We’re closing in on the end of 2020. The Tigers have yet to do anything of great import, and I guess we can all hope that the new year brings a little more movement in the free agent department. While we all sit here and hold our collective breath, get yourself caught up on some news.
Miguel at first?
After a 2020 season where Miguel Cabrera saw all of his time come at the DH position he has openly expressed a desire to play more first base in the coming year. The plan over the last several seasons has been to use the 38-year-old in the DH spot in an effort to keep him as healthy as possible for the duration of the season. Based on comments from AJ Hinch in a Zoom conference last week, that plan might change.
“I’d like him to play first base certainly for part of the games... I don’t know what the allotment is going to be in terms of how much he plays first base and how much he DH’s. But I think freeing up the DH spot is important.”
Over the past four seasons Cabrera’s time at first has steadily diminished to the point that in the shortened 2020 season he didn’t play the position at all. Hinch is considering it because he believes Cabrera playing first base “makes our team better.” I don’t know what the split is going to look like, but any kind of remotely regular usage in the field might do more harm than good.
There are a few things that seem to be noticeably different with the AJ Hinch Tigers as opposed to, say, the Ron Gardenhire Tigers. Hinch has a greater expectation of this team for the upcoming season, and also appears to be a bit more plugged into some of the roster decisions the team is making.
The team has expressed a desire to sign one or two veteran starting pitchers, but Hinch has also said Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander will both get opportunities to slot into the starting rotation. Even if they don’t land starting jobs, Hinch expects them to be available for relief work. the approach with the pitching staff as a whole seems to be flexibility, and Hinch plans to use what he has to get “creative” with the staff this year.
Jones seeks restitution
JaCoby Jones has a problem with getting out of the way. He seems to be a magnet for baseballs, and over the past few years it has done some serious damage to his body and his ability to play. Broken bones in his left hand and wrist took big chunks of the last two seasons from the outfielder. The good news is he’s healthy and hitting again. He’s continuing to incorporate some changes to his approach that helped him drastically improve his hitting, and he’s working on some kind of protective equipment to put on that left arm. Mostly, he’s ready to get on the field and mete out some punishment on opposing pitchers.
Free agent notes
MLB Trade Rumors posted some updates on what they’ve been hearing regarding free agents, and touched on JT Realmuto and where the Tigers are in their possible search for catching help. Unfortunately, these two things were not connected to each other in the article. As of right now, the only name that was discussed as being on the list for Detroit is...wait for it...Alex Avila. If the organization does sign Avila I’m pretty sure it will be something like his 43rd stint with the club in his career.
Negro Leagues finally recognized as Major League Baseball
In a decision that was long in coming, Major League Baseball has finally recognized Negro League play as part of major league baseball history. The seven professional Negro Leagues that operated from 1920 to 1948 will now be folded into the record book. FanGraphs’ resident baseball historian Jay Jaffe took a deep dive into some of the complications and joys of trying to merge two parts of baseball’s historical record. The move finally recognizes legends like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Oscar Charleston as major league players, which was long overdue.
The transformation of James McCann
Some interesting things to note in this piece that chronicles the path James McCann followed from being non-tendered by Detroit in 2018 to signing a contract worth $40 million a week ago. First is the following comment from Ron Gardenhire on the Tigers not deciding that McCann — who had posted an OPS in the high .500 range the previous season— was worth bringing back.
“It was tough to lose a catcher like that, and we had arguments, believe me,” Gardenhire said. “Our coaching staff was really fond of him. It became a business thing.”
Seems like Gardy might have been all for keeping James around.
McCann cites his realization heading into 2019 that while in Detroit he was trying to emulate hitters he played with, like Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and Victor Martinez. With the White Sox, he tried to settle into figuring out what James McCann could do. McCann worked with the hitting coach in Chicago and put together an approach focused on making better contact. It helped.
McCann spent the following off season focused on improving his catching, and with some help from catching guru Jerry Narron, he improved in that aspect as well.
Now with two seasons where he has at least shown the capability of performing at a higher level, he’s looking to show the Mets he’s worth the money. The question for me in all of this is if this was James McCann finally figuring out what he needed to do, or if he landed with a group of people better equipped to help him succeed. It bums me out that there’s a good possibility the latter is the case.
Around the horn
C.C. Sabathia is ready to be vulnerable. Akil Baddoo, bounceback candidate. Major League Baseball payrolls tumble nearly $2.5 billion in 2020. A new era of prospect development for Major League Baseball?