Detroit Tigers tender contracts to six arbitration-eligible players for 2023 season

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers tendered contracts to six arbitration-eligible players for the 2023 season: Austin Meadows, Gregory Soto, Joe Jiménez, José Cisnero, Tyler Alexander and Rony García.

Third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder Harold Castro and utility player Willi Castro were non-tendered and officially became free agents at Friday’s 8 p.m. tender deadline. Earlier this offseason, the Tigers cut ties with four arbitration-eligible players: right-hander Drew Hutchison, outfielder Victor Reyes, righty reliever Miguel Díaz and righty reliever Kyle Funkhouser.

The Tigers, led by new president of baseball operations Scott Harris, started the offseason with 13 arbitration-eligible players. The Tigers’ 40-man roster is currently at 38 players.

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Salaries for the 2023 season aren’t locked in, but tendering contracts is the first step in the process. Arbitration-eligible players have until mid-January to negotiate salaries with their team. If the two sides can’t agree, an arbitration hearing will be scheduled in February.

The Tigers already avoided arbitration with two players: Alexander (one year, $1.875 million) and Meadows (projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $4 million). Meadows’ salary for next season is unclear, but he earned $4 million in 2022.

To keep the four others, the Tigers likely will pay roughly $9 million. Soto is projected to earn $3.1 million; Jiménez $2.6; Cisnero $2.2 million; and García $1 million.

Players on the 40-man roster with less than six years of MLB service time must be tendered contracts each winter. For a player to be arbitration-eligible, he must have accrued three or more years of MLB service (or receive Super Two status).

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Meadows, 27, only played 36 games for the Tigers last season. The left-handed power hitter, an All-Star in 2019, failed to record a home run. The Tigers acquired him from the Tampa Bay Rays in April 2022, but he missed most of the season with vertigo, COVID-19 and bilateral Achilles strains before sitting out September for mental health reasons. He hit .250 with 16 walks and 17 strikeouts.

In 2023, Meadows projects as a starter in the outfield. He is under team control through the 2024 season.

“I’ve talked to Austin a couple times and had really good meetings with him,” Harris said Nov. 8 at the general manager meetings in Las Vegas. “I think there are some things we can do to help Austin. I know Austin is working really hard down in Florida right now. When he’s right, he rakes. It’s important for us to provide him the support to help him get back to the version that we’ve all seen.”

Soto, who turns 28 in February, pitched 64 games for the Tigers last season and served as the closer for the entire season, earning 30 saves in 33 changes despite a miserable 2-11 record. He had a 3.28 ERA in 60⅓ innings with 5.1 walks per nine innings, 9.0 strikeouts per nine and an inflated 1.376 WHIP. He is under team control through the 2025 season.

Jiménez, who turns 28 in January, becomes a free agent after next season. In 2022, he logged a 3.49 ERA in 56⅔ innings over 62 appearances with career bests in strikeout rate (33.3%) and walk rate (5.6%). Unless the Tigers trade Jiménez this offseason, he will return to his role as a high-leverage reliever and could get an opportunity as the closer.

Cisnero, 33, wasn’t at his best in 2022. A shoulder injury in spring training (and a subsequent Achilles issue) held him out until late July. Upon his return, he logged a 1.08 ERA with 19 walks and 23 strikeouts in 25 innings across 28 outings. His fastball velocity eventually returned, but his command wasn’t sharp during his three months in the big leagues. Cisnero, the oldest member of the Tigers’ bullpen, becomes a free agent after the 2023 season.

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Alexander, 28, gives the Tigers versatility out of the bullpen. He started 32 of his 68 games over the past two seasons. In 2022, the left-hander posted a 4.81 ERA with 25 walks and 61 strikeouts in 101 innings over 27 games (17 starts). When he isn’t in the rotation, he can pitch multiple innings in low-leverage situations. He is known for throwing strikes, but his 14.3% strikeout rate and 17.0% swing-and-miss rate were career-worst marks last season.

García, who turns 25 in December, limits walks and owns a dynamite curveball. Opponents hit .140 with three extra-base hits and 21 strikeouts against his curveball last season. His season, though, was cut short again because of an injury. He has pitched just 33 MLB games in the past three seasons. The former Rule 5 draft pick, who suffered back-to-back shoulder injuries in June and July, made his final appearance July 24. He had a 4.41 ERA with 13 walks and 48 strikeouts in 51 innings across 16 games (eight starts).

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

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