- The Tigers announced this week that catcher Jake Rogers was optioned to Triple-A Toledo. That move shouldn’t come as a surprise, particularly after Detroit signed longtime Yankees backstop Austin Romine earlier this winter. The Tigers hope that Rogers can be the catcher of the future, but he floundered in 128 big league plate appearances upon debuting last year. Rogers is only 24 and only had 191 career plate appearances in Triple-A when he was summoned to the Majors last year, so there’s still plenty of hope — particularly considering the manner in which he ripped through Double-A competition last year (.302/.429/.535 — 179 wRC+). Tigers general manager Al Avila suggested this winter that Rogers needs some more seasoning in Triple-A, though, so he’ll get that while Romine and Grayson Greiner comprise the catching tandem at the MLB level.
Tigers lefty Joey Wentz has undergone Tommy John surgery, according to a team announcement. He’s expected to be sidelined for 14 to 16 months, the team provides.
This decision didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, as Wentz had dealt with forearm issues this spring. But the 22-year-old had gone back on the mound recently in hopes of moving past the health problems and preparing for the season.
Just what precipitated the decision on a surgical approach isn’t know. It’s certainly possible that Wentz suffered a setback or that the decision tipped towards an invasive procedure given the delay of the 2020 campaign.
Regardless, it’s now clear that Wentz won’t take the mound again for competitive action until the middle of the 2021 season. The Tigers won’t have any 40-man roster issues to worry about for the 2020 season, as Wentz wasn’t yet on it. But he would be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this coming winter if he isn’t protected.
It’s unfortunate timing for Wentz, who trended up after last summer’s swap. In his five Double-A outings with the Tigers organization, he spun 25 2/3 innings of 2.10 ERA ball while racking up an impressive 37:4 K/BB ratio.
Ilitch Holdings, the entity that owns the Tigers and a host of other sports and entertainment ventures, has announced the creation of a $1MM fund to assist part-time employees, as Tony Paul of the Detroit News first reported. Precise details aren’t yet known, but Paul provides many key facets of the initial effort.
The fund will go to a wide range of workers employed by the Ilitch empire, not just those whose jobs relate to the staging of Tigers games. At least initially, the fund will cover cancelled Spring Training contests but not any games that had been scheduled at Comerica Park.
While there seems to be some room for this effort to expand, it is a welcome first step in the baseball world towards assisting those whose livelihood depends upon the staging of contests that have been postponed (and may end up being canceled in some part). As the Ilitch announcement notes, “reassurance” of this kind is important in such a “time of uncertainty.”
We have previously seen some efforts on the ownership and player levels in the NBA, which just suspended its regular season. MLB Opening Day had been scheduled to begin later in March, so the immediate impact was felt at Spring Training sites in Florida and Arizona.
- Chris McCosky of The Detroit News pegs right-hander Jose Cisnero and left-hander Gregory Soto as potential difference-makers in the Tigers’ bullpen. Manager Ron Gardenhire seems pleased that Cisnero’s fastball reached 97 mph on Tuesday. “That’s the first time we’ve seen him get up to mid-90s,” Gardenhire said. “He’d been 91-92 and we were getting a little concerned.” As for Soto, he hit 100 mph on the gun three times during the same game, impressing pitching coach Rick Anderson. “That was fun to watch,” he said. The Tigers have a lot of uncertainty in their bullpen, even after naming Joe Jimenez the closer Tuesday. Having a couple of fireballing relievers take a step forward would be a welcome addition to a squad that mustered only 47 victories in 2019.
This hardly rates as a surprise. Gardenhire had already made clear he viewed Jimenez as the top ninth-inning option heading into camp (as The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen tweeted late last year).
Still, the confirmation of Jimenez’s role is worthy of note, as it wasn’t fully assured when camp opened. The 25-year-old has a dozen saves under his belt but hardly entered Spring Training with a lengthy history of locking down victories. After four scoreless appearances, Jimenez remains on track for the gig.
More importantly, the decision is critical to Jimenez’s contractual future. He’s readying for a key platform season. Reliever arbitration salaries are highly dependent upon saves tallies, so the opportunity to accrue them from the jump promises to boost his earning power substantially.
It’s possible to imagine some different outcomes for Jimenez’s future. The Tigers could consider approaching him about an extension. It’s also possible to imagine a mid-season trade.
Jimenez was reportedly asked about by contending teams at last year’s trade deadline. While he ended the season with only a 4.37 ERA, his second-straight campaign in that ballpark, Jimenez racked up a hefty 12.4 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 while delivering a 14.8% swinging-strike rate. If he can make a few tweaks — such as limiting the long ball (nearly two per nine in 2019) — Jimenez could emerge as a truly dominant late-inning reliever.
The Royals and Tigers have “shown interest” in A’s utilityman Jorge Mateo, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. Other clubs, too, have seemingly checked in, although one A’s source tells Rosenthal overall interest in the 24-year-old is “tepid.”
Mateo hit a decent .289/.330/.504 with 19 home runs and 24 stolen bases in Triple-A in 2019. That marked a significant step up from his abysmal showing there the year prior. He’s in the mix with Franklin Barreto, Vimael Machin and Tony Kemp for the seemingly wide open second base job in Oakland. There’s some upside in that group, but none of the players involved are yet established. More challenging, it’s not a group that comes with a ton of roster flexibility.
Mateo, Barreto and Kemp are out of minor-league options, meaning each has to make the active roster or be exposed to waivers. Machin, meanwhile, is a Rule V pick; he, too, must spend the entire season on the 26-man or be exposed to waivers (and if unclaimed, offered back to the Cubs’ organization).
It’s difficult to imagine a situation in which all of Mateo, Barreto, Machin and Kemp make the season-opening roster. There’s little reason not to explore the trade market for whomever the front office isn’t comfortable with making the roster.
Mateo and Barreto, also 24, would figure to draw some interest. Each was once a highly-touted prospect with youth still on his side. Neither has a strong MLB track record- Mateo has yet to reach the majors at all- but there are likely teams intrigued by their physical tools and generally solid minor-league performances.
The Royals and Tigers each seem like sensible matches if the A’s were to part with Mateo (or Barreto for that matter, although there’s no indication either team has expressed interest in him). Unlike Oakland, neither K.C. nor Detroit has much of a chance of contending for a playoff spot in 2020. There’d be limited harm in giving Mateo an extended MLB look in hopes he can make good on his past prospect status. He wouldn’t fetch nearly as much in trade as he would’ve a few years ago, but it’s not hard to imagine the A’s extracting something of value, whether from the Tigers, Royals, or another organization.
Notably, the Tigers have season-opening waiver priority leaguewide. (They’re followed by the Orioles, Marlins, then the Royals). If Oakland can’t come to an agreement on a trade but decides not to carry Mateo on the season-opening roster, Detroit would have first crack at him on waivers. That could inspire some urgency on Kansas City’s part to make a deal, depending on the extent of their interest in the speedster.
We’ve already looked at potential bounce-back candidates from the American League West and the AL East. Let’s now move to the AL Central and begin with established hitters who may be able to rebound in 2020.
Eddie Rosario, OF, Twins:
The free-swinging Rosario was a 32-home run hitter last season, but despite that, his fWAR plummeted from 3.5 in 2018 to 1.2. His overall line in 590 plate appearances (.276/.300/.500 – good for a 103 wRC+) was close to average, owing in part to the sport’s fifth-lowest walk rate (3.7 percent). And whereas Rosario received positive marks as a fielder in 2018, he notched minus-8 Defensive Runs Saved, a minus-5.6 Ultimate Zone Rating and the game’s worst Outs Above Average mark (minus-17) a year ago.
Jose Ramirez, 3B, Indians:
Ramirez was one of the most valuable players in baseball from 2017-18, though a slow start and a 5 percent-plus drop in walk rate last year doomed the switch hitter to a mediocre .255/.327/.479 line in 542 plate appearances. That said, Ramirez still finished with 23 homers, 24 steals and 3.3 fWAR, so he wasn’t exactly a drain on Cleveland’s lineup. And Ramirez was infinitely better after the All-Star break (176 wRC+ in the second half, 68 in the first), giving the Indians hope he’ll be at his best from the get-go this year.
Franmil Reyes, DH/OF, Indians:
While Ramirez came alive in the second half of the season, Reyes was somewhat disappointing after the Indians acquired him from the Padres in July. The 24-year-old still concluded with 37 HRs, but he saw his wRC+ (109) drop by 20 points from the prior season and his on-base percentage go down by 30 points. In all, he was a .249/.310/.512 hitter. Nevertheless, the powerful 24-year-old did rank in baseball’s 98th percentile in hard-hit rate and its 99th percentile in average exit velocity.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B/DH, Tigers:
Cabrera is undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters of all-time, but it’s fair to say he’s nowhere near the offensive force he was during his halcyon days. Thanks in part to knee problems, the 36-year-old was pedestrian at the plate in 2019, when he batted .282/.346/.398 with 12 home runs and a career-low ISO (.116) across 549 appearances. Cabrera also posted one of the lowest walk percentages of his career (8.7) and, according to Statcast, saw his average exit velocity fall by 4 mph and his hard-hit rate drop by 10 percent compared to the numbers he logged during an injury-shortened 2018. Regardless of whether Cabrera rebounds, the Tigers aren’t going to contend in 2020. However, it would be reassuring for the team to see a glimpse of vintage Cabrera, who’s still owed $132MM through 2023.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Tigers:
One of Cabrera’s newest teammates in Detroit, Cron’s coming off a so-so season with the division-rival Twins. Although Cron did hit 25 home runs, the type of production he recorded as a Ray the previous season wasn’t really there. He wound up with a .253/.311/.469 line (101 wRC+, down from 123 in 2018) over 499 trips to the plate. There were some positive signs, though: Cron’s strikeout rate went down by 4.5 percent, his swinging-strike percentage declined by roughly 2 percent and he was a Statcast darling, ranking near the top of the league in several categories – including hard-hit percentage (82nd percentile), average exit velocity (84th) and expected weighted on-base average (86th).
Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Tigers:
Candelario was a 2.5-fWAR player in 2018, his first full season in the majors, but devolved into a replacement-level performer last season. The switch-hitting 26-year-old batted a weak .203/.306/.337 with eight homers in 386 PA, and the Tigers banished him to the minors for a good portion of the season because of his uninspiring output at the sport’s highest level. Statcast didn’t offer any reasons for hope, either, ranking Candelario in the game’s 17th percentile in xwOBA, its 24th percentile in hard-hit rate and its 31st percentile in average exit velocity.
Salvador Perez, C, Royals:
The typically durable Perez, 29, didn’t play at all last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, though it seems he’s coming along well in his recovery. Assuming he does stay on track, the Royals will have to hope for better numbers than what the highly respected six-time All-Star offered when he last took the field in 2018. Back then, Perez registered an unspectacular .235/.274/.439 line in 544 PA and earned bottom-of-the-barrel grades as a pitch framer; however, he did throw out an incredible 48 percent of would-be base stealers.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Royals:
Once a quality prospect, Franco seldom lived up to the hype in Philadelphia from 2014-19. Last season was especially rough for Franco, who hit a disastrous .234/.297/.409 in 428 attempts en route to minus-0.5 fWAR. The rebuilding Royals then bought low on Franco in free agency, signing him for a $2.95MM guarantee. Franco’s still just 27, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration in 2021, so he’s worth a shot for Kansas City.
Ryan O’Hearn, 1B, Royals:
O’Hearn was fantastic during his 170-PA major league debut in 2018, but things fell apart over a much larger sample size last season. The 26-year-old amassed 370 PA and stumbled to a .195/.281/.369 showing. A 63-point drop in batting average on balls in play (.230) didn’t help, though, and O’Hearn did put up above-average exit velocity and hard-hit marks. However, he only ranked in the league’s 24th percentile in xwOBA (.308, compared to a .279 real wOBA).
Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch spoke confidently about his organization’s rebuilding efforts, Chris McCosky of the Detroit News writes. He also explained the pace of an increasingly agonizing process.
Detroit fans won’t need or want to hear the gory details, but it ain’t pretty. The club lost 98 games in consecutive seasons leading up to last year’s putrid 47-114 showing. It’s hard to watch.
Then again, there’s an argument to be made that, if you’re going to dive, you really ought to dive hard. With another first-overall draft pick to work with, the Tigers have now afforded themselves every possible chance to load up on young talent. GM Al Avila sees big things to come from the club’s rotation prospects, in particular, as he told MLB Network Radio today (Twitter link).
Ilitch wants fans to know that he’s suffering along with them and shares their drive to win. He says he’s “very competitive” and assures that “the fire is burning inside.” And Ilitch made clear he’s very pleased with the “trajectory” of the rebuilding effort, even if the loss tallies have mounted at the MLB level.
Obviously, the Tigers aren’t ready to mount a spirited return to the ranks of relevance just yet. But once they are? Ilitch may not be promising to spend at the top of the market the way his father did, but he made clear he expects to open the pocketbook.
“When I feel the time is right, Al is going to have the resources to go out and sign the free agents he needs to add around our home-grown base and core of talent,” says Ilitch. “That day will come and we’ll be ready for it. He will have the resources to do that.”
That’s where the catch comes in for anxious Tigers supporters. Ilitch understandably can’t yet say when the revival will begin in earnest.
“I am a competitive person but I am also an exceptionally disciplined person,” he says. While there’s a desire to win “as fast as possible,” Ilitch is presently focused on “establishing the foundation” and “building this the right way.”
The hope is obviously that of just about every other team in baseball: a sustainable winner. Citing his experiences with the Tigers and NHL Red Wings, Ilitch says he’s confident in delivering on that goal: “Be patient, be disciplined and we’re going to get there.”
Free agent righty Victor Alcantara has received an 80-game suspension, per a league announcement. He tested positive for banned perforrmance-enhancing drug stanozolol.
Alcantara, 26, had appeared in each of the past three MLB campaigns. He was cut loose by the Tigers at the end of the 2019 season and had not yet signed on with another organization.
While he gets a good number of groundballs with his 94 mph sinker and carries a decent lifetime 10.5% swinging-strike rate (about average for a starter), Alcantara hasn’t found consistent success in the majors. Through eighty total frames, he carries a 4.28 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 along with a 52.3% groundball rate.
It was never likely Alcantara would land a major league deal, but he was also an obvious candidate to get a non-roster shot. No doubt he’ll still command another opportunity, though he’ll need to serve his suspension upon joining a new team.
- Tigers left-hander Joey Wentz halted his live bullpen session Monday as a result of forearm soreness, Chris McCosky of the Detroit News writes. Wentz brushed it off as fatigue, though it could still be worth monitoring going forward. After all, Wentz is one of the most promising arms in the Tigers’ system. The 22-year-old joined the organization last July in a trade with the Braves centering on reliever Shane Greene. Wentz then finished the season in dominant fashion as a member of the Tigers’ Double-A team, with which he pitched to a 2.10 ERA and put up 13.0 K/9 against 1.4 BB/9 across 25 2/3 innings.