- The Tigers outrighted Christin Stewart to their alternate site after he cleared waivers, per a team announcement. The club designated the 27-year-old outfielder for assignment last week. Stewart appeared in the majors in each of the previous three seasons, during which he combined for a .225/.300/.376 line with 15 home runs in 587 plate appearances.
The Tigers announced Thursday morning that they’ve designated outfielder Christin Stewart for assignment in order to open a spot on the 40-man roster for lefty Derek Holland, whose contract has been formally selected. Detroit also placed right-hander Rony Garcia on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to March 29, with an abdominal strain.
Stewart, 27, was the No. 34 overall pick in the 2015 draft and was considered one of Detroit’s most promising farmhands for the first few years of his pro career. He mashed his way through the team’s minor league system and at one point carried the potential to be a bat-first option in left field, but his big league production simply hasn’t lined up with his minor league numbers. Stewart has appeared in 157 games for the Tigers over the past three seasons but posted a combined .225/.300/.376 batting line in 586 plate appearances.
Despite having huge raw power, Stewart’s exit velocities (career 86.7 mph) and hard-hit rates (32.2 percent) have never been particularly impressive. He’s probably been a bit less strikeout-prone than some feared when he punched out in 26 percent of his Double-A plate appearances, striking out at a 24.9 percent clip in the big leagues against an 8.3 percent walk rate.
Stewart still has three minor league options remaining, so it seems as though he ultimately just fell out of favor with the club’s decision-makers after his lack of production since his 2018 debut. The Tigers inked Robbie Grossman (two years, $10MM) and Nomar Mazara (one year, $1.75MM) over the winter and took an intriguing outfielder, Akil Baddoo, from the division-rival Twins in the Rule 5 Draft. Baddoo had a monster Spring Training showing, and Detroit also has JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes (another former Rule 5 pick) ticketed for the Opening Day roster. Meanwhile, Daz Cameron and Derek Hill, another pair of former top picks with better defensive skill sets, will open the year at the team’s alternate site.
The Tigers have a week to trade Stewart or attempt to pass him through outright waivers. His raw power and trio of minor league options could pique the interest of another club with a need for some outfield depth. Stewart’s glove has long been considered to be poor, but he carries a career .264/.366/.501 batting line and 98 home runs in just over 2000 minor league plate appearances.
As for the veteran Holland, it was announced earlier in the week that he’d made team’s Opening Day roster. Those who didn’t track the lefty’s Spring Training may be surprised due to Holland’s struggles in 2019-20, but there was no way the Tigers were leaving him off the roster after he tossed 9 1/3 shutout innings with just six hits and one walk against a whopping 16 strikeouts during camp.
The Tigers will open the season with Miguel Cabrera lined up at first base, manager A.J. Hinch told reporters this morning (Twitter link via Jason Beck of MLB.com). “I think he gives us the best chance to win at first base,” Hinch said of the soon-to-be 38-year-old. Cabrera didn’t play in the field at all in 2020, serving as a designated hitter for the Tigers on 56 occasions. He did see some action there in 2019 before sustaining a season-ending biceps injury, but Cabrera hasn’t logged even 300 innings in a season at first base since the 2017 campaign. It’s not a permanent arrangement, but playing Cabrera in the field from time to time allows an outfielder to move to DH on occasion and makes it easier for the Tigers to carry Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo on the Opening Day roster.
- Renato Nuñez will remain with the Tigers and head to the alternate training site to begin the 2021 season even after being informed that he didn’t make the Opening Day roster, writes Evan Woodbery of MLive.com. Hinch called the decision “great news for us” and said he expects Nuñez to eventually be up with the big league club. Nuñez, 27 on Sunday, slugged 43 homers with the Orioles from 2019-20 but didn’t exactly force his way onto Detroit’s roster with a spring they couldn’t ignore. In 13 games and 32 plate appearances, he slashed .194/.219/.355 with a homer and a dozen strikeouts (37.5 percent).
The latest on coronavirus-related situations around the sport…
- The Astros announced that Myles Straw, Abraham Toro, and Garrett Stubbs have rejoined the team after clearing COVID-19 protocols. (MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart was among those to report the news.) The trio were absent for contract-tracing purposes in the wake of another positive test within Houston’s camp.
- Matt Barnes’ positive COVID-19 test over the weekend was determined to be a false positive or a non-infectious positive, and the reliever has been cleared to return to Red Sox camp. Barnes tested negative several times before being allowed to rejoin the team, and with only a few days of action missed, Barnes tells Julian McWilliams of the Boston Globe and other reporters that he is ready for Opening Day.
- Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter tested positive for COVID-19, manager A.J. Hinch told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jason Beck) yesterday. Other coaches are out of camp while contact tracing and further tests are administered, though it appears to be somewhat precautionary, as Hinch said that “no one else — player, staff — has been impacted or affected by this.” The Tigers have yet to decide who will act as on the on-field pitching coach while Fetter is quarantined. Fetter is entering his first season with the organization after previously working as the University of Michigan’s pitching coach.
The latest coronavirus situations to monitor around baseball…
- Right-hander Spencer Turnbull will miss at least the Tigers’ first few series of the year, manager A.J. Hinch told MLB.com’s Jason Beck and other reporters. Turnbull has been away from Spring Training camp since March 20 due to healthy and safety protocols, and the club placed him on the COVID injured list earlier this week. Back on March 20, Hinch made the point to note that Turnbull wasn’t in violation of any team rules himself, so it’s possible Turnbull just needs some extra time to ramp up after pitching only nine Grapefruit League innings.
- Utilityman Abraham Toro and catcher/outfielder Garrett Stubbs are away from camp due to health and safety protocols, Astros manager Dusty Baker told MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart (Twitter link) and other reporters. The Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome reported yesterday that a player in the Astros’ camp is a presumed positive COVID-19 case, and that at least three players (presumably Toro, Stubbs, and Myles Straw) were quarantined for contact tracing purposes. Baker hopes to have the players back in camp within the next one or two days.
- Eight members of the Red Sox organization are away from camp for contact-tracing purposes in the wake of Matt Barnes’ positive COVID-19 test, manager Alex Cora told reporters (including The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey and The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier). Four of the eight-person group are automatically in isolation due to being close contacts with Barnes, though Cora didn’t specify how many of the eight were players. Assuming negative tests, any players included within the eight-person group would likely be ready to play Thursday on Opening Day.
The Tigers informed corner infielder Renato Núñez he won’t make the Opening Day roster, Cody Stavenhagen of the Athletic was among those to note. Núñez has been in camp as a non-roster invitee. The 26-year-old has the ability to opt out of his minor-league contract if he’d like to explore other opportunities.
The Orioles non-tendered Núñez over the offseason, a move that surprised some onlookers because he hit a team-leading 43 home runs between 2019-20. When considering Núñez’s on-base and defensive shortcomings, though, it wasn’t particularly shocking. That he couldn’t find a major-league contract on the open market is further affirmation teams have increasingly devalued this type of player in recent seasons.
Still, Núñez would certainly attract interest if he exercises his opt-out clause. He is coming off a year with a strong .256/.324/.492 slash line. There should be no shortage of teams that would like to add him to the organization, even if only on another minor-league deal.
In other Tigers’ roster news, manager A.J. Hinch announced that Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo will make the Opening Day roster. Selected out of the Twins’ organization, Baddoo has yet to play above High-A but is now in line to make his major league debut. He’ll need to stick on the active roster (or MLB injured list) all season if the Tigers want to retain his rights long-term.
Joe Jiménez, meanwhile, will not be on the active roster to start the year. The Tigers announced they’ve optioned the right-hander to the alternate training site. Jiménez is a formerly well-regarded relief prospect, but he hasn’t found consistent success at the major league level. Last season, he pitched to a 7.15 ERA/4.10 SIERA over 22.2 innings.
MARCH 26: The Tigers announced that they have granted Garcia his unconditional release.
MARCH 25: Veteran infielder Greg Garcia will not make the Tigers’ season-opening roster, Evan Woodbery of MLive.com was among those to report. It’s unclear whether Garcia, who signed a minor league contract with an opt-out clause in the offseason, will remain with the organization.
A Cardinal and Padre from 2014-20, Garcia carries quite a bit of experience in the middle infield and at third base. The Tigers are slated to start Jonathan Schoop at second base, Willi Castro at shortstop and Jeimer Candelario at the hot corner, but Garcia could eventually factor in as a backup at those positions if he does stay with the club. Along with providing defensive versatility, the 31-year-old has batted a respectable .245/.354/.339 in 1,303 major league plate appearances.
In other Tigers news, manager AJ Hinch announced Thursday that catcher Grayson Greiner has made the roster as Wilson Ramos’ backup, Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic relays. Non-roster invitees Dustin Garneau and Eric Haase will remain with the team until the end of the spring, but it’s unknown whether they’ll stick around beyond then.
Former No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize has made the Tigers’ Opening Day rotation, manager A.J. Hinch announced this morning (Twitter links via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com). Hinch also revealed that former AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer will begin the season in the bullpen, where he’ll be joined by veteran lefty Derek Holland — a non-roster invitee to camp who has made the Opening Day squad. Detroit will need to make a corresponding 40-man roster move once Holland’s contract is formally selected, though that has not yet occurred.
Mize, 23, didn’t have a great spring but was sharper in his most recent outing, holding the Blue Jays to a pair of runs on five hits and no walks with nine strikeouts through four innings. Overall, he’s been tagged for 13 runs in 14 frames during Grapefruit League play, but he’s also punched out an impressive 21 hitters in that time.
Mize made his big league debut in 2020 and looked sharp at times but generally struggled to work deep into games. He held opponents to a tepid .228/.302/.358 batting line the first time through the order but saw those numbers leap to .235/.361/.510 upon turning a lineup over for the second time. It was a small sample, just seven starts, and Mize certainly has the pedigree to pitch at or near the top of a big league rotation. In addition to a strong NCAA track record, the former Auburn ace carries a 2.71 ERA, a 24.8 percent strikeout rate and a tiny 5.4 percent walk rate through 123 minor league innings. He skipped Triple-A entirely due to the canceled minor league season in 2020, but he’ll be given the opportunity to prove to the Tigers that he needn’t ever throw a pitch with their Toledo affiliate.
Mize joins Matthew Boyd, Jose Urena, Julio Teheran and Tarik Skubal in a rotation that looks quite different than it did early in the 2020 season. Righty Spencer Turnbull figures to eventually join the mix in some capacity, but he’s been in Covid-19 protocol since early this week.
Fulmer, too, could eventually work his way back into the rotation picture. The righty has undergone a pair of arm surgeries — ulnar nerve transposition and Tommy John — since being named AL Rookie of the Year back in 2016. He struggled mightily this spring, but Hinch gave him a vote of confidence Friday, calling Fulmer a “big league pitcher” (via Woodbery) and noting that optioning him to Triple-A was not a consideration. He’ll work in a multi-inning role, so he could perhaps slide into the rotation when injuries and/or struggles from the other starters necessitate. The Tigers still control Fulmer through the 2022 season.
As for Holland, he’ll give Hinch a third lefty alongside Gregory Soto and Daniel Norris. The 34-year-old has overwhelmingly earned his roster spot this spring, rattling off eight scoreless innings while allowing just five hits and a walk against 13 strikeouts. Holland has struggled with the Pirates, Giants and Cubs across the past two seasons, but he turned in 171 1/3 innings of 3.57 ERA ball for San Francisco as recently as 2018. He’s worked mostly as a starter in his 12-year big league career but has come out of the bullpen 80 times at the MLB level, so a relief role is hardly unfamiliar territory for him.
The Tigers have informed veteran righty Julio Teheran that he will make their Opening Day roster, manager A.J. Hinch announced to reporters Wednesday (Twitter links via Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press). Teheran had a March 22 opt-out date in his contract that he triggered two days ago, giving the club 48 hours to make the move. He’ll now be guaranteed a $3MM salary with up to $1MM available via additional incentives. In a corresponding roster move, the Tigers announced that righty Spencer Turnbull has been placed on the injured list. No reason was given, but he’s been away from the rest of the club since Saturday due to Covid-19 protocols.
Detroit also informed left-hander Tarik Skubal that he’s made the big league rotation. Meanwhile, veteran righty Erasmo Ramirez and lefty Ian Krol did not make the club but will stick with the team. Ramirez has more than six years of service time and finished out the 2020 season on a 40-man roster, making him an Article XX(B) free agent under the collective bargaining agreement and thus entitling him to a $100K retention bonus for remaining with the Tigers rather than taking the release opportunity afforded to him by that status.
Teheran, 30, has had an outstanding spring with the Tigers, holding opponents to three runs on just six hits and one walk with 15 strikeouts over the course of 11 innings. More encouragingly, he’s shown improved velocity this spring, with both Petzold and The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen indicating that he came out of the gates hitting 92.8 and 92.9 mph — just a year after Statcast pegged his average four-seamer at 89.2 mph and his average sinker at 88.7 mph.
Last year was a particularly dismal season for Teheran. In his first season away from his original organization, the Braves, Teheran missed the early portion of the year due to a positive Covid-19 diagnosis and attempted to build up his pitch count in a big league setting but never looked like himself. He was clobbered for a disastrous 10.05 ERA (5.99 SIERA) with a career-low 13.4 percent strikeout rate against an elevated 10.7 percent walk rate.
Prior to 2020, Teheran had been a durable workhorse in Atlanta. He may not have developed into the ace-caliber starter that many expected based on his former top prospect status — his 2014 season came close — but from 2013-19 Teheran combined for a 3.64 ERA over the life over 1334 innings. He averaged 32 starts per season along the way, landing on the injured list only twice: a two-week stretch due to a minor lat strain in 2016 and a 10-day stint for a thumb contusion in 2018.
Teheran now steps into the Tigers’ rotation alongside Matthew Boyd, Jose Urena and the up-and-coming Skubal, who ranked as one of the game’s top 50 prospects prior to making his MLB debut in 2020. The 24-year-old Skubal was tagged for a 5.63 ERA last season, but only in a small sample of 32 innings. He battled some control issues a bit in his most recent spring start but has held opponents to a pair of runs on eight hits and eight walks with 15 strikeouts in 12 Grapefruit League innings. Obviously, he’ll need to command the strike zone more effectively during the season, but Skubal has encouraged the club enough to further audition for a long-term rotation spot.
Turnbull was likely ticketed for a rotation spot himself, but there’s no timeline for his return to the club. In the meantime, the Tigers can look to former No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize or former Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer. The latter worked out of the bullpen in his most recent outing and has generally struggled this spring, but he still hopes to return to form as a starter after undergoing Tommy John surgery late in 2018, missing 2019 and struggling in 2020. Mize has also struggled, however, so the Tigers could look elsewhere within the organization to piece things together until Turnbull is deemed eligible to return. Both Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander have experience starting at the MLB level.
- Righty Julio Teheran exited his appearance Monday with back tightness, according to an announcement from the Tigers. The injury doesn’t seem serious, but it’s notable because Teheran is pushing for a spot in the Tigers’ rotation after signing a minor league contract in free agency. Detroit has to make a decision on Teheran’s status this week, as his deal includes an opt-out clause. As of now, the former Brave and Angel is “likely” to wind up on their roster, Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press tweets.