Javy Baez is latest but not the last free-agent shortstop linked to Tigers
Detroit — National reports surfaced Friday afternoon (MLB Network, The Athletic, others) that the Tigers have had talks with free agent shortstop Javier Baez.
Well, of course they have.
Tigers general manager Al Avila made it clear from the start of the offseason that landing a shortstop was a priority and there is a large group of top tier free agent shortstops on the market. The Tigers have done their due diligence on Carlos Correa, Marcus Semien and now Baez. They have had or will have discussions with Trevor Story and possibly Corey Seager, Andrelton Simmons and Chris Taylor, as well.
Correa, Semien and Seager are expected to command long-term contracts close to or beyond $300 million. Correa, 27, is reportedly seeking a 10-year deal.
Speaking at the introductory press conference for left-handed starter Eduardo Rodriguez on Monday — who signed for five years and $77 million — both CEO and chairman Chris Ilitch and Avila talked about taking a measured approach with free agent spending the rest of this winter.
“Al is going to have all the resources we need as a ballclub to insure we continue to improve and ultimately to be a playoff contender and a World Series champion,” Ilitch said. “We’ve got an open mind and anything is on the table.
“Having said that, we also want to make sure what we do going forward allows the organization to have sustainable success over the long haul.”
Said Avila: “I can tell you, we said we were going to take a measured approach to the offseason. We’re going to sign players to make the team better. Obviously, we want to get into the playoffs. But we have to be careful as we move forward. Not one player is going to make us a winner.
“We have to make sure we put together a 26-man roster. This is going to be a step-by-step measured process and we’re going to be very careful how we’re going to do it.”
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Whether that precludes 10-year and $300 million-plus deals remains to be seen. Baez, though, would likely come about $100 million cheaper. The Red Sox and Mets are also reported to be in the bidding for him, although the Mets on Friday committed $124.4 million to Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar. The Mariners, too, have been linked to Baez as a second baseman.
Clearly, though, shortstop is his best position. He played 35 games at second base with the Mets and had a minus-16 defensive runs saved. In 100 games at shortstop between the Cubs and Mets, he was a plus-16.
Baez will turn 29 on Dec. 1 and he’s coming off a year where he hit 31 homers, knocked in 87 runs and posted a 117 OPS-plus. He also led the National League with 184 strikeouts.
Avila and manager AJ Hinch have crisscrossed the country the last two months, talking to many agents and free agent players – pitchers, shortstops and outfielders. They have cast a wide net.
“There’s a lot to like about a lot of players who are out there,” Hinch said. “And we’re trying to get better. We want winners here and we want to win and that’s why we are here today. There’s a ton of interest in coming to Detroit from a lot of players because I think people are aware that our trajectory is going in the right direction.”
In all likelihood, the stalled negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement between owners and the players’ association will lead to a lockout as of 11:59 p.m., Dec. 1. If that happens, the free agent process, like the entire industry, will be frozen.
More: Tigers manager AJ Hinch has brunch with free agent Carlos Correa in Houston
So there are just a few days left to get deals done ahead of that, especially considering medicals will have to be completed before deals can be approved.
Also, the free agent market might soon be flooded with non-tendered arbitration-eligible players. With the likelihood of a lockout, the league moved up the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. The original deadline was Dec. 2.
The Tigers will have tough decisions to make regarding left-hander Matthew Boyd, catchers Dustin Garneau and Grayson Greiner and possibly relievers Joe Jimenez and Jose Cisnero.
Expected to be tendered are pitchers Michael Fulmer and Spencer Turnbull, infielders Jeimer Candelario and Harold Castro and outfielder Victor Reyes.