The Tigers have a lot of upgrades to make following a 96-loss season, and the club is exploring several veteran options on the free agent market. Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press reports that such players as Seth Lugo, Adam Frazier, Brian Anderson, and Edwin Rios have all drawn interest from the Tigers, and Wil Myers is also on the radar, but “the Tigers aren’t viewed as a frontrunner for Myers.” As for players who have already landed elsewhere, Detroit also had interest in Jace Peterson before he signed with the Athletics during the Winter Meetings.
Signing any of the available players would add some experience to the lineup and address at least one position on a roster with plenty of uncertainty. Third base is open after Jeimer Candelario was non-tendered, and Tigers manager A.J. Hinch told Petzold and other reporters during the Winter Meetings that second base playing time may also be available, depending on where Jonathan Schoop is utilized. Hinch suggested that Schoop could also see time at first base or third base, apart from just the keystone.
Realistically, Schoop is more likely to spend most of his time on the right side of the diamond, given that his big league third base experience consists of 133 2/3 innings with the Orioles back in 2014, and a single inning at the hot corner in 2021. Schoop (like many Detroit hitters) is also coming off a dismal year at the plate, and since he is only under contract through 2023, might not be in the long-term plans of new president of baseball operations Scott Harris.
Frazier has mostly played second base throughout his career, but he has also bounced around to both corner outfield positions, and a smattering of games at third base, shortstop, and center field. Signing Frazier would allow the Tigers some flexibility in planning the lineup, as Frazier or Schoop or rookie Ryan Kreidler could be shuffled around the infield as matchups dictate, and Frazier could also chip in as part of the outfield mix.
Of course, Frazier also didn’t hit much in 2022, batting .238/.301/.311 with three homers over 602 plate appearances with the Mariners. Since the start of the 2020 season, Frazier has a 95 wRC+ and a .266/.329/.362 slash line over 1471 PA with the Pirates, Padres, and Mariners, and much of his production in that stretch was concentrated within a fantastic three-month stretch with Pittsburgh early in the 2021 campaign (which helped Frazier earn an All-Star nod).
Despite these struggles, Frazier is looking for a two-year contract, according to Petzold. An argument can be made that Frazier (who turns 31 later this week) might still be worth such a commitment since he is a strong defender, and he has consistently been one of baseball’s tougher hitters to strike out. While Frazier’s extreme contact doesn’t result in many hard-hit balls, the potential is there for Frazier to become a very productive hitter if he can just barrel the ball with more consistency. Given how the Tigers had one of the highest strikeout rates of any team in baseball in 2022, simply getting a contact hitter of any ilk might also help Detroit’s offensive woes.
Anderson and Rios were respectively non-tendered by the Marlins and Dodgers, and while both players have experience at other positions (Anderson mostly in right field, Rios at first base), the Tigers would probably view either as candidates to take over from Candelario at third base. Like Frazier, these two are also looking to bounce back from underwhelming seasons, as Anderson and Rios both missed time to injury.
After posting solid numbers in 2018-20, it seemed like Anderson was on his way to becoming a building block in Miami before injuries cut into his playing time in each of the last two seasons. Anderson hit .266/.350/.436 (115 wRC+) over 1419 PA from 2018-20, but those numbers dropped to a 93 wRC+ and a .233/.321/.359 slash line over 647 PA in 2021-22.
Rios is an intriguing wild card option, as he owns a career 112 wRC+ but only over 291 career PA in the majors. The Dodgers used Rios as a part-time player for four seasons, and while it is quite possible he might’ve earned more playing time on a less star-studded team, Los Angeles seemingly never saw Rios as more than a spare part. Injuries also played a factor, as Rios missed most of the 2021 campaign due to shoulder surgery, and a hamstring tear last season resulted in a trip to the 60-day injured list.
While it doesn’t seem like Myers will be arriving in Detroit, he is an on-paper fit for playing time as a right fielder, DH, and first baseman. Spencer Torkelson will naturally get every opportunity for regular at-bats at first base next season, but Schoop might also get some first-base time, and Miguel Cabrera and Austin Meadows will get DH at-bats. A player like Myers would be an option for right field when Meadows is getting a DH day, plus Myers could also shift over to left field.
The Tigers are the latest of many teams linked to Lugo’s market, and Detroit is one of the clubs with interest in Lugo as a starting pitcher. The right-hander has worked exclusively as a reliever in three of the last four seasons with the Mets, and he hasn’t been a true full-time starter since 2017. However, Lugo has kept his arm relatively loose as a swingman and multi-inning reliever, and naturally a move back to rotation work could be very lucrative as he enters free agency for the first time.
Given how the Tigers were crushed by pitching injuries in 2022, the club can offer plenty of opportunity to Lugo as it looks to rebuild its rotation. With so much interest in his services, it isn’t hard to imagine that Lugo could land a two-year contract, as a team could view him as a starting candidate for 2023 and (if things don’t go well) at worst a reliever for 2024. If Lugo succeeds as a starter and the Tigers’ younger arms all return healthy down the road, such a crowded-rotation scenario counts as a nice problem to have for the team in the future.
Detroit already brought back Matt Boyd on a one-year contract, with Boyd also looking for a move back to starting pitching. The Tigers’ current rotation lines up as Eduardo Rodriguez, Matt Manning, Spencer Turnbull, and Boyd, with Joey Wentz, Tyler Alexander, Alex Faedo, and Beau Brieske all in competition for that fifth starter’s job.
In the bigger picture, none of Detroit’s free agent targets look to receive more than a one- or perhaps a two-year deal at most. This speaks to Harris’ apparent strategy (or ownership’s preference) of avoiding any big immediate expenditures, as the Tigers flopped after last winter’s major spending spree. The plan for 2023 might be for Harris and the Tigers to patch holes with some veteran additions, and then see how the roster — both the younger core and veteran stars like Rodriguez or Javier Baez — can collectively regroup after the disastrous 2022 season.