The Detroit Tigers aren’t likely to see much national attention as MLB’s Winter Meetings take place this week in Nashville. The annual tradeshow and meet and greet hasn’t had quite the same intensity the past few years, as the biggest deals have tended to come later in the offseason. That will be different this year, as the free agency of Shohei Ohtani remains one of the biggest stories in the sports world, a rarity for baseball. With most of the other top free agents yet unsigned, and the addition of a pair of high quality starters coming over from Japan in Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Shoto Imanaga, there are still a ton of players on the board, and a lot of ongoing negotiations that are likely waiting for Ohtani to sign before reaching a conclusion.
It may be that few pacts are actually signed, sealed, and delivered this week, but the rumor machine should be in high gear either way. Many experts do believe that Ohtani will hear a final few pitches from interested teams and decide on his next landing spot in the coming days. However, considering the secrecy Ohtani has insisted upon as he hears out each team’s case, it’s hard to believe anyone knows anything just yet. The emergence of the Toronto Blue Jays as one of the top pursuers of the Japanese superstar over the past two weeks has been interesting, but personally I’d still be quite surprised if Ohtani ended up in Toronto. The Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants, the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox, and both New York clubs remain in the hunt as well.
Should Ohtani sign quickly, expect a ton of movement to follow as the losers in the superstar sweepstakes move on to the rest of the free agent class.
The 2022 edition of the Winter Meetings saw Aaron Judge, Trea Turner, and Xander Bogaerts sign, but the featured attraction was Steve Cohen’s Mets going on an eye-popping spending spree as they inked Justin Verlander, Jose Quintana, and David Robertson, among others, all during the week. Never count out a billionaire with money to burn, but so far the Mets appear to be taking a more measured approach, despite their pursuit of a special case in Ohtani. Still, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mets come back for more this year.
For the Tigers, the mission is pretty simple: pitching. Scott Harris said as much in recent interviews following the signing of Kenta Maeda. They’ll consider to pursue pitching, but it’s difficult to expect a lot of aggression for the better free agents remaining. Perhaps the Tigers will pivot hard to finding a good reliever should they count themselves out of the starting market other than adding a depth starter. That would be advisable anyway, but the Tigers also seem highly unlikely to give a reliever more than a one-year contract right now. Beyond any acquisitions, this will be the first Winter Meetings for the Tigers with Jeff Greenberg as general manager, so the Tigers will have their top two in leadership positions on hand.
Unless something pretty unexpected happens, the two big events for the Tigers will be the draft lottery and the Rule 5 draft.
The draft lottery will take place on Tuesday evening starting at 5:30 p.m. ET, with the broadcast on MLB Network. There are 17 teams that missed the playoffs in 2023 who will all have a crack at the top six picks in the draft. The Washington Nationals missed the playoffs, but as a revenue paying team, rather than a receiving team, they’re ineligible to be in the lottery back-to-back years.
The Tigers currently have the 10th best odds at getting the first overall pick after finishing with the 10th worst record in 2023, but it gets a lot more complicated if they don’t land one of the top six picks in the lottery. Essentially, if the Tigers end up with the 10th overall pick or better, they’ve done well compared to the old system of going entirely by record.
Right now, the A’s, Royals, and Rockies have the best odds of the first overall pick at 18.3 percent chances. The White Sox are next at 14.7 percent, followed by the Cardinals at 8.3 percent and the Angels at 6.1 percent. The rest are all below a five percent chance, with the Tigers odds at just 1.6 percent.
The Mets, Yankees, and Padres all had payrolls exceeding the threshold, so unless they hit the lottery and get one of the top six picks, the pick they do get will be dropped 10 places, potentially pushing a team like the Tigers up three spots if the Tigers miss on a top six selection. Should a couple of those longshots win lottery picks for the top six selections, that could push the Tigers down into the teens. That isn’t likely, but it is possible. We’d just be thrilled to get one of the top six. The Tigers will also have a competitive balance pick after the second round this year after taking prep infielder Kevin McGonigle. in the first CBA round in 2023.
Rule 5 draft
This year’s Rule 5 draft will take place at 2:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, steaming live on MLB.com. The yearly draft sees players signed at age 18 or younger who have five seasons of pro experience, or 18 and older with four seasons of pro experience, available if they were not added to their club’s 40-man roster by November 14, 2023. Players selected in the Rule 5 draft have to stay on the active roster in the major leagues all throughout the 2024 season or be returned to their original teams. It wasn’t always easy, but the Tigers managed to keep their 2022 Rule 5 pick, RHP Mason Englert, on the roster all year with an assist from an injury.
We previewed some of the better players available in this year’s Rule 5 draft here. MLB.com also has a piece on each team’s most likely player to be selected. For the Tigers they note outfield prospect Roberto Campos, one of the Tigers biggest international free agent signings over the past five years. Campos is still only 20 years old, so a team that likes him and can spare a roster spot all season could view him as a long-term play in the same way the Tigers selected Akil Baddoo from the Twins in the 2020 Rule 5 draft. Still, there aren’t many teams capable of stashing Campos all year long, and he’s been a major disappointment thus far, unable to find success even at the A-ball levels. Personally, I’d suggest left-handed relief prospect Andrew Magno as the Tigers most likely prospect to be taken, as he could help a team immediately if he can improve his fastball command a little more this offseason.