LAKELAND, Fla. — From Eduardo Rodriguez making his second Spring Training start to Javier Báez making his first appearance at Joker Marchant Stadium, the signs of the Tigers’ offseason investment were all over the field Wednesday. So, too, was the owner who authorized it.
“Tiger fans have been incredibly patient,” team chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch said from the field as infield practice went on behind him. “They have lived through this rebuild process that we laid out quite clearly at the beginning, and a credit to [general manager] Al [Avila] and his entire team and [manager] A.J. [Hinch]. They’ve worked very hard and they’re delivering exactly what the plan was and how we laid it out, and it’s exciting.
“I just was talking to the players this morning in the clubhouse. The energy, the chemistry, you guys have been around it. You can feel it, I can feel it, we all can feel it. It’s exciting, and I think Tiger fans are going to be really excited about this team. And as our No. 1 fan, my son Trevor said, he said, ‘Dad, this team has really got the potential to surprise some different teams out there. We’re going to surprise some folks.’”
Báez and catcher Tucker Barnhart met with Ilitch individually, according to Avila, and thanked him for the investment.
“The vibe is really great,” Ilitch said. “I talked to the players as a group and then I talked to a number of them individually, and you could feel there’s great chemistry. You could tell they’re appreciative. I think our fans are appreciative and excited that we’re investing in our ballclub to build a competitive ballclub for the long term, and our players, they’re also appreciative and excited. Barnhart, [Andrew] Chafin, Rodriguez, all these guys are going to play an important role.”
Barnhart was the Tigers’ first addition of the offseason, acquired via trade from the Reds. Báez was the biggest move, signing a six-year, $140 million contract as a free agent.
“You look at what Al and his team and what our organization has done during this offseason, we’ve addressed a lot of needs,” Ilitch said. “We have gone out and done exactly what we said we would do, which is fill in our needs through free agency. And when you look at what we’ve added, I think our club added as much payroll as any club in baseball over the course of this offseason.”
Ilitch disputed a report that he opposed raising the Competitive Balance Tax threshold during negotiations on the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Tigers, Turnbull exchange arbitration figures
The Tigers reached agreements on one-year contracts to avoid arbitration with seven of their eight arb-eligible players. They exchanged proposals with right-hander Spencer Turnbull, setting the stage for a hearing.
Right-handers Michael Fulmer ($4,950,000), Joe Jiménez and José Cisnero, third baseman Jeimer Candelario ($5,800,000), outfielder Victor Reyes, catcher Dustin Garneau and utilityman Harold Castro agreed to terms on one-year contracts.
Turnbull filed for arbitration for $2,100,000, while the Tigers filed for $1,325,000, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. While the two sides could still reach an agreement before a hearing, the Tigers have trended away from that in recent years once figures are exchanged. If the two sides go to a hearing, an arbitrator would decide on one figure or the other.
The shortened offseason schedule means a hearing would take place during the season. That isn’t quite as disruptive in Turnbull’s case, since he’ll be continuing his rehab from Tommy John surgery in hopes of returning to action late this season.