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Detroit Tigers Links: Pitching market heats up as the Tigers say goodbye to a legend of ‘84

Most of the big boys are still on the board, other than Aaron Nola, but the depth starters are starting to move.

Division Series - Minnesota Twins v Houston Astros - Game One Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Player acquisition is at the forefront of everyone’s mind this time of year, and as GMs around the league are stirring, the Tigers have yet to make their first strike in free agency. All of Detroit fandom is doing their best to manifest a deal with Japanese superstar pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but Tigers boss Scott Harris has been rummaging around in a less glamorous tier of free agency.

They were first linked to Seth Lugo, who largely succeeded as a starter last season with the Padres despite spending his career up to that point as a reliever in New York. Then, it was also noted that Detroit had interest in Lance Lynn, who experienced a career revival in Dodger blue during the second half of last season.

Lynn inked a deal with St. Louis on Monday. The Cardinals also added Kyle Gibson for depth. Both are part of a trend of pitchers coming off the board early this year as some teams try to lock in pitching before the market for arms really heats up. Tuesday, the reporting dialed up a notch. Evan Petzold reported in an article for the Freep that the Tigers have set their sights on right handed starting pitcher Kenta Maeda. He framed Detroit’s interest in the free agent as “serious.” If the Tigers really are nearing a deal with Maeda, they’re at least partly motivated by fear of a swiftly evaporating market as by faith in his abilities.

A big part of what has kept Maeda afloat as a starting pitcher into his mid-30s is his splitter. According to run value, his split is one of the most effective offspeed pitches in the game. Hitters who took a swing at it whiffed at a tremendous 35 percent rate. Incredibly, despite being far and away his best and most used pitch in 2023, he didn’t start throwing splitters until 2018.

In a September interview with FanGraphs, Maeda revealed that he just didn’t feel comfortable with his circle change against MLB hitters, Maeda simply dumped the circle grip in favor of a splitter, which he’d always wanted to throw. That turned out to be one of the most lucrative decisions he ever made, as his next contract will rest, in no small part, on the strength of that pitch. If he lands in Detroit, here’s hoping some of his mojo rubs off on Casey Mize, who badly needs his formerly awesome splitter back.

Hall of You Were Nice to Have Around

Two former Tigers players grace the Hall of Fame ballot during this year’s voting cycle — Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez. This is Hunter’s fourth year of eligibility and Martinez’ first. Neither of them spent his glory days in Detroit, and it’s a little bittersweet to see them honored on the ballot without any real possibility of being voted into the Hall.

Between the two, Martinez is more memorable for his time with the Tigers. He was unstoppable at the plate during his 2014 campaign, and had his knees not given out so early on in his career, he could easily have been remembered as one of the best offensive catchers of his (or any) generation. Instead, his offensive contributions were less appreciated in the context of his designated hitter and occasional first baseman duties. Eventually, cripplingly slow and having all but lost the ability to hit the ball with authority, his final years in the majors were truly awful.

Hunter had a far more steady career than Martinez and he spent most of his big league career in Minnesota. Being consistently above average for nearly two decades is enough for him to get a measure of recognition from the Hall of Fame voters. He notched over 2,400 hits in his career and has a bit of hardware to show for himself as well. However, he was never one of the elite players in the game. We won’t mention a certain October trip over a certain wall, in a certain east coast city.

I enjoyed Jay Jaffe’s examination of Hunter’s career from this time last year, and you will also.

One more Tiger will have a crack at the Hall of Fame soon, as Jim Leyland is on this year’s Contemporary Era committee ballot on December 3rd, with a chance to be elected to the Hall.

We'll miss you, Willie

Brad’s back on the bench

The Yankees have hired former Tigers manager Brad Ausmus to be their bench coach, according to a report on Tuesday afternoon. The Yanks scraped together a winning record by the thinnest possible margin in 2023, missing the playoffs for the first time in the better part of a decade. The team has been on an oh-so-slowly sinking ship over the past few seasons, but decided to run it back with Aaron Boone as manager again in 2024. The bench job was available because the last guy, Carlos Mendoza, was hired away to run the crosstown rival Mets.

Ausmus was the lead man in Detroit’s clubhouse from 2014-17 and reprised that role with the Angels in 2019, fired after just one year of his three year contract. He was last the bench coach under Oakland’s Mark Kotsay in 2022, but spent the last year unemployed in the league. To say the quiet part out loud, at no point has any team he took part in leading been seriously competitive.

Though his track record doesn’t suggest much confidence, Ausmus evidently continues to interview well, and he has a lot of important contacts within the game. He was announced as the Yankees’ hire less than an hour after his after his name emerged as a candidate, suggesting he was extended an offer without much deliberation. The Astros have also repeatedly considered him for roles in their organization, somewhat hilariously including him in their GM search last offseason that resulted in hiring Dana Brown.

I’m a Rule 5 draft sicko

The 2023 Rule 5 draft is just a few short weeks away, and we’ve got you covered with stories both about the Tigers protection deadline decisions and which unprotected prospects may interest them. I thought it might be fun to look ahead and try to predict to which of Detroit’s prospects will be protected by next year’s November deadline, and because my editor needs this article to run, there’s nothing he can do about it. ‘Tis the season, Brando!

Locks: Just by virtue of the fact that they’re going to debut next season, infielder Colt Kieth and guy who hits Justyn-Henry Malloy will be on the 40-man. The only reason they’re not there already is so Detroit can carry as many players into Spring Training as possible and kick the can down the road on deciding who to cut.

It could happen: Ty Madden’s stuff has taken a step back since he entered pro ball, Dylan Smith’s simply hasn’t popped, and Brant Hurter is better than we expected. All three have backend starter projections. If outfielder Roberto Campos hits in Double-A, he’ll need to be protected in his second year of eligibility. Justice Bigbie’s breakout is a strange case but he’ll get snagged if he keeps raking like he did in 2023. Tyler Mattison’s stuff has played up since he got ‘penned and relievers are always popular in the R5.

Fringe cases: Josh Crouch needs a major bounce back to warrant a spot, but intelligent catchers who can hit even a little have value. Relief arms Andrew Magno, Tanner Kohlhepp, and RJ Petit all have interesting characteristics but might not be seen by the team as serious prospects. After that, any other names would be total stabs in the dark.

Yep, Ichiro is still the best

It’s been almost seven years since Ichiro gave one of my favorite sports interview quotes of all time. When asked what he plans to do after leaving the game, he replied: “I think I’ll just die.”

Ichiro’s long and remarkable career in pro baseball ended in 2019, but he can’t seem to tear himself away from the sport. He’s constantly involved in youth baseball of one kind or another in his home country. Earlier this month, a video surfaced of the now 50-year old Ichiro goofing around with some teenagers and accidentally breaking a window while taking batting practice. Then, he took another round of BP in the Tokyo dome and put balls in the seats. He threw a complete game shutout against an all-star girls team on Monday.

The man just refuses to stop being fun and I am all the way here for it.