72 ERA, 21 walks and 82 strikeouts in 15 starts. He finished the year with a 2.91 ERA, 22 walks and 62 strikeouts in 14 second-half starts, thus setting himself up for a solid payday this winter. Of his four pitches, his slider is the least effective. But after the Tigers successfully added a slider to Manning’s arsenal, they might be able to tweak Matz’s repertoire. Like Gray, Rodon and DeSclafani (but not Rodriguez), Matz did not receive the qualifying offer.

Prediction: Three years, $27 million.

NOTEBOOK: Jeimer Candelario trusts GM in free agency; Tigers scout Justin Verlander

Age: 30.

2021 stats: 33 GS, 179 IP, 3.02 ERA, 44 BB, 158 K, 17 HR, 3.49 FIP, 1.145 WHIP, 21.6% K, 6.0% BB, 3.4 WAR.

Career stats: Seven years, 179 G (173 GS), 1,028⅓ IP, 3.63 ERA, 288 BB, 853 K, 3.62 FIP, 1.266 WHIP, 19.9% K, 6.7% BB, 19.2 WAR.

The buzz: Signing Stroman would be a bit of a financial stretch for the Tigers, especially if they’re serious about landing a marquee shortstop. His average annual value should be higher than Verlander’s, but that’s only because he’s younger, healthier and a safer long-term bet based on his durability. Stroman was one of seven MLB pitchers to make 33 starts in 2021, and he has started at least 32 games in four of his past five seasons. (He opted out of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.) He is known as a ground-ball pitcher but logged strikeout rates of 23.0% and 21.6% in 2019 and 2021, respectively. If Stroman drops to the four-year, $75 million range, the Tigers would be foolish not to jump into the mix. For now, many teams will have to wait and see how the top of the market unfolds. It’s worth noting the Mets couldn’t give him the one-year qualifying offer because they did so — and Stroman accepted it — after the 2020 campaign.

Prediction: Five years, $110 million.

ABOUT VERLANDER: Here’s what we know about the odds of Justin Verlander returning to Tigers in 2022

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

Articles You May Like

Tigers Claim Ty Adcock From Mariners
MLBTR Podcast: Free Agent Power Rankings, Ohtani’s Stolen Money And The A’s Moving To Sacramento
Jaden Hamm dominates again in Whitecaps romp
Tigers 4, Twins 3: Javy’s homer sparks comeback as the Tigers split the series
Injury Notes: Albies, Suzuki, Basabe, Gipson-Long

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *