'Work to do': An early peek at the Tigers' post-lockout shopping list
etroit — As he was wrapping up Javy Báez’s introductory press conference on Zoom on Wednesday night, Tigers general manager Al Avila looked at his watch.
“There’s a few things we can do yet to make this team better,” he said. “We still have work to do.”
The Tigers didn’t make any more deals in the six hours he had left before the business of Major League Baseball was shut down by an owner-ordered lockout. But his message was delivered: Despite spending $217 million on free agents Eduardo Rodriguez and Báez, and in addition to picking up the $7.5 million option on catcher Tucker Barnhart, he wasn’t done bolstering the roster for 2022.
“If there is a lockout, we will be prepared for when it is over,” Avila said.
Here’s what might still be on Avila’s to-do list:
►It is almost certain the Tigers will try to add another veteran starting pitcher. Avila earlier in the offseason talked about adding multiple starters, though adding a second one will be more of a want than a need and will be far less expensive than the $15.4 million base that Rodriguez will cost next season.
If the season started today, the Tigers rotation would likely feature Rodriguez, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Tyler Alexander. Of that group, Manning's and Alexander's spots would not be cemented.
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There is another group of talented prospects likely to be invited to big league camp next spring to compete for those spots — Joey Wentz, Alex Faedo, Reese Olson, Beau Brieske, Garrett Hill, Logan Shore and Elvin Rodriguez.
But you can see why the Tigers would like one more proven innings-eater.
Lefty Tyler Anderson has been linked to the Tigers this offseason. He’s 32, made 31 starts and pitched 167 innings splitting last season between the Pirates and Mariners. His profile is similar to Alexander — doesn’t throw hard (four-seam tops out at 90 mph) but is a strike-thrower (69% strike rate, 5.4% walk rate) that induces a lot of soft contact.
He has above average spin on both his four-seam and cutter and he is in the top six percentile with a 33% chase rate.
Also significant, his splits against right-handed and left-handed hitters are similar, though right-handers hit for more power against him (accounting for 78 of the 98 homers he’s allowed in six big-league seasons).
Other starting pitchers that might fit the bill for the Tigers include lefties Brett Anderson (34) and Martin Perez (31) and right-handers Michael Pineda (33) and Garrett Richards (34). If the Tigers were intrigued by Richards, it would be because he could also serve as a bulk-innings reliever.
►If Spencer Torkelson shows up in camp next spring and slugs his way onto the Opening Day roster at first base, AJ Hinch and the Tigers’ front office will be ecstatic. But that’s not the expectation. It’s more likely he marinates a little longer at Triple-A Toledo.
So, what do the Tigers do on the right side of the infield? When Miguel Cabrera plays first base and Jonathan Schoop plays second, all is well. Harold Castro can be the primary utility infielder with perhaps Eric Haase also filling in now and then at first base.
Cabrera played 44 games at first base last season. To think he will play more than that at age 39 in 2022 is folly. So Schoop, then, will likely get the bulk of the starts there until Torkelson comes up. Who plays second base in the meantime?
Harold and Willi Castro will be in that discussion. As will Isaac Paredes. Zack Short and prospect Kody Clemens will both be given an opportunity to win a spot in the spring.
Or, the Tigers might shop for a veteran middle infielder to both play second and back-up Baez at short. It will be interesting to eventually learn whether the Tigers made a bid to acquire second baseman Joey Wendle from the Rays, who offloaded him to Miami for an outfield prospect.
That seemed like a perfect fit for Detroit.
But a player to keep an eye on might be nine-year, switch-hitting veteran free agent Jonathan Villar. Heading into his age-31 season, he hit 18 home runs with 42 RBI playing second, short and third base for the Mets last season.
He would likely cost $5 million to $7 million for a season, which may be prohibitive at this point.
Other free agents who might fit the bill include Matt Duffy (31), Jed Lowrie (38), Ehire Adrianza (32), Daniel Robertson (28) and Marwin Gonzalez (33).
►As they do every offseason, the Tigers will also look to add more bullpen arms, though this is far less a priority than it’s been in recent years. They already signed veteran right-hander Jacob Barnes to a minor-league deal with an invite to big-league camp.
He’s going into his age-32 season having pitched for five teams over six big-league seasons. He was intriguing to the Tigers because of an above-average spin rate (2,394 rpm) on a four-seam fastball (94-95 mph).
They also signed right-hander Markus Solbach, 30, a native of Germany, to a minor-league deal. He’s pitched mostly internationally and has yet to pitch in the big leagues.
►It would be surprising but telling if the Tigers get back into the outfield market. The presumption is that prospect Riley Greene will be given every opportunity to win a starting spot this spring. That would set the outfield with Akil Baddoo in left, Greene in center and Robbie Grossman in right. Derek Hill, Victor Reyes and Daz Cameron would be fighting for the fourth spot.
If the Tigers start poking around outfielders, it would be as protection against Greene or Baddoo faltering. Though, frankly, unless the Tigers planned to spend big on someone like Michael Conforto or Joc Pederson (doubtful), there’s not much on the market markedly better than what they have.
►Expect the Tigers to also add catching depth. They tendered a contract to veteran Dustin Garneau, making him the third catcher after Barnhart and Eric Haase. Grayson Greiner was put on waivers and elected for free agency. He could eventually be signed back if he doesn’t find another opportunity.
There is a large pool of 30-something catchers on the market, including Tony Wolters, Robinson Chirinos and Luke Maile.
This, though, is a discussion that will have to be tabled until the owners and players can hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.