Detroit — It wasn’t just about their offensive numbers, though their combined 48 home runs, 137 RBIs and 3 wins above replacement last year should produce a significant upgrade to the Tigers’ attack in 2020.
What the Tigers are also getting with first baseman C.J. Cron and second baseman Jonathan Schoop — each on one-year, $6.1 million contracts — is a significant upgrade in veteran leadership and character.
“Detroit was on me hard from the get-go,” said Cron, who spoke to reporters on a teleconference Monday. “They want me to help them take that step in the next direction. I was definitely down for that.”
Cron and Schoop, who for most of the 2019 season manned the right side of the defending Central Division champion Twins infield, bear the scars and wisdom from playing a combined 1,475 games and 19 playoff games, and from being benched, traded and waived.
“Their main message to me was they were done losing games and they want to start being competitive,” Cron said. “Schoopy is a good friend of mine. He’s an awesome teammate and a great player. I think Detroit is ready for better things.
“They want to create a competitive atmosphere there and I want to be a part of it.”
Here’s a window into both players’ character.
Cron, entering his age-30 season, and Schoop, 28, each started 113 games for the Twins last year. But both were benched for the American League Division Series against the Yankees. Schoop was replaced by rookie Luis Arraez and Cron, who was battling a thumb injury which he's since corrected through surgery, by Marwin Gonzalez.
There was no pouting, no complaining — not even more than two months after the Twins were swept.
“Everybody wants to play, but sometimes you don’t control that,” said Schoop, also via teleconference from his home in Curacao. “Of course you are disappointed. You want to go out and help the team. You want to have the opportunity to start.
“They went in a different direction and I just decided to be ready. I was ready on the bench, for whatever they needed, to go out and perform.”
Schoop got two at-bats in the three games. Cron started Game 1 but only got five at-bats the entire series.
“I had full faith in (manager) Rocco Baldelli,” Cron said. “I loved him as a manager and I trusted my team. We were there not just for me and Schoop. We were there as a team. We did nothing but support the guys.”
Both players know what they are getting into, coming to a Tigers team that lost 114 games last year and is just now beginning a slow climb back to being competitive. Both seem fired up for the challenge.
“I see this team, I think there is some talent here,” Schoop said. “I think we might surprise some people if we can pull it together and play for each other and help each other. If somebody sees that I’m doing something wrong, correct me. And I see something, I am going to say something.
“We are going to win ballgames if everybody wants to fight for each other. Winning is fun. You don’t play for yourself. Sure, everybody wants to put up numbers, but if you win and you play for others, your numbers are going to be there.”
Schoop was seemingly on a star track in 2016 and 2017 when he hit .280 with 57 home runs and 187 RBIs, posting an OPS-plus of 111. But he got waylaid by an oblique injury in 2018 and never got quite back to form.
“In baseball, you’ve got to find a way to play,” he said. “I was just trying to put my best foot forward. I learned from it. An oblique injury makes you change a little bit, but you’ve got to find a way to play because nobody is 100 percent after spring training.”
Schoop still hit 17 home runs in 85 games with the Orioles but was hitting .244 when he was traded to the playoff-contending Milwaukee Brewers. He struggled mightily in a new league, a new environment, hitting just .202 down the stretch. He was also hitless in eight playoff at-bats.
“You find a way to play through it,” he said. “Last year was better and I try to be better every day. I was better in 2019 than 2018, and I want to be better in 2020 than I was in 2019.”
Cron’s path is a head-scratcher. He shared first base with Albert Pujols for three-plus seasons in Anaheim then was unceremoniously dealt away (for a player to be named later) to Tampa Bay where in 2018 he hit 30 home runs, knocked in 74 runs and posted an OPS-plus of 123.
And for his troubles, was waived.
Is it any wonder then that in his first real chance to pick where he wanted to play, he chose the team that made the most earnest and zealous push to sign him?
“The thing that stood out the most was just how much Detroit wanted me,” Cron said. “They were on me from the beginning. They told my agent early on they wanted me to be a part of this thing and their persistence never stopped.
“Anytime somebody wants you that bad, it feels good and it made my interest higher and higher.”
Certainly there will be a group of Tigers pitchers relieved he’s on their side now, because Cron has done major damage against the Tigers and at Comerica Park. Especially last year when he slugged .689, had an OPS of 1.022 and hit seven home runs.
In his career, he’s hit .306 with a .625 slugging percentage and a .956 OPS against Detroit, with 12 home runs. The only team he’s clubbed more against is Seattle. In 19 games at Comerica Park he’s hit .293 and slugged .560 with five home runs.
“I do love hitting at Comerica,” he said. “I’ve had success there, but just coming over from the Twins and being familiar with the division, that’s a big part of it also.”
Cron said he had his thumb surgically repaired immediately after the Twins were eliminated from the postseason. He said he expects to be fully ready to go at the start of spring training.
“I don’t want to speak for Schoop, but I think we’re both really looking forward to getting started,” he said. “I’m excited.”