- The Tigers have signed corner infielder Edwin Espinal to a minor league contract, the player announced on Instagram (h/t: Evan Woodbery of MLive.com, on Twitter). Detroit’s the second major league organization for the 23-year-old Espinal, who spent the first seven seasons of his pro career with the Pirates. A .279/.323/.389 hitter in 2,435 lifetime minor league plate appearances, Espinal reached the Triple-A level for the first time in 2017 and batted .323/.341/.369 with no home runs across 135 PAs. He shined more as a defensive first baseman, taking home a Gold Glove Award for his work at the minors’ two highest levels.
- Aside from switch-hitters Victor Martinez and Jeimer Candelario, the Tigers don’t have lefty-capable regulars on their roster at the moment. General manager Al Avila is looking to change that this winter. “We’re very right-handed, so left-handed anything — infield and outfield — would be very handy for us as far as somebody that could help at the Major League level in 2018,” Avila told Jason Beck of MLB.com and other reporters this week. Given that the Tigers are in rebuilding mode, any move(s) they make to balance their lineup will be small, Beck notes.
The Angels have had “extensive” internal discussions about the possibility of acquiring Ian Kinsler from the Tigers, reports Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. While Fenech notes that it’s not yet clear if the two sides have opened negotiations this offseason, he adds that the Halos’ interest in Kinsler dates back to late last season.
While Kinsler is certainly a logical target for any club in need of a second baseman, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register casts some doubt onto how seriously they’ll actually pursue a trade for the 35-year-old (Twitter link). Fletcher points out that Kinsler is probably a genuine consideration, it’s unlikely that he sits atop the Halos’ list of targets due to the fact that he’s a right-handed bat and would only represent a one-year solution.
Two players that also appear to be on the Angels’ list of targets are free agents Neil Walker and Zack Cozart, per ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link). As Crasnick notes, though, it’s not clear if Cozart would be willing to move off of second base. He’s also a right-handed bat, though perhaps the Angels would live with that in order to have a defensively gifted middle-infield duo of Andrelton Simmons and Cozart for the foreseeable future.
Kinsler had a down year at the plate in 2017, hitting .236/.313/.412 in 613 plate appearances. Though his average, OBP and slugging marks all fell off considerably from a superlative 2016 season (.288/.348/.484), Kinsler still connected on 22 homers this past season and exhibited other encouraging signs.
For starters, the nine percent walk rate Kinsler logged in 2017 was his highest since the 2011 season, and his 14 percent strikeout rate was not only an improvement over the ’16 campaign but also tied for the 27th-lowest mark among qualified big league hitters. Kinsler’s 37 percent hard-contact rate was the highest mark of his career as well, but despite the uptick in hard-hit balls his BABIP plummeted to .244. Granted, some of that is attributable to a career-worst 14.4 percent infield fly rate, but the rest of his batted-ball profile suggests that Kinsler could be due for some better fortune in 2018. On the defensive side of the coin, Kinsler remains an excellent option and one of the more underrated defensive players in all of baseball, regardless of position.
Walker, 32, is the most obvious fit on the free-agent market. The switch-hitting second baseman would add the lineup balance that the Angels seem to crave, and he’s been an above-average hitter and steady defender at second base throughout his big league career. The limited number of teams aggressively pursuing second base upgrades and some recent durability issues could suppress Walker’s price point as well; we pegged him for a two-year deal worth $11MM per year on our top 50 free agent list, and while a third year is possible, it’d be a genuine surprise to Walker command anything longer than that.
Cozart is perhaps the most intriguing option of the bunch. The longtime Reds shortstop had a breakout season at the plate in his age-32 season, batting a ridiculous .297/.385/.548 with 24 homers in just 507 trips to the plate. Durability is a very real knock on Cozart, who hasn’t played more than 122 games in a season since 2014 due to a torn knee ligament (2014) and myriad hamstring and quadriceps issues across the past two seasons.
There are also skeptics when it comes to Cozart’s age-32 breakout, but even if his bat settles in at the .271/.340/.480 (115 OPS+) that he’s averaged across the past three seasons, that above-average output and Cozart’s strong glovework would make him an immensely valuable asset. As Crasnick alludes to, however, Cozart is a sterling defensive shortstop and it’s not known if he’d be willing to change positions to better position himself on the open market.
Regardless of the order of their preferences, it seems clear that the Halos are likely to add a second base upgrade this winter. The position is an easily identifiable area of need, as Angels second basemen collectively posted a ghastly .206/.274/.327 batting line in 2017, making them one of the two least-productive second base units in all of Major League Baseball. (The Rangers, weighed down by a dismal season from Rougned Odor, struggled similarly.)
In addition to the options listed by Fenech and Crasnick, the trade market contains options such as Dee Gordon and Cesar Hernandez, as well as more speculative candidates like Scooter Gennett, Jonathan Villar and Joe Panik (to name only a few).
- The Tigers are diving right into talks on several players, GM Al Avila told reporters including Evan Woodberry of MLive.com (via Twitter). Avila said he has already discussed a few of the team’s players with rival organizations, including veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler. Detroit is also preparing to make some difficult 40-man roster decisions, Woodberry reports. Indeed, Avila says the process of whittling the players to protect from the Rule 5 draft has been “excruciating and painful.”
- The Cubs and Tigers still haven’t finalized the trade they made in July that saw reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila head to Chicago for third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder Isaac Paredes and a player to be named later or cash, Mark Anderson of Baseball Prospectus tweets. It turns out the Tigers will receive the PTBNL in lieu of cash, but the teams haven’t decided on which player yet.
The results of this year’s Gold Glove Awards voting came in earlier this week, and in the American League it was Brian Dozier taking home his first career Gold Glove at second base. Dozier took home a standard $25K bonus for that distinction, but the more notable financial component of the award is that Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler did not take home the $1MM bonus he’d have received for capturing a second Gold Glove honor. Kinsler’s 2017 option vested based on plate appearances back in September, but his salary would’ve risen from $11MM to $12MM had he landed the extra hardware. The $1MM difference in his salary won’t have much of an impact on his overall trade stock, but it’s still of minor note for both the Tigers and interested parties as Detroit explores trade scenarios for its longtime second baseman this winter.
After a busy transactional day yesterday, let’s catch up on some of the latest minor moves:
- Catcher Bryan Holaday and outfielder Alex Presley have elected free agency from the Tigers, Evan Woodberry of MLive.com reports on Twitter. Each of the veterans was outrighted recently, though Woodberry hints that Detroit has interest in bringing both back on minors deals. Holaday will enter the pool of catchers that are looking for opportunities to compete for reserve jobs in camp. The 32-year-old Presley should also draw attention from other organizations; he turned in 264 plate appearances of .314/.354/.416 hitting in 2017.
- The Rockies selected the contract of outfielder Noel Cuevas, per a club announcement. Acquired from the division-rival Dodgers in the trade that sent Juan Nicasio to Los Angeles, Cuevas blossomed at Triple-A Alburquerque in 2017. Across 528 plate appearances, he posted a .312/.353/.487 slash with 15 long balls and 16 steals.
- Two players were also added to the Yankees 40-man roster, the club announced. Outfielder Jake Cave is one of them; the one-time Rule 5 pick won’t be eligible for the draft again this year. He turned in a compelling season in the upper minors, including a robust .324/.367/.554 batting line with 15 long balls in 297 Triple-A plate appearances. Joining him is righty Nick Rumbelow, who returned from Tommy John surgery with aplomb last year. Over 40 1/3 innings, he allowed just five earned runs on 21 hits while racking up a 45:11 K/BB ratio.
- The Indians selected the contract of Eric Haase, per the MLB.com transactions page. The 24-year-old backstop knocked around Double-A pitching to the tune of a .258/.349/.574 batting line and 26 homers through 381 plate appearances.
- Cuban catcher Lorenzo Quintana is joining the Astros for a $200K bonus, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (via Twitter). The 28-year-old is not subject to international signing restrictions. Quintana was long one of the most productive receivers in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, carrying a lifetime .310/.377/.438 batting line, but he last played there in the 2014-15 season.
There are many reasons that Alex Cora is the right man to manage the Red Sox. As Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald points out, the fact that he’s Latino only adds to that list. Cora is the 47th manager in the history of the Red Sox franchise, and, up until now, every single one of them had been white. The former middle infielder will be involved with a front office that is mostly white while managing a team on the field that has often been predominantly black and hispanic. Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy has stressed that Cora’s minority status is “a bonus rather than impetus”, but regardless, it looks great for a franchise that took 12 years longer to integrate their roster than the first MLB team to do so. Interestingly, Silverman notes that in 2017, 43 percent of major league baseball players were players of color, while only three of 30 managers were non-white.
More from around the AL…
- While Tigers are unlikely to make any significant additions to their major league roster this winter, Evan Woodbery of mlive.com says that the organization will be very active on the minor league free agent market. Detroit will focus on making moves to bolster their depth at Triple-A Toledo and will hope to “find a diamond in the rough or lightning in the bottle”, according to GM Al Avila. Woodbery lists 23 players in the Tigers’ system who are eligible to become minor league free agents, and while many of those will probably re-sign with the organization, it seems likely there will be some shuffling of their Double- and Triple-A rosters this winter.
- Three and a half years ago, an article appeared in Sports Illustrated with a prediction that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series. This past Thursday, Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated explains why he’s predicting a repeat for the Astros in 2018. Although only two teams have been able to win back-to-back championships since the 70’s, Reiter cites a powerhouse offense that will only lose Cameron Maybin and Carlos Beltran as a big reason the Astros can accomplish the feat next year. He also points out that more young reinforcements are on the way in five-tool left-handed outfielder Kyle Tucker and towering right-handed pitcher Forrest Whitley. While Reiter cites the bullpen as an area of need, he concludes that the Astros are “unusually well-positioned to hang onto the crown”.
TODAY, 5:12pm: The Tigers have also outrighted catcher Bryan Holaday and first baseman Efren Navarro. Both are eligible to decline the assignments and instead elect free agency, though they’ll qualify for minor-league free agency in a few days regardless.
Holaday, 29, saw brief action for the Tigers this year and spent most of the season at Triple-A. He slashed .269/.325/.450 over 347 plate appearances at Toledo and will certainly land somewhere as a depth option. As for the 31-year-old Navarro, it was much the same story. He saw 557 plate appearances at Triple-A, posting a .276/.370/.395 batting line.
The 25-year-old Jaye cracked the bigs for the first time, but received a rude welcome. In 12 2/3 frames, including two starts and three relief appearances, he was tagged for 17 earned runs and managed just four strikeouts against ten walks. That said, Jaye has been a steadier option in the upper minors; in 25 starts in the Detroit system in 2017, he compiled 131 2/3 innings of 3.96 ERA ball with 7.9 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9.
As for Ryan, 26, he has thrown 128 MLB innings over the past four seasons and was rather effective in 2016. But he struggled badly in just eight major league appearances in the 2017 campaign. In his 45 1/3 Triple-A frames, Ryan managed only a 4.96 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 5.4 BB/9.
1:43pm: The Tigers announced that they have formally declined their $16MM club option on right-hander Anibal Sanchez, opting instead for a $5MM buyout. Additionally, the Tigers announced that right-hander Jeff Ferrell and outfielders Tyler Collins, Jim Adduci and Alex Presley have been outrighted off the 40-man roster after clearing waivers. Each can become a free agent. Detroit also added that utilityman Andrew Romine was claimed off waivers by the Mariners, as Seattle had announced.
The 33-year-old Sanchez signed a five-year, $80MM contract with the Tigers that spanned the 2013-17 seasons and turned in a sensational campaign in the first year of that deal. In 182 innings that year, Sanchez captured the American League ERA title with a mark of 2.57, averaging 10.0 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9 along the way. He finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting and was worth roughly six wins above replacement per both fWAR and rWAR. Though he was limited to 126 innings in 2014, Sanchez was again quite good, logging a 3.43 ERA with improved control but diminished strikeouts.
Since contributing about nine wins’ worth of value in those first two seasons, though, the Sanchez contract has been regrettable for the Tigers. He’s logged a total of 415 2/3 innings in that time and surrendered 262 earned runs (5.67 ERA) on the strength of 462 hits (85 homers) and 131 walks. Sanchez still shows a penchant for missing bats (8.2 K/9 over the final three years of the deal, 8.9 K/9 in 2017), but his ground-ball rate has eroded and he’s become stunningly homer prone.
Collins, 27, showed promise back in 2015 when he hit .266/.316/.417 in 207 plate appearances as a 25-year-old, but his bat has tailed off since that time. In 2016-17, he’s managed just a .213/.291/.357 line through 320 trips to the plate. He struggled enormously in Triple-A in 2016 as well, though he bounced back with a strong .288/.358/.462 slash there in 296 PAs this season.
Presley, 32, posted a very solid .314/.354/.416 with three homers and five steals through 264 PAs. A veteran of eight big league seasons, Presley hasn’t settled in as a regular with one organization but has found his way onto a 25-man roster in each of the past eight campaigns. Since 2011, he’s averaged 211 MLB plate appearances per season and batted .263/.306/.390 in the process. He shouldn’t have much trouble finding an opportunity to head to camp and compete for a roster spot in 2018.
Adduci, also 32, returned from a strong stint in the Korea Baseball Organization this year and made his way to the Tigers’ big league roster, where he batted .241/.323/.398 in 93 PAs. Adduci has just 241 big league PAs, which have resulted in a .209/.283/.302 slash.
Ferrell will turn 27 in three weeks and just wrapped up his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. He has a career 6.53 ERA in 20 2/3 big league innings but owns strong K/BB numbers in a limited sample of 65 2/3 innings in Triple-A. Ferrell has averaged better than 93 mph on his fastball in the big leagues and otherwise relies primarily on a changeup for his secondary offering.
- The Tigers also announced their full staff under new manager Ron Gardenhire yesterday. Former Twins coach Steve Liddle will serve as Gardenhire’s bench coach, returning to the dugout for the first time since 2012 after an 11-year run in Minnesota. Third base coach Dave Clark and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon will return to the staff, and the Tigers are adding minor league hitting coach Phil Clark to the big league staff as an assistant hitting coach as well. Former big league infielder Ramon Santiago, who recently retired from his playing career, will jump right onto the Tigers’ staff as a first base coach. As had already been reported, the Tigers plucked Twins bench coach Joe Vavra to serve as a Quality Control coach and hired former Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson to serve as the bullpen coach. Both were with Gardenhire throughout his tenure as Twins skipper. The club also confirmed its hiring of recently dismissed Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio to occupy that same role in Detroit.