Detroit — Another day, another roster deadline for Tigers president Scott Harris.
By 8 p.m. Friday, decisions to tender contracts to nine arbitration-eligible players will be rendered. Those not tendered will be outrighted and become free agents — which was the fate of outfielder Victor Reyes earlier this week.
Seven of the nine players played significant roles last season — pitchers Tyler Alexander, Gregory Soto, Joe Jimenez and Jose Cisnero, infielders Jeimer Candelario and Harold Castro and outfielder Willi Castro.
The other two were injured most of the season — outfielder Austin Meadows and pitcher Rony Garcia.
Thus, the decisions Harris makes on these players will provide an early clue as to how different the Tigers’ active roster may look in 2023.
And there are no easy calls here, as Harris eluded to during the General Managers’ meetings in Las Vegas last week.
“It’s challenging in your first year to make (contract) tender decisions on players you don’t know as well as you will next year or the year after and the year after that,” Harris said. “It feels like we’re making decisions with imperfect information right now. But, we’re going to try to make the best decisions we can.”
He has leaned heavily on the counsel of those on his staff who were here the last few seasons — assistant general managers Sam Menzin and Jay Sartori, director of player personnel Scott Bream, director of player development Ryan Garko and, of course, manager AJ Hinch.
Here’s a subjective attempt to list the nine players in order, from the likeliest to be tendered to the least likely.
▶ LHP Gregory Soto: Even though he had a choppy season last year (30 saves and 11 losses), he’s a two-time All-Star going into his age-28 season and, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, he projects to make less than $1 million in 2023 ($950,000). Maybe he’s not the closer coming into the season, but it would be foolish to cast him aside this soon.
▶ LHP Tyler Alexander: His versatility, his strike-throwing ability and his experience should warrant a contract tender. Especially since the Tigers don’t have many left-handed options out of the bullpen. He’s going into his age-28 season and projects to make $800,000.
▶ OF Austin Meadows: Harris talked briefly about Meadows last week, saying he thought the club had some tools that could get the 28-year-old Meadows back on track. He also said he was encouraged by how advanced Meadows was in his off-season training program. He made $4 million last year and projects a salary of $4.5 million in 2023.
▶ RHP Rony Garcia: The Tigers reported that Garcia’s shoulder was healthy and he’d already begun a throwing program. He’s just 25 and can either start or work multiple innings out of the bullpen. When he’s healthy, he possesses a big matchup weapon — his curve ball. Hitters were 6-for-43 with 21 strikeouts against it in his brief time last season. His projected salary ceiling is $895,000.
▶ RHP Joe Jimenez: He’s 28 and coming off a renaissance season. His 33% strikeout rate was in the top-five percentile in baseball. His four-seam fastball has elite spin and his slider had a 42% whiff rate. But, his projected salary ceiling is $3 million. You wonder if that might be a sticking point.
▶ UT Willi Castro: He is versatile, athletic, young (26 in April), he’s a switch-hitter with some pop, he’s got an above-average arm — this is a useful player. And he has a minor-league option left. For the $1.1 million he projects to make, seems like a candidate for tender.
▶ 3B Jeimer Candelario: He floundered badly last season, after two of the most productive seasons of his career. His defense, never great, got worse. He’s going into his age-29 season and projects to earn about $6.35 million. He is a switch-hitter, but he’s more productive hitting right-handed. Harris said the club is looking for left-handed-hitting corner infielders. Doesn’t bode well for his return.
▶ IF Harold Castro: It was not a good sign for Castro, either, when Harris talked about needing a left-handed-hitting corner infielder. Hittin’ Harold bats left-handed. Castro, 29, did a lot of things few Tigers’ hitters did last year — make contact, hit fastballs, produce with runners in scoring position. But his high-chase, low-walk, no-power profile doesn’t seem to fit the new hitting program.
▶ RHP Jose Cisnero: As effective as he’s been for the Tigers the last couple of years, he is going into his age-34 season. And after missing more than half of last season because of a shoulder injury and projecting to make $2.15 million, seems a most likely non-tender candidate.