More typically known for their aggressive spending on the free-agent market, the Tigers appear likely to take a very reserved approach to free agency for a second consecutive offseason, reports MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery. General manager Al Avila tells Woodbery that he’ll be “looking for Major League free agents that are maybe bargains” and suggests that Detroit might not make any additions until January or later.
A quiet offseason for the Tigers on the free-agent front has long looked likely with the team embarking on an aggressive rebuild and working to pare back its payroll. Detroit has already parted ways with Cameron Maybin, Justin Wilson, Justin Upton and Justin Verlander in the past calendar year, and it seems extremely likely that longtime second baseman Ian Kinsler and the final year of his contract will be on the move this offseason as well. In making those moves, the Tigers have seen their total of guaranteed contracts owed in 2018 fall from $138MM to $97MM — a number that will fall to $86MM if Kinsler is indeed traded.
As Woodbery points out, the fact that the Tigers are looking to be opportunistic doesn’t mean they won’t spend at all. Detroit will have needs in the outfield, the bullpen and at the back of the rotation, after all, and the asking prices of remaining free agents often begin to come down after the New Year. While many Tigers fans will bristle at the notion of a bargain-bin approach after years of contending atop the AL Central, it’d be virtually impossible to patch the holes that permeate the team’s roster in a single trip through free agency.
While the Tigers’ record doesn’t reflect this, they actually had a fair amount of success with a similar approach last winter. Alex Avila was the team’s lone MLB signing, and he was flipped alongside Wilson to the Cubs in the trade that netted a potential cornerstone piece in Jeimer Candelario. The Detroit front office also eschewed free agency entirely when pursuing a center field addition, ultimately acquiring Mikie Mahtook from the Rays for right-hander Drew Smith (now with the Mets following another trade). Mahtook hit .276/.330/.457 with a dozen homers in 379 PAs and can be controlled for another four seasons. The Tigers also received a solid year at the plate from minor league signee Alex Presley in 2017.
There will likely be a dozen or so starting pitchers that sign one-year commitments this offseason, giving the Tigers a number of options to pursue. Some speculative one-year candidates on the 2017-18 free agent market include Chris Tillman, Brett Anderson, Jeremy Hellickson, Hector Santiago, Francisco Liriano and old friend Doug Fister. The bullpen market contains even more options for Detroit to pursue, and that market, in particular, seems to net several late-offseason bargains on an annual basis.