4 questions for Tigers heading into the new year

Detroit Tigers

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The new year is upon us, but before the 2023 preparations begin in earnest at Spring Training, the Tigers still have questions to address, both on the field and about the field. While the Hot Stove has been lit since Thanksgiving, there’s still some business left to do, especially for the middle tier of free agents. The Tigers, who have assembled a coaching staff designed in part to help make Detroit a destination for players looking to further their careers, are aligned with this portion of the market.

As the days and weeks tick down before pitchers and catchers report to Tigertown in Lakeland, Fla., here are four questions left for the Tigers to answer:

1. Who will start at third base?
The Tigers’ decision to non-tender Jeimer Candelario wasn’t a surprise, even though Detroit didn’t have an obvious replacement on the roster. It still doesn’t, but the free-agent market at third base remains wide open. Former 20-homer slugger Brian Anderson has been linked to Tigers interest after being non-tendered by the Marlins, but other free agents are still available, including veteran Evan Longoria. If the market languishes through the holidays, could president of baseball operations Scott Harris become opportunistic? Or will Detroit try to leave the hot corner open long term for newly acquired prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy?

There’s also the possibility that Jonathan Schoop moves to third base, and the Tigers try to fill second, possibly opening a path for Ryan Kreidler to get regular playing time.

2. Will Eric Haase get his chance to be a No. 1 catcher?
The Tigers are giving every indication that he will, and the thin free-agent market at catcher certainly encourages them to give him a shot. The one possibility that could change that is if the Tigers have a chance to trade for a catcher by taking on another team’s surplus (though one such possible match dried up when the Blue Jays dealt catcher Gabriel Moreno to the D-backs). Haase’s 68 starts at catcher last season marked a high for his Major League career, though he started 91 games behind the plate for Triple-A Columbus in 2019. The only other catchers on Detroit’s 40-man roster at the moment are Jake Rogers, who hasn’t played since August 2021 due to Tommy John surgery, and Mario Feliciano, whom the club claimed off waivers from Milwaukee on Dec. 21. Top catching prospect Dillon Dingler is likely to open next season at Triple-A Toledo.

3. Will Gregory Soto be back at closer?
Harris showed his willingness to consider leveraging Detroit’s bullpen strength when he traded Joe Jiménez to Atlanta for two prospects at the end of the Winter Meetings. But while Jiménez is headed toward free agency next winter, Soto has three seasons of team control remaining (he’s eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason). He’s also a soon-to-be 28-year-old left-hander who has two seasons of closing experience, and he saved 30 of Detroit’s 66 wins last season. Other clubs might not see him as a closer, but will any of them see him as a big enough part of a late-inning mix to give up impact prospects for him? And if so, who would slide into the closer role in Detroit?

4. Will the outfield fences be moved in?
The Tigers have yet to say one way or another. The only recent public comment is Harris expressing his personal view that for roster construction purposes, he’d prefer the dimensions favor pitchers or hitters, rather than sitting neutral. (Don’t count on Comerica Park suddenly transforming into a home run haven.)

So far, there’s no physical evidence that changes are coming this offseason. There’s still time, though the Tigers already have a major project going on at Comerica Park with the installation of LED lighting.

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