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Let’s find a free agent for the Tigers to sign

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What if the Tigers signed a free agent anyway? It probably wouldn’t go well.

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers - NLDS Game Two Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images

This has been the slowest baseball offseason in memory. None of the top free agents on the market have signed with new teams yet, and there aren’t even that many rumors flying around. Teams are getting smarter about their spending, almost to the point that writers are wondering if some owner collusion is at play. A more plausible reason for the slow market is the number of rebuilding teams in the game today. With nearly one-third of baseball not trying all that hard to win in 2018.

But what if they did try to win? Our Detroit Tigers are a long way off from contending for the division title, but there’s little stopping them from adding a free agent or two in order to make next season a little less painful.

So let’s find them a free agent!

Even though the Tigers find themselves as the most worthy rebuilding team in baseball — it ain’t a rebuild unless you have at least $50 million in regret on your books, y’all — I’m sure they would be willing to do their part in boosting baseball’s economy. Plus, we can’t come down off this big money signing high all at once. It’s dangerous.

For this to work, the signing has to follow three basic rules.

  • Makes the team better
  • Fills a position of need and/or doesn’t block a top prospect
  • Hopefully sticks around for when the Tigers are good again

That first bullet shouldn’t be a tough bar to clear. Sign anyone, and boom, the team is probably better. Ditto the second one, save for Jeimer Candelario at third base. Every other prospect either isn’t good enough to save room for, or is too far from the majors to be concerned about their roster spot yet. Sorry, Mike Moustakas.

That third one is what makes this exercise so tough. Sure, we could just sign Yu Darvish and call it a day, but I’m wondering if there’s another free agent out there who is a better fit. Darvish is already 31, and will be reaching his mid-30s by the time the Tigers return to contention. Plus, while we’re largely ignoring money in this ridiculous exercise, adding yet another $100 million contract to the books seems rather counterintuitive after the Tigers cleared so much salary last season.

RHP Yu Darvish

Still, he’s probably one of the best bets on the list. MLB Trade Rumors’ top free agent this offseason has been pursued by several teams, including a mystery team we semi-hoped would be the Tigers. He’s 31, as mentioned, and has been one of the most productive starters in the game since arriving in the U.S. in 2012.

He ranks 18th among all pitchers with 19.0 fWAR since his arrival in the majors in 2012 — and that’s with missing all of the 2015 season and throwing upwards of 400 fewer innings than others on that list. He’s second in strikeout rate, sixth in K-BB%, and 11th in ERA- (minimum 500 innings). And with his ridiculous arsenal, one imagines he will age relatively well.

However, with him entering his age-31 season, one imagines he will start to drop off soon. His strikeout rate already took a bit of a dive last year, resulting in a career-worst 3.83 FIP. Plus, Japanese pitchers are notoriously hard on their arms as amateurs, and he came to MLB with nearly 1300 professional innings already under his belt. He will be great in 2018, but there’s no telling how long he will last after that.

RHP Jake Arrieta

Arrieta is a few months older than Darvish, so he shares all of the above concerns about longevity. His arm hasn’t been taxed as much as Darvish’s — Arrieta is about 500 professional innings shy of Darvish — but he also hasn’t enjoyed as long of a peak. The former Cubs star put up a 2.73 in four-plus seasons in Chicago, but was a replacement level pitcher in 358 innings during his mid-20s with the Baltimore Orioles. One imagines he won’t drop off a cliff, especially if he were reunited with pitching coach Chris Bosio, but...

/glances at Jordan Zimmermann

Yeah I dunno, man. Pitchers are risky.

1B Eric Hosmer

Hosmer is only 28 and coming off his best offensive season to date, but the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera under contract until the next ice age. Cabrera could move to the DH role when Victor Martinez’s contract expires after next season, but it seems rather foolish to once again tie up that spot unnecessarily for the better part of the next decade.

Sorry, Rod Allen.

OF J.D. Martinez

Maybe I’m crazy, but this sounds like one of the better fits in this group. Tigers fans are well versed with Martinez’s skill set, which should age fairly well. Elite raw power doesn’t erode so quickly, and we’ve seen similar hitters like Nelson Cruz remain successful well into their 30s. Martinez’s defense is an issue, though, and will likely turn him into a DH at some point. Until then, he would block the team from giving Christin Stewart and/or Mike Gerber a fair shake at the major league level. Plus, he might be the most expensive free agent on the market this winter. I’d rather see the team try to find the next J.D. Martinez in the draft or on the waiver wire.

OF Lorenzo Cain

He’s great now, but this contract could look really bad in three years when his speed starts to erode. Get that value now while you can, Giants.

RHPs Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb

These two have carved out remarkably similar careers as mid-rotation starters in different leagues. Lynn has racked up a few more strikeouts and ate more innings while Cobb is better at limiting walks, but both have been key contributors over the years. However, it’s worth questioning just how much value they would provide going forward, especially in the final couple years of their respective contracts. Both are 30 years old and already have Tommy John surgery under their belts. There’s no reason to sign them now, either; there will be more Lance Lynns and Alex Cobbs available in free agency two or three years down the road.

idk, Carlos Gomez?

The talent pool drops off considerably after Lynn and Cobb, as teams have already signed a lot of those mid-tier free agents this offseason. Peak Gomez would have fit wonderfully with the Tigers both pre- and post-Austin Jackson’s departure. Even the current Gomez has remained productive, posting a respectable .802 OPS with the Texas Rangers last year. His contact skills are eroding, though, and he probably won’t be a productive hitter for that much longer. He could be a useful trade chip — just like so many others on the free agent market — but definitely won’t have any utility for the Tigers when they return to contention in a few years.