It was another offseason of short-term veteran additions for the Detroit Tigers.
Major League Signings
- Jonathan Schoop, 2B: One year, $4.5MM
- Julio Teheran, RHP: One year, $3MM
- Nomar Mazara, OF: One year, $1.75MM (plus incentives)
- Wilson Ramos, C: One year, $2MM
- Jose Ureña, RHP: One year, $3.25MM ($250k in available performance incentives)
- Robbie Grossman, OF: Two years, $10MM ($500K per year in available incentives)
- Derek Holland LHP: One year, $925K ($150K in available incentives)
- Total spend: $25.425MM
Trades and Claims
- Selected OF Akil Baddoo from Twins in Rule 5 draft
Notable Minor League Signings
- Wily Peralta, Renato Nunez, Greg Garcia (granted release), Erasmo Ramirez, Aderlin Rodriguez, Dustin Garneau, Ian Krol
- Brandon Dixon, Nick Ramirez, Austin Romine, Ivan Nova, Jordan Zimmermann, Travis Demeritte, Sergio Alcantara, Anthony Castro, Jorge Bonifacio, Dereck Rodriguez, Dario Agrazal, C.J. Cron
On January 18, 2016, the Tigers inked Justin Upton to a six-year, $132.75MM free agent contract. The first overall pick of the 2005 draft was a three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He was MLBTR’s fourth-ranked free agent of the 2015-16 free agent class. Entering his age-28 season, he was coming off a 4.2 bWAR campaign in his only year with the Padres. In short, he was a get.
Upton wouldn’t stay long, however. He was gone by mid-2017, traded to the Angels, who re-worked his contract to avoid an opt-out clause Upton could have triggered after 2017. Had he stayed in Detroit to complete that deal, Upton would be entering the final year of that contract this season.
Somewhat amazingly, Tigers GM Al Avila – who took over the August before the Upton offseason – had not signed a single free agent to a multi-year deal since Upton. The nearly-five-year drought ended this offseason. Come on down, Robbie Grossman. The former A’s left fielder signed a whopping two-year, $10MM deal to achieve this important landmark in the Tigers’ rebuild. Make no mistake, it is an important landmark.
Detroit has yet to really pull themselves from the rebuild that started back in 2017. Signing Grossman isn’t exactly analogous to the intent-to-contend contacts we’ve seen in the past for Jayson Werth, Jason Heyward, or even George Springer this winter, but the Grossman deal does represent an important signal that the Tigers believe the time is coming when they will be ready to contend again.
The time is right, considering the arrival of much-touted pitching prospects like Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and soon, Matt Manning. For now, however, those youngsters haven’t shown to be impact contributors in the Majors. Their careers are just beginning, however.
As for Grossman , he’s flown under the radar as a productive hitter over the past five seasons. He was particularly good over 192 plate appearances last year for the A’s. He slashed .241/.344/.482, good for a 127 wRC+. He does just enough in almost every facet of the game, including with the glove. He walks at an above-average rate, avoids strikeouts at an above-average rate, he runs better than most, and he fields his position well enough. He doesn’t hit for a ton of power, and he’s not really elite at any one thing.
For the Tigers, the Grossman deal – as well as the rest of their offense – wasn’t so much about capturing upside, however. The ceiling on their roster rises or falls with the fortunes of their young players: Mize, Skubal, Willi Castro, Akil Baddoo, Gregory Soto, Bryan Garcia, and eventually, Manning, Isaac Paredes, Spencer Torkelson, Daz Cameron, Riley Greene, and others. Grossman represents a desire to raise the floor for this team and prevent the sort of disastrous season that might slow their organizational momentum.
So, too, does the return of Jonathan Schoop on a one-year, $4.5MM deal. Schoop hit .278/.324/.475 in 177 plate appearances last season, a solid 114 wRC+. He’s better defensively than you might think, given his power profile at the plate. He was worth 4 outs above average in 2020, trailing only Adam Frazier and Nicky Lopez among second baseman. He also added the ability to play first and third during spring training.
Wilson Ramos has long been thought of as a bat-first catcher, but the Tigers feel good enough about his ability to usher this young staff into the Majors to sign him to an affordable one-year deal. Jake Rogers hopes to claim the position in the long-term, but they can take their time with the 26-year-old with the veteran Ramos on hand.
Similarly, Jose Ureña and Julio Teheran hope to keep the Tigers’ young arms from overwork. Teheran somewhat surprisingly won his rotation spot while on a minor league deal this spring. He showed some promise, if not to return to the guy he was in Atlanta, at least to post better numbers than in 2020. He was an unmitigated disaster for the Angels with a 10.50 ERA/6.19 SIERA over 31 1/3 innings. Over nine starts, he made it as deep as five innings exactly two times, particularly struggling to keep the ball in the yard. He served up 12 home runs while only striking out 20 hitters.
Ureña made five starts in 2020 with a 5.40 ERA, but he was made largely expendable by a strong stable of young rotation candidates in Miami. How long he stays in Detroit’s rotation will be dependent on a number of factors, including how he fares early in the season.
Derek Holland came out of spring training with real positivity about his re-captured velocity and ability to be a difference-maker for the Tigers out of the pen. Truth be told, he’s a low-cost gamble for the Tigers, who will need a plethora of bullpen arms to survive the 162-game season and protect their young arms. Holland may have some worldly wisdom to impart, himself having once been a promising rotation arm on a World Series team. He flashed some of that promise as a member of the Giants’ rotation in 2018, but it’s been a rough couple of seasons since then.
The same can be said for Nomar Mazara, who overlapped with Holland in Texas during the 2016 season. There was legitimate hope that a change of scenery might have prompted a breakout with the White Sox in 2020, but a complete lack of power tanked those expectations. He hit just .228/.295/.294 across 149 plate appearances with a meager .066 ISO. There’s little reason to expect Mazara’s power to have completely evaporated, so the Tigers will give him another chance to “come into his own” as their everyday right fielder. If nothing else, he doesn’t even turn 26 until late April, so a breakout isn’t inconceivable. The track record is hard to ignore, however. If he’s able to muster a wRC+ north of 100, it will be the first time in his career he’s able to do so.
Baddoo rounds out their offseason additions. Taken in the Rule 5 draft from the Twins, the speedy outfielder had a mere 29 games in High-A to his name before this season. He has shown a good approach and a bit of pop in the little minor league action he saw with Minnesota, but he should have an opportunity to play in Detroit.
It would seem unlikely that the 22-year-old would stick on the roster the whole season, but then he launched a home run on the first Major League pitch he saw. He hit a grand slam the next day and a walk-off single the day after that. Suddenly, there’s a bit of excitement around the Silver Spring native. Through four games, he rocks a comical .455/.455/1.182 triple slash line. One of these days, Baddoo will play a Major League game and fail to register a hit, but it hasn’t happened yet. The hype train has left the station and room is running out on the bandwagon.
None of these moves are meant to move in the needle like, say, Upton back in the day. But with this grab bag of veterans, the Tigers hope to foster a more competitive atmosphere, a structural foundation to allow the kids the space to grow at their own speed. This team is not likely to compete this season, they’re more-or-less the unanimous pick to finish last in the AL Central, but it’s arguable that even a month or two of competitive play could prove beneficial to the youth on the roster. Best case, young players like Mize and Skubal take off, and the rest of the roster is capable enough to give some legs to the Tigers as a first half surprise team. Alternatively, any of these veterans might be flipped at the deadline, and none weigh heavy on the long-term ledger – not even Grossman.
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