Detroit Tigers: Ranking Positional Needs for the 2021 Season
By Jacob Boes
To maintain their competitiveness, the Detroit Tigers will once again need to address several positions in the offseason for 2021
Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila made a flurry of one-year deals last offseason; signing CJ Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Austin Romine, Ivan Nova, and Cameron Maybin all to one-year deals. The thought process is then essentially what it is now: field a competitive club. Make no mistake, 2020’s Tiger club was not a playoff team on paper. However, the franchise needed to establish some level of competitiveness after one of the worst seasons in franchise history in 2019.
This year, those one-year deals have expired. Meaning 4/9ths of their lineup and 1/5th of their starting rotation will turnover and the club will have to address those spots either internally or across the offseason via free agency or trade. This fact yields the obvious query: what positions will be the highest priority to fill externally this offseason?
1) Corner Outfield
The Detroit Tigers have had no shortage of outfielders since JD Martinez and Justin Upton departed from their corner stables when they were traded off. Of course, those players were all-around solid major-league players, but they specifically had one attribute Detroit has been missing from its corner spots in the outfield: power.
Christin Stewart was the only qualified corner outfielder that posted a Barrels Per Plate Appearance higher than league average in 2019. The club has almost nothing in the pipeline before Riley Greene, so signing a corner player or two on a multiyear deal wouldn’t figure to clog up any playing time for younger players. Besides, it would provide some support and stability to a lineup that had started to display some thump before injuries to JaCoby Jones, CJ Cron, and Jonathan Schoop.
Marcell Ozuna, George Springer, and Joc Pederson are the premier names on the market along with potentially Giancarlo Stanton and old friend Nick Castellanos, who feature opt-out clauses.
2) Starting Pitching
It sounds strange calling starting pitching the second-highest priority need for the Tigers this offseason considering the system has been built on pitching and we are finally starting to see some of the silver linings of past failures with arms like Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal reaching the big leagues. But, that is exactly where we are.
Skubal was more encouraging in 2020, but neither arm was particularly lights out. Add to that the continued perplexity of Matthew Boyd and it is fair to question his reliability as a starter. Michael Fulmer should not be penciled in for an opening day rotation spot and the organization seems content on allowing Norris to continue his stellar three-inning stints out of the bullpen. Forearm strains shut down top pitching prospects Alex Faedo and Matt Manning at the alternate training site and Ivan Nova and Jordan Zimmermann are out the door.
Sounds like a mess, right? They need, at minimum, one starter but preferably two to provide a consistent competitive product in 2021. James Paxton, Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, Masahiro Tanaka, Garrett Richards, Kevin Gausman, and Charlie Morton are just a few of the names on the market.
3) First Base
The team is steadfast and insistent that Miguel Cabrera is a full-time DH, but to ensure the fact, the club will need to address the first base position. Jeimer Candelario was able to maintain his impressive pace offensively while trying to gain his footing across the diamond, but the reality is that Jeimer is better defensively as a third baseman, and moving him to first would be solving one problem to create another.
1st overall draft pick Spencer Torkelson played a lot of first base during his college days at Arizona State University, but I have to believe the Tigers would rather continuing to force the third base issue with him until it doesn’t work. CJ Cron did a sneaky-good job both offensively and defensively before his injury and provided he is healthy after undergoing knee surgery, they should take a look for a potential reunion.
In addition to Cron, Eric Thames, Mitch Moreland, and Carlos Santana are all free-agent options.
Honorable Mention: Catcher
The catching position may very well be addressed in the offseason as well, especially considering the strange roster moves to prevent top catching prospect, Jake Rogers, from getting a late-season call-up. Neither Grayson Greiner nor Eric Haase feel like major league pieces, but certainly not starters; and given the oddities with Rogers, I am compelled to think the organization doesn’t see him as a starting option either.
A free agent makes the most sense to address such a need. In addition to Romine, Alex Avila, James McCann, JT Realmuto, and Jason Castro are all options.
The Tigers are certainly not low on needs, but they may opt for internal options to address some of the positions the club will face heading into 2021. However, the three options listed above will need to be a priority in any free agency or trade discussions if the club is looking to take a step forward competitively for next season.