Detroit — In the early days, back when I actually banged out my stories on a typewriter (wish I was kidding about that), I used to run an occasional Idle Thoughts column. Random Thoughts would have been a more accurate title.
It was just a compilation of items that, while maybe of some note, didn’t necessarily merit a full presentation. My head is swirling with such thoughts right now, as the Tigers are off and running in their quest to win the offseason.
Which brings me to the first one:
►It’s rejuvenating to see the Tigers back in the thick of the Hot Stove chatter. General manager Al Avila has fired the first two shots now — trading for catcher Tucker Barnhart and signing lefty Eduardo Rodriguez to a very smart, mutually-beneficial five-year, $77 million (guaranteed) deal. An opt-out clause after two years, which may have been a selling point for both sides, could be a precursor for a much larger deal for a shortstop.
The Tigers are in on Carlos Correa. That seems to be their main target, even though the price tag will likely be more than $30 million annually and $300 million full term. With strategically-placed opt-out clauses — Rodriguez could opt-out and leave three years and $49 million on the table — and cleverly-structured annual payments and deferments, some of the inherent risks that come with such lucrative, long-term deals could be mitigated.
►It’s hard to imagine a deal that big, that intricate and complex, will get done before the inevitable lockout when the current collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 1. But the way Avila and his crew are attacking this offseason so far, who knows? But I go back to something manager AJ Hinch threw out there at the season-ending press conference in October — just the fact that the Tigers are seriously in position to land a player like Correa and are in these types of negotiations is pretty wonderful after what we’ve all endured the last bunch of years.
►But may I offer another notable axiom: You don’t get anything for winning the offseason, as the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, among others, can attest. The additions of Barnhart and Rodriguez make the club better. If they land Correa or any of the top shortstops, they will, on paper, be in position to contend in the division. Still, the young players who matured last season — Jeimer Candelario, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Akil Baddoo, Gregory Soto, Alex Lange, Eric Haase — will have to continue to take steps forward. Veterans Jonathan Schoop and Robbie Grossman can’t regress. The jump from bad to good is a whole lot easier than the jump from good to great. Just trying to keep it in perspective.
►Big-name shortstop or not, 2022 is going to be a landmark year for the Tigers. Not only will we witness Miguel Cabrera reach 3,000 hits and 600 doubles, to go along with the 500th home run we enjoyed last season, but two potential pillars of the club’s next championship team (no pressure) will likely make their big-league debuts — Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson. Good times ahead, man. Finally.
►The signing of Rodriguez, even with the average annual salary of $16 million (including the incentives), shouldn’t automatically preclude the Tigers from tendering a contract to Matthew Boyd. Unless the Tigers know something about the medicals that we don’t, I can’t see any real downside to making him an offer, even if it ends up costing them $7 million for a half a season.
Boyd, who underwent flexor tendon surgery, is expected to begin his throwing program in December. Though he wouldn’t likely be ready to pitch competitively until June, by tendering him before the Dec. 2 deadline, the Tigers buy time to better monitor his recovery. And, as colleague Evan Woodbury of MLive pointed out, if it looks like his recovery is going poorly, they could release him either at the beginning of March (and owe him a little over $1 million) or at the end of March (and owe a little under $2 million).
►I am and have been all-in on Boyd going back to those tumultuous early days with the Tigers in 2015 when he was getting lit up regularly. You saw the lively fastball (firmer then than it is now but not often located as effectively up in the zone). You saw the array of secondary pitches. It was the change-up that caught your eye then, the slider more so recently. Mostly, though, you saw the heart, the smarts, the work ethic, the genuine will to be great. Boyd has been on the verge, a couple of times, of reaching his full potential. Injuries the last couple of years, especially last year, have derailed him. Unless this flexor tendon injury is a precursor to more elbow issues down the road, I believe Boyd when he says his best years are ahead of him.
To me, Boyd is going to have a long and fruitful second half to his career. Much like Rich Hill, I see him being a productive pitcher into his 40s. So, yeah, I think it would be a mistake to non-tender him now. Now is a time to show a little faith in a player who has taken a lot of lumps through the early misery of the rebuild.
►Forget 2022 for a second. How would a rotation of third-year starters Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning, with veterans Rodriguez, Boyd and Spencer Turnbull look heading into spring training 2023? You might also have Joey Wentz, Alex Faedo, Garrett Hill, Reese Olson and Beau Brieske battling for a spot. Which could make one or two of those pitchers trade bait to fill whatever need may arise.
►About Rodriguez, I saw this stat on Twitter from BaseballCloudUS. In 2019 and 2021, his last two seasons in the big-leagues, Rodriguez posted 180-plus strikeouts in 150-plus innings with a 100-plus adjusted ERA and a FIP (fielding independent pitching) above 4.00. No Tigers pitcher has accomplished that since Justin Verlander in 2016.
►Of the veteran starters I expected the Tigers to chase this offseason — Steven Matz, Jon Grey, Anthony DeSclafini, Alex Wood — Rodriquez seemed the best get. Which is why I suspected the Red Sox would keep him, or maybe a bigger market team like the Blue Jays or Angels. So good on Avila for winning that battle. There will be those who look at the ERA and opponent slash-line and ho-hum this deal. But for a lefty to pitch as effectively as he did for so long in the hitter-heavy American League East (he faced the Yankees five times last year) is impressive. His ERA outside the division last year was a full run lower than it was in the division.
►The next important roster date for the Tigers is Friday. That’s the day the 40-man roster has to be set and prospects protected from the Rule 5 draft. Among those not currently on the 40-man, who might be of interest to other teams, include infielder Kody Clemens and pitchers Olson, Logan Shore and Paul Richan. The Tigers could opt to non-tender arbitration eligible players like Boyd, Bryan Garcia, Niko Goodrum, Dustin Garneau or Grayson Greiner to clear space.