As we approach the 2017 MLB Winter Meetings, most of baseball has its eyes turned towards two players: Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton. Ohtani, a 23-year-old Japanese phenom, made waves last weekend when he announced which teams he would meet face-to-face with in Los Angeles (Of note: the New York Yankees are not included). Meanwhile, Stanton is still holding out for a big market club, the Los Angeles Dodgers, to come calling. Stanton, a Southern California native, is a near-lock to be traded this offseason, and likely at the upcoming Winter Meetings.
Most other teams — like our beloved Detroit Tigers, for example — aren’t in the running for either superstar. While the Tigers will probably just stand pat and make their Rule 5 draft selection on December 14, there’s a chance they could add a player or two in free agency.
Specifically, the Tigers might address their starting rotation. General manager Al Avila recently commented about the availability of Detroit’s young starters, though a trade seems unlikely. Whether they strike a blockbuster deal or not, the Tigers could stand to add an arm on a short-term deal in hopes that he bolsters his trade value come July.
Here are some names to keep an eye on next week.
RHP Chris Tillman
This one is a bit easy, as the Tigers have already shown interest in Tillman this offseason. The 29-year-old righthander is coming off an injury-plagued 2017 season in which he gave up a career-worst 7.84 ERA in 93 innings. However, with a career 4.43 ERA and four seasons with an ERA+ of 110 or better, there’s a chance Tillman gets back on track next year. He is only one season removed from compiling 4.1 rWAR, and is still on the right side of 30. Plus, he has pitched very well at Comerica Park in his career, notching a 2.48 ERA in six starts.
RHP Tyler Chatwood
Still only 27*, Chatwood is the sabermetric darling of this winter’s crop of free agents. He managed a 4.69 ERA and 4.94 FIP in 147 2⁄3 innings with the Colorado Rockies last year. While these numbers don’t look great on the back of a baseball card, they were still good enough for a 107 ERA+, marking the second consecutive year he provided above-average production in Colorado. The real draw, however, is Chatwood’s road splits. He limited opponents to a .200 batting average and .299 on-base percentage away from Coors Field last year, resulting in a respectable 5-7 record and 3.49 ERA in 16 appearances. Plus, an above-average spin rate on his fastball helped him generate a 9.9 percent swinging strike percentage last year; if this holds, more strikeouts could be on the way.
*Chatwood turns 28 on December 16.
RHP Mike Fiers
Fiers has always been a rather unusual pitcher. While his fastball barely scrapes 90 miles per hour, he throws with an overhand delivery that generates a relatively high spin rate on his four-seamer. Working at the top of the strike zone, he induced a lot of weak fly balls during his heyday with the Milwaukee Brewers. Fiers’ best season, 2015, saw him traded to the Houston Astros, where he started to slide backward some. Both his command and his ability to limit home runs failed him last year, and he finished the season with a 5.22 ERA in 153 1⁄3 innings. Fiers’ best days are behind him, but he’s still young enough at 32 that he could put together a few solid months and earn a trade to a contender.
LHP Jaime Garcia
Many people will remember Garcia as the pitcher that the Minnesota Twins dealt for at last year’s trade deadline... and then flipped him to the Yankees six days later. What they won’t remember are Garcia’s eight rather forgettable starts in a Yankees uniform. However, those starts saw Garcia strike out 37 batters in 37 1⁄3 innings, a big jump from his relatively average career strikeout rates. This is probably just a fluke, but it could be related to the uptick in breaking balls he threw, bringing him closer to the pitch mix he featured during his best days with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Of course, that won’t matter if the 11.2 percent walk rate travels with him from New York to Detroit.
LHP Drew Smyly
Smyly has both blossomed and faltered since leaving Detroit. On the field, he has been excellent, posting a 3.95 ERA with a 24.3 percent strikeout rate in a Tampa Bay Rays uniform. Unfortunately, he has only pitched 289 2⁄3 total innings since departing Detroit in July 2014. He missed the entire 2017 season due to elbow trouble, and had Tommy John surgery in June 2017. Smyly may not even pitch in 2018, but the Tigers might be able to buy low on his 2019 season with some sort of two-year contract this winter.
RHP Jacob Turner
There isn’t really a statistical case for Turner to be included on this list. He posted a 5.08 ERA in 39 innings with the Washington Nationals last year, a figure that lowered his career ERA. He made two starts for the NL East champions, but only managed 5.31 strikeouts per nine innings all year.
That said, the Al Avila-led Tigers have shown an affinity for signing former players to major and minor league deals. Turner is still only 26 years old, and could provide solid depth for an inexperienced pitching staff likely to take its lumps in 2018.
RHP Andrew Cashner
Once the most coveted arms in all of baseball, Cashner is still trying to lock down a big payday. His 3.40 ERA in 166 2⁄3 innings with the Texas Rangers last year might have priced him out of the Tigers’ range, but that also came with an awful 12.2 percent strikeout rate and 4.61 FIP. He isn’t likely to repeat last year’s .266 BABIP or 8.6 percent home run-to-fly ball ratio. His fastball velocity is also down from his mid-20s with the San Diego Padres, and that once-elite slider isn’t biting nearly as hard as it once did.
But hey, why not?