Mensching: Candelario a bright spot in Tigers' infield

By Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News
Third baseman Jeimer Candelario leads the Tigers with a 1.4 WAR through 39 games.

Maybe this rebuilding thing isn’t so bad after all. Or, at least it’s more fun than expected.

Look no further than Jeimer Candelario for proof. Although he’s currently battling wrist issues that have kept him out of a few games and might eventually require surgery, the third baseman has been one of the team’s most fun players to watch already this season.

He’s arguably been the most effective as the Tigers approach the 40-game mark, as well.

As of Monday, he’s the team’s leader in WAR  wins above replacement, with 1.3, per Fangraphs and 1.4 at Baseball Reference. Leonys Martin and Nick Castellanos are the only other position players on the team worth more than a win above replacement.

Candelario isn’t just good relative to his teammates, however. He ranks among the top five third basemen in MLB by WAR right now, too.

Certainly his bat is a big reason for that. With a .272 average, .359 on-base percentage and .497 slugging average, with a team-high five home runs and nearly 11 percent walk rate, Candelario is a pretty good all-around batter who you want to see at the plate in just about any situation.

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He’s just as well rounded in the field, too. And that’s something the Tigers haven’t been able to say about a regular third baseman since Brandon Inge prowled the hot corner years ago.

Miguel Cabrera’s attempts to man the bag eventually gave way to Castellanos, who at one point was the worst-fielding player at his position anywhere in the the league.

Right now, Candelario has two Defensive Runs Saved above the average fielder and an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) per 150 games of 4.2 above average.

No one should confuse Candelario with a gold glover. And it’s a little too early to put full faith in any advanced metrics. But it’s nice to see a player who not only actually looks like he belongs at third base again, but is on the right side of average.

This is a perfect example of what you like to see in a rebuild.

The Tigers acquired Candelario, along with minor leaguer Isaac Paredes, last July in exchange for the expiring contract of catcher Alex Avila, as well as reliever Justin Wilson. The earliest year Candelario can declare free agency is 2024, and right now he’s being paid just $548,000.

It will still be a few years before Tigers fans should expect to see Paredes at the major league level. But the middle infielder's future might be bright as well, and he is their seventh-ranked prospect by both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline.

Candelario might be playing a little over his head right now. Per Baseball Savant, Candelario’s expected weighted On Base Average (xwOBA) of .331 is a full 33 points lower than his actual wOBA (.364). We need to see a full year’s worth of playing time before we should allow ourselves to get too excited.

You’d certainly like to see Candelario’s wrist problems solved sooner than later, too. But we can safely say if he continues along this trend, it stands a chance of being one of GM Al Avila’s better trades in his career.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

The Tigers have a young, fun, talented third baseman who can actually field. That’s something that can be enjoyed right now.

Kurt Mensching can be reached at