How Detroit Tigers can capitalize on trade market this offseason as free agency unfolds

Detroit Free Press

SAN DIEGO — One day after Scott Harris stressed the development of young players, the Detroit Tigers‘ first-year president of baseball operations reverted to a month-old tune by saying his organization is shopping in all aisles in free agency.

But it’s clear the Tigers aren’t spending in all aisles.

The trade market is a completely different entity, though it’s surely impacted by the ongoing activity free agency. The Tigers, prioritizing the acquisition of controllable position players, could be waiting for the top-tier free agents to sign before capitalizing on trade opportunities.

“We’re working really hard right now to make the team better,” Harris said Tuesday night from his suite at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. “It consumes an unbelievable amount of bandwidth to really make a trade. We’re really busy. We don’t have a trade to announce to show how busy we are, but we don’t find the trade market or free agency sluggish right now, even if on Twitter it doesn’t look like something’s happening.”

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The Tigers have received interest in their relief pitchers this offseason, primarily left-hander Gregory Soto and right-hander Joe Jiménez. Soto is under team control through the 2025 season, while Jiménez becomes a free agent after 2023. Two other relievers to monitor: righties José Cisnero, a free agent after 2023, and Alex Lange, a free agent after 2027.

Soto, a two-time All-Star in his first year of arbitration eligibility, recorded 30 saves in 33 chances last season but was charged with 11 losses, primarily faltering in non-save situations. The 27-year-old posted a 3.28 ERA with 5.1 walks per nine innings and 9.0 strikeouts per nine across 60⅓ innings.

“I love Gregory Soto, the impact he has on the game, the fear that’s instilled when he comes in,” manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday afternoon when asked about his closer. “There could be an extra walk in there. There could be a little bit of a walk a fine line. But there are not a lot of guys like him that walk around the league, left-handed, throwing 100 (mph) with the pitch metrics that he has. We’ve got to continue to get him inside the strike zone. The more he does that, the more he earns the back end of the game.”

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Harris didn’t tip his hand about his relievers on the trade market.

“If there is an opportunity to make a trade or a free-agent signing that we genuinely believe is going to make us better, we’re going to do it,” he said. “As far as our willingness to move one player versus another, we don’t think about it like that. It all has to be within the context of the opportunity.”

It’s no surprise Harris said the Tigers don’t have untouchable players on their roster, meaning any player could be traded. A team failing to sign a premium free-agent shortstop might inquire on Javier Báez, but keep in mind, his value isn’t favorable following poor results last season. Therefore, a more realistic example is left-handed starter Eduardo Rodriguez. He is owed $14 million and has an opt-out clause in his five-year contract after next season.

At last season’s trade deadline, former general manager Al Avila deemed 22-year-old outfielder Riley Greene an untouchable. The Tigers, under Avila’s leadership, traded one reliever last season — righty Michael Fulmer to the Minnesota Twins for minor-league pitcher Sawyer Gipson-Long — and failed to capitalize on an opportunity to move lefty Andrew Chafin.

“That’ll be consistent through my tenure here,” Harris said. “We’re not going to look at any player as untouchable. We have varying levels of interest in making moves with any player, but I don’t really think any team operates with truly untouchable players anymore.”

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As for this offseason, the free-agent market is playing a role in setting the value of players on the trade market.

The free-agent relief market, which Harris described as “very expensive,” has thinned over the past month. The noteworthy signings: Edwin Díaz (five years, $102 million), Rafael Montero (three years, $34.5 million), Robert Suarez (five years, $46 million), Chris Martin (two years, $17.5 million), Matt Strahm (two years, $15 million), Carlos Estévez (two years, $13.5 million) and Tommy Kahnle (two years, $11.5 million).

Those figures are positive signs for the Tigers as opposing teams call Harris in search of acquiring relievers.

“If you have players under control who fit those types of profiles, it’s reasonable to expect them to be a little bit more attractive,” Harris said. “I can’t really comment on that because I’m not asking the other GMs that are calling me if a certain player is more attractive against the backdrop of free agency. I think it’s fair to speculate that, but it’s hard to really prove.”

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

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