On December 21, 2018, the Detroit Tigers signed Gordon Beckham to a one-year contract. By that point, they had added a total of $14.2 million in free agent salaries, and 2.1 fWAR in production from the previous season. Fast forward one year, and the Tigers inked Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron to matching one-year, $6.1 million contracts. They combined for just 1.6 fWAR in 246 total games last season, and both were roughly league-average hitters in all.
But, while those 2018 signings simply felt like stopgaps, Cron and Schoop feel like a solution.
Let’s get this out of the way first; neither player is likely to be here for the long haul. Both players are still on the right side of 30 (barely, in Cron’s case), but odds are neither will be around at this time next year, if even past the July 31 trade deadline. Both are surely seeking bigger paydays next offseason, and the Tigers would ideally like to replace both with younger, cost-controlled players in 2021.
For now, both players are huge additions to a lineup that has not hit many home runs over the past two seasons. The Tigers offense finished dead-last in the American League in home runs in both 2018 and 2019, and their 77 wRC+ as a team last year was the lowest by an AL team since the 1992 California Angels. Neither Cron nor Schoop were particularly helpful in this category last year — Cron’s 101 wRC+ only slightly out-paced Schoop’s 100 — but the two combined for 48 home runs, nearly one-third of Detroit’s season-long total (149).
And, well, that’s largely what this boils down to. Schoop has been good for 20 home runs a year in each of the past four seasons, and likely would have made it three out of four years with at least 25 dingers had he not missed 40 games. Cron has hit 55 home runs in the past two seasons, his first in full-time duty. Neither player gets on base at a high rate — Schoop’s career on-base percentage is a scant .295 — but Steamer projects them to add a combined 55 home runs and 3.2 fWAR.
These numbers look even more impressive when you consider how bad the Tigers were at those two positions in 2019. Detroit’s second basemen were the worst in baseball last year, at a combined -0.8 fWAR. They were even worst at first base, with -1.3 fWAR and a paltry 73 wRC+. This is some rough math, but Schoop and Cron producing a combined 3 WAR is closer to a five-win improvement — a big jump for a team that needs a lot of similar leaps forward next year. If we add in Austin Romine’s projected 0.9 fWAR, the Tigers could be looking at a rather substantial improvement on paper.
Tigers’ 2020 Free Agent Additions
*Note: I used Austin Romine (0.9 fWAR) and Grayson Greiner’s (0.2 fWAR) Steamer projections for the catcher position.
This paints a much rosier picture than last year, when the Tigers signed Mercer to replace Jose Iglesias’ 2.5 fWAR effort from 2018, or Ross and Moore to replicate Mike Fiers’ 3.48 ERA in 119 innings before getting dealt to Oakland. Those signings were met with various responses — we liked the idea of Tyson Ross in the rotation at first — while Schoop and Cron have been met with near-unanimous praise from a jaded Tigers fanbase.
Whether this experiment works remains to be seen. The Tigers’ lineup certainly looks a lot better at first glance, and it would be nice to see them add another bat to bolster the outfield. And as the last two years have taught us, injuries, sluggish starts, and the like can take a big toll on the final product.
It’s hard to argue with what the Tigers have done so far, though. Schoop, Cron, and even Romine are positive additions designed to do exactly what fans have been asking for: make the team better in 2020.