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Mailbag: Which free agents should the Tigers sign this winter?

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With Mike Fiers now in the fold, the team should turn its attention to the bullpen.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After a month of next-to-no activity from the Detroit Tigers, things have started to pick up as we approach next week’s MLB Winter Meetings. The Tigers signed five players on Tuesday, headlined by center fielder Leonys Martin. Then, in the late hours of Thursday evening, news broke that the Tigers are close to a deal with righthander Mike Fiers.

With those two in the fold, the Tigers are probably close to done with their offseason shopping. They already have five starters in the fold, and the outfield is nearly set. While they may look to add one more hitter in free agency or the Rule 5 draft, they will likely turn most of their attention towards the bullpen. It has been the team’s Achilles heel for years. More importantly, it’s the easiest way for them to continue beefing up their farm system. Finding the right reliever this winter could net them a solid prospect haul next July, or even solidify their bullpen as the team moves towards contention in a few years.

JajaBojangles: If you could realistically pick one free agent (within reason) for the Tigers to sign, who would it be and why?

This might just be a hipster answer formulated after staring at MLB Trade Rumors’ list of free agents for hours on end this offseason, but Bud Norris seems like the kind of reliever with upside that the Tigers could ink to a short-term deal and then flip at the trade deadline for a solid prospect. Norris’ 4.21 ERA in his first full season as a reliever wasn’t anything special, but his velocity perked up a bit and he struck out 74 batters in 62 innings.

Norris hasn’t done much of note in his nine-year career, but it seems like teams kept him in the rotation too long. He fanned over 11 batters per nine innings in a short foray into the San Diego Padres’ bullpen in 2015 as well, but was shuttled back and forth while pitching for the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016.

His ERA certainly needs to improve for teams to take him seriously as a top-flight reliever, but the peripherals are coming along. I already detailed his healthy strikeout totals, which were buoyed by a 12.5 percent swinging strike rate last year. He also limited opponents to less than a hit per inning and 1.16 home runs per nine innings. He started throwing his cutter a lot more often, and opponents hit just .222 against it. If he can get his walk rate in check — he was at 10.1 percent last year — he could take a big step forward.

Hector Rondon would also be an interesting pickup. I’m not sure what reuniting him with pitching coach Chris Bosio would do, but he was excellent in 2014 and 2015 before falling off in late 2016. I’d also be okay with bringing Curtis Granderson home, but that’s mostly for sentimental reasons.

Multiple readers: who would you like to be the Tigers Rule 5 pick?

Speaking of potentially dominant relievers, Minnesota Twins prospect Nick Burdi should be the easy choice for Detroit. The 24-year-old righthander had Tommy John surgery in May 2017, and should be expected to return sometime during the summer. While there’s always a risk he doesn’t fully recover from the surgery — he’s already throwing at 75 feet, so this risk seems minimal — it makes it easier for the Tigers to keep him around long-term. They can place him on the disabled list during the regular season and activate him whenever he is ready to return. It’s a “draft and stash” technique that other teams have employed in the past, and Burdi certainly has the type of raw talent worth taking a chance on.

As Jay detailed earlier, Burdi has true closer-level stuff.

Given 80-grade potential by both MLB.com and FanGraphs' Eric Longenhagen, it reaches the high-90s with regularity and has scraped 101 miles per hour. He pairs it with a wipeout slider that receives rave reviews from scouts, graded at double-plus by FanGraphs and 65 by MLB.com.

While it’s tempting to dream on an Odubel Herrera and reach for a position player with high upside, Burdi offers an interesting mix of certainty and potential. He has already flashed dominant stuff at Double-A, and should be a serviceable middle relief arm at worst. This should be a no-brainer for the Tigers.

The Roars of Summer: This season what are you most excited for?

It will be interesting to see how individual players fare for an otherwise forgettable Tigers team in 2018, but the most exciting part of the year will be the MLB draft. There will be plenty of discussion on who the Tigers should take at No. 1 overall, but their strategy further down the board is also worth keeping a close eye on. Will they take Brady Singer first overall like so many are already suggesting? Will they try to save some slot money at No. 1 for a couple of high-upside high schoolers further down? These questions will be answered over three short days in early June, but should provide months of interesting discussion leading up to the draft.

Honorable mention: Ron Gardenhire giving umpires all they can handle.

danross70: The Whitecaps will be "graduating" 3 starting pitchers with good numbers, presumably to Lakeland: Idrogo, Gutierrez, and Castro. Do any of these guys have potential as major leaguers? Almost nothing has been written about them that I have seen, leading me to wonder if there is any "there" there.

Eudis Idrogo, Alfred Gutierrez, and Anthony Castro were all a little old for the Midwest League at 22 years old last year. All three put up solid numbers, with Gutierrez’s being the most eye-popping. The young Venezuelan managed a 3.06 ERA in in 126 13 innings while striking out a batter per inning and fanning 5.5 hitters for every walk.

In terms of upside, Castro is the clear favorite. TigsTown’s Mark Anderson just ranked Castro as the No. 19 prospect in the system for the upcoming season, citing his plus fastball and developing changeup as reasons to believe. Anderson also said Castro’s curveball “can be a dominating pitch at times,” giving him a legitimate three-pitch arsenal to carry forward. His development was delayed by Tommy John surgery in 2015, so he’s a little more raw than most 22 year olds. He’s relatively small for a starting pitcher at just 6’0 and 174 pounds, but should get multiple chances to crack a major league starting rotation if he remains healthy.