Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris and manager A.J. Hinch addressed the media on Monday (including Evan Woodberry of MLive Media Group) to discuss the offseason ahead. Topics on the table included Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Baez, each of whom has an opt-out after the 2023 season; Carson Kelly, who has a club option for 2024; and Austin Meadows and Spencer Turnbull, who will both be eligible for arbitration this winter. Harris also touched on how much the team plans to spend in free agency, while Hinch praised his coaching staff without promising that everyone would be back next season.
Rodriguez has three years and $49MM remaining on his contract, but he is likely to exercise his opt-out clause after the World Series. The lefty won’t turn 31 until next April, and he’s coming off a strong season in which he pitched to a 3.30 ERA in 26 starts. While he spent June on the injured list and wasn’t quite as imposing upon his return (4.24 ERA in 15 starts), he still looked like a solid mid-rotation pitcher throughout the second half of the season. That being the case, he should be able to command significantly more than $49MM this winter.
Speaking on Rodriguez, Harris said he isn’t planning to negotiate an extension with the veteran starter. The team will wait and see if he chooses to exercise his opt-out.
On the one hand, if the Tigers want Rodriguez back in the rotation next season, now would be the perfect time to discuss a new deal. The club has exclusive negotiating rights until he elects free agency, giving them a head start on other potential suitors. As a dependable left-handed starter, Rodriguez will certainly draw plenty of interest – especially because he is ineligible to receive the qualifying offer, having already received one in 2021. On the other hand, perhaps the team is hoping Rodriguez will decide not to exercise his opt-out after all. He chose to stay in Detroit at the trade deadline instead of accepting a trade to the Dodgers, citing a desire to stay closer to his family. It’s more than possible he’s content to stay in a location he likes and avoid the hassle of free agency altogether.
Harris also mentioned Báez, who has the chance to opt out of his contract after the season. The Tigers president isn’t planning to negotiate with the shortstop either, although that comes as less of a surprise. The two-time All-Star has four years and $98MM remaining on his deal, and coming off a season with an OPS below .600, he’s not going to beat that number on the open market. Thus, the chances of him opting out are slim to none.
While Harris is choosing to let Rodriguez and Báez make their decisions before deciding his next move, he will have to make a call about Kelly. The Tigers signed the backstop in August after he was released by the Diamondbacks. Over the final few weeks of the season, he caught 16 games for Detroit, allowing only a single passed ball and throwing out six of 12 would-be base stealers. He slashed .173/.271/.269. The 29-year-old has a $3.5MM club option for the 2024 campaign.
Given Kelly’s unimpressive offensive numbers, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Tigers cut ties with him following the season. After all, they only paid him a prorated portion of the league minimum in 2023, while the D-backs were on the hook for the rest of his $4.275MM guaranteed salary. Then again, Detroit wouldn’t have put the option in his contract if they weren’t going to consider it. Indeed, Harris suggested the team is seriously thinking about keeping Kelly in the fold. “That’s very much an open question for us,” he explained. “We’re going to spend a lot of time on it.”
The Tigers have a capable starting catcher in Jake Rogers, so Kelly would continue to serve as a backup if he returned in 2024. While he isn’t a threat with the bat, he’s a solid defensive catcher with several years of experience in the big leagues. He also comes with a bit more potential than most backup catchers, considering he was once a top-100 prospect.
Two more players Harris discussed were Meadows and Turnbull, both of whom missed the majority of the 2023 campaign. Meadows has been out since early April battling anxiety, while Turnbull hit the IL in May with a neck injury and never made it back to the big league club. The club could non-tender either player this offseason. However, Harris told reporters that he expects Turnbull to compete for a role in the starting rotation next year, which certainly suggests that he is planning to tender the righty a contract. When Turnbull was last fully healthy, he looked like a great starting pitcher, making nine starts and posting a 2.88 ERA in 2021. Harris hopes he can rediscover some of that success in 2024.
Regarding Meadows, the situation is a little more complicated. Without further comment from Meadows or his representatives, there’s no way to know when he could return to the field. Harris says he hasn’t spoken to Meadows in a few months, so he will need to have a conversation with the outfielder before making any further decisions. The executive called such a conversation a “priority.” If the former top prospect remains uncertain about his status for next season, it’s more than possible he could be non-tendered, although as Woodberry notes on Twitter, the team could leave the door open for him to return someday on a minor league deal.
As for potential spending in free agency, Harris didn’t promise any big moves, but he didn’t rule out making some acquisitions. Most importantly, he emphasized that the Tigers aren’t going to buy a core, and any transactions he makes in free agency or on the trade market will be to complement the young players already on the roster. In other words, he isn’t going to try to accelerate his team’s rebuild with a huge signing or a blockbuster trade. Therefore, if the Tigers are to contend in the AL Central next season, it will be thanks to young players like Kerry Carpenter, Spencer Torkelson, and Tarik Skubal taking a step forward. Most likely, this means the team’s competitive window won’t open until at least 2025.
In non-player news, Harris spoke about various infrastructure improvements in the works, including new dorms and a covered field, batting cages, and pitching mounds at Lakeland, the spring training locale for the Tigers and the regular season home of team’s Single-A and Rookie Ball affiliates. The team is also building a new training complex in the Dominican Republic and renovating the clubhouse at Comerica Park.
Meanwhile, Hinch reflected on the work his coaching staff did this season, praising their performance. However, he would not say if everyone would return in 2024. This doesn’t mean the Tigers are planning to replace any coaches, but it suggests they’re evaluating the staff and considering various possibilities.