The Tigers made some aggressive moves last offseason, hoping that 2022 could be the year their rebuild would end. Unfortunately, that plan failed in spectacular fashion, leading to a late-season shakeup. General manager Al Avila was fired in August and replaced by Giants general manager Scott Harris, who was given the title of president of baseball operations in Detroit. The franchise will be shifting course under new leadership, though it remains to be seen exactly how that will play out.
- Miguel Cabrera, DH: $40MM through 2023 (including $8MM buyout on 2024 option)
- Javier Báez, SS: $120MM through 2027 (Báez can opt out after 2023)
- Eduardo Rodríguez, LHP: $63MM through 2026
- Spencer Turnbull, RHP: $2.125MM through 2023 (arbitration-eligible an additional season)
2023 commitments: $84.65MM
Total future commitments: $239.625MM
Arbitration-Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; salary projections via Matt Swartz)
- Joe Jiménez (5.061): $2.6MM
- Jeimer Candelario (5.038): $7MM
- José Cisnero (5.020): $2.2MM
- Victor Reyes (4.075): $2.2MM
- Austin Meadows (4.074): $4MM
- Harold Castro (3.141): $2.6MM
- Gregory Soto (3.102): $3.1MM
- Tyler Alexander (3.058): $1.6MM
- Willi Castro (3.017): $1.7MM
- Rony Garcia (2.138): $1MM
- Kyle Funkhouser (2.133): $800K
- Non-tender candidates: Candelario, Reyes, H. Castro, Alexander, W. Castro, Garcia
The Tigers have been in rebuild mode for many years, with their last winning season coming in 2016 and their most recent postseason appearance in 2014. After an encouraging finish in 2021, it was decided that it was time to strike. The club gave out big free agent deals to Javy Báez and Eduardo Rodríguez, smaller deals to Chafin and Michael Pineda, in addition to trading for Barnhart and Meadows. It was hoped that those acquisitions could combine with a core of young players to propel Detroit into competing amidst a weak AL Central.
Unfortunately, the club was bound by Murphy’s law in 2022, with the majority of the lineup underperforming and just about every pitcher getting hurt, significantly in many cases. That led to dismal results and a front office shakeup, with Avila packing his things and Harris moving in. Harris has been on the job less than a month, making it tough to predict exactly what he has planned. But there’s no doubt that the agenda is change, in order to steer the club in a better direction. The first domino has already fallen, with Detroit’s amateur scouting director getting dismissed last week. The Tigers eventually finished 66-96, 11 games behind their record last year.
Barnhart has never been a huge threat at the plate but has always earned strong marks for his defense and framing. With the Tigers planning on running out a fairly young pitching staff, there was sense in installing a glove-first option behind the plate. However, Barnhart took a step back at the plate, even relative to his own standards. After hitting .247/.317/.368 last year in Cincinnati, production that was 20% below league average by measure of wRC+, he dropped to .221/.287/.267 this year for a wRC+ of 63.
With Barnhart’s impending free agency, the Tigers will have the option of pivoting behind the plate. Eric Haase was one of the few Tigers to have a nice season in 2022. He hit 14 home runs and slashed .254/.305/.443 for a wRC+ of 112. He crouched behind the plate in 84 games while also playing some left field and got a cameo at first base. He doesn’t get high grades for his catching work though, as Defensive Runs Saved gave him a -9 this year while FanGraphs’ framing metric gave him a -6.6. Detroit could look to the open market for a defensive-minded backstop to pair with Haase, though it’s possible they already have one in Jake Rogers. Scouts have long praised Rogers’ work while donning the tools of ignorance, though he missed all of this season due to undergoing Tommy John surgery in September of 2021. If the club does decide to seek outside help, it will likely be of the short-term variety since it is hoped that their “catcher of the future” is already present in Dillon Dingler, who spent all of this year at Double-A. His defense is considered stronger than his offense, but he hit .238/.333/.419 for a wRC+ of 107 this year, though with a concerning 31.9% strikeout rate. There’s some potential here, but the Tigers could probably fit a veteran like Roberto Pérez or Austin Hedges into the picture.
First base was supposed to a settled matter by now, as Spencer Torkelson cracked the club’s Opening Day roster. He was considered one of the top prospects in the game at the time and seemed to have a chance at cementing himself there for the long haul. His first taste of the majors didn’t go according to plan, however, as he hit .197/.282/.295 through the middle of July and got optioned back to the minors. A September call-up was a bit more promising and led to a .219/.292/.385 line over the final few weeks of the season. That’s still below average by a bit, amounting to a wRC+ of 95, but an improvement, at least.
At second base, the club got a real mixed bag of a season out of Jonathan Schoop. He had a strong season with the glove, as all defensive metrics liked his work, especially Outs Above Average. Schoop’s 27 OAA this year was the highest of any fielder in the league, well beyond the next-best mark of 20 OAA for Dansby Swanson. However, his offensive production mysteriously cratered. After hitting .270/.315/.454 from 2019 to 2021 for a wRC+ of 106, Schoop produced a dismal batting line of .202/.239/.322 this year for a wRC+ of just 57. He’s under contract for one more season and will surely forego an opt-out possibility.
Next to Schoop on the diamond, Javy Báez was supposed to be the club’s stalwart at shortstop after signing a six-year, $140MM contract this past winter. He had a poor showing in the shortened 2020 campaign but had been great in the previous three full seasons, producing above-average work on both sides of the ball. But in his first year as a Tiger, he hit just .238/.278/.393 for a wRC+ of 90. Advanced defensive metrics were also split on his work, with Báez considered to be below-average by DRS and Ultimate Zone Rating, though he did register 2 OAA. He can opt out of his deal after 2023 but would need to have a huge turnaround in order to even consider exercising it. For the Tigers, they will have to hope for better results than they saw this year.
Continuing the pattern around the diamond, third base was another area of disappointment. Over 2020 and 2021, Jeimer Candelario hit 23 home runs, walked in 10.2% of his plate appearances and hit .278/.356/.458 for a wRC+ of 125. But in 2022, his walk rate dropped all the way down to 6% and he slashed .217/.272/.361, wRC+ of 80. He made $5.8MM this year and has one more pass through arbitration remaining. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects Candelario to get a bump to the $7MM range for next year, which would be a hefty commitment for Detroit unless they feel 2022 was an aberration and that Candelario will turn things around next year. This year’s crop of free agent third basemen isn’t great, with Nolan Arenado not a consideration for the Tigers even if he does opt out. Brandon Drury will likely get a multi-year deal somewhere that isn’t Detroit. That leaves veteran utility players like Aledmys Díaz, Jace Peterson and Donovan Solano as potential replacements if the club moves on from Candelario.
Moving to the outfield, we find a similar pile of frustrating results. Alongside Torkelson, the club’s other much-hyped prospect coming into the season was Riley Greene. He seemed like he had the chance to crack the Opening Day roster just like Torkelson, but he fractured his foot during Spring Training and didn’t make his debut until June. He ended up posting a line of .253/.321/.362 in 93 games for a wRC+ of 98. Greene just turned 22 and still has plenty of time to take another step forward, but looking strictly at 2022, he was just a hair below league average.
Austin Meadows was supposed to have one of the corners spoken for, after coming over from the Rays in a trade for Isaac Paredes and a draft pick. Unfortunately, he ended up missing significant time due to vertigo-like symptoms, COVID-19, Achilles strains and mental health concerns. In the end, he only got into 36 games and hit around a league average level, which is below what he accomplished in Tampa. Robbie Grossman was set to take another slot in the second season of his two-year deal with Detroit. He hit 23 home runs in 2021 and produced a line of .239/.357/.415 for a wRC+ of 116 but then took a big step backward this year. In 83 games with the Tigers, he hit just a pair of long balls and slashed .205/.313/.282 for a wRC+ of 78 before getting flipped to Atlanta at the deadline.
Akil Baddoo was looking to build off a strong debut in 2021 where he hit .259/.330/.436 for a 110 wRC+, but he also swooned this year, hitting .204/.289/.269, wRC+ of 65. Greene, Meadows and Baddoo are all set to be back next year, as will rookie corner outfielder/DH Kerry Carpenter. Carpenter had a breakout season in the minors and hit six homers in his first 31 MLB games late in the year. Still, the Tigers could grab a veteran to bolster the group, given the lack of certainty with anyone in the current mix. Players like Ben Gamel, Corey Dickerson or Tyler Naquin would be logical fits to take some playing time and hopefully turn themselves into deadline trade candidates.
Miguel Cabrera, in his age-39 season, didn’t take the field at all this year, limited to designated hitter duty only. He and Tiger fans got to enjoy him cracking the 3,000 hit club in April, but it was largely uninspiring apart from that. He hit .254/.305/.317 for a wRC+ of just 79, 13 points below his previous career low. He’s still under contract for one more season.
While the lineup was characterized by underperformance across the board, the story of the pitching staff was an unfathomable litany of injuries. Spencer Turnbull required Tommy John surgery late in 2021 and was already expected to miss all of this year. But the Tigers spent big to bring in Eduardo Rodríguez to be a veteran anchor next to exciting youngsters like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal and others. However, the Tigers didn’t get a full healthy season from anyone and ended up leaning on veteran journeymen and depth options. 31-year-old Drew Hutchison and his career ERA of 4.89 ended up second on the team in starts with 18, with only Skubal able to edge past that mark at 21.
Rodriguez missed time due to a ribcage sprain and then a personal issue, making only 17 starts on the year. Mize was only able to take the ball twice before hitting the IL and eventually requiring Tommy John. Skubal made 21 starts before requiring flexor tendon surgery. Manning missed significant time with shoulder issues, eventually returning but then was scratched from his final start due to a forearm strain. He finished the year making just 12 starts and he and Skubal are both question marks for the start of next season. Given all those issues, veteran starting pitching would be a sensible target this winter for Detroit. They surely won’t break the bank for Jacob deGrom or Justin Verlander, but someone like Dylan Bundy, Zach Davies or Johnny Cueto could eat some innings while the younger guys get healthy.
If there’s one area where 2022 wasn’t a total disaster, it was the bullpen. 10 different relievers pitched 21 innings or more for the Tigers and each one registered an ERA under 4.00. Almost that entire group could be back next year, as most are controllable via arbitration or have yet to even reach their arb years. The only exceptions are Chafin, who has one year left on his contract but has an opt-out clause, and Michael Fulmer, who was traded to the Twins at the deadline and is an impending free agent.
Fulmer was the only member of the bullpen dealt away at the deadline, but the Tigers could field trade offers on that group again this winter. Joe Jiménez and José Cisnero stand out as particularly logical candidates to be moved with only one season of arbitration-eligibility remaining. Hard-throwing southpaw Gregory Soto and right-hander Alex Lange each have three-plus seasons of remaining control and will be harder to pry away, but they’re the highest value trade candidates in the Detroit bullpen.
Payroll wise, the Tigers aren’t in terrible shape, despite their aggressive offseason one year ago. They ran out an Opening Day figure of $135MM this year, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. That was a big jump from recent seasons but still well shy of their last competitive window, with the club spending around $200MM in 2016 and 2017. There’s only about $85MM committed to next year, in the estimation of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. That number doesn’t include salaries for arbitration-eligible players, but a handful of that group are non-tender candidates after such a poor campaign. There’s certainly room for more aggressive moves if the club sees an opportunity to make them.
However, a compelling argument could be made that the wisest path forward for Harris is to slowplay things for a year. He can take some time to get to know the organization, figure out what he considers to be its strengths and weaknesses. He can get more clarity on the health situations of their many injured pitchers. They can see if Greene and Torkelson can find another gear now that they’ve gotten their feet wet at the big league level. And they will also have a big chunk of payroll space opening up when Cabrera’s mammoth deal is finally out of the way, leaving Báez and Rodríguez as the only contracts on the books for 2024, assuming Báez doesn’t opt out. We can’t know for sure how Harris will operate since he’s only just gotten the job, but with so much uncertainty all over the roster, it would be surprising if he tried to fix absolutely everything in one offseason. Tiger fans that are still around have already been very patient with this rebuild, but it’s likely they will continue to be tested for another season at least.