JULY 21: Detroit has requested unconditional release waivers on Mazara. He’ll almost certainly clear after 48 hours, at which point he’ll be free to sign elsewhere.
JULY 16: The Tigers announced Friday that they’ve designated outfielder Nomar Mazara for assignment and optioned infielder Willi Castro to Triple-A Toledo. Outfielder Derek Hill and infielder Isaac Paredes are up from Toledo in a pair of corresponding roster moves. Detroit has also appointed lefty Miguel Del Pozo as the 27th man for today’s doubleheader against the Twins.
Still just 26 yeas old, Mazara once ranked as one of baseball’s elite prospects, entering the 2016 season as one of the consensus 25 most promising minor leaguers in the sport. He looked the part when he made his MLB debut that season, too, hitting .266/.320/.419 with 20 home runs in 145 games. It wasn’t a dominant showing, of course, but Mazara was just 21 years old at the time and was making the jump with only 23 Triple-A games under his belt. It was an impressive showing, and it was reasonable to expect that he’d only improve with more reps against big league pitching.
That, however, never really proved true. Mazara spent the next four seasons as the primary right fielder in Texas but more or less just kept repeating his 2016 season. He posted a 93 OPS and 91 wRC+ as a rookie in ’16 and, from 2017-19, posted collective marks of 94 and 92 in those same respective categories. He hit exactly 20 home runs again in 2017 and 2018 before hitting 19 in 2019. Essentially, he’d settled in as a slightly below-average hitter with well below-average defensive grades. The Rangers trade him to the White Sox during the 2019 Winter Meetings.
At that point, Mazara was a highly interesting change-of-scenery candidate. He’d plateaued in Arlington, to be sure, but he was a former Top 25 prospect who was heading into his age-25 season with two years of club control remaining. For the White Sox, it was a sensible enough roll of the dice to see if they could help Mazara take the next step. Instead, he turned in a career-worst .228/.295/.294 batting line with just one home run and a career-high 29.5 percent strikeout rate through 149 plate appearances last summer. Chicago non-tendered him in the offseason.
Mazara took a chance with his second AL Central club, landing with the Tigers on a one-year, $1.75MM deal late in the offseason. Things have gone a bit better in Detroit than in Chicago, but only by a slight margin. Mazara’s strikeouts are down a bit and he’s shown a little more pop. However, his overall .212/.276/.321 batting line through 181 plate appearances so far simply wasn’t enough for the Tigers to keep giving him at-bats over more controllable players who are hoping to emerge as long-term fits in Detroit.
The Tigers will have a week to trade Mazara, attempt to pass him through outright waivers, or place him on release waivers. Mazara has more than five years of service time, so even if he does go through outright waivers without a claim, he can reject an outright assignment to the minor leagues and retain the entirety of his remaining salary. It’s unlikely that another club would claim that salary, given his poor showing at the plate. The likeliest outcome is that Mazara becomes a free agent, whether via unconditional release from the team or via rejecting an outright assignment. At that point, he’d be free to sign elsewhere for only the prorated league minimum. That amount would be subtracted from the roughly $753K the Tigers still owe him through season’s end.
Hill, 25, is a former Tigers first-rounder who has had some sparse big league looks but hasn’t yet had a lengthy audition. He’s hitting .320./.373/.508 in 133 Triple-A plate appearances, however, and he’ll now return to Detroit for his second stint of the 2021 campaign.
The 22-year-old Paredes has been ranked among the Tigers’ better prospects since coming to the Tigers alongside Jeimer Candelario in the 2017 trade that sent Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to the Cubs. He hasn’t hit much in 145 prior MLB plate appearances, but his .261/.357/.412 slash in Triple-A will net him a look over the struggling Castro — another infield prospect who has stumbled to a .214/.278/.341 slash through 280 plate appearances with the big league club so far in 2021.