This year, the Tigers have a chance to snap their seven-year postseason dry spell, thanks to three offseason additions: catcher Tucker Barnhart, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and shortstop Javier Baez.
The Tigers have committed $217 million in free agency to Baez and Rodriguez, less than the Texas Rangers ($561.2 million) and New York Mets ($254.5 million) but more than the other 27 teams.
Here’s a look at how the organization should fill its 26-man 2022 Opening Day roster:
The Tigers filled their need at the catcher position on the first day of the offseason in November, trading with the Cincinnati Reds to acquire Barnhart. The two-time Gold Glove winner will enter spring training as the starter.
After the trade, the Tigers picked up Barnhart’s $7.5 million team option. Last year’s starter, 26-year-old Jake Rogers, is likely to miss the 2022 season due to Tommy John surgery. The Tigers will consider offering Barnhart a contract extension. How that situation unfolds may depend on Rogers’ recovery.
Barnhart played his first eight MLB seasons for the Reds, hitting .248 with a .324 on-base percentage in 744 games. The 30-year-old is lauded for his game-calling, ability to block pitches and camaraderie with his pitchers.
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Torkelson seems lined up for a month or so in Triple-A Toledo, but if he slugs and shows plate discipline in spring training, the Tigers will surely put him on the Opening Day roster. Reaching the postseason is the goal, so the Tigers want their best product on the field for 162 games.
In 2021’s spring training, Torkelson hit 1-for-27 with four walks and 16 strikeouts.
The 22-year-old then entered his first professional season, climbing from High-A West Michigan (31 games) to Double-A Erie (50 games) to Toledo (40 games). He hit .312 with five home runs for the Whitecaps, .263 with 14 homers for the SeaWolves and .238 with 11 homers for the Mud Hens. He combined for 77 walks and 114 strikeouts.
At each minor-league level, Torkelson struggled before finding his groove.
Essentially, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick gets to determine his fate. He is the Tigers’ No. 1 prospect and No. 4 in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.
If the Tigers want to field their best defensive team, Schoop needs to move back to his natural position. He can play first base — doing so in 114 of 156 games last season — or third, but the Tigers prefer he works up the middle.
Here’s what manager AJ Hinch said about Schoop in September: “He’s got arguably the best arm at second base, when he plays there, of anybody in the big leagues. … It’s a difference-maker when you need it.”
In his nine-year career, Schoop has logged 812 starts at second base, 103 starts at first base, 13 at shortstop and 14 at third base. The 30-year-old is worth plus-49 defensive runs saved as a second baseman and was a 2020 Gold Glove finalist.
Schoop hit .278 with 22 home runs, 84 RBIs, 37 walks and 133 strikeouts in 2021.
Like Schoop, Baez is an above-average defender.
That’s partially why the Tigers officially signed the 29-year-old to a six-year, $140 million contract on Dec. 1, just before the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. He is a two-time All-Star, the 2020 Gold Glove winner and a 2016 World Series champion.
Baez is worth plus-69 DRS in his eight-year career.
In 2021, Baez hit .265 with 31 home runs, 87 RBIs, 28 walks and 184 strikeouts across 138 games. He hit .290 with 34 homers and 111 RBIs over 160 games during the 2018 season, finishing second in National League MVP voting.
Baez wants to work with Miguel Cabrera — a two-time MVP, Triple Crown winner and future Hall of Famer — to improve his plate discipline. If he makes an adjustment, he could become a consistent All-Star.
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Candelario is coming off back-to-back Tiger of the Year awards. He hit .271 with an MLB-leading 42 doubles, 16 homers, 67 RBIs, 65 walks and 135 strikeouts in 149 games, along with a .351 on-base percentage, last season.
The 28-year-old has been the Tigers’ most consistent player for the past two years, so he has earned his spot in the lineup. As Candelario continues to produce, the Tigers might want to think about a contract extension.
Candelario isn’t a show-stopping defender, as shown by his minus-3 DRS last season, but he gets the job done and even kept Spencer Turnbull’s no-hitter alive last May with a diving back-handed stop in the seventh inning.
For his efforts, Candelario is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn a sizable raise — about $5.9 million — in salary arbitration ahead of the 2022 season. He made $2.85 million in 2021.
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The 21-year-old Greene is on track to make the Opening Day roster but can’t afford many mistakes in spring training. He is the Tigers’ No. 2 prospect and ranks No. 7 in baseball. (Baseball America, though, recently moved him up to No. 1 in Detroit’s farm system.)
Greene hit .301 with 24 home runs, 63 walks and 153 strikeouts over 124 games for Erie (84 games) and Toledo (40 games). For the Mud Hens, the 2019 No. 5 overall pick hit .308 and smacked eight home runs.
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Grossman paced the Tigers with his 23 homers and .357 OBP in a career-high 156 games last season, so he is locked in for a starting role to wrap up his two-year contract. He had 20 stolen bases to become the franchise’s first 20-20 player since Curtis Granderson in 2009.
A surprise standout from the 2020 Rule 5 draft, Baddoo should get the nod in left field early in the season. Tracking the 23-year-old’s development in 2022, especially against left-handed pitchers, will reveal more about his future. Baddoo hit .259 with 13 homers and 18 stolen bases in 124 games.
There’s no competition for this spot, though it’s worth noting Cabrera probably won’t get as much playing time at first base moving forward. He turns 39 in April and spent 44 games of his 130 games at first base last season but only made two appearances in the infield after Sept. 8.
In 2021, Cabrera hit .256 with 15 homers, 75 RBIs, 40 walks and 118 strikeouts. He is 13 hits away from No. 3,000, after reaching the 500-homer milestone last August. He will earn $32 million in each of the next two seasons before his contract expires.
This is Cabrera’s 20th MLB campaign.
Bench: Eric Haase, Harold Castro, Derek Hill, Isaac Paredes
The Tigers will show up to spring training with at least nine players competing for bench roles.
Haase plays catcher, left field and first base, but his power petered out at the end of last season. Castro is a super utility with clutch instincts at the plate. Hill is an elite defensive center fielder yet struggles to stay healthy. Paredes accomplishes the fundamentals as a utility infielder but desperately needs to start hitting (and slugging).
The composition of the bench will be influenced by Torkelson and Greene. f Torkelson doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, the Tigers could use Haase as a first baseman, which gives Garneau a better chance to make the team as the backup catcher. If Greene doesn’t break camp with the Tigers, both Hill and Reyes could make the 26-man roster.
There are many more possibilities, so it’s too soon to feel confident about the bench predictions.
Starting rotation: Eduardo Rodriguez, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, free agent
The Tigers have their top four starting pitchers in Rodriguez, Mize, Skubal and Manning.
Rodriguez signed a five-year, $77 million contract in November. He had a 4.74 ERA with 47 walks and 185 strikeouts over 157⅔ innings in 32 games (31 starts) last season. He finished sixth in American League Cy Young voting in 2019.
Still, the Tigers are seeking a fifth starter.
Some free-agent names to watch: left-hander Tyler Anderson, right-hander Johnny Cueto, righty Garrett Richards, lefty Martin Perez and righty Michael Pineda. The Tigers would be wise to sign one of these starters on a major-league deal and add a couple insurance pitchers on minor-league contracts.
It’s also important to acknowledge the pitching prospects. Left-hander Joey Wentz is set to begin the season in Triple-A and could make his MLB debut. Right-hander Alex Faedo is coming back from Tommy John surgery, so his future role is foggy, but he is on track to contribute. Elvin Rodriguez, Beau Brieske and Reese Olson could enter the mix at some point.
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Bullpen: Gregory Soto, Jose Cisnero, Michael Fulmer, Kyle Funkhouser, Alex Lange, Joe Jimenez, Tyler Alexander, Jason Foley
The high-leverage reliever roles are cemented with Soto, Cisnero, Fulmer, Funkhouser and Lange. If the Tigers decide to add another reliable arm, they could look to right-hander Collin McHugh or left-hander Andrew Chafin on the free-agent market.
The Tigers tendered Jimenez a contract at the Nov. 30 deadline, so he is returning to the team but needs to earn his spot on the Opening Day roster. Foley is a hard-throwing 26-year-old who appeared in his first 11 MLB games last season. If he trusts his arsenal and pounds the strike zone, he has the talent to stick.
Alexander bounced between the starting rotation and bullpen last season and could be tasked with numerous roles again. He had a 4.54 ERA in 39⅔ innings out of the bullpen and a 3.38 ERA in 66⅔ innings as a starter in 2021.
The Tigers will snag more bullpen arms on minor-league deals ahead of spring training, either to try out for the big-league roster or to serve as depth in Toledo.