Detroit Tigers seek pitcher as spring training starts, but free-agent market is running dry

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers would benefit from signing another starting pitcher.

That said, fans should temper their expectations.

The Tigers are active in free agency and trade discussions, sources with knowledge of the situation told the Free Press, but they’re taking a cautious approach in negotiations with available starting pitchers.

Some of the top free-agent pitchers without teams for 2022: right-hander Zack Greinke, righty Michael Pineda, left-hander Tyler Anderson, righty Garrett Richards, righty Johnny Cueto and lefty Matthew Boyd.

The Tigers are not aggressively pursuing Anderson or Pineda right now.

LOCKOUT ENDS: What Tigers must focus on now that MLB lockout is over

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The Tigers won’t hand out a deal just to sign a pitcher, not when the goal is to find a quality, back-of-the-rotation pitcher at a reasonable price. The quality is running low, and the asking prices are rising.

Asking prices in free agency, by the way, have created a ripple effect, impacting the trade market.

Knowing the free-agent market is underwhelming at this point, teams willing to trade starting pitchers for prospects — such as the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Athletics — aren’t feeling pressure to make moves unless there’s a big return. After all, those teams can simply hold onto their pitchers until the trade deadline.

The Tigers, meanwhile, do not want to trade their top-tier young talent.

Remember, the Tigers took care of their most important needs with a trio of additions before MLB’s lockout: shortstop Javier Baez (six years, $140 million), left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (five years, $77 million) and catcher Tucker Barnhart (trade with Reds).

The Tigers don’t plan on signing additional position players, and with Rodriguez already in the fold, the team has four-fifths of its rotation set: Rodriguez, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning.

If the Tigers choose not to sign another starting pitcher, two left-handers — Tyler Alexander and Joey Wentz — and two right-handers — Alex Faedo and Elvin Rodriguez — are in-house candidates to fill the fifth starter role, with right-hander Beau Brieske as a potential option later in the season. There will be newcomers on minor-league contracts, as well.

As for post-lockout MLB deals, could the Tigers stand pat?

There’s a chance.

More notes on free agency

• Right-handed reliever Drew VerHagen, who spent six seasons with the Tigers from 2014-19, was the first post-lockout signing, inking a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. He pitched the past two years for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan.

• The San Francisco Giants made the splashiest move Friday, signing left-handed starter Carlos Rodon to a two-year, $44 million deal with an opt-out after the first season. The Tigers weren’t in the mix for Rodon’s services. Rodon went 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA for the Chicago White Sox last season, pitching 132⅔ innings across 24 starts. The 29-year-old has a history of arm and shoulder injuries.

• Before the lockout, the Tigers showed interest in Anderson. Coming out of the lockout, they checked back in. Four lefty starters have come off the board since Friday morning: Rodon, Martin Perez (one year, $4 million to Texas Rangers), Clayton Kershaw (one year, $17 million to Los Angeles Dodgers) and Yusei Kikuchi (three years, $36 million to Toronto Blue Jays). For teams craving a reliable left-hander in the rotation, the focus has shifted to Anderson. The 32-year-old posted a 68.7% first-pitch strike rate and 33.3% chase rate last season for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners. He also recorded a 5.4% walk rate and 19.1% strikeout rate.

• The first post-lockout trade occurred Saturday and included an American League Central team, as the Minnesota Twins acquired infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa (and a prospect) for catcher Mitch Garver. Kiner-Falefa, a 26-year-old, is a .213 hitter in 14 games against the Tigers in his four-year MLB career.

• The Tigers have one left-handed reliever in manager AJ Hinch’s bullpen: closer Gregory Soto. The lefty reliever market is headlined by 32-year-old Andrew Chafin, who logged a 1.83 ERA with 19 walks and 64 strikeouts in 71 games for the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics. Many teams are interested in Chafin, but there’s no urgency for him to rush into a deal, and the Tigers don’t appear to be substantive players yet. Another free-agent reliever to watch is Collin McHugh, a versatile right-hander who pitched for Hinch with the Houston Astros.

• Boyd was non-tendered by the Tigers in November, but he has picked up interest from several teams — including the Tigers. Indeed, the Tigers have circled back on Boyd, who spent seven seasons in Detroit from 2015-21. The 31-year-old is recovering from flexor tendon surgery in his left arm, without setbacks in his rehabilitation program. He is on track for an MLB return by June 1. The Tigers non-tendered him because they didn’t want to pay him a projected $7.3 million in 2022, but the door appears open for a reunion at a reduced salary.

• A fascinating comeback story from 2021 was right-handed starter Wily Peralta. He joined the Tigers on a minor-league deal in spring training and returned to MLB for the first time since 2019, working as a starter for the first time since 2017. The 32-year-old recorded a 3.07 ERA with 38 walks and 58 strikeouts over 93⅔ innings in 19 games (18 starts). As for the 2022 season, the Tigers are unlikely to reunite with Peralta — unless he agrees to a minor-league contract.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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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