Keith, Tigers voice mutual commitment with extension

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — The Tigers hadn’t held a press conference at Comerica Park for a player signing since Eduardo Rodriguez two offseasons ago, a free-agent deal for a former World Series champion who was expected to help lift Detroit back into contention.

Colt Keith was just 65 games into professional baseball at that point. He has yet to step to the plate for an official at-bat at Comerica Park. To take the podium at the Tiger Club on Tuesday morning, having signed a six-year, $28.6 million contract that could run to nine years and $82 million with options and incentives, was an incredible step for the 22-year-old infielder — as well as the club.

It’s a statement as much as a signing: The Tigers’ path back to the top of the American League Central runs through their system and the young talent they believe in. In Keith’s case, they’re banking on it.

“His talent and his performance speak for themselves. He has a combination of contact, power and discipline that’s hard to find for someone his age,” president of baseball operations Scott Harris said. “However, we don’t just give out these deals to every talented player that comes through.

“We are looking for great teammates who have strong work ethics, who make themselves better and make the people around them better. We are looking for people who care about winning, who care about the Tigers winning and who are competing as hard in the gym and on the dirt in early work as they are in the batter’s box. That’s what we saw in Colt.”

Keith, the Tigers’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, went into the offseason knowing he would get a chance to earn a spot on the club’s Opening Day roster during Spring Training. He was visiting family in Ohio for the holidays when his agent, Matt Paul, let him know the Tigers wanted to go beyond that and sign him long term.

How Keith reacted shows the attributes and work ethic that drew the Tigers to commit to him. Of course he talked with his agent — Keith and Paul have known each other since Keith was a teenager — and his family. He talked with players who had signed long-term deals with other clubs early in their careers. He also talked with players who had been offered such deals at similar stages and turned them down.

They looked at projections and market trends. They looked at how playing at second base, third base or even first base could impact his future. They looked at potential ways to invest his early money. They looked at the team and where it intends to go.

“It was important to me to lay all the information on the table,” Paul said. “We don’t necessarily speak in hypotheticals. This is real life, real money. We’re not trying to guess. We’re trying to give him the right information.”

Keith made his decision with open eyes.

“I look at it as a positive thing,” Keith said. “I’ll be a free agent at 31 [if the contract options are exercised], and with my work ethic and my dreams and aspirations, I want to be healthy enough and mobile enough and strong enough to be able to sign another long-term deal, and hopefully the Tigers will extend me again.

“Potentially, I go out and outplay the contract. In my eyes, I see that as a positive, because the Tigers are going to be winning more games. At the end of the day, I’ve got financial security with the ability to sign another contract down the road. And the Tigers still have money to sign other players, [they’re] still going to be into competing, winning playoff games, World Series down the road. That’s what I want to be a part of.”

With that decided, Keith now can turn his total focus onto the field. He’ll still have to compete in Spring Training to earn an Opening Day spot, Harris said, but Keith has been working with Hall of Famer Alan Trammell and new infield coach Joey Cora on improving at second base this offseason. He feels ready to begin his big league career.

“For me, money’s not the main concern,” Keith said. “The main concern is getting on a big league field and playing in the big leagues and pursuing [my] and my family’s dream. That’s what it’s been for a long time. At the end of the day, the money was there. And the way I see it, it’s a win-win.”

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