Back in early December, I put together my offseason plan for the Tigers. I thought now might be a decent time to grade the offseason using my plan as a benchmark.
It won't come as much of a surprise that a bit more money would have gone a long way to help this team turn the corner. I'm not going to dive into the FIAR AVILA crowd or those who want to fire Chris Iltich into the sun. The fact of the matter is they chose not to spend on the 2021 roster and that is very disappointing and I'm just going to leave it at that. Still, I think it's worthwhile to look back and each decision to see how the team fared.
Make a modest splash
My choice: Michael Brantley. Proposed: two years, $30 million. Signed by the Astros for two years, $32 million
My other choice: Enrique Hernandez. Proposed: two years, $13 million. Signed by the Red Sox for 2 years, $14 million.
Tigers choice: Bupkiss.
I wasn't looking for a monster deal. Springer, Realmuto, Bauer, and LeMahieu would have been overkill in the short term and potential risks over the longer term. Still, there are players that are good enough to need a meaningful chunk of money over a two- to three-year commitment that would not have been a huge risk when this team really has budget considerations. I landed on Michael Brantley for $30 million over two years. In a follow-up, I admitted that Brantley was a little too pie-in-the-sky and replaced him with Eddie Rosario.
- James McCann, C, signed by the White Sox for four years, $40million.
- Ha-Seong Kim, IF, signed by the Padres for four years, $28 million (with fifth year team option).
- Marcel Ozuna, OF, signed by the Braves for four years, $65 million.
- Didi Gregorious, SS, resigned by the Phillies for two years, $28 million.
- Taijuan Walker, SP, signed by the Mets for three years, $23 million.
- Jake Odorizzi, SP, signed by the Astros for three years, $23 million.
- Jurickson Profar, 2B/SS, signed by the Padres for three years, $21 million.
- Carlos Santana, 1B, signed by the Royals for two years, $17.5 million
- Charlie Morton, SP, signed by the Braves for $15 million.
There's a reasonable case to be made against trying to match or beat most of the deals these players ended up signing. The Ha-Seong Kim deal seems particularly intriguing, though. We later learned that Kim turned down the Red Sox because he preferred the weather and being on the West Coast (having been to San Diego in January, I can attest that San Diego is a gorgeous city year round). I'd be hard pressed to argue that Detroit would fare any better in that regard. Playing in San Diego situates him closer to home and makes it more likely his games would be on local TV, too.
Still, we were all hoping the team would at least try to sign a real building block for the future. In hindsight, maybe it wouldn't have happened in the end. But, I certainly join those who are disappointed that they didn't even try.
Sign a Middle Infielder
My choice: Enrique Hernandez, proposed 2 years / $13M, signed by Red Sox for 2 years / $14M.
Tigers choice: Jonathon Schoop, signed $4.5M.
When I sat down in December, I ruled out Schoop because I wanted a quality player who can reasonably play at both second base and shortstop. In my eyes at the time, Schoop is a quality player who only plays second base. After all, there were plenty of opportunities to move him over to shortstop in 2020 and they chose not to.
While it's not an ideal defensive positioning, being able to put Schoop at shortstop would let the Tigers try out Willi Castro or eventually Isaac Paredes at second base. He's not the perfect fit that a few others could have been, but it's really hard to throw stones at this signing once we swallow the fact that the big splash candidates were out of reach.
Having said that, I still contend that a guy like Kiké Hernandez would have been a very worthwhile longer term investment. He was a meaningful contributor to the Dodgers over the last few years and could slot all over the field based on what happens with the Tigers slate of fielding prospects.
- Jurickson Profar, signed by the Padres for three years, $21 million
- Jonathon Villar, signed by the Mets for $3.5 million
- Brock Holt, signed by the Rangers (NRI, made team) for $1.7 million
- Freddy Galvis, signed by the Orioles for $1.5 million
I would have preferred a longer-term option like Hernandez or Ha-Seong Kim. I also had my eye on Jurickson Profar, but there was no reason to outbid the Padres here. In the end, I really can't complain.
Sign a Catcher
My choice: Tony Wolters, proposed $2M, signed by Pirates (NRI) and opted out, signed with Cubs.
Tigers choice: Wilson Ramos, signed $2M
The Tigers had a very limited budget at catcher even in my not-so-budget conscious approach. It just didn't make sense. After Realmuto, McCann, and Yadier Molina (who re-signed to stay in St Louis), no one will be paid more than $4 million per year. Is there really a huge difference from one guy to the next to the next?
They landed on an 11-year veteran with an above-average bat for the position. He's not known to be the greatest game caller, but the personal relationships that he builds with pitchers might make up for that. And his bat may or may not help out too.
When I looked through the list, I picked out Tony Wolters. He seemed like the perfect fit with a few years as a starter under his belt, a reputation as an above average defender, and a left-handed bat that would pair well with any of the potential back-ups. Granted, he had a mild reverse split at times.
- Jason Castro, signed by the Astros for two years / $7 million
- Austin Romine, signed by the Cubs for $1.5 million
- Alex Avila, signed by the Nationals for $1.5 million
- Tyler Flowers, still unsigned.
- Curt Casali, signed by the Giants for $1.5 million
- Mike Zunino, resigned by the Rays for $3 million
Again, are any of these guys really all that different from the others? Probably not.
Sign a Corner Outfielder
My choice: Michael Brantley, proposed 2 years / $30M, signed by Astros for 2 years / $32M
My Plan B: Eddie Rosario, proposed $7M, signed by Indians for $8M.
Tigers choice: Robbie Grossman (2 years, $10M) and Nomar Mazara ($1.75M)
I don't see what Grossman brings that would make a team feel like they needed to offer him two years to get a deal done, but at $5M per year it's not like that's a problem. I guess the worst case scenario is he's nothing more than a modest veteran performer and he's well worth that salary as a place holder in 2022 as well. On the flip side, if Grossman's 2021 looks like his 2020, that extra year of team control at such a low rate could make him a reasonably valuable trade commodity.
Looking at the deal for Nomar Mazara, it's really really tough to question a signing for under $2M. It's a reasonably good guess that he'll bring some value -- or at least it's worth the very modest risk that he won't. If he does somehow put it together, he becomes an equally valuable trade commodity due to his low salary.
- Joc Pederson, signed by Cubs for $7 million
- Kyle Schwarber, signed by Nats for $10 million
- Adam Duvall, signed by Marlins for $5 million
- Hunter Renfroe, signed by Red Sox for $3.1 million
- David Dahl, signed by Rangers for $2.7 million
There's still a piece of me that would have preferred a modestly daring signing like Rosario, Schwarber, or Pederson instead of signing two guys. Maybe overpay them just slightly on a two-year deal to beat out the offers on the table from the Indians, Nats, and Cubs. In my world, the lower tier of Tigers outfielders would have had the responsibility/opportunity to step up and produce over the course of the year. With two free agents instead of one, another one of those lower tier guys may be gone in the next day or two and those who remain will have to beat out Mazara for the opportunity. I guess that's not a bad thing. At the same time, the Tigers have also brought in Akil Baddoo who could actually play a meaningful bench role too.
Sign a First Baseman
My choice: CJ Cron, proposed $5M, signed by Rangers (NRI, made team).
Tigers choice: Renato Nuñez, NRI, didn't make team but still in camp.
Going into the winter, I looked at the total lack of first base options and guessed the market would gobble up available players at above-value. If that was the case, the Tigers would have needed to step up to compete with those teams, making a $5 million offer not totally crazy. In reality, the Nationals were the only team to do that and everyone else just got creative.
Seeing the market play out, I certainly wouldn't have felt the need to allocate $5 million. But, I probably would have offered Cron a Mazara-like guaranteed contract. Heck, I probably would have approached Cron instead of Mazara. If you really want both, one of the other outfielders could easily be optioned to make room.
- Carlos Santana, signed by Royals for 2 years / $17.5M.
- Josh Bell, acquired by Nats for two prospects.
- Mitch Moreland, signed by Athletics for $2.5M
- Travis Shaw, signed by Brewers (NRI, made team) for $1.5M with additional $1.5M in incentives.
- Jake Lamb, signed by White Sox (NRI)
- Ryan Zimmerman, resigned by Nats for $1M.
It's tough to look past Josh Bell on that list, but I really see no reason to send two reasonably valuable prospects to Pittsburg to compete with the offer by the Nats. The only way that would possibly make sense would be if the team had found more money to sign some interesting producers -- and doing that would have made a trade for Bell less enticing.
I do stand by my desire to bring CJ Cron back on a guaranteed deal, and would have looked at Travis Shaw the same way. Either would have been relatively low-risk additions to the 2021 roster. Having said that, I'm not exactly up in arms that those two players ended up elsewhere instead.
If you look at the Renato Nuñez signing as nothing more than a camp try-out that didn't work out, I'd grade this really low. There were other players available out there that could have tried out as well if that was the approach. If you'd instead say that the Nuñez signing was intended to fill the need at first base but the team changed gears when Akil Baddoo forced their hand, then it's starts to look a lot better. And then you tell me that the team was able to convince him to stick around in the hopes that a call-up is still on the table this summer and this looks that much better.
Sign a Starting Pitcher and Closer(ish)
My choices: SP Rick Porcello, proposed $5M, still unsigned. CL Shane Greene, proposed $7M, still unsigned.
Tigers signings: SP Julio Teheran (NRI, made team, $3M), SP José Ureña ($3.25M), and RP Derek Holland (NRI)
There were so many pitchers available that I limited my list to former Tigers players just to shorten the list. I went looking for a starter who could reliably eat innings all season long, even if they aren't a world beater. I also went looking for a reliever who could factor into the late innings. My thinking is that everyone in the bullpen moves down a rung and into a more comfortable role. I landed on Rick Porcello and Shane Greene. I figured both guys would get one-year deals that would let them test the market again after a year, but I'd have no problem offering both of them an extra year or even two at reasonable rates. Both have proven to be reliable productive pitchers even if neither really found their respective lofty ceilings.
The Tigers, on the other hand, went the cheap route instead. You can argue that signing two players at a combined Porcello-like rate gets the team more innings than Porcello would have given. I'm not so sure. If either one of them struggles, that's not the case.
On the bullpen side, I have absolutely no problem with trying out a few guys who can work their way onto the roster. That's great. This team is going to be a little better thanks to the fact that Holland is available. The problem I have is they didn't supplement the relief core at the top end. There are some quality one-inning relievers on the roster, but I'm guessing each one of them will be asked to do a bit more than they are ready for this summer.
Other SP options:
- J.A. Happ, signed by Twins for $8M.
- Jose Quintana, signed by Angels for $8M.
- Robbie Ray, resigned by Blue Jays for $8M.
- Chris Archer, signed by Rays for $6.5M.
- Jake Arrieta, signed by Cubs for $6M.
- Anthony DeSclafani, signed by Giants for $6M.
- Jon Lester, signed by Nats for $5M.
- Mike Fiers, resigned by Athletics for $3.5M.
- Still unsigned: Anibal Sanchez, Jeff Samardzija, Cole Hamels.
Other relief options:
- Alex Colome, signed by Twins for $6.3M.
- Jake McGee, signed by Giants for $5M.
- Joakim Soria, signed by Diamondbacks for $3.5M.
- Justin Wilson, signed by Yankees for 2 years / $5.1M.
Setting aside the broad lack of budget, this is probably my biggest disappointment of the winter. Going with quantity over quality will mean we'll be sitting through a season that ends up being that much rougher. Heck, with the #24th total payroll in the league, this team could have opted for quantity and quality for the pitching staff.
I very explicitly said many times that I didn't expect a Rule 5 pick to crack the roster. They'd either have to trade for him or return him. The very early returns prove me wrong and then some. Akil Baddoo is proving that he'll at the very least be worth the 26th spot on the roster and might actually provide some production along the way.
This category is more of a Pass/Fail than anything. They found room in Lakeland for Julio Teheran, Derek Holland, Renato Nuñez, Greg Garcia, Wily Peralta, and some others. A few have made the squad and should contribute there. A few more are still around and might just get called up as well.
It's really hard to find someone on the roster that would make sense to trade at this point. You always like to think that you make the rounds to see what surprising deals might be out there just to be sure, but it's no surprise that we didn't hear even the whisper of a rumor.
All in all, it's really tough to sum this up. On one hand, the team took the cheap route in virtually every aspect and we'll be paying for it figuratively as we watch this team all season. On the other hand, if you fully buy in to the concept that this team only had this limited budget to work with (obviously, that's a big ask), what they've done is downright impressive. I think we'll find that there's barely a wasted nickel anywhere.