Jeimer Candelario a repeat winner of Tiger of the Year honors
Detroit — Jeimer Candelario admits there might have been a little extra wind beneath his wings the last four months of the season.
On June 6 he lost his beloved grandmother. When he rejoined the Tigers on June 15, he commenced to produce the best season of his big-league career — a season that earned him his second straight Tiger of the Year award.
"I went through a lot with my family last year," he said in a Zoom interview from the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. "The love for my grandmother, it was hard for us. I was close to her. But my mentality when I came back to Detroit was, 'You know what, give everything you have for her.'
"I want her to be proud of me. That's why this award means a lot for me and for my family."
Candelario is the first repeat winner of the award — voted on and presented by the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America — since Miguel Cabrera won it in 2012 and 2013. He joins Denny McLain, Alan Trammell, Travis Fryman, Cecil Fielder and Cabrera as the only back-to-back winners.
"Those guys you mention, that's Hall of Fame," Candelario said. "To be part of that group, it's a pleasure and a blessing. It's something I put a lot of effort into."
In spring training two years ago, Candelario was fighting for the starting third base job with Dawel Lugo. Two years later, he's a vital part of the Tigers' fabric.
"I know where I come from," he said. "I come from the Chicago Cubs. I was a prospect. But in my mind, I just wanted to get to the big leagues. I wanted to play every single day. It's a blessing when you work for something and you get it.
"But there is still more. I know I can help my team win even more. I can put myself in a great position to be an All-Star and help my team all the time."
In his age 27 season, Candelario led the Tigers in WAR (3.7), OPS-plus (122) and wRC-plus (119). His 42 doubles was tied with J.D. Martinez for the most in the major leagues. He also played in a career-most 149 games, including a stretch of 83 consecutive starts at third base.
“Candy is a very steady presence,” manager AJ Hinch said in August. “He’s not the most vocal, he’s not necessarily the loudest, but he’s the most consistent. And that counts for something, especially when you see him go on stretches. You look up and his OPS is around .800, he’s getting double-digit homers, he’s leading the league in doubles.
"That’s a good player, but if you’re not watching every day, you’re not going to appreciate what he’s been doing.”
Candelario, who made $2.85 million last season, is eligible for arbitration this winter. General Manager Al Avila, who said Candelario was key part of the club's future, didn't rule out the possibility of trying to negotiate a multi-year extension.
"I know that in the big leagues you've got to earn it," Candelario said. "You've got to earn it and you have to work really hard to stay in the big leagues. For me, I tell myself, 'You better prove that you belong here and do your best to help your team win and stay in the lineup.'
"Because, if you want to stay in the lineup, you better produce every single day."
Last winter, Candelario helped Toros del Este win the Dominican Winter League championship. Last month, he was presented his championship ring — which he hopes one day in the not too distant future he can trade up for a World Series ring.
"We're excited," Candelario said of the Tigers' prospects for 2022. "We know we come to the ballpark every day and expect to win. I know pressure comes with that, but we like that pressure. We want to win.
"And when you have that mindset to win ballgames, good things are going to happen. You're competing. You're not worrying about your numbers. If you have that mentality, everything is going to take care of itself."
For subscribers: Tony Paul's top 50 MLB free agents, predictions
End of the line
Outfielder and two-time Tigers minor league offensive player of the year Christin Stewart was among 19 players in the Tigers’ system who became minor-league free agents on Monday.
Stewart, the club’s starting left fielder in 2019 and 2020, didn’t make the club out of spring training last year and spent the entire season at Triple-A Toledo. Although the Tigers can still re-sign him, Stewart is free to sign with another organization.
The list of minor-league free agents also includes former pitching prospects Gerson Moreno, who bounced back from elbow surgery to post 68 strikeouts in 46 innings at Double-A Erie last season, and Wladimir Pinto, a hard-throwing right-hander who has yet to master the strike zone.
First baseman Aderlin Rodriguez, Eastern League MVP, is also a free agent. Rodriguez, who turns 30 on Nov. 18 hit 29 home runs and knocked in 94 at Triple-A Toledo.
The others: Pitchers Jose Appleton, Cale Coshow, Isarrael De La Cruz, Xavier Javier, Mark Leiter Jr., Henry Martinez, Pedro Payano, Ricardo Pinto and Zachary Shepherd, Robert Ross and Locke St. John; infielders Yariel Gonzalez, Josh Lester and Drew Ward; and catcher Juan Centeno.
AROUND THE HORN
...Right-handed pitcher Drew Carlton, who debuted with the Tigers last season, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo. The Tigers presently have 39 players on their 40-man roster.
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