Tigers release homegrown catcher Eric Haase, sign former Arizona catcher Carson Kelly

Detroit News

Cleveland — From a baseball standpoint, the Tigers’ move makes complete sense.

From a human emotion standpoint, it’s a crusher.

At the end of a long day Friday, after the doubleheader split with the Guardians, the Tigers informed catcher Eric Haase that he’d been designated for assignment.

“It’s tough,” said Jake Rogers, who has shared the catcher position with Haase for the last few years. “Me and Haasey have been around, been through a lot going back to alternate site (during the pandemic year of 2020). It was tough to hear that, but that’s the way the game is.

“It’s tough to lose a guy like that, but he goes forward and we go forward. I gave him a hug and said, ‘Good luck. See you in a month or so raking for another team.’”

The move was made to facilitate the Tigers signing former Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly. Kelly, 29, who hit 18 home runs in 2019 but has battled through injuries the past couple of seasons, was released on Aug. 15 and cleared waivers.

The Tigers hold an option on him for $3.5 million for 2024.

“The reality is, where we’re at in our season and how we’re trying to build for whatever is next for this team, and you factor in performance, decisions like this are going to be made,” manager AJ Hinch said Saturday. “It is a reality our team has to understand: Changes come when changes are needed.

“You can still be upset, frustrated and sad for your teammate. But these things happen when the organization feels they are necessary.”

The cold truth of it is, for the significant improvement he made behind the plate this season, Haase stopped hitting. Specifically, he stopped hitting against left-handed pitching, which had become his niche.

After hitting 22 home runs with 61 RBIs in 2021, he hit 14 homers last season and had just four in 282 plate appearances this season. He had an OPS-plus of 46 and had become primarily a backup catcher. He was 9-for-70 against lefties with 23 strikeouts in 72 plate appearances.

“His role changed significantly when he started to struggle against lefties,” Hinch said. “He started getting less and less time in left field and became catcher only. Jake performed well against lefties and started to hit the ball out of the ballpark. It evolved over time with Rog taking the majority of reps.”

And Hinch started using left-handed hitters over Haase as an option in the outfield.

Still, Haase was beloved in the clubhouse, by the pitching staff and in the community. The Livonia resident and Dearborn Divine Child graduate fulfilled his boyhood dream of playing for the team he grew up rooting for.

“It’s tough to deliver that type of news to someone who is so universally liked, loved and respected,” Hinch said. “Especially to someone who loves Detroit. He worked his way into our lineup and a lot of things for us for this organization.

“He had so many cool moments for us here. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gone great for him this year and we chose to sign Carson.”

Like Haase, Kelly had lost his starting job in Arizona to Gabriel Moreno. He had been with the team since 2019 but this season never really got started for him. His forearm was broken by a 101-mph fastball in spring training and he missed the first four months. After hitting .211 in an injury-plagued 2022 season, he was hitting .226 with one homer in 32 games when he was designated for assignment on Aug. 15.

“The last couple of years I have been on the other side of some injuries,” said Kelly, a second-round pick of the Cardinals in 2012. “I broke five bones in three years and lot of that was just out of my control. But talking to AJ, he believes they have a good plan for me. I mean, coming today, Day 1, and we’re already out there working.

“I love to work. I love to grind and get better and I’m keeping an open mindset.  I think this is going to be a good fit for me.”

Hinch said the plan was to give Kelly Saturday and Sunday to get acclimated and then get into the competition during the homestand starting Monday. Rogers, Hinch said, will still get the bulk of the starts.

“We think there are some areas we can address to make him better,” Hinch said of the right-handed hitting Kelly. “We think he can help us moving forward. … We think we can improve his receiving. We think he has some power. He’s got experience. The freakish injuries have held him back but he’s a good all-around catcher.”

Hinch was loathe to frame these next six weeks as an audition for Kelly.

“We are going to get to know him and see where he’s at, but we wouldn’t have made the move without some expectation that he can be part of the solution moving forward,” he said.

Kelly, too, pointed out that after he cleared waivers and became a free agent, it was the Tigers who came at him the most aggressively.

“It’s definitely been an interesting time,” Kelly said. “They were one of the teams that called right away and showed an interest. And talking with AJ and seeing the staff and the young pitchers that are here, it’s impressive. I see that it’s going in a good direction.

“I would love to be part of that.”


Twitter: @cmccosky

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