The Tigers were aggressive this winter in making calculated veteran additions to augment their rising core. It may not be enough to compete for a playoff spot this season, but it signaled the organization was putting the rebuild in the rearview mirror.
Major League Signings
2022 spending: $48MM
Total spending: $238MM
Trades and Claims
Notable Minor League Signings
- Wily Peralta (selected onto 40-man roster to lock in $2.5MM base salary), Chase Anderson, Drew Hutchison, Ramon Rosso, Miguel Diaz, Jack Lopez, Carlos Sanabria, Chris Rabago, Jacob Barnes (selected onto 40-man roster), Ryan Lavarnway, Shea Spitzbarth, Derek Law
The Tigers had only one losing season from 2006 to 2014, capping off that highly-successful era with a four-year run atop the AL Central. But when the wheels fell off, they fell all the way off. As the wins dried up, so did their spending. Luxury tax payrolls that had drifted over the $200MM mark near the end of that competitive era began decreasing year-by-year to a low of ~$103MM last season.
For a while there, they’d stopped spending almost entirely, going five years from 2016 to 2021 without signing a free agent to a multi-year deal. That stretch ended last winter with Robbie Grossman’s two-year contractl. As they entered this past winter, the Tigers had no plans to sit out the proceedings. In fact, they came into the winter with their roster needs clearly in mind, and they set about immediately to fill them.
The Tigers broke the seal on the offseason with a trade to bring in a veteran defensive catcher in Barnhart who could help usher their young cavalcade of starters into the next era of Tigers’ baseball. Barnhart doesn’t do much with the bat (82 RC+ over 2,584 career plate appearances), but he’s a respected gloveman. He’s also only under contract for one season, so while the Tigers have expressed interest in working out a long-term deal, they can move along at year’s end if the price doesn’t meet their expectations.
Tigers’ GM Al Avila made clear from the beginning of the offseason that bringing in a veteran starter was going to be one of their priorities. They checked that box by inking Eduardo Rodriguez to a five-year, $77MM deal that allows him to opt-out after the second season. Rodriguez brings veteran savvy and World Series experience to an otherwise youthful rotation. Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Casey Mize, and company ought to learn much from seeing the example E-Rod sets at the top of the rotation.
From a more practical standpoint, Rodriguez should provide the bulk and stability that a rotation needs at the top. As they manage the workloads of their younger arms, Rodriguez will be asked to be a run-stopper and innings-eater. It might be that one day soon, Skubal, Manning, or Mize might take over in that role, but for the first couple years of the deal, Rodriguez will set the tone.
Javier Baez will serve a similar role on the offense. Though Baez’s bat will have its ups-and-downs, he fits Detroit’s model because of his defensive upside. Like Barnhart and Rodriguez, Baez is meant to supplement and aid the development of their young core. That means supporting them with his glove. His bat will absolutely help, but there is offensive help on the way in Detroit. Namely, in the form of Riley Greene, who began this year on the injured list, and Spencer Torkelson, the former first overall pick who started this season in Detroit.
Of course, El Mago signed for six years (although, like Rodriguez, he can opt-out after 2023), so his bat isn’t inconsequential. It’s a risk spending so much money on a volatile talent like Baez for his age-29 through age-35 seasons. But even if his career arc eventually takes his production back to the 96 wRC+ bat he was from 2015 to 2017, that’s still an above-average talent if the defense holds. Shortstop has been a black hole for the Tigers in recent seasons, and it was clear they were prepared to spend to address it. The Tigers reportedly offered Carlos Correa ten years and $275MM (presumably before settling on Baez as their long-term shortstop), but Correa was still seeking to handily top $300MM at the time.
The Tigers do have some infielders coming up through the system – Ryan Kreidler, Izaac Pacheco, Manuel Sequera, Javier Osorio – but with the exception of Kreidler, who just broke his hand, most of those prospects are many years away from the Majors. El Mago will excite the fanbase, provide defensive support for the young pitching staff, and by all accounts, he’s a positive clubhouse presence. Baez’s plate discipline can be worrisome, but he checks a lot of the supplemental boxes.
Just as the Tigers more-or-less opened the offseason with their trade for Barnhart, they also ended it with another trade. The day before Opening Day, the Tigers jumped to nab Austin Meadows from the Rays. Meadows is a player with warts, but he’s also an obvious upgrade for the Tigers, especially so long as Greene remains sidelined. Meadows turns 27 this year, he’s only making $4MM, and with two more seasons of arbitration beyond this one, the Tigers aren’t on the hook for a long-term commitment. Landing Meadows required parting with young infielder Isaac Paredes, a promising young minor league hitter but a player who has yet to find big league success.
Meadows is an upgrade for the offense this year, pairing with Robbie Grossman to form a reliable veteran corner outfielder tandem. Grossman is a free agent after this season, so the Meadows acquisition protects them somewhat from a potential Grossman departure. Akil Baddoo, if he continues to produce, can earn his reps his center, and if he doesn’t, he can transition to a fourth outfield role when Greene proves ready.
On the pitching side, E-Rod filled the greatest void on the roster, and he was, by far, the biggest addition on that side of the ball. But given the youth of their staff, and the inevitability of injuries these days, the Tigers dipped their toes into the bargain end of the veteran free agent market as well. They signed former Mariners, Yankees, and Twins right-hander Michael Pineda on March 19th to a one-year deal. Pineda has dealt with injuries throughout his career, but he was pretty solid during the three years he spent in Minnesota.
Just a few days prior to inking Pineda, they also brought back Wily Peralta on a one-year, $2.5MM deal that was contingent upon his making the big-league club – which he did. Peralta was a surprising success as a starter for the Tigers last year, posting a 3.07 ERA/4.94 FIP over 93 2/3 innings while making 18 starts. He’s more likely to serve as a bullpen arm this year, but they have him as an option for starter minutes as well.
The bullpen was kept largely intact, but they did add Andrew Chafin on a two-year deal. “The Sheriff” has been an undervalued arm for many years now. With a 3.31 ERA/3.17 FIP over 414 career appearances, he’s been about as reliable as can be expected of any bullpen arm. He’ll slot in with Gregory Soto and Michael Fulmer to take on high-leverage opportunities.
The Tigers weren’t the most active team this past winter, but they set out to fill a couple of holes, they targeted the players they wanted to fill those spots, and they got their targets. The primary growth of their organization will still have to come from the internal development of their core young players, but Baez, Meadows, Barnhart, Pineda, Chafin, and Rodriguez bring a decent jolt of talent and experience to their young core. Miguel Cabrera may have enough veteran experience and clubhouse presence to feed the whole organization, but he’s not the on-field contributor that he used to be. These additions should help in ways that Cabrera, the legend, no longer can.
Is it enough to turn these Tigers into a surprising upstart? Vegas says no, putting them third in the AL Central with 28-1 odds of winning the division. None of ESPN’s staff picked them for the playoffs. Five Thirty Eight pegged their most likely record to land at 71-91.
The Tigers knew they had weaknesses going into the offseason. They surely know they have weaknesses now. But there’s no doubt they have fewer holes on the roster now than they did at the end of last season. For a team looking to emerge from a rebuild, their approach was a reasonable one. They made additions, but they were relatively judicious at the same time. They didn’t blast their window of contention open, but if it’s open a crack, they nudged it open a little further.