Opt-outs and options in free-agent contracts might present an opportunity for the Detroit Tigers in the off-season
There has been a notable shift in baseball contracts in the opt-out clause, which grants the player the safety net of the rest of the contract while also giving them an opportunity to explore a fast-changing free-agent market. This idea was largely replaced by the option, which will extend a contract either based on the organization’s decision, the player’s decision, a combination of both, or a certain performance threshold. This is where the Detroit Tigers could see some familiar faces.
The 2020-2021 off-season features a bevy of talent in both situations; potentially strengthening a free-agent class that is lacking star power outside of the recently-traded Mookie Betts. There has been some recent buzz around the fact that Detroit has just one payroll commitment beyond 2020 (Miguel Cabrera); and given that most of their top pitching talent will start to make the major leagues in late 2020/early 2021, it isn’t far-fetched in suggesting the Tigers may be interested in making upgrades to compete once again.
Assuming these players decide to test the free-agent waters, here are five realistic players Detroit should have their eye on:
1) Wilson Ramos, C
Ramos continues to be productive late in his career as a catcher and could be a nice addition should he decide to step away from New York. Ramos will be entering his age-33 season and supplied the Mets with stability; supplying 2.2 bWAR and clubbing 14 home runs across 141 games.
Ramos would fit into the lineup and the battery perfectly. Defensively, it would be a nice presence to have alongside Jake Rogers, who has struggled thus far in limited time. At the same time, Ramos is starting to get older to continue his full-time catching duties. Allowing Rogers to get some time behind the plate through the season may give Ramos a chance to stay fresh while still being able to influence and mentor a presumably young pitching staff.
Offensively, while I would not suggest a strict platoon situation necessarily, Ramos has shown the ability across his career to hit right-handed pitching, slashing .265/.312/.420 over his career. The sample size disclaimers certainly apply with Rogers, but he hit a measly .088 across 35 MLB games against right-handed pitching in 2019. Ramos would hopefully limit his exposure a bit while still allowing him to gain repetitions and confidence against major league pitching.
Ramos has a $10 million club option with a $1.5 million buyout. The likelihood of the Mets opting out at this point is small, but much of their decision will likely depend on his pace and performance in 2020.
2) Eric Thames, 1B
Detroit’s lack of first basemen internally is well-documented. In fact, I wrote a piece recently suggesting the Tigers should extend their current first base option CJ Cron. But the reality is there is a possibility that Cron would like to move on; or a possibility that Detroit feels they could find a better fit elsewhere.
Thames would be a good fallback option if things do not work out with Cron in 2021. Much like Cron, Thames would inject some desperately-needed power into Detroit’s lineup while supplying a bit of balance, as Thames bats left-handed. The fit is nice, as well, because it would limit the potential clamoring from the fanbase to rush the presumed #1 pick Spencer Torkelson through the minor leagues in 2021; effectively blocking first base for a year.
Thames has a $4 million mutual option with a $1 million buyout with the Nationals. Because both parties would need to agree on his 2021 salary, this makes Thames a bit more likely to be looking for work for the 2021 season.
3) Ryan Braun, LF
Taking Ryan Braun out of a Milwaukee Brewers uniform will be an odd sight, but Felix Hernandez and Madison Bumgarner have both showed us it isn’t impossible. Detroit’s lack of outfield help in the upper-minors outside of Daz Cameron is alarming; and it will take some time for the highly-thought-of Riley Greene and Parker Meadows to reach the show, so Braun would be a nice placeholder on a two or three-year deal.
He would be entering his age-36 season which would make the length of any free agent contract very important; especially for a team like Detroit, who is likely to be more competitive two or three years from now opposed to next year. Braun’s experience would be welcomed as well as his power–Braun has hit at least 20 home runs four of the last five seasons with the Brewers.
Braun has a $15 million mutual option for 2021; and given his production, it may be a bit expensive for a small market team like Milwaukee.
4) Nick Castellanos, OF
Have I mentioned Detroit needs power? We know what Nick Castellanos would bring offensively mostly because he was one of the rare homegrown talents for Detroit on the position player side of their organization. Castellanos inked a four-year deal with the Reds during the off-season, but would be able to opt-out of the remaining three years of his deal after the 2020 season.
Castellanos’ bat took off even more after his trade to the Chicago Cubs at the 2019 trade deadline; slashing .321/.356/.646 for Chicago and bashing 16 home runs over his 51 games (he would hit just 11 home runs for Detroit over 100 games prior to the trade). At $16 million average annual value (AAV), Castellanos may decide to opt-out if he has a big year in the hitter-friendly Reds ballpark.
5) JD Martinez, OF/DH
Fans might be crazy if they think JD Martinez back in a Tigers uniform wouldn’t be fun and absolutely amazing. After getting traded to Arizona and subsequently signing with the Red Sox, Martinez has remained a consistent hitter throughout each stop. We will likely learn a lot about JD’s defensive abilities in 2020, as the Red Sox recently traded away Betts as referenced above.
Martinez’s fit in Detroit hinges heavily on his ability to remain steady in the outfield. Because of Miguel Cabrera’s full-time DH duties for the remainder of his own deal, Detroit would need to ensure Martinez could handle the outfield across, at least, his age-33, 34, and 35 seasons.
Martinez has and opt-out form his remaining two years in Boston worth $38.75 million, so it would take a solid all-around 2020 campaign for Martinez to think about hitting the market again.