11:37AM: The Tigers have “early interest” in Jon Gray, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports (via Twitter). Gray joins Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Matz, and Detroit legend Justin Verlander as free agent pitchers linked to the Tigers’ search for a veteran arm or two to bolster their young rotation.
Given their interest in qualifying offer recipients Rodriguez and Verlander, it doesn’t appear that the Tigers are necessarily deterred by the idea of giving up draft pick compensation to make a big pitching signing, though Gray wouldn’t require any compensation since the Rockies (curiously) didn’t issue a QO to the right-hander. This surely gives Gray some extra appeal from Detroit’s perspective, though naturally the same could be said for many teams.
Gray only turned 30 last week, so if he does end up in the Motor City, he should have more prime years to contribute to a Tigers squad that is looking to get back into contention as early as 2022. Detroit is expected to spend some serious money this offseason, linked to the market for the big free agent shortstops as well as pitchers like Gray who could slot in near the front of the rotation. MLBTR projected Gray (ranked 19th on our list of the winter’s top 50 free agents) to land four years and $56MM in free agency, with Tim Dierkes predicting that Gray would in fact sign with the Tigers.
Signing a QO-rejecting free agent would cost the Tigers their third-highest pick in the 2022 draft. This would be either their second-round selection or their Competitive Balance Round B selection, depending on where Detroit is drawn in this year’s Competitive Balance Round lottery. It is also possible that the draft and compensation rules will be altered in the next collective bargaining agreement, so while the Tigers would surely still have to give up something as a penalty for signing a QO free agent, the specific nature of that compensation might not be known until the new CBA is settled.
Under the current rules, the Tigers would also have to give up their fourth-highest draft pick if they signed two free agents who rejected the qualifying offer. It can be assumed that Detroit would rather not surrender multiple picks if necessary, so if the Tigers did make a big splash and ink one of the QO free agents, it would make them even more focused on non-QO players like Gray for any other big signings.
As far as the Rockies’ own efforts to retain Gray, the club attempted to sign Gray to a three-year extension worth roughly $35MM-$40MM before the end of the regular season, but the righty rejected the offer. It doesn’t seem like any further negotiation has taken place, since Colorado GM Bill Schmidt told The Athletic’s Nick Groke that “there hasn’t been any conversation” with Gray’s camp since “the end of the season….[Gray’s agent] said they’d stay in touch. I assume they’re trying to figure out what the market is.”