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Offseason 2.0 primer for the Detroit Tigers

The Tigers need to move quickly to finish their offseason.

Miami Marlins v New York Mets - Game Two Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Well, well, well, Major League Baseball is back. They hurt us, but it’s hard to be anything but happy that our long offseason nightmare is now over. We’ll be discussing the fallout from this nonsense for a long-time to come. Now that the deal is agreed and the pie re-divided, look for the owners to announce a whole litany of new streaming deals for a ton more revenue the players will never have access to. Anyway, with arbitration figures and free agent deals about to be conducted at lightning speed to try and get players into camp for a few weeks and have them ready to play, the Detroit Tigers had better be prepared. Somehow, we’re confident that they will be, which feels really strange after the last seven seasons of misery—2021 was fun though, right?—we’ve been through with the club.

Before I attempt to catch up everyone who understandably tuned most of the offseason out, I would first like to give a huge thanks to the Bless You Boys staff for hanging in there through this long winter, and making it a lot more bearable. In particular, I would be remiss if I didn’t single out the outstanding contributions of long-time staff writer Patrick O’Kennedy who has comprehensively outdone many of the big names in baseball journalism by covering and exploring the myriad issues at play in extreme detail throughout the contentious negotiations. It’s nice to have a talented lawyer on staff who can parse through the endless details of proposals and counterproposals. Frankly, Patrick deserves a medal for this offseason.

Throughout this primer, you’ll find links to our offseason coverage highlighted in order to get you all up to speed. Alright, let’s examine what’s gone on this offseason already, and what the Tigers need to do to get themselves an outside shot at the, now 12 team, playoffs this season.

Fortunately, the Tigers are in quite good position already relative to other hopefuls. While the tankers and the bag holders will wait for the dollar menu after the initial signing frenzy, and the teams with aspirations will be desperately scrambling to make key additions, GM Al Avila and his Vice-Presidents can lay in the cut. By trading for Tucker Barnhart at the beginning of the offseason, the club landed an excellent defensive catcher and game caller who hits left-handed to pair with lefty masher Eric Haase. The big signings of left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and shortstop Javier Báez addressed the team other two big needs and gave them a pair of solid, very talented veterans to support the youth movement in the years ahead. We’d love one more big addition. We’re not confident it’s on the way though.

Another advantage could be that two of the Tigers biggest bats, who they’ll rely on if the team is to manage a still somewhat unlikely run at the postseason, aren’t on the 40-man roster yet and so have already been getting reps in camp for a few weeks. Outfielder Riley Greene and first baseman Spencer Torkelson hold the keys to the Tigers’ future in their young hands, so it’s a plus to have them up to speed already, whether they start the year in the majors or have to wait a month or two. Shortstop Ryan Kreidler is another potential impact position player who is also up and running in camp with the two big dogs.

If you haven’t been following along due to disgust at the owners lockout and the extremely frustration negotiations, let’s catch you up to speed with a links-heavy overview of our offseason coverage and where the Tigers currently stand.

Offseason 2.0 primer

Here is a piece on the signing of Tucker Barnhart with the details of his contract and some player analysis. He should do wonders for the pitching staff, though the bat isn’t impressive even by catcher standards. The Tigers gave up 2018 second rounder, Nick Quintana, a third baseman who has shown no signs of hitting at the lowest level of A-ball to date.

Next we have left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who the Tigers inked for five years and $77 million to anchor the starting rotation. Rodriguez was very good for the Boston Red Sox, but has also had a bit of injury history. In short, he’s better than his overall career might lead you to believe. It’ll be up to pitching coach Chris Fetter to get the best out of him, but Rodriguez is very talented. Catch up on his deal and career numbers with some analysis right here.

Finally, the marquee name on the list: Javier Báez. The wunderkind defender who won a ring with the Chicago Cubs in 2016, was dealt to the New York Mets at the trade deadline last summer and became a free agent. The Tigers locked him up for six years—with an opt-out after two years—frustrating many who wanted them to finally go big with a star like Carlos Correa. Báez’s strikeout rates have reached alarming levels in recent years, but he continues to crank 30 home runs a year while running the bases like a demon and playing strong defense up the middle. If A.J. Hinch and company can help him improve his approach a bit, the Tigers may have landed a borderline All-Star for the cost of a quality veteran shortstop. He may frustrate, but no matter what he represents a huge upgrade at the position. We have the details and analysis right here for you. Staff writer Kyle Yost also took a look at the Tigers’ projected lineup with Báez added to the mix.

What’s next?

So what do the Tigers need to prioritize? Well it will come as no surprise that the answer is pitching depth. The Tigers need a solid MLB caliber starter to finish up a rotation of Eduardo Rodriguez, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning. They also proved the value of picking up solid veterans on short-term deals for insurance last year. The season wouldn’t have gone as well as it did without righthander Wily Peralta stashed in Toledo, for example.

Frankly, there aren’t a whole lot of talented starting pitchers left in free agency. The top name is flame-throwing lefty Carlos Rodon, long of the Chicago White Sox. At his best, Rodon is a dominant arm in the game, but he continues to have arm trouble, limiting teams’ willingness to commit to him long-term. It would be fun to drop a big one-year offer on him and roll the dice. Chris Ilitch could do a bit to rehabilitate the owners in the fanbases’ eyes with a move like this. Other interesting options exist in Michael Pineda, Yusei Kikuchi, or Garrett Richards.

More likely, the Tigers will pick from the bargain bin here. Just hope they do as they did last year when they added Julio Teheran, Jose Ureña, and Wily Peralta on small deals, with Peralta’s of the minor league contract variety. A haul of depth arms for Chris Fetter and Juan Nieves to work with would help the Tigers keep their rotation and bullpen in order, and allow them to deploy middle reliever Tyler Alexander in the bullpen, adding to the strength of that unit overall.

In the minor leagues, the Tigers have some solid depth starter candidates who will reach Triple-A this year, and should be able to lend some support. Alongside lefty Joey Wentz, and righthander Alex Faedo, who is returning from UCL replacement surgery and needs time to get going, there is Reese Olson, a talented, if wild righthander acquired for Daniel Norris from the Brewers last July. We also have pop-up prospect Beau Brieske, who burst on the scene after a total overhaul during the 2020 off year for the minor leagues. Brieske already has good command of four solid offerings and reached Double-A late in the 2021 calendar. Still, they need a veteran or three to really build in the depth they’ll need to contend without huge breakout seasons from several of their young starters.

The bullpen is shaping up pretty well with Michael Fulmer, Gregory Soto, and Jose Cisneros currently slated to lock down the late innings, as they did very successfully in 2021. Kyle Funkhouser and Tyler Alexander will give them good multi-inning flexibility, while guys like Joe Jimenez and Alex Lange may look just fine in lower leverage.

The Tigers could really use another good reliever though. In fact, were they to concoct an upgraded bullpen, they could alleviate the weakness of the backend of the rotation more effectively than by spending on the thin crop of starters left available. Trades for a starter with the Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds, both of which signaled a willingness to deal prior to the lockout, could be even better options for the rotation, but we’ll get to those ideas in detail once the initial flurry of free agent signings subsides.

Right now, veteran lefty Andrew Chafin looks like the club’s best bet for relief help in their likely price range. The club doesn’t necessarily need a lefty all that badly, but Chafin would certainly give the Tigers another left-handed late innings weapon though. Another idea might be to re-sign Matthew Boyd who might give them the chance at extra rotation depth as well. Boyd was released last fall and won’t return from tendon surgery until June at the earliest. He could make a really nice stash play for depth and might do well out of the bullpen too.

Veteran righthanders Kenley Jansen and Adam Ottavino would be nice fits for the pen, but are both riskier and more expensive. You can see a complete list of available free agents here at Spotrac. The Tigers added veteran righthander Jacob Barnes on a minor league deal as well, and if he or one of the other upper level relievers in the system, say Jason Foley for example, could take a step forward, the Tigers may have what they need. Acquiring some insurance for injuries remains crucial, however. That applies to both the rotation and bullpen and is probably the most efficient way to ensure solid pitching all year long.

It’s not impossible that the club might pick up a utilityman to compete for a job as well, although they already added former Boston Red Sox infielder Jack Lopez on a minor league deal. Don’t expect much here though. The Tigers may wait and see who is left looking for a deal after the initial burst of free agent signings, but with bench options like Victor Reyes, Isaac Paredes, Daz Cameron, and Zack Short, along with Kreidler knocking at the door, they have young players they’d likely prefer to give the extra ABs to, rather than hunting for a part-time veteran to replace someone like Harold Castro, for example. Here’s a write-up on most of the Tigers’ minor league signings, minus Lopez, this offseason to date.

Farm System review

We’re still writing full reports on players in our BYB top 30 prospect rankings. However, the complete list with short reports can be found right here. We also have five pitching prospects who just missed the list—the Tigers have a pretty impressive stockpile of raw young arms developing, and five hitting prospects who just missed the top 30 as well. Overall, the system is going to be quite weak at the top as Greene and Torkelson graduate, but we’re convinced the Tigers have a lot more talent stockpiled that is obvious. The question is whether the new development staff can maximize that talent.

The biggest story of the offseason may have been the complete overhaul of the player development staff in the minor leagues, starting with the hiring of new Vice-President of Player Development, Ryan Garko, last fall. What followed was a wave of new coaches for the farm system, and like Garko, largely guys with ties to manager A.J. Hinch, bench coach George Lombard, and pitching coach Chris Fetter through the Los Angeles Dodgers player development coaching tree. They also picked up another Driveline Baseball alum in new minor league hitting coordinator, Max Gordon, who is a sight for sore eyes in a system with a miserable track record with hitters. Euclides Rojas was hired on as the new Director of Latin American Player Devleopment, while Ryan Sienko was named Director of Coaching, a new position seeking to teach the teachers to teach, if you follow us. Stephanos Stroop was also hired as Minor League Pitching Coordinator. Those were just the most notable as the overhaul was decisive and thorough, clearing out many of the long-time staff under former VP of Player Development Dave Littlefield.

We couldn’t be more excited about this. The club has gotten better at drafting and developing pitchers in recent years. If they can repeat the trick with position players, and hopefully finally develop a few of their top international free agent signings over the past couple years, such as shortstop Cristian Santana and outfielder Roberto Campos, the system is going to remain in pretty good shape for years to come.

The international signing period began in January since the traditional July date was initially bumped by COVID back in 2020. The Tigers picked up some well regarded young players back on January 15th. Read about them here.

Finally for a relatively quick overview of the system, prospect writer Trevor Hooth joined the BYB Podcast back in late January for a broad conversation about the Tigers’ system. It’s hard not to be enthusiastic. Not only are the Tigers showing a knack for finding talented arms far from the early rounds of the draft, the complete overhaul of the player development staff and system gives us hope that the club can fulfill its promise to continue producing useful talent long after the Tigers have stopped picking early in the draft.

Let’s go!

This has been an incredibly frustrating time to be a baseball fan. We’ve still got things to say about the negotiations this offseason, and the way the owners in particular have gone about it. The growing business around the game continues to get priority over the game itself, as well as over the fans who make the whole circus turn. We have plenty to say on the new rule changes, mostly delayed to 2023, as well. All that is forthcoming. For now we’re going to have to ride the wave of a combination spring training and signing period. The new few days are guaranteed to be crazy as teams and players try to finish deals and get to camp.

The Detroit Tigers are now decidedly on the upswing. With what looks like one of the better coaching staffs in the game, a core of talented young players, a couple of substantial free agent additions, and a rebuilt front office and player development staff, it’s a new era of Tigers baseball. They have a long way to go to look like a dominant team, but by the end of this season the teardown should be a fading memory. We should be in for a really entertaining season, including the debuts of Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, even if the Tigers won’t be picked by many to contend quite yet. We look forward to enjoying Tigers baseball with you all again this year, and we very much thank you for your support and for sticking with us through this mess of an offseason.

Go Tigers!