Detroit Tigers’ Jeimer Candelario ‘excited for our young team’ after free-agent additions

Detroit Free Press

For the past two seasons, Detroit Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario has been the best player on the roster.

The 28-year-old — boasting a team-high 4.8 WAR — played 201 of a possible 220 games, hitting .278 with 53 doubles, 23 home runs and 96 RBIs. He also posted a .356 on-base percentage, 10.2% walk rate and 22.1% strikeout rate. He was worth plus-three defensive runs saved at the hot corner.

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Finally, the back-to-back Tiger of the Year winner is getting some help.

“We’ve got some veteran guys, but I’m excited for our young team,” Candelario said Wednesday on MLB Network Radio. “Just adding more people that can help us get better, it’s exciting. I can’t wait to go to spring training and know my teammates. Coming as a team, it’s going to be great. We just got to play ball the right way.”

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The Tigers — led by general manager Al Avila — have spent $217 million in free agency, using $140 million for shortstop Javier Baez over six years and $77 million for left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez over five years. The organization also traded with the Cincinnati Reds to acquire catcher Tucker Barnhart. He will earn $7.5 million in 2022 before becoming a free agent.

Rodriguez, 28, is a 2018 World Series champion and placed sixth in 2019 American League Cy Young voting in 2019. Baez, 29, is a two-time All-Star and 2016 World Series champ. He finished runner-up for the 2018 National League MVP and won the 2020 Gold Glove at shortstop. Barnhart, 30, has won a pair of Gold Glove awards for his efforts behind the plate.

“Al is doing a great job,” Candelario said. “He knows what we need to compete. He is putting the pieces where they have to be, and we’re really excited.”

Among the newcomers, Candelario has a friend in Baez.

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When the Chicago Cubs drafted Baez out of high school with the No. 9 overall pick in 2011, Candelario was already in the Cubs’ farm system. He signed as an international free agent in 2010.

“I’ve known him since he signed,” Candelario said. “We grew up together with the Cubs. We played in extended (spring training) our first year (together in 2012). We’ve been close. We grew as a team. We grew as friends. It’s great to have him on the team. I’m excited to have him at shortstop.”

Candelario played 16 games for the Cubs between the 2016-17 seasons. Then, a July 2017 trade shipped him to the Tigers (with Isaac Paredes) in exchange for catcher Alex Avila and reliever Justin Wilson. By that point, Baez was a regular in Chicago’s lineup.

As for Rodriguez, Candelario has seven plate appearances against him in the big leagues. The southpaw pitched six seasons for the Boston Red Sox, from 2015-19 and 2021. Candelario went 2-for-7 (.286) with two doubles, one RBI and one strikeout in the matchups.

“I like him,” Candelario said. “He pounds the (strike) zone. He’s got cutters. He’s got his fastball up in the zone. He’s got his slider and changeup. He’s a great pitcher. I’m excited to have him on our side. We always competed against each other, but now, having him on my team, it’s even better. I’m excited to have him on my side.”

Catching up with Candy

Candelario received national recognition last season for leading MLB with 42 doubles, tied with Bryce Harper (2021 NL MVP), J.D. Martinez and Whit Merrifield. On the local level, he picked up his second consecutive Tiger of the Year award, becoming the seventh back-to-back winner in franchise history.

Candelario had a .271 batting average, 16 home runs, 67 RBIs, 65 walks and 135 strikeouts in 149 games. Two seasons ago, he hit .297 with 11 doubles, seven homers and 29 RBIs in 52 contests.

“I don’t put too much pressure on the ballpark,” Candelario said about playing at Comerica Park. “I just want to put the ball on the barrel and see what happens. It’s a big ballpark, and that’s why I had a lot of doubles last year. Hopefully, I can put some more balls in the stands.”

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When the season ended, Candelario traveled home to San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. Candelario has decided to keep his swing and approach intact, which means he isn’t changing anything about his mechanics.

But he is focused on something else.

“I’m putting in a lot of work on my mental side,” Candelario said. “People want to work on a lot of things physically, but you have to work more mentally because you depend on your mentality in the game: being in a great position, being able to make plays for your pitchers, being ready to drive people in. You have to use your mind.

“A lot of people want to workout. That’s great. But you have to still work mentally. That was one of the things that helped me improve. I’ll keep working hard on my hitting. That’s what I’m focused on right now. I’ll keep working on my routines and being consistent with my routines.”

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MLB owners locked out the players upon the Dec. 1 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. Until there’s a new labor contract, all player activity will remain frozen. That means no free-agent signings, no trades, no use of team facilities and no contact between the team and its players on the 40-man roster.

Candelario said he is getting updates from his agent.

“We got a lot of ballparks to practice (in the Dominican Republic),” Candelario said. “You can practice every single day. It’s great weather to practice, and we got all we need here. But there are a lot of people that need those (team facilities) to prepare.

“But you got to figure things out. No excuses. You got to put yourself in a great position to succeed in the big leagues. For those guys that need (the team facilities), you find a way to prepare and be ready. When they said, ‘Let’s go,’ we got to be ready. We got to be ready no matter what.

“The MLBPA will do a great job. We’re going to stick together.”

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.

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