Detroit Tigers: 2021 Roster Rundown

Detroit Tigers third base coach Ramon Santiago and Alan Trammell lug the ball bag to the mound during training camp at Comerica Park in Detroit, Tuesday, July 7, 2020.Detroit Tigers Ramon Santiago Alan Trammell
Detroit Tigers third base coach Ramon Santiago and Alan Trammell lug the ball bag to the mound during training camp at Comerica Park in Detroit, Tuesday, July 7, 2020.Detroit Tigers Ramon Santiago Alan Trammell /

The Detroit Tigers have a lot of work to do before they can contend again. It’s fun to dream about big trades and free-agent signings this offseason, but first we need to look at the current roster, see who will be around next year, and figure out where the team can upgrade.

If it sounds absurd to ask where the Detroit Tigers can upgrade, we understand. The franchise has a .364 winning percentage over the last four seasons. The answer to where they can upgrade would seemingly be “everywhere.”

But of course we know that’s not going to happen. The Detroit Tigers clearly want to play many of their prospects, and despite having a projected bottom-five payroll in 2021, it’s not clear how much money the club is willing to spend in free agency.

So for now, all we can really do is look at the Detroit Tigers 40-man roster, which currently contains 46 names, and sort the players into buckets.

Detroit Tigers Departures (5)

C.J. Cron, Ivan Nova, Austin Romine, Jonathan Schoop, Jordan Zimmermann

This gets us down to 41 players. Tigers fans, and this very blog, have discussed bringing back Cron, Romine, and/or Schoop, but we’ll come back to that a little bit later. On the other hand, there hasn’t been much talk about bringing back Nova, who gave the Tigers just four starts, 19 innings, and an 8.53 ERA before heading to the Injured List. And the IL was a sadly familiar location for Jordan Zimmermann, who finishes his Tigers career with a 25-41 record and a 5.63 ERA over 514.1 IP. In his five seasons with Detroit he accumulated 5.0 fWAR, 1.1 bWAR, and roughly $100 million.

Detroit Tigers Arrivals (3+)

Alex Faedo, Matt Manning, Joey Wentz, unknown others

We lowered the roster to 41 players, but it makes sense to include the certain roster additions now, so we know exactly how many players will need to be cut later. Faedo, Manning, and Wentz are all Rule-5 eligible this year, and need to be protected on the roster. They each had arm issues of varying severity this year, and they all carry some relief risk, but they’re also former first-round picks who will be counted on to pitch for the Tigers in the near future.

It’s possible the Detroit Tigers will add another player or two based on what the club saw at the alternate training site in Toledo, or in the instructional league, but the Covid-boosted shroud of secrecy around those baseball enclaves means we’re in the dark about any potential breakthroughs.

Relievers Alex Lange and Will Vest seem the most likely potential adds, though the odds of either joining the 40-man are still under 50%. There’s also a small army of players who could be added, including: infielders Wenceel Perez and Cole Peterson; outfielders Jose Azocar, Ulrich Bojarski, Jacob Robson, and Daniel Woodrow; and pitchers Nolan Blackwood, Shao-Ching Chiang, Angel De Jesus, Jason Foley, Gerson Moreno, Wladimir Pinto, Elvin Rodriguez, and Logan Shore.

The odds of any of these players being added probably falls below 2%, but we want to be thorough with the possibilities. For now we’re assuming the team will add just Faedo, Manning, and Wentz.

Detroit Tigers Needs (numerous and sundry)

So the Detroit Tigers roster is back up to 44 players, but before we get to the cuts, we should see where they need the most help. There are many ways to do that, but it’s easiest to just look at team WAR rankings by position at FanGraphs:

Tigers Position Ranks

This is neither a true indication of talent, nor a reliable projection of future production, but it gives us a quick glimpse at the real problem areas. There will be time to dig deeper into each position this offseason, but here are some notes:

Catcher – Austin Romine garnered some early praise, but he finished the season as the second worst regular catcher in baseball. Backups Grayson Greiner and Eric Haase weren’t any better, and the club evidently didn’t think Jake Rogers would be an improvement. They need help.

First Base – Well hey, not bad at all! The majority of this production came from Jeimer Candelario (1.6 WAR), though C.J. Cron was solid (0.3 WAR) in his 13 games. Depending on what the club wants to do at third base, the Tigers could be set here.

Second Base – This is mostly Jonathan Schoop (1.4 WAR), and it would seem to behoove the Tigers to re-sign him, but they theoretically have internal options to fill this position.

Shortstop – A tale of two players here. Willi Castro was electric with the bat and very poor in the field, while Niko Goodrum couldn’t hit but was one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. If only we could combine them into a Carl Weathers-style stew.

Third Base – Isaac Paredes got the majority of ABs here and seemed a bit overmatched, though he had a solid finish to the season. The Tigers could send him to Toledo for more seasoning and move Candelario back to his natural position, or just roll with the kid again.

Outfield – A definite area of need, but it’s possible they won’t address it. JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes both had very hot stretches during the season, and Daz Cameron seemed to come on at the end of the year. Christin Stewart will probably get one more chance.

Designated Hitter – Miguel Cabrera is owed $94 million over the next three seasons.

Starting Pitching – Downright ugly this year. Again, they seem to have the number of bodies they need, but if they are serious about getting better they’ll need to add at least one veteran starter to the mix.

Relief Pitching – There were a few legitimate breakouts in the bullpen this season, and the Tigers have plenty of arms from which to choose, so it’s likely they won’t add anyone here.

Total Adds – Our guess here is four, with the Tigers adding a catcher, an infielder, an outfielder, and a starting pitcher. That would bring the 40-man roster up to 48 players.

Detroit Tigers DFA Candidates (10+)

So, by our math, the Detroit Tigers will need to cut at least eight players this offseason, and they’ll likely want to leave room for at least one more player on the 40-man roster so they can participate in what could be a talent-heavy Rule 5 Draft. So who goes?

Very Likely Departures (4)

Dario Agrazal, Brandon Dixon, Nick Ramirez, Dereck Rodriguez

The first three names on this list have already been designated for assignment by the Tigers once, and the Giants cut Rodriguez earlier this season. It’s likely all four would clear waivers again. So we’re back down to 44 players on the roster.

Possible Departures (12)

Sergio Alcantara, Jorge Bonifacio, Anthony Castro, Harold Castro, Travis Demeritte, Rony Garcia, Grayson Greiner, Eric Haase, Derek Hill, John Schreiber, Zack Short, Troy Stokes Jr.

The Tigers still need to cut a handful of players. Based on the roster moves from this season, our best guess for those five players is: Anthony Castro, Travis Demeritte, Eric Haase, John Schreiber, and Troy Stokes Jr.

Unlikely Departures (6)

Matthew Boyd, Beau Burrows, Michael Fulmer, Niko Goodrum, Joe Jimenez, Christin Stewart

Statistically speaking, there’s a case to be made for the Tigers to part ways with any of these players, but they should all be safe thanks to previous production and/or prospect status.

Finally, we have the roster at 39 players. The raw counting is done, so expect articles examining each player’s case to be added or cut in the near future.