Over the past few weeks, the crew at MLB Trade rumors have been identifying three remaining offseason needs for each of the 30 teams across Major League Baseball. The series provides a nice glimpse of what each team (especially those out of the limelight) still needs to do in order to get ready for the upcoming season.
While the needs they identified for the Detroit Tigers aren’t wrong, they are a little wider in scope than we expected. “Find a taker for Nicholas Castellanos” is certainly something the Tigers need to do over the next eight months, but not necessarily something that needs to happen before spring training. We won’t spoil the entire list, but you can click on over to MLB Trade Rumors if you are interested in seeing what else they think the Tigers should be doing over the next six weeks.
In the meantime, let’s talk about three more specific needs we would like to see the Tigers address before the start of the 2019 season.
Find a starting second baseman
For a club that is so hesitant to plug any of its players in as the primary second baseman in 2019, they sure don’t seem all that ready to fill the biggest remaining hole on their roster. Many expected that Niko Goodrum and Dawel Lugo would form an uninspiring tandem at the keystone in 2019, but Detroit seemingly wants to keep Goodrum in the nomadic defensive role he assumed last year. They also (understandably) want Lugo to spend some more time in the minor leagues.
Luckily for them, there are plenty of starting caliber second baseman remaining on the free agent market. Many Tigers fans (myself included) would like to see the club pick up former Rockies infielder D.J. LeMahieu, possibly on a multi-year deal. Other options include Brian Dozier, Logan Forsythe, Marwin Gonzalez, Jed Lowrie, Neil Walker, Josh Harrison, and former division rival Asdrubal Cabrera.
While not all of those players will require multi-year deals, picking up a better option like LeMahieu or Gonzalez seems like the way to go. Lugo has struggled to control the strike zone and get on base in the upper minors, and may not be the long-term solution at second base. Other prospects like Isaac Paredes have more upside, but are farther away from the bigs. They could find another defensive home in the meantime, or even push the incumbent veteran out of the way once they arrive in the majors. If the Tigers are worried about “blocking” any of their prospects with a two- or three-year deal, they shouldn’t be.
Add a second catcher
The Tigers have all but named Grayson Greiner their starting catcher for 2019, which is fine. Greiner doesn’t project as a starting catcher due to a long swing and lack of projectable power despite his 6’6 frame, but with the team nowhere near contention right now, it makes sense to give him a bunch of starts and see what happens.
But we did the math on this, and even handing Greiner a large share of the workload still leaves a lot of playing time for someone else behind the plate. The Tigers still have John Hicks on the roster, but he is (a) not great defensively, and (b) coming off groin surgery. Bobby Wilson is another option, but he might be better served mentoring young pitchers and catchers in the minors. Even if Hicks gets a few starts behind the plate, the Tigers could find room for 60-70 games for another catcher, if not more.
Luckily for them, there are still several options available on the free agent market. We have profiled Matt Wieters, Nick Hundley, and Martin Maldonado already this winter, and veterans like Rene Rivera and Stephen Vogt are also still looking for jobs. Most of those names aren’t going to wow you, but they could provide solid depth and injury insurance for a Tigers club that realistically needs one more catcher to be set for 2019.
Decide what they are doing with Nicholas Castellanos
While the Tigers don’t need to trade Castellanos before the season starts, I think we can all agree that his value will only go down as he starts playing games. Even a breakout season won’t change the fact that a suitor will only have his services for a few months. We saw what this did to J.D. Martinez’s stock — though the team’s goals were much different heading into the 2017 season — and Castellanos isn’t the hitter that Martinez is.
Additionally, a mid-season deal eliminates the possibility of one team giving Castellanos a qualifying offer next winter. Whether that club is the Tigers or someone else, that compensatory draft pick also holds some value. By trading him before the season, the Tigers will be able to ask for a bit more in return because his new club will be able to recoup a draft pick if he heads elsewhere next winter.
It’s possible that the Tigers could still find a deal to their liking if they wait until the middle of the season, but not likely. Trade returns for position players — especially those who are limited defensively — have tanked in recent years, something the Tigers have seen firsthand. If Castellanos remains on the Tigers roster heading into the regular season, they may just be better off holding onto him and recouping the compensatory draft pick themselves if he signs elsewhere in free agency.
Or they could shock everyone, spend some money, and re-sign him to a long-term extension.