Here’s what Detroit Tigers could do with their top three relievers in the offseason

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers have three relief pitchers who should generate significant trade interest this offseason: Gregory Soto, Joe Jiménez and Alex Lange.

Teams are already calling.

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls from teams already,” Scott Harris, president of baseball operations, said Nov. 8 at the general manager meetings in Las Vegas. “This is sort of like a feeling-out period of the offseason, where you’re getting a lot of inbound calls and registering interest on certain players.”

THE HARRIS PLAN: Biggest priority for Tigers this offseason? ‘Reshaping our position playing group’

ROSTER MOVES: Tigers protect five prospects from Rule 5 draft, trim 40-man roster to create space

Harris has been praised for his creativity at his past stops with the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants, and that description of his style as an executive will be put to the test immediately as the Tigers aim to build a league-average offense while protecting the future of the franchise.

He hasn’t proven anything yet, aside from modernizing the front office and making some obvious decisions in an effort to cleanse the roster. Trading players and maximizing the return value — something his predecessor often failed to do — would be a strong place to start building his brand.

“The early returns have been good,” Harris said. “There has been quite a bit of interest in our players. As for which players we are going to trade and which players we are going to retain, we haven’t made those decisions yet. But we’ve gotten a fair number of inbound calls, which is always a good thing.”

At the 2022 trade deadline, when then-general manager Al Avila was still in charge, the Tigers had the opportunity to move left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin, arguably the best pitcher in the bullpen. His contract included a $6.5 million player option for the 2023 season.

The Tigers shopped Chafin like he would exercise his player option and return to whatever team acquired him, but opposing teams viewed him as a two-month rental. Therefore, the Tigers didn’t receive offers that lined up with their asking price and kept him for the remainder of the season.

After the World Series, Chafin opted out of his contract and became a free agent.

Under Harris, the Tigers can’t miss their opportunity windows on the trade market. This offseason, upgrading the offense is the priority. If the Tigers upgrade through trades, pursuing outfielder Hunter Renfroe (if he isn’t non-tendered), outfielder Tyler O’Neill, infielder Nolan Gorman or catcher Danny Jansen would make sense.

The Tigers likely need their relievers involved to complete a trade. Here are the three who could be most valuable on this winter’s trade market:

Age on Opening Day: 28.

Free agent: 2026.

2022 stats: 64 games, 3.28 ERA, 1.376 WHIP, 5.1 BB/9, 9.0 K/9, 0.6 fWAR.

The buzz: Will Soto remain the Tigers’ closer in 2023? Probably not. But is the two-time All-Star still a valuable member of the bullpen? Absolutely. His fastball reaches triple digits on the radar gun, and when he’s locked in, his slider is devastating and induces swings and misses. He recorded 30 saves in 33 chances last season but was charged with 11 losses, primarily faltering in non-save situations. Poor command remains his kryptonite. He is projected to earn $3.1 million in his first year of salary arbitration. Expect the Tigers to tender him a contract, and possibly trade him to a team that believes it can unlock a more consistent version. He is under team control through the 2025 season.

MORE ON SOTO: What Tigers’ Gregory Soto thinks about security of closer job: ‘It’s not up to me’

Age on Opening Day: 28.

Free agent: 2024.

2022 stats: 62 games, 3.49 ERA, 1.094 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, 12.2 K/9, 1.4 fWAR.

The buzz: Jiménez, who could be a closer candidate for 2023, becomes a free agent after next season, so the Tigers seem likely to trade him this offseason or at the trade deadline. He is projected to receive $3.1 million in his third and final year of salary arbitration and is expected to be tendered a contract. He experienced a revival last season, finally dominating the strike zone and becoming the high-leverage reliever the Tigers have been dreaming of for years. Jiménez registered a 33.3% strikeout rate — 15th among 152 qualified relievers — thanks to his elite fastball and solid slider. He also posted a 5.6% walk rate, the best mark of his six-year career. If the Tigers want to maximize Jiménez’s value, this offseason would be the time to trade him.

MORE ON JIMÉNEZ: Tigers’ Joe Jiménez had ‘best year of my career’ but wants to succeed as team

Age on Opening Day: 27.

Free agent: 2028.

2022 stats: 71 games, 3.69 ERA, 1.247 WHIP, 4.4 BB/9, 11.7 K/9, 0.7 fWAR.

The buzz: Of the three, Lange is the most valuable because he is under team control through the 2027 season. He doesn’t become arbitration eligible until 2025, meaning he will make the MLB minimum salary in 2023 ($720,000) and 2024 ($740,000). Lange is already a reliable high-leverage reliever and led the Tigers’ bullpen with 71 appearances last season. His 30.3% strikeout rate ranked 33rd, but his 11.4% walk rate ranked 132nd. He generates swings and misses better than anyone in baseball — a product of his nasty curveball and changeup — but would benefit from improving his fastball command. If the Tigers trade Lange, they would need to receive a big return. He has a bright future.

MORE ON LANGE: How did Tigers’ Alex Lange become crucial to bullpen? Go back to how he was raised

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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