Detroit – The Tigers on Saturday bought themselves a new right side of the infield — in fact, they bought the one the defending Central Division-champion Minnesota Twins used for much of last season.
In a pair of one-year, $6.1 million deals they signed former Twins first baseman C.J. Cron and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
One of general manager Al Avila’s stated aims was to add more offensive punch to a lineup that produced less than any other team in baseball last year. He did that. Cron and Schoop combined for 48 home runs last season.
The Tigers top three home run hitters in 2019 — Brandon Dixon (15), Ronny Rodriguez (14) and John Hicks (13), none of whom remain on the roster — combined for 42. The Tigers, who released both Rodriguez and Hicks earlier in the offseason, designated Dixon for assignment on Saturday.
“Adding Jonathan and C.J. is a step towards accomplishing our offseason goal of making the ballclub better heading into the 2020 season,” Avila said in a statement. “We’re excited to have them join our organization, and we expect both players will inject significant power to our lineup. Defensively, C.J. will provide stability at first base, while Jonathan will lead the middle of our infield.”
Cron, who is entering his age-30 season, has hit 55 home runs and knocked in 152 runs the last two seasons — with Tampa Bay in 2018 and with Minnesota last season. His OPS-plus the last two seasons was 123 and 103, and, in terms of WAR, was a three-win player over those two seasons.
He is also a solid-fielding first baseman — plus-3 in defensive runs saved last year.
“I’m really excited to join this organization that I’ve played against for the last six seasons," Cron said in a statement. "Wearing the Olde English D and playing for the great baseball fans in Detroit will be an honor.
"I’m looking forward to meeting my coaches and teammates.”
Schoop, 28, is coming off what was somewhat of a bounce-back year in 2019. He was an All-Star with the Orioles in 2017, when he hit .293, with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs. But his production waned drastically in 2018 – he battled an oblique strain early in the season — and he was traded to the Brewers who released him after the season.
He hit .256 with 23 home runs for the Twins last year with a 102 OPS-plus and a 1.6 WAR not near his 2017 levels, but a marked improvement over the previous year. Still, he was not a factor in the Twins’ abbreviated postseason run, getting just two at-bats.
His defensive play has fallen off the last three years. He has no defensive runs saved last year and his .968 fielding percentage was worst among all Major League second basemen.
“Heading into this offseason, Detroit was always on my radar as a team that I’d enjoy signing with,' Schoop said in a statement. "I look forward to playing every day and being a leader on this young team."
These signings, as well as the signing of former Yankees catcher Austin Romine last week, validate what Avila said during the winter meetings.
“The mindset here is to move forward and build back up,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of trades. We’ve traded everyone we needed to trade and we’re at the point where this team is very young and we need to build it back up.
“We are looking to make the team better for 2020.”
Presumably, with Cron and Schoop manning the right side, Miguel Cabrera will continue to be the designated hitter and Jeimer Candelario, who may still back up Cron at first, will go into spring camp battling Dawel Lugo for the third base job.
Niko Goodrum, as Avila and manager Ron Gardenhire said, will get the first crack at winning the shortstop job. Rookie Willi Castro and Harold Castro will likely be used as utility players, with Willi Castro possibly backing up both shortstop and second base.
The Tigers have now spent $16.3 million on three free agents. They still hope to add another starting pitcher and possibly a corner outfielder.