After a flurry of activity at the start of the MLB Winter Meetings, things have gone quiet in the Detroit Tigers organization. Part of this is by design; general manager Al Avila did most of his holiday shopping in early December, and there aren’t many holes left* on the roster for the upcoming season. Nicholas Castellanos’ name has continued to pop up in trade rumors, but we’ve heard little more than speculation about possible destinations so far.
With little else on the horizon this week, this seems like a good time to look back at what the Tigers have done so far this offseason. We’ll even offer some letter grades based entirely on a sliding scale of my choosing, which should drive some healthy debate about how wrong I am (especially for those of you reading this on September 30, 2019).
*We can quibble about which positions need upgrade (spoiler: all of them), but the team has at least addressed a few major weaknesses.
LHP Matt Moore (1 year, $2.5 million): D+
I was fine with the Moore signing early on. At 29, he is relatively young as far as free agents go. He has a history of success with the Tampa Bay Rays, when he looked like one of the more promising young starters in all of baseball. If he provided even a fraction of that All-Star level production at $2.5 million, he would be a great value for the Tigers and a potential trade chip in July.
But given what we have seen since then, the Moore deal looks a lot worse in comparison. The Toronto Blue Jays were able to ink righthander Matt Shoemaker to a one-year deal at just $3.5 million. While his ceiling might not be quite as high — he’s almost three years older, for one — Shoemaker has enjoyed success much more recently than Moore. He also has another year of club control remaining after 2019, making him even more valuable to either the Blue Jays or another team looking to acquire him via trade. Even the cost might have been similar; it’s hard to imagine Shoemaker, a Michigan native and Eastern Michigan graduate, would have balked at a similar contract from his hometown team.
Moore may still yet bounce back and have an above-average season. We saw the same from Mike Fiers in 2018 after we had questioned the signing all winter long, and Moore’s ceiling is even higher than that.
RHP Tyson Ross (1 year, $5.75 million: C-
Two or three years ago, I would have been ecstatic about the Tigers acquiring Tyson Ross. He looked like one of the better young pitchers in baseball at that point, especially after a dominant 2014 season in San Diego. Since then, however, he has undergone thoracic outlet surgery, and has not been the same pitcher. He looked better in 2018, especially when working out of the bullpen for the St. Louis Cardinals, but I’m still skeptical.
For one, Ross’ fastball velocity has cratered over the past few years, and now sits in the low 90s. He has also given up a lot of hard contact, as Kyle detailed on the site shortly after Ross was signed.
The numbers are not pretty. Ross featured a 72.3 percent contact rate and a 27.0 percent hard-hit rate in his quality three-year stretch. Since the start of 2017, those numbers have worsened to 81.2 percent and 36.4 percent, respectively. Additionally his walk rate has climbed a couple percentage points up to 11.4 percent in recent years.
His strikeout and swinging strike rates have also dipped, in large part thanks to a much higher contact rate on pitches outside the strike zone. If Ross can find a way to use his slider and cutter to generate more whiffs outside the zone, he could stick in the back end of Detroit’s rotation — until July, at least.
SS Jordy Mercer (1 year, $5.25 million): B-
I’m not a huge fan of the Mercer signing, but his gets a higher grade than others simply because there aren’t many shortstops available on the market. Re-signing Jose Iglesias would have been an automatic A, while inking Alcides Escobar would have required me to invent a grade worse than F. I put Mercer on par with Freddy Galvis, who some would have preferred, but the truth is there simply aren’t any other shortstops out there, other than those listed above and Manny Machado.
Also, signing Mercer means I don’t have to edit the 12,000 different spellings our staff would have created for Adeiny Hechavarria.
RHP Reed Garrett (Rule 5 draft): B+
The Rule 5 draft is always a crapshoot. Even last year, when the Tigers had their pick of all eligible players, the baseball community was divided on whether Victor Reyes was the right selection. He’s in the organization for good now, which is nice, but was in over his head at the major league level in 2018.
I’m even more unsure about Garrett, but the scouting report seems promising. He can reach as high as 98 miles per hour on the radar gun, and has a nice breaking ball to generate swings and misses. His command took a step forward in 2018, which is also nice. Our friends at TigsTown named him the No. 28 prospect in the organization, behind only three other relievers. Getting the next Odubel Herrera would be great, but a solid middle reliever isn’t a bad get for the Rule 5 draft.
SS Pete Kozma (minor league deal): A-
This grade is entirely based on the Mercer signing. Had Kozma been inked to be Detroit’s starting shortstop, I (and many others) would not have been pleased. But signing a veteran to mentor other young infielders in Toledo? That’s a nice move.
C Bobby Wilson (minor league deal): Incomplete
Similar to the Kozma signing above, we need more context to properly judge Wilson’s contract. If the Tigers decide to bring in another catcher to pair with Grayson Greiner in Detroit next season, Wilson is a nice third option to have in Toledo (even if he’s not directly mentoring Jake Rogers, as we had hoped). But if Wilson is counted on to be the backup? It’s... not the worst thing in the world, but we should be hoping for better.
RHP Louis Coleman (minor league deal): B
Coleman was good at times in 2018, but faded down the stretch. Bringing him back on a minor league deal is a solid move.
Copy and paste the list below into the comments to give us your grades.
LHP Matt Moore
RHP Tyson Ross
SS Jordy Mercer
RHP Reed Garrett
SS Pete Kozma
C Bobby Wilson
RHP Louis Coleman