Detroit Tigers: What’s Next On Al Aliva’s Checklist?

After a busy 2019 Winter Meetings, Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila only signed Austin Romine to a one-year deal. What could be next?

Hello all, my name is Roger Martin and I am the new co-expert for Motor City Bengals. I have lived in the Detroit area all my life and have written about the Tigers or done a podcast about the team for the past seven years. I look forward to talking baseball with you all.  Now onto the article!

Detroit Tigers General Manager Al Avila stressed patience as he addressed the media last week during the Winter Meetings. This quote came from DetroitNews.com after speaking to reporters.

“I think patience is a virtue right now. We need to try to be measured. We’re taking baby steps. We are going to try to make this team better, but with patience — not by panicking. We’re not there yet.”

The Tigers fulfilled their backup catcher needs by signing Austin Romine to a one year, $4 million dollar deal during the 2019 Winter Meetings. (More details from our article you can find here)  

So who should be high on Aliva’s checklist as 2019 draws to a close? I kept the names as realistic as possible, based on the Tigers’ recent history.

Travis Shaw

Per Jon Morosi of the MLB Network, the Tigers have shown interested in Travis Shaw, who was non-tendered by the Milwaukee Brewers on December 2nd.

Travis Shaw‘s walk rate was 13.3% in 88 games last year for the Brewers and according to Fangraphs Steamer numbers, he is due for a bounce-back year after struggling with strikeouts last year. He had back to back 30 home run seasons in 2017 and 2018 and can play first, second, or third-base so if Jeimer Candelario struggles at the plate continue, Shaw could play there without no issue.

Cesar Hernandez

The Tigers have a good history of picking up former Phillies second basemen. Tony Taylor, the Cuban second baseball on the 1972 Tigers squad that lost to the Oakland A’s in the ALCS, came over via trade from Philly in 1971. He played a big part for Billy Martin’s squad by hitting .303, played all over the infield and was a 3.3 WAR player in his time in Detroit.  Plácido Polanco, one of the heroes of the 2006 Tigers squad, came over for Ramon Martinez and Ugueth Urbina also came from Philadelphia.

The switching hitting César Hernández could settle the Tigers’ second base needs. Despite the offensive struggles in 2019, hitting .279/.333/.408 with just 14 home runs in 667 plate appearances, he had a bounce-back year in defensive runs saved above average with 5 versus -11 in 2018 (per Baseball-Reference) 

His WAR of 2.5 in 2019 would have put him as one of the best if he played in Detroit. While his WRC+ was just under 100, most fans could live with a steady presence at 2B.

Neil Walker

Based on recent history, the Tigers like familiar faces and none more familiar than switch-hitting  Neil Walker.  Neil was the first-round draft pick by Tigers Vice President of Player Development, David Littlefield when he was the GM in Pittsburgh.  While he lacks power, he does walk around 11% and all 8 of his home runs in 2019 were left-handed. 

With the recent one year contracts the Tigers have been offering, Walker could be a stop-gap measure until a long term solution at first base is solved. This signing might not be the big splash Tigers fan may crave but look at Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer signings last year, the Tigers front office seems to like former Pirates.

Domingo Santana

Domingo Santana was having a great season with 18 home runs before the All-Star break until injuries cut short his production in which he only hit .128  and had 3 home runs in the second half of the season and in 2017, hit 30 home runs with the Brewers.

He can play both left and right field, which can allow for versatility for the corner positions. While his defensive numbers are nothing to write home about (Runs from Fielding was -16), his wRC+ was 107. This could be a good bargain for the Tigers.

Taijuan Walker

Injuries have derailed Taijuan Walker post Tommy John surgery. The Tigers may have one of the young arms ready to go come Spring Training but in case they do not, Walker could be an option. This could be a reclamation project for the Tigers and if the “rebuild” continues,  why not take a flyer on a starter who is trying to restart his career. He features a four-seam fastball, splitter, and a cutter.

Rico Garcia

Who is Rico Garcia? Well, he was one of the top starters in the Double-A Eastern League, racking up 87 strikeouts in 68 IP with just 23 BB for the Hartford Yard Goats.  Combined with his Triple-A numbers before his call up, he had 138 strikeouts in 129 innings pitched. He was picked up by the Giants before being released again. Check out Joel Reuter’s write up on him from Around the Foghorn on a deeper dive. 

According to Fangraphs, he projects based on his average secondaries as a reliever.  Baseball America has this scouting report (Premium Subscription required)

The uptick on his fastball combined with a quality changeup and solid curveball has elevated Garcia’s prospect status. His curveball has good downward break that disrupts hitters’ timing.

If the Tigers are not going to spend a ton of money, this could be a case of a spring training invite for Garcia and see what he could provide on the back end of the rotation.