What Andrew Chafin’s deal signals about Detroit Tigers’ plans for 2022

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch needed upgrades.

General manager Al Avila has provided.

The latest addition to the roster came Wednesday morning, when the Tigers agreed to a two-year, $13 million contract with left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin. He has an opt-out clause after the first season.

“We’re talking about a guy who’s been there, done that,” Tigers outfielder Robbie Grossman said Wednesday. “He’s an established major leaguer with a lot of experience. He’s only going to help us. At the end of the day, the more quality players we get in this clubhouse, the better off we’re going to be.”

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But Chafin wasn’t the first upgrade, and he might not be the last as the Tigers continue to search the free agent and trade markets for a starting pitcher to complement Casey Mize, Eduardo Rodriguez, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning.

Right-hander Michael Pineda is the best free agent arm available.

The Tigers have made four significant moves since the 2021 season ended, signing Chafin (two years, $13 million), Rodriguez (five years, $77 million) and shortstop Javier Baez (six years, $140 million). The organization also traded an infield prospect to the Cincinnati Reds for two-time Gold Glove-winning catcher Tucker Barnhart.

Within the clubhouse, the Tigers believe they’ve sent a message.

“It shows the organization is not complacent in being just a fun team to watch,” Grossman said Wednesday. “We’re actually trying to accomplish our goal of winning our division, and you can’t ask for much more from the front office than that.”

Mize endorsed the moves Wednesday, too.

“They come from winning teams,” Mize said. “Obviously, the talent of the players, but I think the value that they’re going to provide from that standpoint is huge to an organization that needs players that come from other organizations like that.”

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Entering 2022, the Tigers are exiting a five-year rebuild.

The Tigers, armed with one of the smartest managers in baseball, built a winning culture and concluded last season 77-85 for a third-place finish in the American League Central.

The franchise posted its best winning percentage since 2016.

“There were some tough times in the organization,” Tigers right-handed reliever Kyle Funkhouser, drafted in 2016, said Wednesday. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction. We’re making moves.

“A lot of people say we over-performed last year, and a lot of us here don’t feel that way. It was nice to have a good year as a team and have the organization see that and want to build. … It’s definitely nice to feel respected and trusted within the organization, like these guys might be a piece or two away from competing in the playoffs. A lot can happen, but it’s a big step in the right direction.”

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Adding Chafin, 31, provides Hinch with six high-leverage relievers as part of his bullpen: Chafin, Funkhouser, left-handed closer Gregory Soto, right-hander Michael Fulmer, righty Jose Cisnero and emerging righty Alex Lange.

Chafin posted a 1.83 ERA in 71 outings for Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics last season, dominating left-handed hitters (.170 batting average) and right-handed hitters (.196 batting average) en route to a 24.7% strikeout rate and career-best 7.1% walk rate.

His fastball averages around 92 mph, but opponents hit .092 against Chafin’s slider with an insane 54.6% whiff rate in 2021. He logged a career-high 62.4% first-pitch strike rate and a 32.2% chase rate.

“Toward the end of the year, we were one of the better bullpens in the league,” Fulmer said Wednesday. “Everybody knew their role. AJ had a plan and stuck to it when we had leads. I think it paid off for us.”

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There’s no doubt Chafin will make the Tigers a better team, as will the top prospects, first baseman Spencer Torkelson and outfielder Riley Greene when they arrive for their MLB debuts.

But the lefty reliever — his imposing presence on the mound and his nasty sinker/slider mix — has boosted the franchise’s chances of making the postseason for the first time since 2014.

“I can’t talk about the players that aren’t in camp,” Hinch said Wednesday. “But to the organization’s credit, Al has been working tirelessly. We’ll see how it plays out in the next day or two.”

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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